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Self Publishing Vs Traditional Publishing

Today, I will try to answer the age-old question: Traditional Publishing or Self Publishing?

I will be going through the pros and cons of each thoroughly in this article, so grab your manuscripts and let's explore how you can get your story out into the world.

To properly differentiate, I will divide each aspect of publishing and how your route affects your book.


  • In Traditional Publishing you must sign a contract with a publisher, essentially giving over some rights for their expertise, marketing connections, and initial investment.

  • In Self-Publishing you are the captain of your ship as you handle all the above things and have to make sure that the quality is up to scratch.

Now let’s dive deep into the specifics

Means of Entry

In Traditional Publishing:

  • The big traditional publishing house in many cases (in India, they don’t) only take submissions from agents who serve as the middlemen.

  • To get an agent, you must draft a document called a query letter which sums up your book and lets the agent decide if it’s a manuscript worth picking up.

  • Once they have taken you on as a client, they will then pitch your book to different houses to get a deal, taking 15% of future payments.

  • Note: You can circumvent this step by directly talking to small publishing houses directly.

In Self-Publishing:

  • You are not required to do anything special to you book and can very well upload the first draft with a DIY cover.

  • This lack of “gatekeeping” is freeing for authors who are not willing to wait months for agent responses and publishing house deals but has also contributed to the growing list of poorly done self-published books.

Writing your Manuscript

In Traditional Publishing:

  • You write your story with blood, sweat and tears and a lot of rewrites and revisions. Then once you hand it over to your agent and editor there is a possibility that they might mold it into something different and make changes you are not comfortable with.

In Self-Publishing:

  • You still have to write your story with blood, sweat and tears and a lot of rewrites and revisions, but you are free to write anything you want without the fear of the story being changed.

Polishing your Manuscript

In Traditional Publishing:

  • This is when you start to query agent and you wait for a response before going through a potential round of edits with them.

In Self-Publishing:

  • You reach out to paid/free Critique Partners and Beta readers for advice with you having the final say in any changes.

Professional Edits

In Traditional Publishing:

  • After months of work, your work gets picked up by an agent who sells it into a publishing house. A team of editors then work on your story - while they may consider your opinions, more often than not the final say is with the publisher.

  • A major complaint of traditional publishing is that the editors try to mold the book it into a trendy title with the current popular tropes instead of the author's vision which does not fit the publisher's expectations.

In Self-Publishing:

  • You hire four professionals to achieve the same effect:

  • A Developmental Editor to look the story over for story, plot, themes, and characters.

  • A Line Editor to go through the manuscript line-by-line with a fine-toothed comb. The goal is to make the writing as polished as possible.

  • A Copy Editor to go through the manuscript and check for copy mistakes.

  • When comparing copy and line editing, copy editing is technical, whereas line editing is stylistic.

  • Then, finally, a Proof-Reader to go through a final time and catch any last-minute errors which might have slipped through.

  • You are not obliged to accept any changes as the editors work for a per word fee and you can change editors if you are not satisfied.

Book Covers

In Traditional Publishing:

  • The team picks a cover that fits the genre and their expectations for it to perform well; they consider your opinions but still carry the final say.

In Self-Publishing:

  • You hire an artist for a fee and allow you complete control over the cover, but you must still be mindful it fits the genre expectations if you want the book to be marketable.

Money and Contract

In Traditional Publishing:

  • The author receives an advance based on the expected performance of the book. This is generally the case but some smaller publishers may not offer it.

  • There will then be a royalty structure for e-books, paperbacks, and hardbacks after you earn back your advance. This is negotiable based on your previous work, the size of your advance, and the publisher itself.

  • You give the right to only produce the book in a decided language in all three format.

  • You sometimes give away the right to produce an audiobook which might never be done.

  • You need permission to create any further merchandise from the publisher.

  • You may not be able to continue the series without the publisher or the rights of the previous instalments, which are difficult to get back.

In Self-Publishing:

  • The Bulk of the money made flows to the author barring any split with the retailer of your choice (Amazon etc.). You can choose to sell your book directly on your own website as well, here you will not split the profit with anyone.

  • The Profits for E-books can go as high as 70% while for print books it’s less considering the printing costs and the retailer

  • It is worth remembering, though, that with self publishing, there are a lot of up-front costs before you even publish your book, such as cover designers and editors, which will eat into your overall profits.


In Traditional Publishing:

  • They may help in the initial push to bookstores and libraries while sending out your book to various awards, book boxes, and interviews (it depends on how likely they think the book is to succeed).

  • But, they still expect you to do the bulk of the marketing yourself for long-term sales

  • In some cases, their assistance is either greatly increased to severely reduced based on previous successes

In Self-Publishing:

  • You are your marketer and since you do not have the connections to various book stores etc. you have to think of various new ways to market it through smaller platforms.

  • This includes the various costs involved in initial promotions from digital ads to sending it to influencers.

Final Thoughts

Traditional Publishing allows you the expertise of the house which has been publishing for decades along with guaranteed payment in exchange for less creative control, less money in the long run, and the potential threat of meddling or cancellation over a longer publishing timeline.

Self-Publishing allows you the freedom to write what you want for as long as you want with the guaranteed end goal of publishing your book. However, the upfront financial investment into your book may never be realised if you do not sell enough copies.

Whatever you decide to go with, I hope you are proud of the book you wrote and recognise that while many dream of writing a book, very few ever reach the publishing stage :)

Meet Aayush Goenka

Aayush Goenka is a college student pursuing his History Major in India. In his free time, he seeks to combine his love for History, writing, and chess into a series of Epic Fantasy novels which he plans to publish sometime next year. You can find him on Instagram talking about his favourite pieces of media, be it books, Anime, or Tv Shows.

Follow Aayush on Instagram @the_bookist__

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