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Traditional publication versus self-publishing: Which is better?

While the traditional publishing vs self-publishing rages on across writing blogs and websites, a self-published ebook that was launched into cyberspace under the Booksoarus label (the first one under this brand) has done pretty well for itself.
ebook Amazon bestseller
Here’s why I chose to self-publish my Ebook.
But does it mean, you should get all starry-eyed about self-publishing and ignore the traditional publishing industry completely? Not at all. The decision to go with traditional brick-and-mortar publishers or become a self-publishing author will depend on many factors.

Traditional publication or self-publishing: Which is better?

Here’s a quick lowdown to help you.

Why Traditional Publishing is good

Mainstream publishers have resources that you can never dream of replicating on your own.
Free access to professional editors: You’d be working with an editor who’s been there done that several times over.
Apart from the focus on the writing quality and the craft, the editor can also help you tweak the book to make the content more marketable (if you don’t mind letting go of your little baby into their hands).
Free access to their vast distribution network: The big publishing companies have a network that is country wide and they possibly have an extended network through partners and associates.
This network can help get your book into the big bookstore chains, the small retail shops, and possibly into other unconventional outlets (through marketing partnerships).
Free professional packaging: Right from the typesetting to the book cover design, your publisher can manage it all.
An impactful book cover will compel readers to take the first step and pick it up from the book shelves when it is surrounded by thousands of other novels screaming for attention.
Free money even before your book sells a single copy: Or if you prefer the regular term – book advances. That means you get the fruits of your labour before critics and readers have had a chance to read, comment and rate your novel.

Why Traditional Publishing is not so good

There is no Free lunch: If you thought all the goodies were being doled out for free, you were wrong. There are many hidden costs that you may not think about, but it’s eating into your pie. All the ‘free’ services providers will be in queue before the author to get their (lion’s share).  Here’s how the publishing industry divides the revenue pie.
Super slow: Imagine the speed of a pregnant snail with legs dipped in grease trying to climb up a steel pole (smeared with more grease) on the wettest rainy day of the season.
You may not get the pampering that you thought you would: After struggling for years to win that first publishing contract, if you thought the writing world was waiting to embrace you with open arms, you’d be mistaken. The competition for eyeballs and readers is more fierce once you get into the real battlefield.
15 minutes of fame? Nah, more like 15 seconds: Bookstores have no reason to keep your novel in stock forever. You have to ensure that there’s movement. Old stock getting sold out, so new orders can be placed. If you aren’t making money for the retailer, you are deadweight.
There are thousands of authors and novels waiting in queue for their 15 seconds of fame. And the impatient bookstore owner will feel no remorse in cleaning up the space for the newer kids on the block.
Right, so it may seem as if we’ve killed the old beast and have a shiny new toy to play with. Here’s how the pros and cons of self-publishing stack up.

Why Self-publishing is good

Super fast: If you’ve got a book, you can publish it yourself in a few days. More like a few hours, if you are thinking about ebooks.
Imagine our snail in the final days of its (surrogate?) pregnancy now, with additional grease on its legs and on the pole. The big difference now is that the snail turns around and aims for the other end.
Lesser layers: You – the printing press – your readers. For ebooks, it looks even better: you – your readers. Of course, you still have the flexibility to add additional teams if you want – book marketing teams, distributors, retailers, the family priest to ward off the evil hurdles that may come in the way of your literary superstardom.
The rewards are better aligned: With lesser number of ‘stakeholders’ and middlemen in the publishing process, you get a bigger chunk of the sales income. Unlike the traditional publishing, where you keep paying the publisher (in terms of a bigger commission) for the rest of your book’s life, you could hire a good book editor for a fixed fee and say bye-bye once the book editing job is done.
You control the book marketing process: Despite all the resources available with the big publishing houses, you as a small, first time author will not get much of that love showered on you. So why not stop depending on their largesse and take the reins of marketing in your own hands.

Why Self-publishing is not so good

Fighting a lonely battle till the end: It might be cool for you to say, “To hell with the traditional publishing industry, I’m gonna write my own destiny.” When you realise that destiny and the probability of success for your book is influenced by a 101 aspects, the coolness starts to fade.
You aren’t an expert at everything: You are a fantastic writer. Are you also a brutally honest editor, a brilliant social media savvy marketer (you gotta spread the word, right?), a popular blogger (you need an established readership to create the ripple effect), a shrewd negotiator (if you want your books to be stocked by retailers or purchased in bulk by reading groups)?
Perception of bad quality: As it’s so easy to get published, there’s a lot of crap out there. When a new author (without a ready reader base or track record) joins the party, how would readers know that your writing is good and it would be worth their time and money? The likelihood that your book will be struggling at the bottom of the ocean is high, especially in the initial days.  Good quality, a strategic marketing plan and persistence are the only ways you can hope to the top of the pile.

So what’s it gonna be for you? Self-publishing or traditional publishing? We’d love to hear your views.

About Sameer Kamat
Founder of Booksoarus. Author of 2 bestsellers - 'Beyond The MBA Hype' (HarperCollins) and 'Business Doctors - Management Consulting Gone Wild'.

17 thoughts on “Traditional publication versus self-publishing: Which is better?”

  1. Hey there!
    Well I’m a student and i’m writing a novel (fiction + love story) is in starting stages though….and I dream big…big enough and I want my book (once completed) to get published…but I know the hurdles to get a book published and that to by a first – timer….so how do I get over those hurdles….? Do you think the genre, I mentioned above is good enough and has a value in the Indian Market…?

    • Akshay:
      The genre you have in mind is among the most popular in India.
      You are right that there’ll be a lot of hurdles along the way. The best way to deal with them is to be aware of them before they hit you.
      Read up more about how the publishing process works, who’s involved at various stages, what they expect from you.
      This post should get you started: How to write a book and get published.

  2. Hi Sameer,
    Do you have any idea about self publishing? If yes, can you please suggest some of good self publishing companies?

  3. Hello Sameer,
    I saw you helping a lot of people out here. And, I must say you are doing a great job. You shared lots of valuable suggestions here which are splendid. Well, I too need to sort out my few queries.
    I have written a fictional love story which is right now in it’s editing process. It’s my debut one.
    1) I want to ask that after the editing gets completed Is it necessary to contact any literary agent to get my book published?
    2) I have heard from few people and I want to get my doubt cleared that do I need to pay money for getting my book published?
    3) If my manuscript is accepted by any publishing house, how much time it takes generally to hit the market?
    And, lastly It’s a humble request. I have written the synopses too of my book. It contains 100-110 words approx. Could you please spare few minutes on it and tell me whether it’s okay or not?

  4. Hi Manvi,
    I won’t be able to review your work, but I’ll try to address your other queries.
    It helps if you can have a literary agent represent your book, however it isn’t necessary. Many Indian publishers accept query letters directly from authors.
    In traditional publishing, you don’t have to pay money to anyone. Vanity publishers charge for their services. Read this post: Vanity book publishers in various forms.
    It can take anywhere between a few months to 1-2 years for your book to be published after you sign the contract.

  5. Hi Sameer,
    Good Job on that informative article!!
    A few questions
    What do you think about the market of self publishing in India? I mean do you know how many people in India opt for self publishing and will the number grow in the future?
    What % of these self published books in India become best-sellers or make it into the big league?
    Also since self publishing content is bound to be more crappy than the traditional publishing, what methods would you suggest to improve the content with minimum cost involved?

  6. Shashank: I’m not aware of the statistics. I guess some big publication with the resources will have to do a survey to get an idea. But it’ll still be difficult because getting that data is very (VERY) difficult, considering the number of such cases going unreported.
    For the second query, my gut feel says that the proportion of such success stories is extremely low. The inherent model of self-publishing is loaded with aspects (such as the cost & pricing) that put self-published authors at a severe disadvantage.
    What you can do to turn the tide in your favour (if you are crazy enough to put in all the effort just to prove a point) is to re-invent the traditional publishing wheel at your end.
    Something like this story – How a self-published book got sold out in under 1 year.

  7. I wrote a book at final year of my engineering named “shortcut to know SHORTCUTS- Exploring Doors of Windows” (Windows is a operating system of Microsoft). Book is used as educational of informative purpose which explores hidden facts (i.e. general user usually don’t know) and features of windows OS. with this explains each n every shortcut key with Images. I am willing to publish book on “amazon kindle”, so want to know that do i get the copyrights of my work ? ? Do i need a publisher first, to publish my book for holding rights ?? Or i need a permission from Microsoft ??

  8. Hi sameer , I am in dilemma pls help
    my book has been selected by Leadstart Publishing. and as u already know that they give two options , so since traditional way is taking too long so I opted for partnership but they r charging a lot more than self publishers .
    I found that self publishers r provising more services at the same price . so what should I do?

  9. @Prashant:
    As the author you already have the copyright. Amazon is acting as the publisher here.
    You don’t need permission from Microsoft to write a book. But you’ll need to acknolwedge the trademarks and IPR that you are referring to in the book.
    What you’ve been offered is a vanity publishing option.
    Check the link that I shared in an earlier comment about various labels that vanity publishers use (partnership, joint venture, cooperative).
    Don’t get carried away by the nomenclature. Focus on what you want and then decide.

    • Hi Sameer,
      I am a retired Civil Service officer(85 years) and my first book Godhuli, the memoir of a Zamindar’s son, has been widely accepted. I am now ready with another book ‘Satyavati – The Cursed Angel’ which is a mythological story in about 45K words. Can you suggest some publishers who might love to use such a text? I find mainstream publishers are not willing to accept mythological books..
      Can you at the same time suggest a few literary agents who might be interested in such a text?

  10. Hey Sameer
    I am an aspiring author and my first novel – Love At First Print is almost ready.
    My proposal has been accepted by few self-publishing companies.
    I have a lot of expectations from my first literary work.
    I have sent you a mail for mentoring program.
    That mail has just a 3 page synopsis of the story.
    Incase you require more content then let me know.

  11. Hi Sameer,
    This is pure gold and wealth of information that you are sharing here, thank you and keep up the good work. I especially love the way you’ve gone granular to this subject. Thanks again.
    I have a question for you and would really appreciate if you can help.
    I am looking to get an ISBN for the book and intend to self-publish (paperback) print, market & distribute it as well.
    My question is can i publish it under a brand name which is not same as the company name that i will be publishing under so e.g. The company name is XYZ Packaging Limited and the Publishing Name and Author name that i would use is lets say ABCBooks. Do you think that is possible, if so should i register my self as an author or publisher when registering for ISBN and how should i approach it?
    Thanks anyway.

  12. Hi Sameer, i also have similar doubt. For publishing a book and selling it as ebook on amazon or paperback, do we need to have a company formed separately to take care of taxation ? It is necessary to have a company formed especially for publishing purpose, be it a proprietorship or partnership or Pvt. Ltd .?


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