Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: How Do You Choose?

When I started writing, I was sure I wanted to go with a traditional publishing house. I don’t own an e-reader, so I wasn’t really aware of the self-publishing market. I knew about vanity publishing (where an author pays a press to print their book), so every time I heard someone talk about self-publishing, that’s what I thought they were referring to. Eventually I happened upon an article or two that informed me that self-publishing now usually refers to e-books and print on demand services like Kindle and Create Space. I filed away the information in my brain with a level of importance about equal to my weekly grocery specials. Mmm, maybe slightly less. Those buy 2 get 3 free Coke specials demand my attention.

One day while I was happily typing away on my laptop, my husband asked from the dining room if I’d heard of Hugh Howey. I had, but not because of his self-publishing prowess. I’d read a book review of Wool and had added it to my never ending spreadsheet of books to read. I didn’t see why my husband cared, however. He doesn’t read fiction as a rule. He does, however, devour his Wall Street Journal, which is what had prompted the question. The Journal, like nearly every other media outlet, had done a piece on Howey and the rise of self-publishing.

I read the article, my brain exploded, and after I got done mopping up the mess, I decided I should look into this self-publishing thing a bit more. I read article after article about how glorious it was and how I would be an idiot, a brain-dead idiot, if I did not go the self-publishing route. Clearly I didn’t want to be an idiot, so I decided I should self-publish. I hired an editor, looked into book cover artists, and downloaded all the formatting guidelines for Kindle and Nook.

Then I had coffee. A friend of mine put me in touch with an author she knew, Jay Posey. Jay’s first book, Three, comes out July 30, so he is further along in this new author process than me. Over frappuccinos, he very kindly let me pepper him with questions for an hour and a half. Mostly I wanted to know why he had decided not to self-publish. Jay had a number of reasons, but the two biggest that stuck out to me were the desire for greater distribution and some statistics on self-publishing I hadn’t heard before.

I went home and did some more research, and this time I dug a little deeper.  Here’s a few of the things I discovered from a particularly eye opening article:

4 out of every 5 books sold is still a print book.

50% of self-published authors make less than $500 on their book.

10% of self-published authors earn 75% of the money in that field, thus skewing the average.

I also discovered via Chuck Wendig, who writes on the topic of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing frequently, that self-publishing is not necessarily the best path for authors writing young adult books. At the time I read it, I still thought I was writing young adult fiction. A warning for sensitive readers: while the link below is very useful, Wendig will offend your sensibilities. His blog is called terribleminds, after all. If that doesn’t bother you, Wendig covers a number of situations when self-publishing might not be your best option.

If I wasn’t already alarmed, then I certainly was after this week, when Tobias Buckell posted this. I’m surprised every single writer’s forum didn’t crash. I’ve seen this article reposted several times, and some people are absolutely foaming at the mouth about it. I didn’t want to engage in rabid fighting about which method of publishing was best. I just wanted to figure out which one would work for me.

I was glad I had a more realistic view of self-publishing now, but it didn’t help solve my problem of which route to try. I needed to see the pros and cons and weigh the decision. This is where Jane Friedman’s infographic on the various paths to publishing came in handy:

5 Key Book Publishing Paths

publishing infographic

In the end, like Jay, it came down to the issue of distribution for me. If I want my book to be in bookstores and libraries, then traditional publishing still makes the most sense. I’m going to try that route first. I might still end up in self-publishing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I discovered I had written a new adult book instead of a young adult book without realizing it. The NA market is almost entirely e-books at the moment.

For the other writers out there, how did you decide?

Up Next:  Sprinting Towards Insanity, or, Driving Your Friends, Family, and Yourself Crazy While Writing

8 thoughts on “Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: How Do You Choose?

  1. Thanks for the info. I have an adult fiction manuscript. I am going to work both paths at the same time.

  2. This is a very helpful post! I’m bookmarking that info graphic for later.

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