Deciding which publishing route to go for is a big decision for any author. This article looks at the pros and cons of publishing vs. self-publishing to help you make an informed decision.
We announced last month that we are writing the Valuable Content Marketing book. Sharon and I have been lucky enough to be offered a publishing deal with UK business publishers Kogan Page. After some debate we decided to publish with them in the traditional way.
There are now many options for would-be authors. Before we arrived at this decision we debated long and hard. I thought it would be useful to lay out the pros and cons of the three different publishing routes we considered. I’ll explain the thinking behind our decision at the end.
Advantages of traditional publishing
- Team – the publisher has the expertise and the team to make your book happen, so they can take a lot of work off your hands.
- No upfront cost – they take the risk so you don’t have to pay for printing, design and distribution
- A modest advance – is nice, but worth saying, it’s in no way enough to stop work while you just write.
- Wide reach – through their sales and distribution channels and links with the book trade, nationally and internationally. They’ll get your book in the stores and assist with promotion.
- Quality – the right publisher will guide you to write a better book than you could do alone
- Credibility – there’s still kudos in getting a book deal. With many, many self-published books out perhaps this is still the mark of distinction?
- A deadline – unless you are remarkably self-disciplined this helps to motivate you to get the book done.
Disadvantages of traditional publishing
- Loss of control – you give up a fair bit with this route: control over the content but also over design, even the title.
- Transfer of rights – really, they own them, not you: big decision here.
- Less of the proceeds. c. 10% of net returns is typical.
- Quality – a publisher’s job is to maximise returns which, in some cases can mean that the end-product is not as high quality as you could produce via the self-publishing route.
- Expectation – they don’t take it all off your hands: you may need to invest in an extra editorial layer and you’ll certainly need to take on the lion’s share of marketing/promotion.
- Speed of turnaround – once the manuscript is complete it can take around 5-6 months before the book is available.
Advantages of self-publishing
- Total independence, flexibility and control – it’s all down to you.
- Speed – if you have finished your manuscript turnaround is much quicker.
- Returns – they are all yours (minus the distributors cut: Amazon takes 40-45%).
Disadvantages of self-publishing
- Cost – if you want a quality product it will cost you. You can self-publish on a shoe string but the end product may be disappointing.
- Team – a good book is a collaboration. You’ll need to find, manage and fund your own team to help you – editor, designer, copyeditor, proofreader, printer, marketing, distribution, storage and fulfilment.
- Distribution and reach – Amazon is a pig to deal with as an independent author and it is difficult to get your book available in book stores or internationally; storage can be an issue. It can be a lot of work.
- Quality – if you haven’t done this before there are a lot of steps to get you to your end goal of a high quality, accurate and professionally-produced book. It is possible to produce a high quality self-published book but there’s lots to learn.
- Work – masses to do yourself, which can be hard if you are working and writing the book at the same time.
- No deadline – without one, your book could take a long time.
There is a third way, best described as ‘self-publishing with help‘ or partnership publishing. This offers many of the pros of self-publishing with less of the cons. This are independent companies around now who have the insight, experience and networks to help you through the process, with a trusted team to make it all happen. This route means you avoid many of the pitfalls you could fall into by yourself but there’s a cost implication.
Why we decided to publish the traditional way
We’re busy. A deadline and a supportive and experienced team around us were the main reasons we opted for the traditional route but to be honest, for a small firm like ours cost was an issue too. With our chosen route we didn’t have to pay large sums upfront to make the book happen. We pay later by getting less of a return. For us, this is OK. Our book is a marketing tool; we don’t expect to make money from it directly. Our objective is to build our reputation and attract more clients through proving our expertise.
We’ve had to give up some control and independence and that hurts a bit. Having helped a couple of authors to produce some beautifully designed self-published books, we know what’s possible. Valuable Content Marketing will be a great book, but we’ll have to get our creative kicks elsewhere.
Kogan Page has a far wider reach than we could aspire to if we self-published and this was important to us: we want to get the Valuable Content message out as widely as we can.
And finally, we really like and trust our contact at Kogan Page. She’s been unfailingly enthusiastic about our project, encouraging and insightful too. It will be a better book with her involvement and we’re grateful to have her onboard.
This is our experience but how about you? What’s your view on the publish vs. self-publish debate? We’d be fascinated by your view.
More articles on writing a business book
- Start here: 12 questions to plan your book with clarity
- What publishers want: invaluable advice from an industry insider
- How to get a publishing deal for your business book – 10 lessons learned by Heather Townsend, author of the FT Guide to Business Networking