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« So Wassup Doc? | Main | Storytelling & Presentations »

Should I Self Publish Or Look For A Traditional Publisher?

The most frequent question I hear from aspiring authors is, "Should I self-publish or traditionally publish?"

Which publishing option will better suit your needs? If you don’t answer this question when you begin writing your book, you may end up doing a great deal of extra work. Authors who intend to self-publish can simply write their book, but those who intend to traditionally publish need to write a book proposal first, particularly for a nonfiction book.

A book proposal can take almost as much work as writing your book–and the time and resources you put into writing a great proposal can make the difference between no publisher and finding a publisher, or between a small advance (maybe $3,000) to a much larger advance (low- to mid-five-figures and up).

So, how do you make that important decision?

1. To interest a publisher, you almost always need a platform (think big: a following of tens of thousands of people or even hundreds of thousands is ideal). You may reach these folks through the your blog, high profile blogs like Psychology Today, WebMD or the Huffington Post, an e-mail list, your newsletter, public speaking, radio, TV, a print column, or a variety of ways, but you need a strong following to interest publishers nowadays. If you don’t have one, are you willing to create one now, before you pitch your proposal? If not, self-publish this first book.

2. If your story or subject is unbelievably compelling, it’s possible that an agent and publisher may see the media potential and be interested without a current following–but not terribly likely. And they will most likely still want you to develop a following or platform before publishing.

3. Okay, let’s say you have a following, should you definitely traditionally publish? Not necessarily. Assess your situation: look at time, money and other important needs to determine whether to self-publish or seek a traditional publisher. For starters, take these things into consideration:

  • The biggest benefit of a traditional publisher is their distribution channels: they will get your books into book stores (ideally).
    • It’s easier to get publicity as an author on major TV, radio and in national print publications if your book is traditionally published. Usually, at the upper echelons of media coverage, it’s hard to get publicity for a self-published book (but not impossible).
    • A traditional publisher does lend credibility to your book.
    • A traditional publisher has experience with book covers, layout, editing (some publishers do more editing than others), marketing and other aspects of publishing–you’ll have to learn many of these things, or find a qualified professional, if you self-publish–and you’ll need to beware of people who are not that competent.
  • If your goal is to build your business and use the book as a multi-dimensional business card, you’ll want to self publish.
    • You’ll make more money per book self-publishing.
    • You’ll have more control self-publishing.
    • Any mistakes can be corrected faster by self-publishing.
    • You’ll have your book much faster, generally at least two years faster, if you self-publish.

Sometimes people assume that a traditional publisher will handle all the publicity and marketing for your book. Wrong. Either route, self-publishing or traditional, you will be responsible for marketing and promoting your book.

"What about e-books?" you may ask. We'll save that for another post...but certainly e-books are a viable option nowadays--depending again on your goals.

Please share your experiences with publishing--including any pros, cons or cautionary tales. And, of course, ask your questions...

Reader Comments (2)

I actually did both. First, I self-published. Then, after I built my platform further with media appearances, I sold the rights to my book to a major publisher. Let me assure you that only your local bookstores will carry your book if you self-publish. Your only hope of getting your book into bookstore chains is if a major publisher picks it up. Period. While it's true that you'll make more money per book if you self-publish, the total number of books you sell will be relatively low compared to the greater market penetration you'll get if you sell to a major publisher. Back when I self-published, I actually started an LLC, a "publishing company" for my book so I could have my books printed via Lightning Source. Lightning Source allowed me to get my books into and to get them stocked in Ingram, Spring Arbor, and Baker & Taylor, which are major book distributors that supply books to the major bookstore chains. No matter if you self-publish or publish the traditional route, you'll still be in charge of doing almost all of the marketing and PR for your book. Don't expect the publisher to do it. In a publishing company, 20% of the authors (the proven big names) get 80% of the marketing and PR dollars. As a new author you'll not be in that 20%. If you want to find out more about being a physician and publishing, take Dr. Julie Silver's course for something like 20 Category A CME credits at Harvard. It's offered about every other year or so and it's called something like, "Publishing Books, Memoirs, And Other Creative Non-fiction."

Thanks for your post/comment, i find it very helpful. I'll like to know if you know of any self publishing company that you may recommend. I have a manuscript ready for publishing but i want to be sure am in good hands. Thanks, Bola.

Sep 26 | Unregistered CommenterBola

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