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Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing? How Do I Decide?

One of the questions I am often asked by my book coaching clients is, “Should I self-publish my book or try to pursue traditional publishing?”

The answer is, “Well, that depends.” There are a lot of criteria that influence that particular decision and it’s an important issue.

Here are some of the considerations you might take into account when making your decision:

Is Prestige an Issue For You?

Traditional publishing companies receive countless manuscripts every week and staff members are hard-pressed to sort through them all in the major effort to find the handful that will fit their publishing criteria and maximize their chances of selling thousands of copies. Competition for a publishing contract is fierce and traditional publishers only publish the best of the best – so signing a contract with a traditional publisher is a Very Big Deal. Simply put, it means the author has written a terrific book . By contrast, anybody with the cash to pay a printer can self-publish, and the buying public has no guarantee that a self-published book is based on sound concepts, or has benefitted from superb research, excellent writing and effective editing. Although writing a book for self-publishing can still be a huge amount of work, and it is still a huge accomplishment, it does not yet have the cachet of a traditional publishing arrangement.

How Quickly Do You Want That Book Out There?

The information I’m hearing these days is that it can take about two years to find an agent to represent your book manuscript to a traditional publishing company. Again, competition for traditional publishing contracts is fierce and since most publishers stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts a number of years ago, it is now the agents who are charged with finding excellent manuscripts and convincing a publisher to publish them. That can take about another two years, and then production adds at least another year or so onto that timeline. All told, then, you might be at least five years from publication right now and that’s IF your book manuscript is extraordinary already. I hear that agents slog through an awful lot of poorly written manuscripts and those ones don’t have a hope of getting published, ever. By contrast, if you are self-publishing, and you have already had the manuscript edited, you can be holding copies of your book within a few months.

How Widely Do You Want Your Book Distributed?

Every book can find a place on, but do you want your book to be available through bookstores? If so, then traditional publishing is the way to go. A traditional publisher will look after every detail of distribution for you so you don’t have to go door-to-door convincing stores to accept – usually on consignment – a few copies of your book. Your traditional publisher will also handle negotiations for international distribution and translation issues, if that becomes desirable. Traditional publishers are doing less and less marketing these days, especially for first-time authors – but if you self-publish, you are responsible for the whole ball of wax. You take a shipment of 1,000 copies of your book and you have to sell every last blessed one of them yourself.

Are Finances Important?

A traditional publishing contract will net you a small advance of $1,000-$2,000, which you will have to pay back through sales of your book on or through book stores. As a traditionally published author myself, I get a $2 credit for every book sold through these channels, so that $2,000 advance I received initially doesn’t get paid off until I sell 1,000 copies of my book. Once the $2,000 is taken care of, I will start receiving royalties of $2 per copy, payable quarterly. I also purchase several hundred copies of every book my publisher publishes for me, at a wholesale price that is somewhat less than the $20 my books cost in book stores.  I can sell them for whatever price I choose, or even give them away to clients or members of the public. But, again, this is not an easy way for me to get rich quick, and even 500 copies of my book costs me thousands of dollars to purchase.

Self-publishing, by contrast, offers somewhat better opportunities for generating revenue.  Printing costs will run you between $5,000 and $10,000 on average (depending on the size of the book and a whole lot of other factors), but you get to keep 100% of every dime you make on sales. If your per-book cost of production (exclusive of editing – I consider that a pre-publication expense that should be undertaken regardless of whether you want a traditional or a self-publishing arrangement for your book) is about $8, and you sell the book for $20, you are immediately pocketing $12 per book and so this is a good opportunity to generate some cash. If you are giving the book away to clients and influencers, then you can write the publishing expenses off as a cost of doing business.

There are other factors at work in the effort to get that book out there, but these are the main ones you’re going to have to look at as you work towards completing the writing.

If you would like to discuss how I might help with any problem you’re having around writing, editing or publishing your book, please let me know! Drop me a line at and I’ll be pleased to share any information that might be of assistance.


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