Traditional Publishing Versus Independent Publishing


Writers often ponder on which way to take their writing, either along the traditional mainstream publishing route, or to independently publish their own books. Here we look at traditional mainstream publishing versus independent publishing.

What is traditional publishing?

In the traditional publishing model, a publisher is the gatekeeper to your audience, and a publishing agent your first port of call. The model begins with you scouting for and commissioning an agent to pitch your book/book proposal to a publishing house. If luck favors you, you will be signed on by a publisher and receive a book advance. Once your book is published and starts to sell, you will earn royalties, typically in the range of 7% to 15% of sales. The royalty payments, however, begin only after the book has sold enough copies to earn out—that is, after the publisher has recovered the book advance from the royalties on your early sales.

Pros of traditional publishing

Traditional Publishing gives prestige to authors. Being signed on by a book publisher still serves as validation for many authors. If a publisher sees merit in your book and invests resources in it, you must have written a good book!

No money outlays. All publishing costs are borne by the publisher, lower-than-expected sales will not cause you any financial loss. Even if your book does not earn out, you are not expected to repay any portion of the book advance. However, you more than likely won't get royalties until any advance payment is paid back.

A publisher takes care of everything. The publisher provides professional services such as editing, proofreading, and designing, as well as takes care of printing, warehousing, and distribution (making the book available at bookshops, libraries, and other institutions). They would also arrange for editorial reviews and organize book signing events. Having someone take care of all this is a big relief for authors, who can then devote more of their time to writing.

Books in physical bookshops. As traditional publishers have a good distribution network and offer a book returns option, physical bookshops would be more willing to stock your book. This would improve its chances of being discovered and purchased. Most authors want to see their books in a bookshop window. However, with the massive growth in online eBook sales, this is no longer an upside to self-publishing.

Cons of traditional publishing

Time-consuming. New authors in particular are likely to be rejected many times over before they manage to land a book deal. Even after a deal is signed, it would take another year or two for the book to be published and available in bookshops.

Limited creative control. You would not have complete control over the creative aspects of your book, such as its title, its cover design, and how it is edited.

Royalty rates are lower. Royalty rates in traditional publishing are lower than in self-publishing.

Publisher contracts are complicated documents. In addition to being complicated, they often include terms that favor the publisher. You and your lawyer will need to go over the terms and clauses carefully to ensure that you hold as many of the book’s rights as possible.

What is self-publishing?

Authors can bypass the traditional gatekeepers and publish on their own, using one or more of the many self-publishing platforms available. For a measure of how authors have taken to it, know that self-published books now account for 30% to 40% of all e-book unit sales. The growth in online bookshops has further encouraged sales of e-books, the preferred format of independent authors.

After writing your book, have it professionally edited and designed before you publish with a publishing service company. Most companies do not charge any upfront fees, but deduct their commission from sales. Commissions are typically in the range of 10% to 65%. The rest of the money is yours, and you begin receiving payments right from the very first book sold!

Pros of self-publishing

There are many, many reasons why thousands if not millions of writers across the world decide to publish their own writing. Keeping control, keeping royalties to themselves, in only a small part of independently publishing your own books.

Here's some pros and benefits to publishing your own books.

Cons of self-publishing

Many new writers and even experienced independently published author may struggle with certain aspects of publishing their own writing.

Find out about the downsides to publishing your own writing.


If you do not look forward to marketing your book or paying for professional services, traditional publishing is for you. Be prepared, though, to spend time looking for a publisher and then waiting through the publishing process.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, will bring your book to the market in a matter of weeks. It will also help you avoid the hassles and restrictions of a contract and give you more creative freedom and flexibility. However, self-published authors lack the support ecosystem of a traditional publisher, and you will have to bear the responsibility of promoting your book and giving it a professional level of quality.


Successful self-published authors will make more money from their books than if they go through a traditional publisher — but there are ups and downs to both approaches.

Rachel Abbott