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How Do Self-Publishing Companies Compare to the Major Publishers?

self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
Not so long ago, there was only one credible route to publishing success, and it relied on a handful of major publishing companies. Today, the situation could not be more different. How you decide to publish your book is as important to your success as any decision you’ll make during the writing process, and there’s a wide array of self-publishing companies that cater to different needs and priorities for authors.

Traditional Publishing

This is how virtually all books were published until recently. And traditional publishing still makes up a huge chunk of the publishing industry. In this traditional model, authors submit their book through an agent, who shops it around to the ‘Big 5’ major publishing houses. If a publisher decides to publish your book, they’ll offer a contract and handle much of the process, printing and distributing your book through established channels. They’ll purchase rights to your book, make decisions on how they want to publish it, and pay you royalties from its sales. And there are indeed advantages to this model, though it depends on what you want to accomplish as an author. For some, the validation of acceptance by a traditional publisher is reason enough to try to get published this way. Some of this goes back to a time when traditional publishing was the only legitimate path to success, and anything else was considered a fallback for desperate authors who had been rejected. This is no longer the case, but traditional publishing deals still carry a certain cachet that many authors find appealing. But there are other advantages. Print distribution in brick and mortar bookstores is more streamlined with traditional publishers. Longstanding relationships with bookstores allow sales reps to easily offer your book directly to bookstores as part of a regular deal with the publisher. These companies also offer access to established experts like editors, designers, formatters, and marketing talent. Your book will often see several rounds of editing, covering different aspects of the writing. But as we’ll see, traditional publishing is not the only, or the easiest, way to gain access to this kind of expert help. In fact, the support a publisher provides will depend on how much they decide to invest in the project, so it’s not a given that you’ll get the best possible team. But the idea is that this allows you to just handle the writing, while leaving the rest to professionals with the most experience in each area. While publishers will generally set aside a marketing budget for authors, they normally won’t handle whatever goes above and beyond. A publisher might help get an author on the radio, but leave it up to them to cover most of the costs involved, since it would boost their credibility and opportunity for speaking engagements as much the book itself. Finally, there are no initial costs to get a publishing deal. You may even get paid an advance. However, the advance comes out of future royalties, which typically total between 7 to 25 percent of the net income from your book. There are other downsides to traditional publishing that don’t really come with a silver lining. After you’ve written and edited your book, it can take as long as a year or two to get an agent. It can take another year to get a publishing deal, and as long as several more years to get your book launched. And in the biggest drawback for many authors, you’ll lose control over creative decisions like title, book cover, and the way your book is marketed.

Do it yourself

On the opposite end of the spectrum, authors can now take a simple solo approach to publishing, taking on every step themselves. Thanks to digital platforms like Amazon, this is a streamlined, easy process that anyone can manage. Services like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allow authors to easily, quickly, and affordably publish a book entirely on their own. With these services, there is usually no upfront cost whatsoever. With KDP, you’ll pay nothing for the service, and receive up to 70 percent on sales. Publishing takes mere minutes once you have a finished digital file like MOBI or EPUB. Many of these services will even automatically convert your book from a simple Word file. Through print-on-demand, authors can even offer print copies of these books without a risky investment in a large print run. The downside is that this approach really is truly solo. Editing, design, and marketing are all up to you. No one else is invested in making sure you publish quality work, and there’s no one to help out unless you hire freelance assistance. And even then, it’s entirely up to you to make sure you’re hiring someone worthwhile. There’s a lot of content published this way, and unfortunately, much of it is of rather low quality and fails to reach a wide audience. The development of this approach laid a foundation for the new self-publishing world, and since then, many serious authors have sought a middle ground between this approach and the slow, selective, and tightly controlled world of major publishing gatekeepers.


This includes self-publishing companies that offer a similar approach to just publishing through Amazon, but also assist with distribution through other channels beyond their own online retailer. You’ll pay a fee on each book sold through their own platform, and a fee to the aggregator on top of those charged by other retailers. Some of these companies will also have additional paid services available for aspects like design, editing, and marketing. These self-publishing companies serve authors that may appreciate the simplicity of the do-it-yourself process, but are serious about getting their book in front of a wide audience. This is a step up from publishing yourself through only Amazon, especially in terms of distribution. But it still offers fairly minimal support.

Vanity presses

These companies actually predate the rise of self-publishing, targeting authors frustrated with trying to win a deal with a major publisher. Traditionally, it was a way authors could simply pay to have print copies of their book. They do not hold on to a percentage of sales, but also don’t typically offer any support in distribution or marketing. Historically, these companies required authors to invest in a large print run. Today, smaller print runs are more feasible, and these companies are an option for authors that want to provide a small number of print books to a limited family or corporate audience. They are not, however, a good choice for authors that are serious about publishing and reaching an audience.

Ghostwriting services

This category of self-publishing companies is for would-be authors that want to have a book published, but don’t necessarily want write the book themselves. Perhaps you’re a motivational speaker, a consultant, or business owner, and you want to stand out and showcase your expertise to a client or wider audience. If you’re an entrepreneur or an expert in your field, but perhaps not an expert on writing, you might opt for a company like this. You would provide the content for a book, and a ghostwriter would help organize it and actually write the text of the book. This is a good plan for those that might want to boost their credentials in a field, or to be considered an expert on a given topic. Often, these companies will conduct interviews to get a sense of your ideas and content, and then put that in writing in an engaging and organized way. Their job is to show others the expertise you already have. This is for businesspeople and experts to bring ideas and knowledge to the public through a non-fiction book. And it’s a great way to do that. It’s not, however, suitable for authors aiming to start a writing career.

Hybrid publishing

As self-publishing became more widespread, and a more attractive choice for serious authors, demand arose for services that could provide the support and quality of traditional publishing with the independence and streamlined process that comes with self-publishing. In terms of cost, this can include a variety of arrangements that could involve an up-front cost or sometimes a percentage of royalties down the line. But you’ll hold on to more of your revenue than with traditional publishers, as well as full creative control. Some hybrid publishers operate more like traditional publishers, in that there is some degree of selection in choosing which authors to work with. Others require authors to raise a certain amount of money through crowdfunding to earn a deal. Others simply require an up-front payment from the author, in exchange for expert help in editing, design, marketing, and distribution. For authors that want to retain creative control and revenue, reach the widest possible audience, and receive the same kind of support offered by traditional publishers, this is an increasingly popular option.

Collaborative publishing

Collaborative publishing is a subset of hybrid publishing. In fact, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But it can also indicate an approach that focuses on teamwork between author and publisher. Whereas a hybrid publisher might simply present the author with a team of experts to work with, a collaborative publisher will give the author a chance to select their team based on their needs, preferences, goals, and priorities. Collaborative publishing, such as Izzard, doesn’t just allow authors to hold on to creative control. It also empowers them to combine their preferences with expert support, for a final product that accomplishes exactly what the author has in mind, while also achieving high enough quality to compete with traditionally published titles to become a bestseller. With such a range of self-publishing companies available for authors, it pays to understand both your own goals, and what each company can offer. In many ways, there’s never been a better time to be an author. But with so many possible routes to publishing a book, you’ll benefit from actively engaging with the process as much as possible.

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