- There are no gatekeepers. In traditional publishing, literary agents and commissioning editors can be picky about which books they publish, or they simply don’t have space in their lists for new titles or authors. This means tens of thousands of books never get published every year. Self-publishing takes this decision out of the hands of a third party and allows authors to guarantee publication.
- Editorial control. Publishers will demand a certain level of editorial control and the manuscript may be changed in ways that an author may not be happy with. Although not always the case, there can be tension if both parties have opposing opinions. This can lead to an author compromising on their artistic vision, while the publisher will view this as commercially necessary.
- Book cover. The publisher will most likely have the final say over the final book cover, and this is probably an area where there is most consistently tension. A self-published author can design their own cover, or pay for a cover to their exact specifications.
- Increased margins in self-publishing. When a book is published traditionally some of the money made from book sales goes to publishing house who worked hard on the book. Under self-publishing the author gets a higher percentage of sales.
- Building a reputation. Self-publishing a book can help you build a positive reputation that can lead to a ‘traditional’ deal with a publisher.
- Lower print costs. Print-on-demand means that self-publishing is not as expensive as it used to be, and there is less financial risk in this regard. In the past if an author wanted to self-publish their book they would have to buy 250-500+ copies in advance from the printer in the hope that they could be sold. Now books can be printed as and when when the author knows a reader wants a copy.
- Upfront costs. In the traditional publishing model the author may receive an advance. This is a lump sum payment that helps cover the authors’ expenses while the book is being written and before publication. The opposite applies in self-publishing. The author is responsible for paying for editing, marketing, cover design and other publishing costs upfront and will only make money back when enough copies of the book are sold.
- Marketing. Self-published authors can find it hard to get their book noticed. Traditional publishers such as Harper Collins have established media relationships with journalists at major newspapers and can often get their books reviewed. Self-published authors often don’t have access to these contacts.
- Distribution. When a book is published by a traditional publisher it will appear in physical bookstores across the country but it can be much harder, if not impossible, for self-published authors to get their books in national chains because they rely on larger orders and use of the established trade supply chains. Self-publishing is less suitable for authors who are desperate to see their books on the shelves in Waterstones.
- Industry expertise. New authors have much to learn about the book trade and the business of producing print and electronic books. An author will be responsible for all aspects of publishing, not just writing. For some this can be daunting, for others a challenge. Either way, there will be a learning curve to tackle that will take time and research.
- Book cover. Most self-published authors have limited expertise in designing effective book covers. They may have a vision for their work, but that might not equate to artistic and design experience. The book cover is arguably the most crucial visual marketing for a book, so getting this wrong can mean a book doesn’t get noticed, however well-written it is.
- Technical expertise. Publishers produce books every day and have the expertise to do so. Technology moves on and so skills need to be updated to keep pace with new standards and emerging technology.
- Isolation. Publishers provide advice, guidance, and someone to talk to when things are slowing down or not going well. Authors who self-publish can find themselves isolated and the decisions they make about their book may be misinformed. This can prove to be time-consuming and costly in the long run.