Choosing Between Traditional vs Self-Publishing

Traditionally published author, Bryan Fagan, talks about the pros and cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing, so you can choose which is right for you.

An Article is Born

A few weeks ago I mentioned to Isabella an experience I had at a coffee shop. Eugene, Oregon is a popular place for writers. We seem to spring up on every corner like weeds. It is also the home of strong opinions, and on a sunny Saturday afternoon I experienced both.

I was sitting at a small table sipping iced tea. A notebook in hand, working on my next book. I heard an argument behind me. Two local authors, I discovered. One arguing the traditional publishing way while the other voicing a strong opinion for self-publishing. I pictured a street fight. Traditional vs. Self-Publishing. Boxing ring and all.

Their voices grew. One talking over the other. Suddenly, silence. I heard a chair move. I saw one of them storm out. The door slamming behind. I shifted in my seat, grabbed another notepad, and began to work on a new article. 

Introduction to Publishing Options

Traditional Publishing

When a publisher offers the author a contract, and, in turn, prints, publishes and sells their book though booksellers and other retailers. The publisher buys the rights to publish their book and pays them royalties through sales.


When an author publishes their work without a traditional publisher. This allows the author to retain control of all creative decisions, publishing costs and royalty profits.  

Before you make a decision on what path to take, pause for a moment and read the definition of each. For those of you at a crossroads, I hope this article helps. I do not push one way or the other. That is up to you. As for me, I go the traditional route. As you read on, you’ll discover my reasons, but in no way should my reasons be your own. Absorb all of the information you can, before making a decision. Study, listen, learn, but most of all, follow your instincts. That’s where you’ll find your answer.

Quality and Credibility

Which route is better for credibility? That is the million dollar question. So much of it comes down to the eyes of the beholder. When it comes to quality a publisher has a team whose only job is to create a winning product. That would be your book. A publisher has a marketing specialist and a team of editors. They take your book’s finished draft and attempt to create a better version. 

With self publishing, everything rests on you. But it’s not a heavy thing if you are tech savvy or have your own team. You will have the ability to create an eye catching cover, a well edited book and a solid marketing plan.

Whereas a small publisher can only do so much. They have a small budget and a smaller staff. A bigger publisher will be able to do more, but they too expect the author to do some of the leg work. 

One thing to remember: If you go the traditional publishing route, expect to be involved. Do not leave the editing and cover design in their hands. Bad decisions can happen.

Times are better. The current technology that we have can take a dim-wit like me and create something fantastic, is pretty amazing. I can self-publish anything right now. But no matter how great the technology, some will see it as a cop-out. Or, in other words, not real. If you become a self-publisher that is something you have to accept. Critics are part of the game. The trick is having a thick skin.

Editorial Support

I have my own editor who I pay out of my own pocket. I consider myself lucky. I will match her talents against anyone, including my publisher. As you can see, receiving high quality editorial support isn’t always the case when you are traditionally published.

From experience I advise you to research and hire your own editor. Word of mouth will help you find one that fits your style or talk to me about mine. The key is to have your book polished and ready long before a publisher sees it.

 Expect to fork over cash no matter what choice you make. It’s the world we live in.

Marketing Support

Welcome to a world many authors know nothing about. If you’re a writer like me, you want to be left alone and do what you do best – Write. We want to give our books to a marketing genius. Sell thousands and live the good life. Unfortunately that kind of life is rare and so is market support. 

In today’s world, an author is expected to market their books. They are expected to have a marketing plan. This is where traditional and self-publishing are equal. I was told there was a time when things were different. A publisher played a bigger role but those days are gone. Every writer is expected to play a big role in the marketing game.

A publisher will only have a big marketing budget for your book if you are already well-known.

Don’t Panic!

There are tons of resources to educate you. There are free and paid promos. Contact me if you’re looking for the right ones; I researched and created a list. At the sametime, be careful. There are lots of sharks out there. Remember: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Some quick tips on marketing

  1. A newsletter. This is a must have. I learned the hard way just how important it is. Imagine an email list containing your loyal fans itching to buy your book. It can become a huge and valuable tool.
  2. Your own website containing your books and where to buy them.
  3. Social Media: Pick one where all you do is talk shop. Keep the fun stuff on another account. Use this one to talk about your books and your writing.

Creative Control and Flexibility

When you self publish you become an instant author. You could create a cover with a shoe and write one word that says shoe and publish. Hold on; That’s a great idea!

You are the owner. You have the final say with your writing, commissioning your book cover, and editing and marketing your novel.

In traditional publishing, you are given a contract to sign. I have signed three. Two with one book, two different publishers. You have to adhere to their requirements. It’s not as strict as it seems. You do have a voice. This is a partnership. These are ordinary people you will be working with, not A.I. My publishers have great communication and are open to suggestions. But remember: They have control. You don’t.  

Everything is flexible in the world of self-publishing. You have the ability to write anything at any length but it comes at a price. You pay for everything. Writing becomes a small part of your daily life.

Time to Market

It all comes down to one thing: How bad do you want it? Anybody can push a button and publish. Anybody can submit a manuscript and hope it’s picked up. But not everyone is prepared for the amount of time it takes to sell it. 

Marketing is time consuming. Marketing is learning, making 100 mistakes while hoping you get one right. It’s full of frustration trying to find the time and time is one thing a writer never seems to have enough of. You have to be stubborn and determined and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it isn’t enough.

Are you sure you want to do this? 

Royalties and Rights

The standard royalty rate for traditional publishing is 10 to 15 percent. Self publishing between 60 and 80 percent. Yes. Eye opening.

In self publishing you own the rights. You own the prints and digital rights. Traditional is a business contract. Some will give you an advance with money up front. Publishers retain full control over title and cover art. If the author has strong opinions over both they may have it written in the contract before signing.

Traditional retains rights to content and possible future books, regardless if the book is in print or not.

Key: Read the contract before signing.

Communication is vital. Make sure everything is in writing. No verbal agreements.


On the surface, self-publishing is the way to go. More money. More Control. A simple and easy choice. You are the owner. But you also own the bills. The average cost to self-publish runs between 500 and 4800 American dollars. You pay all editing, printing, cover, formatting and marketing costs. You will be amazed how fast your profits dwindle. With traditional, the publisher pays for everything, unless you want your own editor, which I strongly advise. 

So there you have it. Exhausting, overwhelming, impossible and costly. Kind of like being a parent. 

I chose the traditional route because of the challenge. I want my book to be good enough to be chosen over others. I like working with a team and I’m not exactly computer savvy. 

My advice to you: Do your homework. Ask a ton of questions or drop me a line. But most of all, take your time. This is a huge decision you’re about to make. Whatever you do, I promise one this: One of the greatest feelings in the world is holding your book in your hand.    

A picture of the book Chasing the Moon by Bryan Fagan
Bryan Fagan’s latest novel, Chasing the Moon

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