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Trade Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

 Gilbert P., in response to Self-Publishing Links I Like asked, “What are the advantages of self-publishing?”

Here’s my take on the advantages of both self- and trade publishing.

Self-publishing advantages

Total control over the project. When you self-publish a book (or anything else, like videos, music, etc.) you get to control everything, from the writing through book and cover design and the marketing.

This is a mixed blessing. With that control also comes full responsibility.  You’ll have to hire an editor – and you’ll need at least a copy editor because none of us proofread our own work well. You’ll also need a cover designer unless you’re also a graphic artists. Once the book is professionally done, you’ll need to do all the marketing – yes, every bit of the marketing. Sure you can hire folks, but you still have to be involved to push your book to success.

The Well-Fed Self-Publisher is really an excellent source of detailed info about self-publishing a book. He also does what I consider the best comparison of trade and self-publishing.

Much higher profit potential. If your book is a success you’ll likely earn much more per copy when you self-publish. As a rule of thumb, trade published books earn the author about $1 per copy.

If you publish your book for $9.95 which is fairly typical for the ebook version, you’ll probably make $3 or $4 a book or more. Paperback books which can cost up to $30 each retail, will often bring the self-published author $8-$15 per book. The potential for bigger bucks is obvious. That does assume, however, you’re able to market the book well – and that’s a huge assumption.

When well done self-published books can increase your authority. When you write and publish a book, even self-publish, in your field, if the book is well done and useful it can go a long way toward increasing your stature there. Just having a book you wrote on your resume makes you look good in many situations. If you’re a speaker, a book for sale in the back of the room can earn you significant money as well as emphasize and amplify your message.

Sometimes leads to a trade publishing contract. Once in a while, a self-published book will lead to an offer to republish from a trade publisher. It’s nice to be asked and there is still some prestige associated with being published by a trade publisher, particularly a well-known one.

Trade publishing advantages

Trade publishers provide needed services. Making a good book is still an art. Publishers will provide at a minimum copy editing, book and cover design and at least minimal marketing. They often will also provide some substantial editing which can make your book better. In some pub houses you’ll get approval rights on design and a final look at the proposed editing, but the publisher is the one who really makes the decisions.

You can make significant money. If your book becomes a legitimate best seller, you can make literally millions. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Unless you’re already famous, and probably even then, you’ll be asked to do a bunch of the marketing even with a trade publisher.

You’ll have the authority and prestige of the publishing house behind you. Because self-publishing is so easy there’s a ton of schlock out there. In theory working with a trade publisher enhances your reputation. It’s worth noting that the distinction is becoming more and more blurred and publisher downsize and self-publishers learn to do a better job.

There is, of course, considerable debate on the advantages and disadvantages of trade and self- publishing. These posts may help:

What’s your opinion of self- and trade publishing?


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by cdrummbks

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • People keep telling me I need to self-publish, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I just can’t. I don’t have the money and I would rather try everything I can to get in the other way. I don’t feel I’ve done that yet.

    About the only way I’d consider it would be if I had a little e-book –fiction or not– to sell for a few bucks or something. So far I’ve got nothing tangible in that area, but it remains a consideration.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Yucky and YouMy Profile

    • Who is telling you to self-publish? It’s just one of our options… and it’s a choice, that’s all.

  • I went self-pub when I released my book at the start of the year: paid for a proper editor (an absolute must if you’re serious) and a cover and published through Amazon’s CreateSpace and KDP.

    I think the most significant difference between self-pub and going through a publishing house is something you mentioned but didn’t focus on: the marketing. Trade publishing means you get your book marketed. They’ll put it in their new release list, they’ll talk to people about it, they’ll arrange interviews and stuff – obviously a lot more if you’re already famous, which we’re not!

    When you self-pub you have to do ALL your own marketing. You have to send review copies out of your own pocket, arrange interviews yourself, talk to bookshop managers yourself, maintain an online presence, market through social media, blah blah blah. There’s an AWFUL lot of work involved if you’re serious about it – work that a publishing house just does a lot of automatically as part of their normal day-to-day business of putting their titles out there.

    And I have to say, the first time you see a self-pub sale that’s gone to someone you don’t know, it’s a wonderful feeling. Scary as hell, but wonderful. 🙂
    Spike recently posted..PenStars Registration Now Open!My Profile

    • Congratulations on publishing your book Spike, and yes, the marketing is the key… it’s all on your head or pocket when you self-publish. If you want to do a guest post on your self-publishing experience I’d love it.

  • I have Selfpublished a tiny little (non-fiction) e-book (that actually also got actual buyer’s that where – not – family :))

    I do think that for successful (fiction) (e-)books it can help a lot when you also have a Free or 99-cent first (e-)book and offer a Series, with great Cover Art.
    For the Cover of my own tiny little e-book I selected a (Digital0 Photo from my own
    Stock Photo Cathalogue.

    From some of my readers I also actually got a little Readers Feedback by email and
    I might possibly create a Bigger and Better Upgraded Version in the Future.
    HP van Duuren recently posted..Your Blog As a – Platform – To Work FromMy Profile

    • Upgrading, issuing new editions, etc. seems to be part of ebook success for sure.

  • Hi Anne,

    I’m planning to publish an e-book for Amazon Kindle, sounds like a good idea?
    Ali | Writers Blog recently posted..How Safe Is Your Website From Google’s Over-Optimization Penalty?My Profile

  • Carme Johanson

    Have you tried to self publish already? I would like to make a book and publish it myself so I could have all the advantages mentioned above. Thanks for giving an insight about self publication.

    Carme Johanson recently posted..how to seduce a womanMy Profile

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