How Should You Publish Your Book

A breakdown of which publishing route is best for you and your book.

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At some point in a writers life they are going to ask themselves the question how do I publish my book? Back in the day the answer to that was very simple: get an agent or shell out tens of thousands of pounds to do it yourself. Now, the answer is much more complex. Generally speaking, you have three avenues to go down. Traditional publishing, independent publishing or self-publishing. In case you don’t know, here are what the those three are.

Traditional Publishing: This is you old fashioned way of publishing. Get an agent, they sell your book to a publisher.

Independent Publishing: A smaller publishing house than the Harper Collins of the world but it is a publishing house. Generally, you don’t need an agent.

Self-Publishing: You publish the book yourself. You can use a service like Amazon’s KDP or you can buy yourself some ISBN numbers and set yourself up as an independent publisher and publish your work that way. But you do everything yourself.

Now, there isn’t a right or wrong answer for how you should publish your work. It largely depends on what you want to get out of the experience. To answer that question, I’ve broken it down into some different categories and we’ll compare the three different avenues against each other.

Creative Control

Arguably the most important thing that you want to keep a hold of when writing a book. There’s nothing worse than putting years of blood, sweat and tears into a project and then having a person you’ve never met sitting in an office in London tell you to change your ending because it won’t sell well as it is. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, admittedly, but that’s what you need to expect in traditional publishing. They will make changes to your work and while they will be done to improve the product, your book is a product. If changing something will make it sell more then that’s what they’re going to get you to do. Independent publishers are along the same line but they are slightly more niche, they’re not going to invest as much money in you so it’s less of a risk to take a chance with your work. They’re also smaller, so that generally, you’ll be able to talk to the people making the decisions on this. In Harper Collins you won’t ever speak to Mr/Mrs Harper Collins. You’ll speak to an editor to will speak to their boss who speaks to their boss until some head of some department gets the message. With self-publishing, you have all the control. You want fire breathing space dragons nobody is going to stop you.

So, because I like numbers I’m also going to rank the three on these categories with 1 being the best and 3 being the worst. Being the worst doesn’t mean it’s bad, mind you, just that the others are better.

Self-publishing: 1.
Independent Publishing: 2
Traditional Publishing: 3

Reach and Money

Reach and money kind of go hand in hand. If you book is read by a lot of people, you will make more money. People who say that they want to make money from writing get a bit of a bad name, unjustly I feel. Why wouldn’t you want to make enough money to make your art a career? But, anyway, if you want your book read by a lot of people then your best bet is traditional publishing. If you want to make a lot of money, then your best bet is self-publishing. In a vacuum with no other variables. If you sell a thousand copies you will make more money self-publishing than any other way. However, it’s much more complicated than that and it’s quite a messy thing to unpick. Traditional publishers will be able to get your book in just about every shop. They can get it on billboards and it can get featured on TV and things like that. They can, but that doesn’t mean that it will get all of that treatment. It might get in a couple of bookshops, sit there and do nothing. Independent publishers can get it in a lot of shops but this varies between publishers. Some can get it in every shop that your traditional publisher can, others can get it in Waterstones. Self-publishing can get it on Amazon. If you buy ISBNs and do it that way you can get it in Waterstones but that’s it. It’s the reverse for the money you make for the sales, as well. With traditional publishing you make a tiny percentage, independent you make a higher percentage and with self-publishing you keep the biggest chunk.

The reason this is muddy is because it’s a lot more like gambling than you may realise. You can have the highest reach and earn the most money with any of the options, but it’s an odds game. Traditional does come out ahead when you look at the chance to be the best. If you take a hundred books and publish a third in each way, on average, the one that had the highest reach and had the most return will be through traditional publishing, with independent coming in second and self trailing at the rear. But, sometimes the long shot pays off.

Traditional Publishing: 1
Independent Publishing: 2
Self-Publishing: 3

How Much Work You Have to Do

Independent publishing kind of wins this category but, again, it’s quite complicated. Gone are the days where traditional publishers give you a marketing budget. If you’re lucky they still will, but not everyone gets it. It’s going to be down to you to promote your book with about as much work going into it as if you had self-published it. You’ll have an agent who might help and being published by a traditional publisher will open a few more doors for you however, generally speaking. Independent publishers are more likely to do more of the work to help you market the book. They have fewer books on their roster and they need those books to sell more copies than a traditional publisher would. With all the celebrity books and guaranteed sellers that a traditional publisher has on their roster they can afford to lose the five grand they invested in your book if it doesn’t do well. Don’t get me wrong, they want it to do well, but they don’t want to spend money making it happen.

Looking at the work that you have to put into actually writing the book, you have to write the thing for all of them, obviously, but everything after that is different. Traditional and independent publishers will provide you with editor(s), if you have an agent they’ll work with you on getting the book ready too. They’ll handle all the cover and formatting work as well. Self-publishing you have to do everything yourself, or pay someone to do it. So, overall, independent publishers will leave you with the least amount of work and self-publishing will be the most work. It’s still a lot of work, though.

Independent Publishing: 1
Traditional Publishing: 2
Self-publishing: 3


For the final section, we need to look at creativity. This is different than creative control. By creativity, what I mean is what the publisher will buy. Your book could be fantastic but a traditional publisher won’t take it on. Maybe it’s too niche, or they don’t think it will sell at the moment. Traditional publishers lean quite heavily towards commercial fiction, if you stray too far away from that you do run the risk that they won’t even look at the book. That is a risk not a certainty. Lots of books that are as far away from commercial fiction as you can get still get traditionally published. But it is a risk. Independent publishers sit in the middle, they will be more inclined to look at things at further ends of the spectrum, but they are also more inclined to be focused on certain aspects of such spectrum because of how small their team is. You will have independent publishers that only publish romance, as an example. Self-publishing can publish anything. You have a transgressive romance murder mystery comedy sci-fi set in historical London? No problem. Other publishers will probably have something to say about that book.

Self-publishing: 1
Independent Publishing: 2
Traditional Publishing: 3


Deciding where to try and get your book published is a very personal decision based on what you want to get out of the experience and there is a correct route for your book. The one thing, however, that I see a lot of people do that is the wrong way to approach it is they start at traditional and if the book doesn’t get picked up they’ll work down the list until they eventually self-publish. Don’t do that. That’s why self-publishing has the reputation of being filled with truly terrible writing. Because the book gets rejected by everyone else for quality reasons and the writer self-publishes it. Don’t get me wrong, that’s your right but that’s why self-publishing is viewed as the lesser of the three options despite its being the best route for some people and some books.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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