Both traditional and self-publishing have their advantages and disadvantages. There’s no right answer when it comes to evaluating the two — there’s only a right answer on a case by case basis, depending on the needs and circumstances of each author.
Questions of financial investment and creative control are clearly very important in helping you make this choice, but there are also finer differences, some of which I’ll go into below. I’ll be looking at five benefits of traditional publishing, but I do urge you to look up the pros and cons of both sides if you want to make a holistically informed decision — this is just a start to help you consider various parameters. Let’s take a closer look!
1. You can trust in the expertise of others
When your book is in the hands of an experienced publishing team, the amount of pressure and responsibility resting exclusively on your shoulders is significantly decreased, as you can lean back and let the publisher’s team take care of cover design, typesetting, printing, and distribution. You don’t even have to bother searching for the right designer, as your publisher will assign your book to an in-house professional.
Your editor and their team will tell the designer where they see your book in the market, and the designer will draw from their knowledge of the genre to produce a cover that appeals to your target audience. What does that look like in practice? Take The Summer Girl by Jenny Blackhurst, which clearly signals that it belongs to the thriller genre through its use of a moody landscape and sole lit window.
Self-published authors, though often unfairly associated with unprofessional-looking DIY covers, are catching up, as more and more of them choose to hire freelance designers and sport sleek designs on the covers of their books — so the advantage of traditional publishing lies mainly with the fact that you will have to have little involvement, instead leaving it all in the hands of your publisher.
2. You’re eligible for awards
Whether or not it’s fair is a different question, but the fact remains that most literary awards do not consider self-published works eligible. That means that publishing traditionally automatically makes your book eligible to win prizes, which can often attract publicity and lead to sales.
This is especially true of literary fiction books, in many ways the snobbiest genre in publishing. I say this as a dedicated literary fiction reader, because it’s true that my fellow literary fiction readers are probably the ones with the most scruples about the quality of self-published works. This makes it even harder to find success as a self-published author of lit fic, and the lack of access to the publicity generated by large awards like the Booker Prize or even the Women’s Prize for Fiction places many hurdles in the way of self-published literary authors.
If you’re writing literary fiction, it is a “truth universally acknowledged” that you’ll have much better prospects through traditional publishing.
3. Your publisher can support you with promotion
Promoting your book can be a complex, long-term, laborious process that demands time, energy, and a detailed marketing plan. This is true for both traditionally- and self-published authors, as a publisher will never simply take marketing on without your involvement, but it’s even more true of self-published authors.
If you publish your book traditionally, you’ll have your publisher’s support when it comes to advertising, organizing a book launch, arranging interviews or related media publicity or a book tour, be it virtual or in real life. It might sound daunting to take on by yourself, but your publisher will have gone through this process countless times, so you’ll know that everything is running smoothly.
Social media marketing is generally up to the author regardless of whether you’re publishing independently or traditionally — for that, I would recommend checking out Kelly’s posts about social media marketing for some great insights.
4. You don’t need to invest any money upfront
An important benefit of traditional publishing is that it doesn’t require you to invest any money upfront, only the time it takes you to complete your manuscript or book proposal. There is no need to dip into your savings for a chance at publishing success — indeed, the traditional publishing model depends on a publisher taking a bet on you and your work and taking that financial risk on your behalf, for a share of the profits.
Self-publishing, when done right, means you have to set some money aside for professional editing and cover design, without any assurances that you’ll make this money back when the book is out. In this way, traditional publishing is a safer financial choice.
5. Your agent will negotiate a deal on your behalf
As total outsiders to the way book contracts are ordinarily set out, most of us would be fish out of water in a book deal negotiation. Luckily, if you’re publishing traditionally, you’ll have a literary agent by the time you find yourself in these conversations. This means that your agent will draw from their many years of experience in the industry to ensure you get a fair deal, without getting lowballed or misled because you have no insider knowledge of the industry.
Apart from ensuring your deal is fair, having an agent also dramatically increases your chances of being offered a deal in the first place. Why? Because agents are very well-networked with editors, and a good agent will know exactly which editors will be interested in manuscripts like yours, so they’ll be able to submit your book to people who are more likely to take a chance on it. With an agent’s seal of approval, you’ll find many doors opening for you.
As I said in the beginning, it’s important to remember that both traditional and self-publishing have their pros and cons. These have been some of the advantages of traditional publishing, but I would advise anyone to do their own research and ask themselves what really works for them as a person and for their manuscript. Good luck!
Rose Atkinson-Carter is a a writer with Reedsy, advising authors on all things publishing, from explaining the role of ghostwriters to evaluating the best book writing software options in the industry. She lives in London.