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Self-publishing and traditional publishing are two similar yet distinct avenues authors can use to get their writing out into the world. While both publishing solutions offer authors the opportunity to share their work, self-publishing and traditional publishing differ significantly in their approach and processes and both can be beneficial in different ways.

1. What is self-publishing?

The appeal of self-publishing to authors is that they can maintain control over their book. It is up to the author to manage the whole process, from editing, book cover design, typesetting, printing, marketing, and distribution. The author is able to outsource the work to freelancers or an assisted self-publishing company to help them produce a more professional produce and assist them with a process they may not be familiar with. This is the difference between do-it-yourself self-publishing and assisted self-publishing. Self-published authors also typically maintain all the rights to their project and most of the royalties from the sales.

Some self-publishing endeavours can be nearly completely free for authors. This includes options such as KDP and Ingram Spark Publishing. However, if the author wants assistance with the production process, they will need to finance it themselves.

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2. What is traditional publishing?

The start of a traditional publishing endeavour for most includes the author submitting their manuscript to the “slush-pile” in hopes of gaining a publishing deal. Often authors submit their manuscripts through a literary agent to up their chances of being accepted. Once accepted, the author often receives an advance payment from the publisher that is later taken out of future royalties. The publisher will then put the manuscript through the necessary processes needed to produce a book: editing, book cover design, interior design, and then to marketing, print, and distribution.

With traditional publishing, the author maintains little to no control over the production of their book. To elaborate, the publisher will take over aspects including the editing, design—even the book’s title—to make sure that the book is marketable and appeals to a wide audience. The author also receives a smaller royalty percentage on each sale than the publisher as they have to cover the production costs and turn a profit.

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3. Another option: hybrid publishing

The lesser-know third option—hybrid publishing—is much like how it sounds. It is a hybrid model that sits somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing, combining elements of the two. With a hybrid publisher, the initial process will be very similar to traditional publishing, in that the author has to submit their manuscript for selection and, once approved, the hybrid publisher will undertake a variety of services such as editing, book cover design, interior typesetting, distribution, etc. The difference is that the author maintains more control over the process, like they would in self-publishing.

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4. Who shares the financial risk?

With any publishing endeavour, there is always financial risk involved. This is because no one can accurately predict how a book will act in the market—especially for new authors. Someone has to pay for the manuscript to go through the strenuous process of becoming a book, so who is it? First, you have to identify which type of publishing you’re considering:

Financial risk for publishing options diagram

4.1 Do-it-yourself self-publishing

While many DIY self-publishing platforms themselves offer free or relatively low-cost set-up, this do not mean that the production of the book is also free. Unless you are confident you can do everything by yourself, including editing, illustration, ISBN registration, book cover design, interior typesetting, marketing, and more, you will likely be paying for industry-trained professionals to help you with these tasks. This means that you will have to put in a lot and work and up-front payments while having no guarantee that your book will sell.

4.2 Assisted self-publishing

When employing the services of an assisted self-publisher, like Green Hill, you will need to pay for their services. This usually includes book cover design, interior typesetting, and ISBN registration. Some also offer editing, illustration, print, distribution, and marketing, though these might be extra to the initial package. The benefit of using an assisted self-publisher is that you can off-load much of the work compared to DIY publishing and instead be guided through the process. Be sure to do your research and find the best solution to you.

4.3 Hybrid publishing

In hybrid publishing, both the author and the publisher are financially viable for the production of a book, including the editing, book cover design, interior typesetting, ISBN registration, illustration (if needed), print, distribution, and marketing. In turn, they both also receive royalty payouts; the author will usually get a higher royalty percentage per book than they would with traditional publishing.

4.4 Traditional publishing

With a traditional publishing model, the author doesn’t contribute financially to the production of the book once the publishing house takes over. The publishing houses receive their financial compensation through the sales of the book and receive a higher percentage of the profits than the author does. This means that, while the production of the book is free initially, authors are not given a high royalty for each sale.

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5. Which publishing option is best for you?

There are a few factors to take into account when considering which publishing route is best for you, but some major ones to consider are:

  1. Finances
  2. Timeline
  3. Publishing goals

5.1 Finances

Self-publishing can be done for free, but if you want to hire professionals you may be looking at paying a few thousand dollars. Traditional publishers don’t require any payment from their authors, but your manuscript has to be accepted, which can be a long and arduous process. Then, once your manuscript is selected and published, you may not see any profit return as the publisher, retailer, and wholesaler will take their cut first.

5.2 Timeline

Timeline can be important for a number of reasons. Some wish to publish their book before a loved one passes, others need business publications by a certain date, and some want to publish strategically around major holidays like Christmas.

If you have a strict deadline, self-publishing is the route for you. With DIY self-publishing, you can do everything at your own pace, and the process is often still speedy with assisted self-publishing as long as nothing goes out of scope and there are no setbacks. Traditional publishers, however, can take anywhere from months to years to publish a book.

5.3 Publishing goals

A major factor of choosing your publishing avenue is your intentions for publishing. Below are a few of the most common and which service they suit best:

  • Reaching a wide audience: If your goal is to reach a wider audience, traditional publishing is likely the better avenue as they have strong distribution contacts and are trusted by retailers. Self-publishing on the other hand is often viewed with scepticism by bookshops regardless of the quality of the publication which may limit your audience reach. With solutions like Amazon KDP and Ingram Spark, however, this has made it easier for self-published authors to obtain global reach in the online market.
  • A business “pamphlet”: If you intend to give your book out to customers at your business, then self-publishing is the perfect solution. You won’t need marketing or distribution, just a professional looking product and access to a printer.
  • Financial compensation: If you’re publishing your book with the goal of reaping the financial rewards, the answer is a little more tricky. While self-publishing does boast a much higher royalty pay-off for sales, you have to put a lot of effort into marketing and in making sure your product is of a high quality. This often means hiring professional, and there is no guarantee your book will succeed. With traditional publishing, it’s likely that your book will sell more, but you will receive a very small royalty payment. Some traditionally published authors make virtually nothing from their book.


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