Traditional vs. Self Publishing

Many years ago, I sent my book out to several publishers and all I got was rejection letters.  So I put my book away in the drawer and gave up on a dream.  Years later I was happy to be writing again when I was chosen to write an advice column. It evolved into my long running “Dear Barb” column in AUSU’s Voice Magazine.  Writing this column, plus some short stories, awakened my desire to try to publish my book again, but I was reluctantly faced with having to approach publishers and going through the rejection process again.

However, through writing my column, I became connected with other writers and gained confidence, especially since readers seemed to enjoy my column and stories.  The spark was revived, and I began an investigative journey into the world of publishing.  I decided to begin my publishing journey with the birth of Dear Barb: Answers to Your Everyday Questions, which is a compilation of 90 questions and answers which were previously published in The Voice.

Initially I struggled with whether to self-publish or pursue traditional publishing and for a variety of reasons I chose self-publishing.  I am now the author of three self-published books and working on my fourth.  It will also be self-published, as I believe this is the future of publishing.  But there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

An obvious advantage to traditional publishing is that there is no cost to create the book and the publisher pays for all marketing and promotion.  Authors may also receive an advance, which would later be taken out of royalties.  A big plus going with a traditional publisher is that they are knowledgeable and experienced in creating a book cover and title that will sell.  Traditional publishers also have extensive contacts with bookstore owners, who will not hesitate to accept their recommended books.

But a disadvantage to traditional publishing is that once you sign the contact with a publishing house, you are giving away all your rights to what you have written, which means you cannot sell, use, or republish your book anywhere else.  Also, the road to publication is slow, often taking more than a year to get your book on the store shelves.

Alternatively, self-publishing can be an expensive venture depending on whether you format the book yourself or hire an editor, cover designer, or proofreader, which, totaled, can be in the thousands of dollars.  If you have the time you can learn to do on your own, as I did.  Initially I paid $450 for someone to format my book into the required formatting to upload to Amazon.  I also paid miscellaneous expenses for adjustments and changes to the cover design.  While going through this process I decided I was going to take the time learn to do it myself, as I had more books I wanted to get published.  I then successfully published two more books, completely on my own, and, as mentioned, I am working on my fourth.

Also, the road to self-publishing can be lonely, as you do not have the support you would when venturing with a traditional publisher.  But the tradeoff is you have complete control on when and where your book will be published.  As well, you will be able to keep more of the money made per book than you would with a traditional publisher, however you also must consider the costs of marketing and promoting your book.  Unless you are an experienced promoter, this can be one of the most difficult and expensive aspects of self-publishing.

You can also find more information in Rick Lauber’s “17 Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing” in Writer’s Digest.

The biggest roadblock I found to self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing is the negative reactions I received when telling someone my book was self-published.  It seems credibility is immediately lost.  The thinking is that if you had to self-publish, then obviously a traditional publishing house was not interested in your book.  But this is not always the case.

The introduction of kindle has changed the publishing industry.  Indie authors are generating billions in eBook sales every year, and account for 30-34% of all eBook sales.  However, it is difficult to get a proper accounting for all self-published book sales, as many are sold at craft shows, through author websites, or on consignment.  Facts and Figures about Self-Publishing: The Impact and Influence of Indie Authors (

Loads of support is available for indie authors, as there is a plethora of indie writing groups accessible on the internet where you can promote your books, design your cover, ask questions, or share information.  I belong to a few of these, and when thinking about this article, I posted the question of why authors chose self-publishing for their books.  Only a handful answered, although most are looking forward to reading this article when published.

One person I had spoken to mentioned that they went with a traditional publisher, because she felt self-publishing would be too much to learn at her age.

Another person said if she had not self-published, her books would not be published.  She has authored several books and I believe she is moderately successful.

An author of seven books said flatly she would not go with self-publishing.  Here is her reason:

“In my opinion, if none of the publishers I sent it to think it’s as incredible as I do, then maybe it’s not as good as I think.”

Two other self-published authors of several books said they are completely happy with their choice and will make the same choice with future books.

There are also several famous authors who’ve self-published.  Dale, of, has a list of ten of the best:

  1. Margaret Atwood self-published a book of poetry many years before she became a best-selling author.
  2. EL James of 50 Shades of Grey fame, self-published and within one year it was picked up by a traditional publisher and went on to sell over 100,000,000 copies.
  3. Robert Siyosako decided to self-publish Rich Dad, Poor Dad after being rejected by numerous publishers. It went on to sell 40,000,000 copies and remain on the NYT bestseller list for over 6 years.
  4. Lisa Genova self-published her novel Still Alice in 2007, which was turned into an Oscar-winning film.
  5. Wayne Dyer self-printed 4,500 of this first book Your Erroneous Zones and spent the next year travelling and promoting it. Your Erroneous Zones would go on to become a top selling book ,selling over 100,000,000 copies.
  6. Irma S. Rombauer initially did a print run of 3,000 of her famous book The Joy of Cooking which got picked up by a traditional publisher in 1936 and sold over 18,000,000 copies.
  7. Andy Weir self-published The Martian and it became an Amazon Bestseller and a movie staring Matt Damon. Weir signed a publishing and film deal and has sold over 3 million copies and the film grossed $630,000,000.
  8. Beatrix Potter self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Within a year the publishing company that had rejected her, signed her to a deal and The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold approximately 45,000,000 to date.
  9. Mark Twain was signed by a traditional publisher in 1884 but was tired of the bureaucracy so he started his own company and published two of his highly successful books Personal Memories of Ulysses S. Grant and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  10. And finally, Stephen King self-published People, Places and Things in 1960 at 15 years old by his own publishing company. Only one copy out of the ten that were published remain, and King owns it.

As for myself, I have never regretted self-publishing, although in the back of my mind I keep hoping that a big publisher will come along and make me a bestseller. But in the meantime, I love what I’m doing.  I am sharing my stories with others.  My autobiography will be coming out within the next few months, and I believe it will be helpful to people who share a similar story to my own.

Information about my books is on my website or my Facebook Author Page

[Every once in a while, Barb Godin takes a break from Dear Barb to do something a little different for The Voice Magazine and they often generate a lot of comments at the time from students and other readers.  From issue 3034 at the start of September, this was no exception, and with some solid advice and a strong personal connection it made it worth inclusion in the Best of the Voice.]