Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing?

The publishing landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years, with more and more authors choosing self-publishing over traditional publishing. I’ve been self-publishing ebooks and print books for about 5 years, I’ve been self-publishing audio books for 1 year, and as a media professional, I’ve been following the industry for a very long time. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, studied traditional marketing in classrooms, and followed the publishing industry for years.

The self-publishing route is not for everyone.

I choose to self-publish, and I’ve been doing so for my ebooks, print books, and even audiobooks, for 5, 3, and 1 year(s) respectively. I’m writing this post because after a long conversation recently, I advised someone to go the traditional publishing route.

Here’s the thing, each direction, self-publishing or traditional publishing, has plenty of benefits and drawbacks. Here I’ll discuss some of the biggest differences that I see.



  • Authors can (typically) make a lot more money in the long run than if they had traditionally published, and they can retain rights to their works for the length of their copyright.
  • Authors can connect with readers on a more personal and direct level.
  • Authors can write in genres that would be difficult to sell to traditional publishers.


  • Authors MUST control all aspects of their process, including editorial, publishing, and marketing (A LOT OF WORK).
  • Authors NOT putting effort into all aspects of their process WILL find very little income from their writing.
  • There’s a bit of a stigma against self-published authors (the scene is improving, but there’s still a stigma).

Traditional Publishing


  • Authors only need to write, and they don’t need to deal with the rest of the book creation process.
  • Authors gain an elite status.
  • Authors can make a lot of money up-front for their work.


  • Smaller authors may receive less attention from the marketing departments of their trad. publisher
  • It’s common that the only money an author sees from the book sold is the ‘forward’ paid.
  • If an author desires to connect with their audience, they still need to put in the effort (it’s not included in the publishing deal 🙂 ).

There are also barriers to entry SUCCEED.

Anyone can upload a document to one of a handful of different sites, and have their work online for others to buy — in minutes… This means that it’s easy to enter A GIANT WHIRLPOOL OF STUFF. Some certainly rivals the quality of traditionally published works, some of that stuff is just plain awful, and most is somewhere in the middle. Succeeding in the self-publishing space requires a lot of work to bring the work to the book’s target audience’s expected quality and to get the book’s target audience to actually notice, buy, and read the book.

There are obvious barriers to succeed in traditional publishing as well. First, an author needs an agent, but an author will only get a good one if they have a great book. Next the agent needs to market the book to a publisher, and it could take months — or never — for the agent to get a publisher interested in the book. All the author can do is cross their fingers and hope. Say the agent succeeds and a publisher wants the book, now a deal needs to be negotiated. Say the author agrees to the terms and the publisher pays the forward. Now whatever happens, it’s up to the publisher. They may do a great job with PR and marketing, or they may test the book out with some ads, see how it performs against other authors, and then put more emphasis into whichever is selling better. If the book doesn’t perform well, the publisher isn’t really encouraged to continue spending lots of money to promote it. If it does sell well, then the publisher throws tons of money behind it and the author becomes a runaway success!

Finally, consider what you want from the book. Ultimately, this is how it all breaks down for me in today’s environment.

If you want to write one book and then continue on your way, I’d suggest taking the traditional publishing route.

Write your story and get an agent. Accept whatever comes after as gravy, and don’t hold your breath on a big book deal from a publisher. Move on and do whatever your passion is and have a happy life!

If you want to write many books and make a career out of it, I’d suggest taking the self-publishing route.

If you thought that being an author was easy, IT IS! But being an author who sells a lot of books IS NOT. If you want writing to be your career, then accept the extra work you’ll be required to do… And own it!


I know this isn’t the grand equation for everyone, but it’s as simple as I can make it. Follow your passion and dreams, and do what’s best for you. ~M.