Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

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What is self-publishing?

Self-publishing is when the author becomes the publisher. You’re in charge of finding a professional editor, designer, and formatter. You invest in yourself. The author is 100% in control.

What are the pros?

●      Complete control of any artistic or business decisions.

●      Author keeps profits and rights.

●      Publish as soon as you want.

●      Author chooses to work with whichever professional he or she wants.

●      Author will not be censored.

What are the cons?

●      Producing a low-quality book.

●      The author could fall into the vanity publisher/assisted self-pub trap. Hint: If you have to pay, run away. For everything you need to know about vanity pub: shaylaraquel.com/blog/vanitypublishers.

●      It is very costly to self-publish the right way (using professionals).

●      Fewer sales.

●      Math: Traditional publishers have the data to back up what works, what doesn’t, where your book should go, etc.

●      High risk: it’s your money on the line.

●      There’s a bigger pool of bad self-published books out there. You have to stand out as the best.

Who do I print with?

●      CreateSpace (produces more print books than IngramSpark and is the simplest choice for authors—however, it’s rumored to be replaced by Amazon KDP’s print option soon)

●      Amazon KDP’s Print

●      IngramSpark — great for bookstores, libraries, etc. because of returns

●      Local printers

Who do I use for ebooks?

●      Amazon KDP

●      Nook

●      Apple iBookstore

●      Kobo

●      Smashwords

●      Draft2Digital

Who are some well-known or popular indie authors?

●      Andy Weir (The Martian)

●      Mark Dawson (John Milton Series)

●      Rupi Kaur (Milk and Honey)

●      Lisa Genova (Still Alice)

●      E. L. James (50 Shades of Grey)

●      Jamie McGuire (Beautiful Disaster)

●      Christopher Paolini (Eragon)

●      Sarah A. Denzil (Silent Child)

How do I self-publish my book?

After writing your book, you send it off to an editor, who will polish your book and prepare it for the next stage. Then, you will need a book cover. After that, you will need to send your edited book off for formatting (print or ebook). Then, you can order a proof if you’re printing the book to ensure everything is in tip-top shape. Finally, you upload your book to whichever platform(s) you prefer.

Required Reading:  Pre-Publishing Checklist — Get it for free: shaylaraquel.com/curiousersubscription

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What is traditional publishing?

A traditional publisher takes all the risk and invests into the author’s book. They buy the rights to the author’s book. The author does not pay. The authors can receive an advance and/or royalty split. That’s why it’s so hard to get traditionally published: they’re the gatekeepers.

What are the pros?

●      Wide distribution (bookstores) and supports print better.

●      No cost to the author (the publisher takes on the risk).

●      Validation/prestige.

●      Established professional team.

●      Possibility to become a household name.

What are the cons?

●      Will need to pitch to agents, as most publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

●      18–24 months before you see your book (does not include pitching to agents).

●      Loss of creative control.

●      Lower royalty rates than self-publishing (between 6–25%).

●      Lack of marketing help.

●      Patience: it can take months and years before you get a yes.

●      Contracts can be confusing and in-depth. It’s important to hire an attorney.

●      The advance is against royalties. (If you get an advance of, let’s say, $10,000, you then have to earn more than $10,000 out of your royalty rate on book sales before you get any more money. The author does not receive any royalties until the advance is paid back in full.)

Who are the top publishers?

Known as the Big Five, the main publishers (with dozens of imprints under them) are:

●      Penguin Random House

●      HarperCollins

●      Hachette

●      Simon and Schuster

●      Macmillan

Then there are large and mid-sized publishers like Scholastic and Tyndale, for example. Your agent can pitch your book to these publishers as well.

Required Reading:

Writer’s Market

Guide to Literary Agents

For more resources: shaylaraquel.com/resources

How do I traditionally publish my book?

It’s different for fiction and nonfiction authors. Fiction authors must write and send query letters to agents who take their genre. They will send query letters after having written their book; your book must be completed first. A nonfiction author, however, will send in a book proposal.

The query letter has one purpose: to seduce the agent into reading or requesting your book.

If you’ve piqued the agent’s interest, he will request the full manuscript. Then if he likes that, he will sign you and attempt to sell your book to publishers. Then you wait for the big bite! Once you sign a contract for your book, it essentially belongs to the publisher, and it may belong to the publisher for the life of copyright, which is the life of the author plus 70 years after you die.

Required Reading: JaneFriedman.com/query-letters

What does a query letter typically address?

When pitching your book to agents, you don’t have time to cover every plot twist and character. You have to take your entire manuscript and boil it down to the essentials. That means stripping your story of all of its frills and addressing its basic elements: genre, setting, character, conflict, and stakes. Your query letter should be in 250–350 words, and should not exceed that.

●      What is the title, genre, and word count?

●      What is the setting?

●      Who is the protagonist?

●      What is his or her conflict?

●      What does he or she have to do to overcome this conflict? 

Required Reading: blog.nathanbransford.com

How do I know what’s best for my book: self-pub or traditional?

❏      Do you want to be in complete control, or do you want to let someone else handle the stress of publishing a book?

❏      Do you have the budget to publish a book, or do you need someone else to invest in you?

❏      Do you want your book published within a certain time frame, or do you have plenty of time?


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The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.