Traditional Publishing? Self-Publishing? What’s the Difference?

If you’ve spent any time on Amazon in the past decade or so, you’ve likely noticed what seems like an explosion of new books. Daily, new titles pop up to entice readers of every genre and every interest. The number of book titles for sale online reaches well into the millions.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll notice something else: while there are some very recognizable publisher names (HarperCollins, Penguin Random House), there are also thousands of publishers you’ve likely never heard of.

Some of these are small presses, which function the same as the “big” publishers, just on a smaller scale. But many more of these are company names established by self-published authors to publish their own, individual titles.

So what (or who) is a self-published author? In essence, a self-published author is anyone who produces and sells their book as a private entity, rather than through an established, traditional publishing company.

Years back, self-publishing had negative connotations. Called “vanity press” back then, self-publishing was seen as the realm of authors who were unable to secure a traditional publishing deal for their book. But that’s no longer the case. Many authors choose to self-publish, for reasons that include the following:

  • Autonomy. Self-published authors make every decision about their books, from cover design to how and where to promote the book.
  • Speed. The first step in getting a book traditionally published is usually to find an agent, which can take months or years. Once an agent is on board, the agent submits the book to publishers – again, a process that can go on for months. After a publisher makes an offer on the book and the author accepts it, traditional publishing generally takes at least a year (and often more) until the “pub date” (the date the book is released in the world). Self-published books, by contrast, can often be brought to market within months, because the author controls the entire process.
  • Ease of accessibility. With print-on-demand services, self-published authors do not need to have large quantities of their books pre-printed. Instead, when the book is ordered online, a copy can be immediately printed and shipped.
    The above likely begs the question: With all those advantages, why would anyone choose traditional publishing? Below are a few reasons:
  • Distribution. Traditional publishers have much more robust distribution systems than most self-published authors. Traditional publishers can get books distributed to bookstores, sometimes nationwide. For self-published authors, getting their books into bookstores often requires additional legwork. (For more information, see the blog post “How To Get Your Book in Local Bookstores.”)
  • Production. Traditional publishers pay for cover designers, copy editors, and other professionals who help bring the book to market. For self-published authors, these costs are paid for up front by the author.
  • Promotion. The publisher has marketing and publicity staff who assist the author with these tasks. Often, in-house marketing and publicity staff have contacts that lead to press coverage, events, and other promotional opportunities that might be more difficult for the self-published author to attain.

If you’re considering having a book ghostwritten, which is the right path? While there’s no single answer to that question, at Mark Graham Communications, we find most of our clients choose self-publishing. Often, this is because they want to control their own process and see the book they’ve dreamt about for so long become a reality as soon as possible.
Whichever path you choose, we’re here to help! If you’re interested in talking further about your book idea, please get in touch. We’re excited to work with you!