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How to decide whether to pursue self-publishing or traditional publishing

You’ve got a book, whether you’ve finished the first draft or you’re through to the third draft. You need to decide whether to self-publish it or take it to publishers in the hope that they’ll publish it for you. How do you decide?

There are 3 major questions you can ask yourself that can help you decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Determining what you want out of publishing is the easiest way to compare the two. Otherwise it can become overwhelming to look through ten articles all stating different pros and cons.

Ask yourself these questions, and see if it helps you take the next steps towards getting your novel published.

What does success look to you?

Knowing what success as an author looks like to you can help you decide on how you want to be published. Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to earn a lot of money from writing books?
  • Do you want to reach as many readers as possible?
  • Do you want to win awards?
  • Do you just want to share your story?

Based on your answers, you can determine what success looks like.

If being a successful author means earning a lot of money from writing books, thus making it your career, then you’ll want to look into either self-publishing or traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is hard to get into, but once you get one book published it’s easier to do more. Self-publishing will cost a lot upfront, but you can make a career out of it.

If being a successful author means reaching as many readers as possible, regardless of how much money you make, traditional publishing is for you. Self-published authors can also reach a lot of readers, but marketing from a publisher will reach the most people.

If winning awards means success to you, self-publishing or traditional publishing is for you. There are many writing competitions out there for short story writers, and there are also prizes for novels, many of which help authors get publishing deals. Bigger and more prestigious awards, like The Booker Prizes, are only open to submissions from publishers.

Finally, if you just want to share your story, look into self-publishing or hybrid publishing. Some authors just want to publish their story and have it for themselves and people they know, which is where hybrid publishing can be useful.

Deciding which is best for you: self-publishing or traditional publishing

Most authors will decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

Self-publishing is where an author takes on the responsibilities of publishing, though this doesn’t have to be done alone. There are assisted self-publishing services, like Troubador, which take some of the pressure off of an author. However, most self-published authors find their own individual services and take charge of publishing.

Traditional publishing is where an author sends their manuscript to publishing companies, who then choose whether or not to publish it. Typically, authors will submit to literary agents; agents representing authors then market the manuscript to publishers.

Self-publishing books doesn’t mean you can’t be traditionally published in the future, and being traditionally published doesn’t mean you can’t self-publish in the future.

Again, there are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide between publishing routes.

Do you want to handle publishing your novel yourself?

Handling the publishing of your novel means managing production, publication, and marketing. You’ll be responsible for sourcing editors, designers, and proofreaders, as well as taking on all costs.

This can be a really expensive venture, especially if you use multiple editing services (developmental editing, line editing, etc.) and commission a book cover.

But you’ll also have complete freedom with how your book turns out. You can pick editors you get along with, format the book yourself or find a formatter you get along with, pick your book cover and title, and choose a proofreader.

You don’t have to market your book alone either – there are author PAs, book promoters, and freelance publicists to work with.

If you’re prepared to do all of this, self-publishing is for you. Make sure to build up a supportive community, by joining self-publishing groups and finding other authors to befriend.

Are you prepared to go through the querying process with literary agents?

The biggest struggle in being traditionally published is querying. You’ll have to deal with rejections, a long wait to get feedback, and then after you have an agent you’ll still have to wait for any news on publication.

Sending out over 100 queries to agents before you get even one manuscript request is quite common.

To query literary agents, you’ll first need to create your agent query pack, with a cover letter, synopsis, and the first 3 chapters or 10,000 words of your novel. Agents have different rules, so make sure to pay attention to how they want to receive the query pack, as well as what they want it to contain.

If you’re prepared to query, you’ll want a way of tracking queries so you don’t send the same query pack to the same literary agents. You’ll also benefit from some affirmations and support when dealing with rejections.

Can you self-publish and then be traditionally published?

You can get a book deal even after you’ve self-published a book, so don’t give up hope. Self-publishing books before submitting another book to literary agents isn’t uncommon either, especially to show that there’s an audience for your writing.

What to do next

Now that you have an idea on whether to pursue self-publishing, traditional publishing, or both, it’s time to plan your next steps.

For self-publishing, read up everything you can. There are many guides out there to help you learn how to self-publish. Make a plan for what you’re going to do, including who you want to work with.

For traditional publishing, create an agent query pack that can easily be modified. If you have 3 chapters of your novel which come under 10,000 words, you won’t need to do much editing outside of your cover letter. Create a cover letter template or use one that works for you. Then personalise the letter for every literary agent.

If you’d like to get your query pack in the best shape possible, I provide agent query pack proofreading with feedback to help you impress literary agents.

I’m also available to proofread novels and more for self-publishing authors, just send an enquiry and make use of my 3000-word free sample proofread.

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