Traditional Publishing vs. Self Publishing

Millions of people want to write a book of their own. They dream of seeing their ideas and thoughts poured into a book that their readers can hold, carry to the coffee shop, contemplate on their own and discuss with others. Books offer us an intimate and portable connection to writers and thinkers from all walks of life. Books invite us into kitchens, into families, into cities we have never traveled to. They crack open our hearts and expand our minds. They make us tilt our heads and move our feet. And sometimes, quite literally, they save lives. If you are dreaming of writing a book and getting it into the hands of readers, I'd like to give you a quick view of your options.

Traditional Publishing

There are four big publishing houses all located in New York City. They are as follows:

Simon & Schuster (an American publishing house)

Harper Collins (an American publishing house)

Hatchet (a French publishing house)

Penguin Random House (what used to be two publishing houses, Random House (a German publishing house) and The Penguin Group (a British publishing house) have merged into one house as of July 2013.

Additionally, when you go into a bookstore you will see hundreds of imprints with familiar names like Knopf, Viking, Pocket, Scribner, etc. An imprint is the “brand name” under which a book is published but they are all owned by the major houses. For example: Scribner is an imprint of Simon and Schuster. There are also mid-sized publishers, sometimes called small publishers. There are dozens of mid-sized houses and they often address particular niche markets.

In order to sell a nonfiction book to any of these houses you must first have a book proposal. A proposal averages 30-50 pages and it is with this document that you approach editors and agents to sell the book to a traditional publisher. The proposal includes sections of the book itself, the author and their platform, a marketing and promotion plan, the competition, chapter summaries and at least one sample chapter.

Self Publishing

Self publishing is now a legitimate, and in many cases, preferable method of getting one’s work in front of readers. This form of publishing has never been so accessible and it has it never come so close to displacing its traditional counterparts. When you choose to self publish you do so through print-on-demand or POD. This means that instead of having a huge print run for your book that then has to be stored somewhere, the book is only printed when it is ordered. You pay to have your book published after it has been written and edited. There are many POD firms available to authors but I think CreateSpace is the best. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon so once you release your book it will be available in several major countries and it allows you to publish on barnesandnoble.com.

The differences between self publishing and traditional publishing

Time: Traditional publishing takes a lot longer than self-publishing and usually an author must have a sizeable platform to be considered by a traditional publisher. With traditional publishing, a manuscript can take years to become a book. First, an author has to pitch his book, possibly to several publishing houses, before anyone shows interest. It helps to have an agent. Then, if a house decides to take on a book the actual process of producing a book takes at least a year. Non-fiction books, however, are pushed through more quickly. With self-publishing, an author can have a finished book, hardcover or paperback, within six months or less.

Control: Another fundamental difference between publishing options is the subject of control. With self-publishing you have complete control over what the finished product looks like. With traditional publishing an editor will oftentimes mold your manuscripts to fit the house.

Responsibility: When you self publish you pay for everything—editor, book cover designer, interior layout designer and a POD that will take all the laid out pages and turn them into an actual book. Also, when the book is finished it is your job to market it heavily. You can sell it at lectures, in your office, on your website, but it will not get into anyone’s hands unless you talk about it and spread the word. On the other hand , a publishing house will help you with marketing and absorb some of the initial costs up front. As of right there is an interesting reversal where publishers are looking for writers to prove to them, via a self-publishing sales track record first, after which a publisher might sign them.

The publishing industry has changed drastically in the last decade. Authors have never had more options about how to publish their books or so much freedom and control over their work. This is a wonderful thing! Whether you choose to pursue the traditional route or take matters into your own hands, there is truly nothing like holding your own book for the very first time and hearing that it has helped, connected and inspired other people. Books make life better!