Self-publishing and traditional publishing: Choosing the right route for you and your book

By   Hannah Bickerton 3 min read

whitefox: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

What separates traditional publishing from self-publishing? Which route would suit me and my book? How do I choose?

Attempting to find the answers to these questions can lead you down an Internet rabbit-hole that can feel difficult to escape. Frustratingly, there’s no simple answer, because whichever publishing route you choose to take will depend almost entirely on your goals for publishing a book and your hopes for the publication process. Of course, each route has pros and cons – the important thing is to choose the one that will benefit you and your book the most.

With the goal of making the process simpler for you, below are some questions that we believe are important to ask yourself before choosing a publishing route and taking your first steps.

1. How important is creative control to me?

When an author self-publishes, every creative decision is in their hands; it is the author’s responsibility to create a beautifully designed cover, to ensure their book’s content is grammatically correct and consistent and to plan and execute marketing and publicity campaigns. Many self-published authors choose to undertake these tasks themselves, while others work with agencies who can project manage the publishing process for them and source expert publishing freelancers.

If an author signs a deal with a traditional publishing house, the success of their book becomes the publisher’s responsibility, and will therefore be designed, edited and marketed according to a specific brief and target audience as decided by the publisher. While the author will still be asked to support on the promotion of their book, the specifics of the process will be taken out of their hands and managed by a specialist team.

2. Do I need to publish my book quickly?

Traditional publishing operates at a much slower pace than self-publishing and can often take up to two years for a book to move from manuscript submission to publication. Self-publishing, on the other hand, offers authors the chance to have their book in hand within as little as six months. This of course varies according to the author’s desires for distribution and printing.

3. Do I want a recognisable logo on my book’s spine?

If the goal of publishing a book relates to reputation and prestige, it can be valuable to have a recognisable logo on the spine of the book. Alternatively, if an author’s goal is to use their book to market their business or as an accompanying resource to speaking or teaching engagements, or even has already traditionally published to great success and wants to control their route to the market this second time around, the logo may be of less importance.

4. Do I have a large network?

If an author has an existing network of readers, colleagues or even clients, they may not need the PR support which a traditional publisher can provide. With social media, newsletters and websites come the power to harness an audience independently.

However, for those who do not have a large network or are less comfortable with the idea of self-promotion, publishing traditionally – where your book will be allocated a specific marketing and publicity budget – is a much safer option.

5. Do I need to own the rights to my book?

When an author sells a book to a publisher, they also sell the rights to the content. This gives the publisher control over the book and ensures they will work hard to promote and sell it. While the percentage you make on each sale is smaller than self-publishing (royalties commonly fall between 10 and 15 per cent), a traditional publishing house is well placed to get fantastic publicity for your book and, with a stake in the results, is invested in the success of the book.

Alternatively, self-publishing allows the author to maintain ownership over their book’s rights, which ensures they receive the majority percentage of profits from copies sold. While this can result in a larger sales income, it places all responsibility to make those sales at the door of the author.

We hope these questions have provided some clarity as to the processes of self-publishing and traditional publishing, and their advantages and disadvantages. While there are pros and cons to both publishing routes, by asking yourself these questions and outlining exactly what it is you would like to achieve through the publication of your book, your best route to market may become a lot clearer.

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.