Monday, October 24, 2011

Value of Publishing Options

One of the discussion forums I’m on asks why authors would continue to try to go the traditional publishing route now that there are e-books and self publishing? First off, self-publishing has always been an option. The difference today is that e-books provide an easier, much more pervasive vehicle for self-publishing than what print-only offered in the past. So one of the questions that really needs to be asked is what value does traditional publishing provide over self-publishing?

Some of the values that self-publishing delivers, includes:
  • No barriers to entry (This is also a negative, since it opens the floodgates to low quality stories)
  • Faster time to market
  • More control
  • Higher royalty percentage (However, this doesn’t necessarily promise higher actual revenue)

Some of the values that traditional publishing delivers, includes:
  • Built-in distribution sales channel and marketing for both print and electronic versions
  • Team of seasoned experts that contribute to all aspects of the book publishing journey, such as story editors, line editors, cover artists, layout designers, PR people, salespeople, production team, and more.
  • Inherent stamp of approval for major book chains and distribution channel in terms of book quality
  • Inherent stamp of approval for readers in general (While this might eventually become less of a factor as ebooks evolve, with some exceptions I believe for the present most readers will choose traditionally published books over self-published)
  • Higher chance of success (While I don’t have numbers to back this up, I would predict that on average traditionally published books have a higher per-book sell-through rate than self-published books. Please feel free to provide numbers that confirm or dispute this)

Of course there are cons to both options too. Self-publishing typically requires an upfront investment by the author as well as increased marketing effort by the author. Even though traditional publishing is requiring more from its authors in terms of marketing, it’s hasn’t yet reach the level required by the self-publisher for success. Traditional publishing also has cons, the foremost of these being that it has a very high barrier to entry. Some feel that barrier is too high. For me there is actually value in that barrier and it’s worth it to me to spend years and significant effort breaking through it. I also place significant value on having a team of experts backing me up. I look at that as a key ingredient to my long-term success as an author.

So, the question really comes down to, what do you want as an author? If you’re a great marketer yourself, if you don’t think you need the expertise that publishers provide or you just simply want to have a book published, then self-publishing might be your best publication path. If you want a team of experts to contribute to your success and you’re willing to put the effort in to join their team, traditional publishing might be the best route.

While to some, this post might seem like a contradiction to my post of the other day, it’s really not. Both publishing routes deliver a set of values, but the importance of each those values will change based on individual author perspective and as the publishing landscape continues to evolve and change in the wake of the digital revolution.

Also, I know that the above is just a short list of the values that both routes offer. Feel free to add to the list in your comments below.


  1. I am "self-published" and my publisher delivered a team of experts each time to help with the process. The only thing I really had to provide was my own editor which, to me, was not a big deal. This team of experts worked with me from start to finish on the production of my books, and I must say I am very pleased with the outcome. Both my books are award-winning titles and I have enjoyed a high level of success with an ever-growing fan base. I know T.P. authors who have it harder than I do in terms of marketing and who are making less in royalties than I am. My books are distributed internationally through thousands of outlets and as far as them being shelved by the big box stores, there is really only one of those now, so no big deal to me (although my local stores in that chain do carry my books and can easily order them). I have found S.P. to be very satisfying. As long as the author can deliver a quality product, I honestly have found that readers really don't care how you published or who you published with. All they want is a good story. Just my two cents.

  2. Anonymous, that's great that you've had such great success with self-publishing and that you had a good team to back you as well. And I agree that a great story is what readers care most about. Are there other aspects of self-publishing endeavor that contributed to your success?

  3. I agree with your statement that most readers still prefer books by authors who went the traditional publishing route. Self-publishing sounds like exactly what it is: a person wrote a book and had it printed. Traditional publishing says that an honest to goodness publisher liked the book and was willing to invest in it.
    Unfortunately, I see a trend with younger readers to buy the cheapest book they can find to download to their Kindle and share with their friends. Quantity may be replacing quality. I hope not.

  4. Great post, Ken. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options but in reality, most writers today won't get a contract with a traditional publisher unless they've got a great platform in place already. In today's marketplace, publishers want to be certain they will be able to sell lots of our books as soon as they're available. Can you blame them?

    Sandra Beckwith

  5. There are always pros and cons. Why not try both? self-pub and traditional. That's what I've decided.

    About epublishing. . . there's so much to figure ot. I finally decided to self-pub some of my YA stuff because Amazon lowered the Kindle price so much I'm guessing more teens will have them. But who knows. I've started blogging about my self-pub story and had some interesting personal emails that were so supportive from other writers. It's like we're all holding our breath right now to see how this all settles.

    Life of Lois

  6. Lois, great points. I think we'll increasingly see more and more authors dabbling in both traditional publishing and self-publishing. I know even established authors are looking at epublishing as a way to resurface and profit from their backlist that has gone out-of-print. And I think you're right that to some degree we're in a exploratory and wait-and-see mode as the industry continues to evolve and as we help shape it.

  7. Thanks for initiating this great discussion, Ken. Another point that can be made in favour of traditional publishing is that once an author has been published by a traditional publisher, he or she can apply for certain writing competitions and writing grants, to which he or she would not be eligible had he or she gone the way of self publishing. Agents and traditional publishers, too, will be more likely to consider an author who has been published by a traditional publishing house.
    In terms of marketing, it seems that, unless one is already extremely well known and published by a larger publishing house, authors have to do a lot marketing whether they are self published or published by a traditional publishing house.
    Barbara C. Burgess
    Author of The Magic Manuscript: Voyage to Eve Ilion
    Deputy Editor Writing Edge Magazine