Monday, September 19, 2011

Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing? Good Question.

Each has it’s pro’s and con’s. With self-publishing: you pay for it all, the set up, the printing, the distribution, the marketing & promotion, you buy all your copies to sell or give away. If you have a non-fiction platform, then self-publishing is probably a good way to go. You can control the content, it’s printed faster than traditional publishing (which can take 18-24 months), and you already have a built in audience.

For fiction, I’m torn. Personally, I prefer traditional publishing. They pay you, you don’t pay them. But to get national or world-wide distribution you need an agent to get into the big publishing houses. That’s easier said than done. Another option, is to use smaller publishers that don’t require agents. The advance is smaller, but they do the printing and distribution. You still have to market and promote regardless if it is fiction or non-fiction, small publisher or large, self published or traditional.

Here is what I experienced when my first novel was ready to sell. I couldn’t find an agent for FEISTY FAMILY VALUES after exhaustive attempts. So, I went with a smaller publisher. My advance was small but they put together a wonderful product and distributed it to all the big booksellers (Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon). They also shared the book with big reviewers like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, etc. Unfortunately, my novel wasn’t reviewed by the biggies, but I did get several good reviews from the smaller reviewers they notified. If you self-publish you have to do the digging for reviewers yourself and pay for the books you send them. My publisher gave me a dozen books free just for that purpose.

Another option would be e-publishing, like Kindle and Nook, etc. If you have a contract with a publisher and they have the electronic rights, they’ll get your e-pub book done for you. My contract was for print only, so I did my own e-publishing, through Kindle and Nook. It’s not hard and I don’t have to share as much of the profits as I would with a traditional publisher. That’s another thing. Self-publishing is on your dime, but all the profits are yours. With a traditional publisher you share with everyone and their dog, getting as little as 8-10% of the retail list.

If you self publish, the editing is also on you (you can always pay a freelance editor), whereas a traditional publisher will have editors who will review it multiple times to make it the cleanest, best product it can be for no additional cost to the author.

MY ADVICE: Do your homework before you make a decision on whether to self-publish or traditionally publish. Your skill level, available time and budget are key.
To read more about B.D. Tharp, her novel and other writing, visit


Jacqueline Seewald said...


You've provided wonderful, honest advice and information. What you've said is exactly what I would tell other writers as well.
Unless you are tech talented and can do all the work yourself, self-publishing can get very expensive. The upside is that you control pricing and you can afford to sell your work inexpensively thus appealing to a wider readership and getting better known. It's certainly worked well for some writers like Amanda Hocking--but notice this was just a stepping stone for getting into traditional publishing. Ideally, you get a well-connected agent--not so easy! Then you get one of the big publishers that's got distribution. Again, not so easy!
Even with good reviews, small independents can't do much for new writers. However, I have to say that our publisher puts out a beautiful product, and although the advance is small you do get a shot at the major reviewers.

Brenda Hill said...

Enjoyed reading about character flaws, and it's so true. We all have them, fiction characters or real people.

And I loved reading about your fresh trout in Red River. I've never been there, but it sounds heavenly.

My first book with this publisher will be out in March/April 2012, so I have no idea what reviewers will take a look at it, but it's good to know I have a shot at the biggies. Even the not-so-big ones are good.

Mary Schoenecker said...

Your comparisons were fair,thorough and informative, especially for the new writer. I will forward the link to a new friend who has made the decision to self-publish, but will behefit from your comparisons.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

This information is so right-on! Promotion is the key - even larger houses expect a marketing program as part of the proposals.


BDTharp said...

Thanks for all your comments.

Brenda - Congratulations on your new book coming out in the spring!

I know this is just "my" experience, but I've benefited from other author experiences and hope new writers will, too.

The main thing is to Enjoy the writer's journey!

Maryann Miller said...

You made some excellent points, BD. And I'm glad you pointed out that if you self-publish you need to hire an editor. Too many new writers skip that most important step in the process.

I like the fact that an author can have a book published with a traditional publisher and then later put it out in e-book form as an independent. Having it out with a publisher first gives a book a seal of approval. It wasn't just something I dashed off and decided to upload to Kindle or Nook. LOL

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi BD: Very timely post, and I agree with everything you mentioned. I have never understood the desire for a big advance. Oh yes, the money would be nice, but if your book doesn't make the sell0through, you've generally got a bad mark on your name. just my 2 cents worth.

BDTharp said...

MaryAnn - I remember getting SO excited when I finished my first draft (+3 edits). I tried shopping it around and it wasn't well received. It wasn't until I did many additional edits that it become truly publishable.

BDTharp said...

Joyce - the dream of getting rich as an author is still alive, although few achieve it. I'm glad I was on the small advance trail with my first one. It made things more realistic - expectations and so forth.

Dianne G. Sagan said...

This is a good post with lots of good information. I think the key is that we have to do our homework and weigh the pros and cons.

Karen Cioffi said...

I agree with Nancy, there are benefits to both options. Although, with services like CreateSpace if doesn't have to cost much and your product is quickly in hand.

As far a book marketing, unless you're a heavy hitter, you're not going to get much help with traditional publishing.

The main factor with any form of book publishing is to create a quality product.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

BDTharp said...

Thank you for the comments.