• Advice

Traditional vs. self-publishing: A guide for new authors

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

Authors have been facing a big question in recent years. While traditional publishing was once the only way to go, now we have the option of self-publishing. Many new–and seasoned–writers are not sure which way to go.

These roads are different and both can be difficult in their own way.
Some say that traditional publishing is still the best way to go, since it adds credibility to your work. However, many writers are tired of getting past gatekeepers and the time it takes to publish a book with big publishers, and they often choose self-publishing.

New authors just entering this world are confused. They always dreamed of a big publishing house standing behind their work, but they want their book in front of readers as soon as possible.

Which route should you choose?

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishing is definitely the more difficult way to go. On average, it can take anywhere from 18 months to two years to see your book on shelves. And even then, it’s unlikely that it will become the bestseller that you want it to be.

This is because the publishing houses put real marketing behind only one or two books they really believe in–and the chances for your book to be one of those are one in a million.

This means that after your book is published, you’ll still have to do the majority of the marketing for your book.

However, traditional publishing gives you an undeniable credibility. There is also a romantic side to it–most writers have dreamed about being published long before they had a finished book.

Publishing your book this way is hard but not impossible.

5 necessary steps

  • Write a good book. This is by far the most important part of the process. You need a good book to start with. If you are a fiction writer, you’ll need your book publication-ready before you find an agent. This means that it has to be written in its entirety, somewhat edited, and brought to its final draft. If you are a non-fiction writer, you may not need a full book. You can just send a pitch with the general topic. Some say it’s good to go for the trends since publishers will likely be looking for what’s popular with readers at the moment. For instance, vampire or werewolf books were popular a few years back. But trends pass quickly and it’s better to aim for something you really love and believe in.
  • Build a platform. Writers often neglect this because they think that their platform will form once they get published. But you have a much better chance at getting published if you have an audience to support you. You can do this even before you start writing–start a blog and be consistent with your posting. Build an email list as well.
  • Get feedback. Get someone to read your book. Aim for someone honest with some knowledge of the literary world. Your friends and family are going to love it either way. You can contact a writer friend or an old professor and ask them to read your book. Ask for constructive feedback that can really improve your book.
  • Hire an editor. You’ll have much better chances finding an agent if your book has already been edited. You also get more eyes on your work, which can mean more feedback. This may cost you more but it will bring a lot of value to your work.
  • Find an agent. This is probably the hardest part of this process. You’ll have to go through many agents until you find the one that truly believes in your work. Write a good query letter and hope for the best. If you find an agent, that person will be in charge of handling pitching to big publishers.

The self-publishing route

Self-publishing is a fairly new thing in the literary world. Writers have long been displeased with publishing houses and the process of getting their book in front of readers the traditional way. Enter self-publishing.

This process created new opportunities for writers. However, now everyone can be a writer–and there are a ton of low-quality books out there. But there are also plenty of amazing writers whose work got a chance because of self-publishing.

This way, though, you may have to learn to do much more than just write, especially if your budget is small. For instance, you will have to design your own cover, format your book, decide on pricing, and so on. All of this makes for a lot more work but also much more creative control. One of the best parts is that you get 70%-80% of everything you earn.

While this is amazing, if you really want to earn any money, you’ll have to do some decent marketing for yourself. This is the part that most writers hate. However, with some good techniques, you might do a better job than a publishing house would.

8 necessary steps

  • Write a book. Again, a good book is where you begin. Only now, you can write about anything you want. From a marketing standpoint it’s good to go for trendy topics, but as I already mentioned, if you want to remain relevant, create something evergreen.
  • Get feedback. Getting good feedback is even more important with self-publishing. Find the best writers you can to review your work and give you some really constructive feedback.
  • Hire an editor. Editing is an important part of the process - you don’t want your work to look unprofessional. Find a really good editor–it may cost a bit more but it pays off.
  • Design your cover. Your cover is the face of your book. While this would traditionally be someone else’s job, it’s now yours. Creative freedom is great but it can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are not a professional designer. Ask a friend to help, hire someone, or take a course that will teach you how to create good book covers.
  • Create a Kindle Direct account. Signing up for Kindle Direct is simple and easy. You can find useful publishing information there. For print versions of your book, link it to CreateSpace.
  • Publish your book. Hit that "publish" button–but not before you check everything once again to make sure that everything is as it should be.
  • Market your book effectively. In order to sell your book, you need to promote it. Use social media, your website, write guest posts, newspaper articles and hold a book launch in your city. You can even create posters and put them up. Ask a local bookstore to place a few copies of your book on their shelves and also ask a local library to hold a few copies. It helps if you already have a following–blog followers, social media followers, real-life community and so on.
  • Celebrate! Marketing is never really done, but after your initial efforts, you can take some time to celebrate and relax. And then–off to the next book!

Over To You

In the end, the route you choose is all up to you and your personal preference. Every option has perks and pitfalls, which you should know before you make a decision.

But one thing is for sure–authors nowadays have more opportunities than ever.

Sherie Raymond works as an education writer and an editor at Origin Writings and Academic Brits. She loves writing for online educational magazines and blogs, especially if she can help someone with her articles. In her free time, she likes to do yoga.