Fifty Shades, The Martian and Still Alice all have something in common, aside from being bestselling books which made it to the big screen: they were all initially self published. Yet there is still a view in some quarters that self publishing is somehow second best; something that you do when you can’t get a traditional firm involved. As these books and many more besides prove, that simply isn’t the case today. In fact, depending on the book you want to write, there are pros and cons to both options.
The first fundamental difference is based on time and flexibility. Pitching to traditional publishers takes time, a lot of time, a considerable amount of patience and a stern constitution. An author may need to pitch to several publishers before their idea gets picked up (if at all) and etiquette dictates that they can generally only send their manuscript out to one publisher at a time. With each publishing house taking up to six months to respond, it is likely to be quite a while before the book gets onto the shelves. Even if they do agree to take an author on, the actual publishing process can take a fiendishly long time, particularly with fictional works. However, topical non-fiction may be put through the system more quickly to take advantage of news flow.
In the alternative universe of self publishing, it is possible to get a physical book out into the market within three to six months, once a manuscript is complete. An eBook can be released even sooner.
Another consideration is control. Once a traditional publisher has signed up a book, they will, quite understandably, expect a say over their investment. They may strongly suggest (read: insist upon) certain changes, even though this might not always sit comfortably with an author. With self publishing, the author will have greater control over pretty much everything, from content to design.
The flip-side to this argument is: traditional publishers have the experience and knowledge to suggest suitable changes that will most likely result in a highly marketable book, which means better income/royalties for everyone.
Which brings me to money. Self publishing means you, the author, will be paying money from the start. You’ll pay for a ghost, if you use one, or the time you invest in writing, as well as design, editing, print, marketing and distribution. A traditional publisher, on the other hand, will pay an advance, as well as using its own resources to produce and then vigorously promote your book.
Every case is different. Authors need to think hard about what either option could add to their book. While the financial aspect of traditional publishing is enticing, as well as the potential for wide distribution and some hefty marketing muscle, it is not easy to secure a publishing contract.
A crucial point to note is that a publisher’s choice to back an author is generally based on whether they have a ready-made audience, ie that the book will sell well. If you have already developed your own audience, say through an excellent social media following, or a business network, it doesn’t make as much sense to use a publisher. You may be better off keeping absolute control over your message and timing, then reaping 100 per cent of the rewards of your soaring book sales.
Today, more than ever, the choice is yours.