Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

traditional publishing

Although self-publishing has become popular among authors who don’t get a traditional publishing deal, there seems to be some confusion about the various options available today. While they achieve the same objective—getting your book out there to the public—the actual approaches are quite different.

For instance, as a self-published author, you have complete responsibility and control over the publishing process. You’ll not only write the book but also be hands-on in managing the editing, typesetting, cover design, distribution, pricing, and marketing of your book. Apart from the control factor, the big advantage is that, in most cases, the self-published author keeps 100% of the royalties from book sales.

Traditional publishing operates quite differently. The author submits their book proposal to a publisher, who reviews it and, if they like it and think they’ll earn money from publishing it, they’ll sign a contract with the author and pay an advance. In traditional publishing, the processes of editing, typesetting, designing the cover, and distribution are all handled by the publisher. That sounds great, but the downside is that the publisher also keeps most of the royalty payments.

This article aims to bring some clarity to the publishing process and help authors choose the publishing option most suitable to them.

Self-publishing, as the name suggests, is where the author is her own publisher. The author handles the tasks typically managed by a publisher, which include editing, typesetting, cover design, distribution, pricing, and marketing. The advantage to this is that the self-published author keeps 100% of the royalties from book sales.

In traditional publishing, the publisher handles editing, typesetting, cover design, and distribution. The disadvantage is that the publisher also keeps most of the royalties from book sales.

In short: A self-published author spends her own money getting published and keeps 100% of the royalties, whereas a traditionally published author doesn’t spend a dime getting published, but she gives up significant royalties from the sales of her book.

Now, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of these:


Hiring an editor, typesetter, cover designer, choosing a distribution network, converting files to the correct format so that they get approved on publishing platforms can consume time and money. Self-publishing can cost almost nothing if you do it yourself, but if you do hire professionals, the costs can go up to $5000 per book.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t pay any money to get published through a traditional publisher. If you are lucky enough to get a deal from a good traditional publisher, they should be able to give you editorial feedback and help you produce a good quality book.


Traditional publishing has experts (read gatekeepers) who oversee the production of your book. If you are offbeat and want to try something out of the box, then it’s something you might have to convince your editor. When you self-publish, you are the boss. There are no gatekeepers to oversee your work.

Rejection Rate

If you are going traditional, then you may have to write book proposals and query letters to publishers before someone accepts to publish your book.

The rejection rate is exceptionally high in traditional publishing. Some non-fiction authors never get a traditional publishing deal even if their content is excellent because most traditional publishers look for authors with an author platform. If you are a celebrity and have a strong mailing list, then you are more likely to get a publishing deal.

Without an author platform, it’s hard to get a non-fiction book published through a traditional publisher.

Distribution Network

Some publishing consultants argue that a traditional publisher can provide the author a wider distribution network compared to self-publishing. I’m not sure if I agree entirely. With Kindle direct publishing and Ingramspark, self-publishers can get reasonably wide distribution. Although, it is likely that the big traditional publishers might be able to wiggle in shelf-space at major bookstores.


Another debate among believers and naysayers is that the only way to become famous is through traditional publishing. The believers say, “The most famous authors are traditionally published.” Whereas the naysayers say, “You’ve got to be famous to be traditionally published.”

Most non-fiction authors are picked based on their fame rather than on the quality of their content. So there could be some truth in both the statements.


In traditional publishing, you first need to get your manuscript accepted before proceeding with the publishing process. Getting accepted usually takes a few months to a year. If your manuscript gets accepted, polishing your book and printing may again take a few more months. Ideally, it will take around two years for your book to be launched.

The process of self-publishing is quick because it solely depends on your abilities and time. You can set your own timeline and publish your book as quickly as a few months.


As I mentioned earlier in the article, a traditional publisher keeps most of the royalties from the book because they take the upfront risk of spending money to polish, design, distribute, and market your book. If you expect significant sales from the book because you already have a substantial list of fans willing to buy your book, you may be giving up significant royalties. So think if it’s worth giving up the royalties.


The traditional publisher keeps all the rights to your book. You retain all the rights to your self-published book.

As a wise man once said, “For everything you gain, there’s something you give up, and for everything you give up, there’s something you gain.” Choosing between the two options can be quite confusing for first-time authors.

Some authors are strong proponents of self-publishing, while there are others who swing to the other extreme.

What to Choose?

Do you have the resources to fund a self-published book? Do you need creative control? Or, do you want to explore traditional publishers? Many first-time authors don’t have a choice. Traditional publishing is not available to them. So, they have to self-publish. Besides, pitching to traditional publishers takes time. However, the editorial guidance of a traditional publisher can be valuable.


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