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  • Writer's pictureAshley W. Slaughter

My Self-Publishing Antics, Part One: Deciding Which Route to Pursue

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Welcome to My Self-Publishing Antics, where I write about the good, the bad, and the ugly of my publishing experience while (hopefully) teaching you guys a little somethin'-somethin' about the process!


*Disclaimer: As the title insinuates, I went the self-publishing route. However, my goal is to keep this post as neutral as possible, as I know firsthand how hard this decision can be!

"Which one makes more money?"

"Which one gets my book into the hands of more people?"

"Which one takes more time?"

"Which one costs more money?"

All of these questions are things I asked myself when I discovered that there were different routes of publishing your novel. I had absolutely no idea that self-publishing was a thing that people did-- that's how new I was to this whole side of writing.

When I learned that self-publishing wasn't just what people did when they couldn't get traditionally published, I dove head-first into absorbing as much information I could about both sides of the argument. And, believe me, I understand how hard it is to find a source of information that is objective on this topic! Self-publishers justifying their decision versus traditionally published authors advocating for their own route . . . while we're all here just trying to make the world a more imaginative place (and hopefully make a few bucks in the meantime)!

In the end, the route you choose depends on your goals as a writer.

Through my many hours of research, crying, and eating my anxiety away with ice cream, here is what I learned.


1. If your goal is to publish at little to no cost to you, go traditional.

Do you have a lot of money saved up to put toward publishing your book? Do you want to spend that money toward publishing your book? If the answer to either question is no, then going traditional publishing may potentially be the better route for you.

Don't get me wrong, self-publishing can be done on a budget. However, in order to produce a book that can rival a traditionally published book, you're looking at spending an average of $2,000-$4,000 during the process. Why is that, you may ask? Because if you are not doing everything yourself (which is not recommended, but it is free), you are paying a professional to do it for you out of your own pocket. Editors, cover designers, and marketing teams are all out there, willing to help you make your book the best and most professional version it can be, but they each have their price. They are professionals, after all! You wouldn't want to write for free, would you?

If you go the traditional publishing route, all of those services are done in-house by the publishing house that picks up your book. Which means no upfront costs for you!


2. If your goal is to publish quickly, go self-publishing.

Should a publishing house choose to pick up your book, it could be two or three years before your book hits the bookstore shelves. Why? Because preparing a professional book takes time, they are working on numerous books at all different levels of publishing, and they have their own time schedule that trumps your own.

With self-publishing, you can have your completed manuscript edited, formatted, and ready for the world to see in a matter of months. If you bypass all of that (again, not recommended), you can upload your book to Amazon and have it published as an e-book in as little as three days!

Point being, self-publishing allows you to work on your own time frame rather than on the publishing house's. If you aren't already a well-known author or celebrity (which hey, if you are, awesome!), publishing houses won't be in any huge rush to get your book on shelves or online.


3. If your goal is to get paid quickly, go traditional.

As you have probably heard, if you land a book publishing deal with a publishing house, you are given an advance. Advances vary by publishing house (larger ones may be able to give a larger advance) and by your prior success or following.

Once again, if you are a celebrity or well-known author, that's awesome for you! Your advance will be much higher than those just starting out! You've already put in the hard work to get your name out there, and you guarantee great sales for the publishing house! However, if you are a first-time author and/or do not have a significant author following yet, your advance will be on the lower side. From what I have gathered, first-time authors are on average given an advance of $5,000-$20,000. I know that's a pretty wide average, but really it just varies so much across the board. But no matter the amount, that money is yours to spend as you wish.

An important caveat, though, is that your advance is all you will get from the publishing house until your book sale royalties match that amount. I think of it as a "loan" for giving your book a place to stay. Once that advance value is matched, you will start gaining your royalties!

On the flip side, if you self-publish, you get no advance. Because, you know, you're by yourself. You can pay yourself an advance, I suppose, but that seems a little counter-intuitive to me.


4. If your goal is to gain higher royalties, go self-publishing.

What are royalties, anyway?

I'm glad you asked!

Royalties are the percentage of the sale you make per copy of your book. Remember when I said the publishing house will take care of your editors, cover designers, and marketing team? They do! But you pay for them in your book sales, which results in the book sale's division multiple ways. You, the publishing house, and all services put toward publishing your books are paid for by your book sales, resulting in a smaller cut for the author. Which makes sense, really. The publishing house took a chance on you when putting in the time and effort to prepare your book for publishing, and they as a company need to make money, too.

Your royalties in traditional publishing average between 10%-15%. If your book is selling for $14.99, you're going to get $1.50-$2.25 per book sale.

If you go the self-publishing route, you already paid for your editor and cover designer out-of-pocket. So the only thing you have to split the book sale with is the publishing platform you choose to use.

On many of those platforms, you choose what percentage of each book sale you receive, and those choices are normally around 30%, 50%, or 70%. There are many different reasons why self-publishers may choose a lower royalty; for example, if you decide to collect 30%, the publishing platform may give you a free advertisement for a period of time.

Let's say for this example, you choose to collect 50% royalties. If your book is selling for $14.99, you will see $7.50 per sale.

Caveat: your book needs to be produced well enough to sell at the same price as a book that has been traditionally published. Otherwise, you'll be selling your ebook for $2.99 and making $1.50 per sale, and it will take A LOT of sales to make a substantial income.


5. If your goal is to focus on the writing aspect of book publishing (not editing, designing, etc.), go traditional.

This touches again on the professional services your book will need. Editing, designing, formatting, and marketing all has to be done by someone.

In the traditional publishing route, the publishing house takes care of those needs (the exception is marketing; we will get to that later). You give them your manuscript, and they take it from there. Your sole job is to write the book.

If you self-publish, the responsibility of those services fall on you. Or who you hire. There are many freelancers looking to help you! But you have to find them, and you have to find them within your book publishing budget.


6. If your goal is to hang on to your book's rights, go self-publishing.

When you sign a book deal with a publishing house, it is typically in the agreement that they gain the copyright of the book and therefore have control over the book from henceforth. They control the title, the characters, and the plot, though your name is still printed on the front cover. That is not always the case, but it is the majority of the time. It's how the publishing house protects themselves from copyright infringement claims. Remember, they are a business!

When you self-publish, your copyright privileges remain with you. Keep in mind that book rights, audio rights, and movie rights are all different, so choose wisely when thinking about selling your story to another entity!


7. If your goal is to get your book in the hands of many, go either way.

Not too many years ago, the answer to this concern would have been traditional publishing. Those big publishing houses have the professional connections to schools, libraries, and bookstores. And often, these places would ONLY buy books from publishing houses because they are the most trusted resources!

However, now there are more options to the self-publisher distribution-wise. Amazon is of course the main platform that self-publishers use, but schools, libraries, and bookstores do not typically (if ever) purchase books for distribution. The quality of books published just isn't guaranteed. If you self-publish, DO publish to Amazon; there is a reason most self-publishers turn to the mega-online store!

But don't only publish to Amazon. There are companies such as IngramSpark that many authors turn to for wider distribution. These companies distribute to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Kobo, and several other purchasing platforms. Plus! schools, libraries, and bookstores do look to IngramSpark for new material.

If you do self-publish, keep in mind that each format of your book must have its own ISBN (another blog on that in the future!) as that is how schools, libraries, and bookstores find books. If you go the traditional publishing route, the publishing house will assign ISBNs to your book for you!


8. If your goal is to market your book well, go either way.

Whichever route you choose to go, marketing will mostly be left to you. If you get a book deal, you will get some marketing included in your contract, but (unless you you're a big name) publishing houses most likely won't spend the time and money it would really take to effectively market your book. Many traditionally published authors have to spend a portion or all of their advance on marketing their books.

Marketing is also where many self-published authors fall flat. They write the book, upload it to a publishing platform, and . . . let it sit with the hope that it will somehow get discovered. Until then, they write another book, upload it, and the cycle continues.

Let's face it: it is HARD to get your name out there! For many authors, especially the ones who have chosen this career in part because there is minimal human contact most of the time (ahem, beginning with the speaker here as I sit with a kitty cat in my lap), talking about our work with others is difficult, and promoting that work is even more difficult. However, it is a step that every author must take if they wish to successfully get their books in the hands of many!

Be on the lookout for future blog posts about marketing tips that will work for both traditionally published authors and self-published authors!


As you can see, the publishing world is pretty complex, and numerous decisions must be made by you, the author, to determine what will help you meet your goals. A lot of soul-searching needs to be done on your part, but on the other end of those decisions, you will find a career that is fulfilling and (believe it or not) can eventually pay the bills!

Remember, you are a creator. Your story is yours to tell, and what happens to that story once complete is entirely your decision! You've got this!


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