Self-Publishing, Independent Publishing, and Traditional Publishing: Which is Best?

Posted by Kristen Hamilton on June 16, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Ever since Amazon released Kindle Direct Publishing in 2007, the book publishing landscape has drastically changed. Now a decade later, authors have more power in their hands than ever, with self-published and independent authors earning approximately 40% of the market share. Where once the Big Five traditional publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster) once controlled most of the market, now these traditional publishers only account for 16% of the ebooks on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Clearly, self-publishing has become a force to be reckoned with.

The majority of my clients opt for self publishing or independent publishing for its ease, yet others still prefer the old world charm of traditional publishing. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.


Self-publishing is free on major platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, Kobo, and iBooks, and is a great option to get your book in front of millions of readers. Self-publishing, in which the author publishes his or her own book through a self-publishing site like Amazon Kindle or CreateSpace, allows the author to hold all the rights to their book. You’re in the driver’s seat. You can hire the editor you want, select a book format you like, and choose when and where to publish your book.

This is a double-edged sword, though: self-publishing requires the author to also be in charge of the entire book production process, including hiring a book editor, choosing a cover design, and being in charge of marketing. This can take a lot of research, but with a good team of professionals around you, you’ll be on the right track to a successful self-publish.


If you plan to self-publish, you’ll need a good book cover design, an ebook and paperback formatter, and you’ll need to get the legalities of your book in place by registering your book with the US Copyright office and purchasing an ISBN.

If you self-publish your book, all of the marketing will be up to you, which is why I recommend self-publishing authors take their book's marketing seriously.


Independent Publishing

Similarly, an author who is independently publishing hires a company to publish their book (this also includes services in a package such as book design, editing, formatting, and distribution). Most independent publishers charge upfront for this service; others charge a fee plus royalties. This is a great option because you’ll have a publishing company guiding you through the process.


However, I’ve found this option is typically not cost-effective for authors, as—in my experience—clients I have worked with have typically had more complaints than success stories with independent publishers. I’ve known authors to spend $10,000 on an independent publisher for a package that includes basic editing, minimal marketing, and fewer rights to their own books. With a little more work on the author’s part, he or she could publish their book for free on a self-publishing platform like Amazon Kindle.


Traditional Publishing

The traditional route—sending query letters to find an agent, then using the agent to approach publishing houses—is typically considered the “holy grail” of editing. Authors feel this is a more respectable way to be published. If a publishing house accepts your manuscript, they will typically provide an advance and then royalties as your book starts to make money. Awesome. 

Publishing traditionally is generally a difficult and time-consuming process (most publishers require you to have an agent to represent your manuscript), but is very rewarding. Instead of taking the reins into your own hands, you’re leaving it up to the publisher to format, design, and (sometimes) market your book. Some publishers will even edit your manuscript, but many prefer manuscripts that are ready for publishing upon submission, especially as the market is already so saturated. Still, be aware of the statistics: At any given time, 500,000 proposals and manuscripts are being queried across the United States, and only 4% of authors querying agents will secure representation. Agents receive about 15 query letters from hopeful authors every day, and request between 10 and 15 manuscripts per year. Of this, an agent will usually only represent between 2 and 4 manuscripts per year.


If you’re publishing traditionally, you’ll likely need to secure agent representation first, as most of the bigger and more credible publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. This means you’ll need a query letter and a synopsis to send along with an excerpt of your manuscript (generally the first 3 chapters).


What’s the catch? The road to being accepted by an agent and a traditional publisher can be long and arduous. Really, expect months of query letters, rejection slips, and waiting months for a response. I like to think that if you make it in the traditional publishing world, it’s a great accomplishment…but it can be a wearisome one.


Which is Best? 

Self-publishing, independent publishing, and traditional publishing are the three ways you can get your book out into the world today. Which option is best for you? It depends on your budget, how much time and effort you're willing to put into your manuscript project, and how much you'd like to be in control of your final book product.

Based on my experience working with authors, my clients are happiest with self-publishing. Self-publishing allows authors to fully be in control of all aspects of their book—from the structure and overall length of your book to cover design and interior page design. Although it may require more work and research on your part, especially if it’s your first foray into self-publishing, I like to consider it a learning experience.


I have a lot more to say about this subject, so if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.


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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

Categories: self-publishing, traditional publishing, author business

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