Traditional versus Self-Publishing

Traditional v. Self Publishing

A Newbie’s Navigation Through the Publishing Paths

You’ve written some words on a page and you are already thinking of that day when your name will be on the cover of your very own book. You can see yourself flipping through pages filled with words you wrote. If you are like me, it may feel a bit premature to start thinking about publishing a book since all I have are words in my head that want to find their way to the screen, but experts at a panel discussion I attended say that now is exactly when you should start thinking about it.

You should have a clear understanding of your end goal for your work. You could want to get the words on a page for the pure enjoyment of writing and have no intention of sharing your work with the world, or you may want to create something special for friends and family. Perhaps you want a wider audience and see your blood, sweat, and tears on display at your local library or bookstore.

Whatever your goal, set it now while you are still working out your story, because your goal could change how you approach your writing and it will certainly dictate some other decisions you need to make along the way.

Image by Andrzej Rembowski from Pixabay 

The panel

First, let’s “introduce” the experts on the panel (and by introduce, I mean I can’t remember their names because I didn’t go to this discussion with the idea I would write a blog post about it): an indie publisher who advocates strongly for self-publishing, a mid-sized press who accepts submissions without an agent, a small library imprint, and a New York literary agent. These four individuals brought some valuable information to the discussion, but please keep in mind this is what I took away from the conversation. You will want to do your own research to determine which path to publishing you would like to take.

Here are a few things I took away from the discussion:

  • Consider your audience. Knowing who you are writing for can help you make important story decisions and is one of the first considerations for how you want to publish.
  • You can go one of four routes to get your book published: The Big Five (like Penguin Random House or HarperCollins), mid-size and large publishers, small presses, and self-publishing.
  • If you plan to submit your book to traditional publishers, and you are fortunate enough to find an agent, you should start with the Big Five. The Big Five will only accept agented submissions. Then move down the list with mid-size, and small, giving a few months to each level.
  • If you hear back from a publisher, it will likely be between three to six months. Follow the submission guidelines to the letter and only contact them for the status of your submission if they tell you to do so in the guidelines.
  • Never submit your book to a publisher who requires exclusive submissions, meaning you cannot submit your book anywhere else until you hear back from them. Only a few publishers require this, and it could cost you valuable time.
  • If you are writing fiction, you do not need to have a social media presence if you plan to traditionally publish. Just hone your craft and write well.
  • Having a social media profile solely for gaining followers is a lot of work and your time could be better spent creating your book.
  • Some small to mid-sized publishers might want to see a proposal, including a marketing plan for your book. This requirement will be in their guidelines and is mostly for non-fiction writers.
  • If you want to go the traditional publishing route, do not self-publish first. You are building a track record for your book and publishers will be less likely to take a chance on your story if they see it isn’t selling well as a $.99 special on Amazon.
  • You are also building a track record as an author, so it is not recommended to self-publish if you hope to traditionally publish someday.

Your decision about publishing comes down to your project goals and how much you want to invest in your creation. For example, if you self-publish, and likely even if you publish with a small press, you will need to do a lot of marketing yourself. Are you comfortable wearing multiple hats to write and promote your book? As was mentioned many times in the discussion, nobody will love your book as much as you and nobody will care about its success as much as you. You need to have a clear vision for your work before you even start typing.

This writing is based on one panel discussion and just barely flicks some dirt off the surface of the publishing world. I would love to hear your experiences with publishing houses, both large and small, and self-publishing. Please share your knowledge in the comments!

Originally published May 4, 2019.

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