The Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing Bruhaha by Sephera Giron

Which is better?

No, there is no right answer.

There, I said it. No beating around the mulberry bush. No platitudes or pontification. There is no answer because like pretty much everything else in life, everyone has a different experience, a different expectation, and therefore, a different perspective of what constitutes success.

Okay, I’ll stop being flippant for a minute because I’m one of those people who has lived through the transition from typewriter to eBooks.

I was a voracious reader and wanted to be a horror writer when I grew up. I had a few houses on my bucket list, one of them being Leisure. It took me many pitches and several years to get into Leisure but finally, it happened. I published four books with Leisure in the 2000s. I also was published in small press anthologies and magazines. It could take years to see a story go from typewriter to printed page. Some stories never made the grade for one reason or another. If an editor had something to say, I’d listen, especially if that meant they might look at something else from me one day.

In those times, the nineties and 2000s, horror was making a resurgence and there were many places to publish, many excellent names to compete with, and many hurdles to jump. Only the best of the best was published, and of course, opinion will always vary on what THAT meant, but truly, the editors who paid for writers’ work believed the work was good.

To finally see a work in a magazine or to see your book at the airport was a crazy amazing feeling of success, because it meant you had jumped a bazillion hurdles, often for many years. And there stood the proof of your efforts, out there for the world to see, as validated by a team who paid you real money and there would be more money to come.

These days, you can write your story, upload it to Kindle, Smashwords, GooglePlay, Kobo, and so on, and the world has access to your efforts by the next day in eform and by the end of the week in print if you use CreateSpace or a similar platform. 

What are the pros and cons of these efforts?

What is the correct path for a writer to take?

I’ll say right off the bat that I’m a hybrid author. I have a track record in traditional publishing and I’ve published a couple of books on my own. I’ve always been adventurous and curious so I put up some previously published work and a novel that never fit a particular genre slot to see how it all works. It was an interesting experiment but I’m glad I’m working with Samhain and can focus once more on just writing my books and not worry about all that other fiddly stuff that comes with self-publishing.

I’m also a freelance editor. For the past ten years, I’ve worked as a Developmental Editor and now I’ve branched out to Copy Editing and Proofreading as well. My point is, even though I’ve been an editor on hundreds of books over the past ten years, I still can’t see many of my own mistakes. No one can.

Which brings me to the pros and cons of self-publishing. 



1. You are in control of the entire process from writing, editing, cover, publishing, marketing, and so on. If you like learning new skills and have loads of spare time, have at it!

2. You can get your book out quickly instead of waiting years for it to make the rounds with agents and publishing houses. This can be good for timely and trendy booklets and pamphlets or if you’re giving a talk and want to sell a takeaway.

3. You can republish the minute you find errors or want to change the cover without it costing a dime. Of course, that’s just for electronic platforms. It’s different when you’re getting into print book territory.

4. You can market yourself how you want to market yourself without a publishing house making the rules. You also keep all your own rights for movies and TV series.

5. You make a way bigger royalty. Way bigger. Yeah. You can play with your price points too. With a bit of experimenting, you’ll find your sweet spot. Most platforms direct deposit right into your bank account on a monthly basis. You can obsessively track your sales as often as you like.


1. You are in control of the entire process from writing, editing, cover art and cover copy, publishing (all that pesky formatting and indenting and runtogehterwords and...) marketing, and so on. 

It can be a time sink and you can do a really shitty job so don’t be afraid to pay for professionals that will make your work shine. Editing and cover art are the most important services to outsource if you have the budget for proper professionals. You only have one chance to make a good impression to a new reader. You’ll likely make your money back, eventually...

2. You may miss steps in the process because you can’t do everything yourself.

A savvy reader can tell by your “Look Inside” that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing so why should he shell out his cash? In a couple of pages, he can see you don’t have a clue how to format, or write, or put a book in proper order. Why should he suffer through your amateur meanderings when there are more professional books to read for the same price? Read about self-publishing and hire appropriate professionals to fill in the gaps instead of trying to do it all yourself. Different platforms take different formats so just spring for the bucks to hire a dude who formats ebooks for a living. It will save you hours of frustration. He also might notice if you’ve missed vital things like a Table of Contents.

3. Your book usually won’t be in bookstores unless you have a distributor.

4. People might act impressed that you self-published, but they secretly wonder why you didn’t bother to try to get a contract and if your book is crappy. Don’t be offended, even though it’s 2015, the snobbery still exists. I see it with my own work. Be strong, Young Jedi!

5. You are too close to your work.

Yes, this happens with most authors, but it can be worse if you’re self-publishing. I think we all saw that recent author meltdown over reviews. It happens all the time. When will we ever learn?

Never Respond To Reviews (and yes, this is said like that line from “Tropic Thunder.”)

So you see a review that makes you cry or get angry, Let It Go. Suck it up, Buttercup. You’re a writer now, that means growing a nice thick alligator skin.

You may not think you need an editor because you have an English degree. Your words might be copy-perfect but you repeated chapter two twice and your hero’s name changed completely halfway through the book. Or, you spent four days on that cover, dammit, and it’s the best cover in the universe. The best you can do, for now, as you cry with exhausted frustration and wishing you’d taken graphic design in college. Well, your sales will tell you the truth about your efforts. Then you can spring for professional cover art, front and back, developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, formatting and design. Isn’t your time (and ego) worth it? 

Traditional Publishing


1. You get paid an advance to write your book. Depending on the size and your budget, you might actually be able to sit and write your book for a few weeks like a “real” writer (in your fantasy, life still goes on for most of us!), and still pay the mortgage or rent.

2. You have a contract and likely a clause about first look at your next book. This makes you feel proud and like a “real” writer.

3. They have marketing and sales teams. Depending on the size of the house and your readership numbers, this works for you proportionately.

4. You don’t have to deal with any paperwork or financial stuff. You just write the book and cash the check. Or your agent sends you a check, which is even better, because it’s even less paperwork and chasing around for you. Your agent may get you a bigger advance and better terms. In addition, your agent may get you a multibook deal that you never would have gotten on your own, which means more money that you just sit back and collect, after everyone on your team gets his or her cut.

5. The publishing house puts your work through many phases of editing. There’s the acquiring editor who hired you. Then depending on the size of the house, there are copy editors, lines editors, proofreaders, developmental editors, and content editors. Your work is hammered to death. So if anyone writes a bad review, well, there’s a whole team to blame, although it is still your fault your wrote a shitty book. But it can make you feel a tiny bit better.


1. Royalties for print are small. Royalties for ebooks fluctuate widely from house-to-house. Your ebook often costs some crazy amount and there’s nothing you can do about it.

2. If your book tanks, you’re done at that publishing house. 

3. If your book tanks, you’re likely done at other publishing houses.

4. It can take years to go through all the stages from the time you write your book, shop your book or have your agent shop your book, have an editor buy it, go through the publishing process, and then see it in a book store. It can take years or even decades to sell a book to a big-name publisher. Some of the most tenacious authors never do.

5. The publishing process can fall apart at any time from the moment your editor says over drinks at a con that he wants to buy your book until you hold the final book in your hand.

So, you can see, there’s no real answer to what is the best way to go about this writing and publishing business. Which way is better?

It depends on who you are and what you want.


Nobody can decide but you.



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