Which Type of Publishing Do You Choose?

The pros and cons of traditional publishing, self-publishing, vanity publishing, and hybrid publishing

by Ameesha Smith-Green

As an aspiring author, you’re faced with a difficult decision early on: do you seek a traditional publishing deal or self-publish? The path you choose determines your next actions, like a choose-your-own-adventure book. And wait… there’s also vanity publishing and hybrid publishing to consider.

So, how do you choose your publishing path? Here, we weigh up the pros and cons of traditional publishing, self-publishing, vanity publishing, and hybrid publishing to help you make the best decision for your book.

Traditional publishing

Many aspiring authors want to “get published”, meaning: have a traditional publishing house take on their book, whether it be one of the Big 5 (such as Penguin Random House) or a small, independent, or niche publisher.

The pros:

  • Editing, design, and proofreading are often included
  • It can be completely free
  • Big publishers know how to market a book successfully
  • You might potentially gain a very wide-scale readership (millions of readers)
  • You might see your book in physical retailers
  • You will be eligible to win major book awards such as the Booker Prize
  • It’s still considered the most prestigious method of publishing

The cons:

  • You may need to secure a literary agent first
  • There is a high barrier to entry, as an estimated 99% of submissions are rejected
  • It may take months to hear back from agents and/or publishers
  • It may be 2 to 3 years before your book is published
  • You have little or no control over your book
  • Small publishers will expect you to do a lot of the marketing yourself
  • Royalty rates are only 5–10%

Self-publishing

Self-publishing is when an author publishes the book themselves without a publisher. This can be done through various platforms, the biggest one currently being Amazon KDP. An author can choose to self-publish on one platform, several, or many.

The pros:

  • There is no barrier to entry; anyone can publish with a computer and access to the internet
  • You can potentially self-publish in just weeks or months
  • You retain complete control over your book
  • It’s relatively easy to upload a book to self-publishing platforms
  • You can do e-book, print-on-demand, or both
  • It can be completely free
  • Royalty rates are as high as 35–70% on some platforms
  • You might get wide-scale readership

The cons:

  • If you want a professional book, you have to pay for editing, design, and proofreading
  • You have to do all of the marketing yourself or pay for a marketer
  • Most self-publishing authors sell less than 100 copies
  • You won’t see your book in physical retailers
  • You’re not eligible to win major book awards

Vanity publishing

Vanity publishing is when a company approaches an author offering to publish their book, and the author pays them to publish the book. The company appears to be a traditional publisher.

Pros:

  • It may appear to undiscerning readers that you have a traditional publisher
  • You may get some support with editing, design, proofreading, and marketing
  • There is a very low barrier to entry, and they may approach you directly

Cons:

  • You have to pay the publisher to publish your book
  • Editing, design, proofreading, and marketing may not be included or may be poor-quality
  • Vanity publishers are often not ethical and try to appear as traditional publishers
  • You won’t see your book in physical retailers
  • You may not be eligible to win awards
  • The company often doesn’t care about marketing your book because they make their money from authors and not from readers
  • They often have the rights to your book and sometimes even future books

Hybrid publishing

Hybrid publishing is a fairly broad term that sits somewhere between traditional publishing and self-publishing. In some cases, this might be a self-publishing company that helps you self-publish in exchange for a one-off cost. In other cases, it might be a publisher that publishes the book for you in exchange for royalties and/or an upfront cost.

Pros:

  • You don’t need a literary agent
  • You may get high-quality editing, design, and proofreading
  • You may have a genuine publisher on board
  • You may get help with marketing
  • The royalty rates might be much higher than a traditional publisher
  • You may be eligible to win major book awards

Cons:

  • It can be difficult to spot genuine, ethical hybrid publishers from vanity publishers
  • The barrier to entry for genuine companies might be high
  • The up-front costs might be high
  • You may have to do a lot of the marketing yourself
  • You probably won’t see your book in physical retailers

How do you decide?

So, how do you choose? Well, it really depends on your goals, motivations, and resources as an author.

  • Some authors will settle for nothing less than seeing their book for sale in a bookshop, meaning they’ll realistically need a traditional publishing deal. Others would prefer the control of self-publishing, especially if their book is controversial or they have a specific vision for it.
  • Some authors try to get a traditional publishing deal first and if they’re unsuccessful, opt for self-publishing after. Others choose to self-publish from the start as it’s much quicker and is open to anyone.

If you’re not sure, go through the pros and cons lists and write down which are most important to you. What are your must-haves and your nice-to-haves? What are your deal-breakers? Ultimately, only you know which factors are important to you as an author.

If you need help, we offer a range of services including coaching, critique, editing, design, proofreading, and marketing. We’re not a publisher. We’re not a vanity publisher. We simply help authors get their books ready to self-publish or ready to pitch to an agent or publisher. One-off cost, no royalties, no confusion. You can get in touch with us here or connect with us on social media.

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