I've been talking with an author this week who has had the good fortune of finding a publisher interested in reviewing her book proposal package. She had been planning to self-publish the book, but now she finds herself presented with a potential alternative path.
She asked me:
What, in your opinion, are the real advantages of going with a traditional publisher, as opposed to self-publishing? And how long, according to your experience, would it take before the book would get published?
These are great questions — and essential ones, if you're to determine the best path forward for you and your book.
I believe in the value of traditional publishing and self-publishing. I don't favor one over the other, as each has much legitimate value to offer. An author has to weigh their particular circumstances and goals when determining which is right for them.
I thought I'd share with you my response to this author's questions, as they mark some of the broad-stroke differences between the two publishing paths and may be helpful to you as you weigh your own options for you and your book.
Going with a traditional publisher takes longer. There's usually a waiting process as they determine whether they want to contract the book. (This can take many months, as it usually involves presenting the proposal at an acquisitions meeting that happens only every couple months, and sometimes re-presenting it again at another one, after they've asked you to make changes to the proposal.) Then they have to draw up the contract. Then there's a deadline for your manuscript to be turned in according to the parameters they asked for, then several rounds of editing and revisions and approvals, then typesetting and design and proofing, then printing.
In all, working with a traditional publisher takes, at minimum, a year but sometimes can take up to two before the book is released.
The benefit of working with a traditional publisher is that you get their team of people behind the book. They get your book distributed in places you usually can't if you self-publish (like the major bookstore chains). They have experts who do the different levels of editing and design and marketing so you don't have to find those experts yourself, and they create a unified plan for the book. They pay you, rather than you paying for it all yourself.
But there are also downsides. You lose a lot of control. They will most likely change the title of the book and the cover. You will probably have very little input on these things. You give them the rights to the book, and they decide what to do with those rights. A lot of authors end up feeling disappointed by the amount of marketing support they receive (or, rather, don't receive) from their publisher — especially because every publisher will still require you to do a lot of hard work and heavy lifting when it comes to marketing your own book. Some authors end up thinking, "If I'm going to be doing all that marketing work with a traditional publisher already, why not just publish it myself and make a better return financially?"
You'll want to weigh that question with the financial part. If you self-publish, you invest your own resources up front on editing, design, typesetting, and printing, but you get a higher margin on royalties than you do with a publisher. Also, a publisher will pay you an advance on the book, but you have to sell through that advance before you see any additional royalties and, again, the percentage of the royalties is much lower than if you self-published the book.
I also think there's a lot to be said for discerning what is the right path for you. What is most important to you with your book? What is the opportunity cost of going either way, and how important are those individual costs to you? What is the likelihood of success if you do it yourself? And do you have the financial resources to do it yourself?
Lots of questions, I know, but hopefully they can help you see your way forward.
There is more that can be said on all this, and I plan to write more about the many layers of this question here, going forward. But these are some of my preliminary thoughts on the question that I hope, at least for now, can help you begin to think things through.