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The Road to Publication -- Part Three: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing, Pros and Cons

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Publishing, no matter which path you choose, can be rewarding and equally difficult. Deciding which way to go has become increasingly more complicated with the pros of the traditional publisher being scaled down to match the pros of self-publishing in today's evolving market.
Weigh your options. For some writers, there is only one way. For others, the pros and cons of both paths complicate the decision. There are risks and rewards choosing either, but knowing the process might help you decide what is right for you and your manuscript.

Traditional Publisher:

Pros:

  • Your novel has a better chance of being available in bookstores
  • Editing and cover art is handled by the publisher
  • You are guided through the process from manuscript to publication by an editor
  • Some blogs only review traditionally published books on their site

Cons:

  • You exchange control for the pros and prestige of being with a publisher
  • Contracts -- may cost money to hire a lawyer to negotiate
  • The pricing of your book is determined by the publisher
  • Luck

The role of the publisher is changing as fast as the industry itself. They are expanding their distribution and selling books to a wider audience, including a print version. Being with a publisher is usually the only way to see your book on a shelf, and for so many writers, that is a goal and dream.

The process for getting your book picked up by a publisher is usually not a direct path though. After polishing your manuscript, you query agents. Start by researching agents that represent your genre and have a successful track record of selling/optioning books to publishers. It's also wise to make sure they are a part of the Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc. This organization holds their members to a higher set of standards, so generally these agents are more reputable in the industry. Just remember that this is your story and you want it handled with the respect and love that you have given it.

Do your homework on each person you send your query letter and manuscript to, and follow their instructions for submission. The process varies greatly. This part can be time-consuming, but being rejected for not following the guidelines is losing before you're even in the game.

You may get rejected by every agent you send your letter to, but don't let that deter you. This is about endurance and perseverance. If this path is your dream, follow it. Some of the most famous manuscripts were rejected well over a hundred times. It's that one person who says yes to you that will make it all worthwhile.

When your manuscript is accepted by an agent, they usually provide editing services, even if it is light editing, which prepares the manuscript to submit to the publishers. Then you wait. It's painful to wait. We are all impatient, but if your manuscript is sold, the realization of a dream is monumental. The final steps to getting published are: contract negotiations, more edits and revisions, and finally, publication day. The average submission to publication time range takes around one and a half years, but when you walk into that bookstore and see your book on the shelf, that is the ultimate reward for all of your hard work and patience.

Self-Publishing:

Pros:

  • Full control of your manuscript from writing to novel form
  • Ability to set the pricing controls and to adjust to the market as it fluctuates
  • Playing a part of the creative process of cover design and marketing
  • Largest royalty percentage available for an author

Cons:

  • All marketing is on you as the author
  • Personal financial investment
  • Responsible for distribution of your novel online through ebooks and/or print editions
  • Luck

As you can see with self-publishing, it's up to you to make your book a success, but the pay-off can be financially rewarding and may provide a huge sense of achievement for accomplishing something so great on your own.

I added luck to each of the Cons section because, unfortunately, you can do everything right and still not have a bestseller once you publish. Reversely, you may go into this much more lightheartedly and hit number one on Amazon. That's luck. We can't control it. All we can do is put out the best novel we can, which is the part we can control.

Maybe it will be easier to decide which way to publish by thinking about your personality type. Are you a control fiend who loves the challenge and the business side of publishing? Or, are you someone who wants to write and leave the other responsibilities to a team? That's probably too clear cut for most authors. Maybe you like control, but want the additional help in other areas of publishing. Look at what you're willing to invest in your book, in both money and time. If you have money to put towards cover art, editors, and blog tours, and want to have the online and distribution control of your product, self-publishing is probably the way to go.

If you prefer to write then collaborate with a team, have limited funds to personally invest in the book, or want to be in print from the beginning, go with the traditional route.

The best part of the publishing industry today is that we have a choice. That's something that didn't really exist even five years ago. There's nothing stopping you from sharing your words with readers of the world. Choose which road to publication fits you and your goals best, and go for it.

The last part of The Road to Publication Series is You're Published -- Now What? The post will cover topics leading up to novel release as well as what to do after your book is available to the public.