Have you ever wondered which is the best route for your book: Self-publishing vs. going with a publisher? If so, then this blog post is for you. Using my own experience with self-publishing and working with a boutique publisher, I’ll share many of the pros and cons of each option, as well as what you can expect from both. I’ll also touch on the third option: the Hybrid publisher, as well as provide some tips on how to decide which one is right for you.
When it comes down to it, there are many factors that go into the decision between self-publishing and going with a publisher, not only for you as an author, but often for each individual book you write. You need to weigh the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. going with a publishing house and how they impact your goals for each book you produce. One is not necessarily better than the other. Each option helps you achieve different goals. Here is what I’ve learned through publishing six books to date — one through a publisher, one through a hybrid publisher, and the rest self-published.
Self-Publishing vs. Going with a Publisher Factor #1: The Author’s Need for Inventory
Doing live book signing events can be helpful in getting the word out about your book, especially if you do them locally and use them to increase your visibility in your community. Also, if you are hosting virtual events and wish to sell autographed copies of your book through them, you’ll need to have the books on hand so that you can sign them. Your choice of publishing route has ramifications for all your potential book signing events.
Many bookstores will ask you to bring your own books. They will ring up the purchase and then pay you for the books at a (usually) 40% discount off the list price. This is totally fine if you can purchase the books at less than 60% of the list price.
When you self-publish, you can usually purchase copies of your book for around $3-$5 apiece depending on the size of the book and the quantity you buy. If the list price of the book is $10 or more, you’re fine.
However, if you go with a publisher, you may not be able to do that. When you purchase books from the publisher, you’ll probably have to pay for printing, shipping, and the publisher’s cut. For example, when I was promoting my book 57 Secrets for Branding Yourself Online, it cost me about $9.18 per book if I purchased 50 or more copies. It cost me more per book if I bought fewer copies.
Here’s how the math works out: If a bookstore gives me 60% of the list price of $14.95, I receive $8.97 for every copy I sell. That means I lose 21 cents for every book I sell. I wasn’t prepared to put in all the effort of doing a book signing to lose money, so I was able to negotiate a different option. Instead of selling the book alone, I sold it with a downloadable program and raised the price of the book + program to $20. The bookstore agreed and I was able to make it work.
Alas, other things went south, which I’ll have to share in a different post, and I ended up losing money (and books) in the end.
If I had self-published, the cost of the book would have been much smaller, therefore negating the need for the special deal, and reducing my cost-related risk.
Factor #2: You do the bulk of the marketing
The bookstore may help promote your event by posting something on their blog or in their newsletter. They may even post a flyer on their bulletin board and a listing on their calendar. These are all passive marketing techniques and will probably result in about one to three people showing up. However, they will almost never help you market your book in general. They sell lots of books and they are very careful and selective when they single individual books out. And those books are usually ones published by the major publishing houses.
Therefore, if you want people to know about your book or your book signing event, you’re going to need to do a lot of marketing on your own. You’ll need to get the event listed in local calendars. You’ll need to send press releases to the local media and preferably invite specific, targeted reporters to the event with a pitch tailored to their beat. You’ll need to promote your appearance through social media. The list of marketing efforts you can do is long (although you don’t need to do all of them at once!)
Keep in mind, although bookstores make book-signing events available to local authors to support them, they are really doing it to get more foot traffic and sales. It truly is all about them.
Factor #3: Where your book is listed affects where your book is distributed
Some bookstores won’t let you do an event at their venue unless they can order your book through one of the big book distribution companies such as Ingram. That means you need to be mindful of how and where you get your ISBN number (the number that identifies your unique book). If you go through a publisher, this is taken care of on your behalf.
When self-publishing, it behooves you to pay a little extra and get your ISBN from Bowker and become your own publisher. If your book is listed as published by Lulu or KDP, you may not be able to get into stores such as Barnes & Noble. You can still use those services as your printer, but you’ll need to supply your own ISBN number. It is often worth the expense. The most an ISBN number will cost you is $99 … which you should be able to make back in a few months.
Also, bookstores and libraries will rarely carry books on their shelves that they can’t order through the book distribution companies. That means if you have the wrong ISBN, you can’t get your books into bookstores, thus taking one of the many passive options of book sales off your options list.
Factor #4: Author Autonomy
Do you want control over what goes on your cover? Do you want control over your Amazon listing? Do you want control over any of the myriad things that help you market your book and your time? Then your decision between self-publishing vs. going with a publisher makes a big difference.
When you self-publish. You have complete control. When a publisher is involved, they make many of these decisions – often without regard to your opinion or consent. For example, the cover of 57 Secrets for Branding Yourself Online was not my favorite. However, it was part of the publisher’s series of books and had to conform to their branding. They did let me choose the color. However, I wasn’t happy with some of their decisions, and I think it affected book sales negatively.
In addition, when the publisher decided to shut down the series and stop publishing the book, I had no say in that, either. Thankfully, the publisher signed the rights of the content back to me and I can republish if I use a different title.
Hybrid publishers give authors a bit more autonomy and if this is an important factor, but you also want or need a lot of handholding as you go through the publishing journey, this is a great option that lies between self-publishing and working with a publisher.
Pros and Cons Comparison: Self-Publishing vs. a Publishing House vs. Hybrid Publishing
The traditional publishing industry, even though it isn’t as robust as it once was, has its advantages, but the process can be slow and for many authors, quite frustrating. If you have an idea for a book that you are passionate about, it may not make sense to wait years while someone else decides if your work is worth their time.
Self-publishing is a great option for authors who want to take control of their books. On the other hand, self-publishing can be expensive and challenging.
Hybrid publishing gives you the best of both worlds, however, also comes with its difficulties.
Here are comparison charts to give you a high-level overview.
From my perspective, I would rather self-publish most of the time. I like having more control over how I market my book. And, since I’ve self-published four books to date, I’ve learned a lot about what to do and not do.
That said, I chose to go with a publisher for at least one book because I wanted third-party endorsement. I wanted my readers to know that someone other than myself felt my work was worthy of publishing. And that can count for a lot.
And I chose the hybrid publisher because it came with the training that I desired. I now know even more about the publishing process without having to figure it out on my own.
Would I go with a publisher in the future? Probably … if they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse!
There you have it, an overview of the factors that should go into the decision of self-publishing vs. going with a publisher. Self-publishing allows you complete control over your work from start to finish, but there are also some downsides like limited distribution options and no marketing assistance. If these aren’t deal breakers for you then self-publishing might be the best choice for your project.
If you want more help, then either hybrid- or traditional publisher would be a better fit than self-publishing. It all depends on your personality, your goals, your skills, and what you are willing to tolerate.