In the ever-changing world of book publishing, aspiring authors face a critical decision: what type of publishing should they choose to bring their literary creations to the hands of readers? There are three primary publishing options for new authors to choose from. They are traditional publishing, indie publishing (also sometimes referred to as self-publishing), and hybrid publishing.
Each path has its own set of advantages and challenges that authors should know before choosing between these publishing methods. In this quick guide, we will delve into what each option entails and the pros and cons of these three types of publishing.
Types Of Publishing To Consider
What are the three main types of publishing and what are the differences between them?
Traditional publishing is the most well-known type of book publishing. In this method, authors are “picked up” by a publishing company who takes on the costs and responsibilities of getting the written work into the right format and putting it into distribution. Authors are sometimes paid advances for their work, and must share their sales royalties with the publishing company for a specified period of time.
On the opposite end of the publishing spectrum is indie publishing, or self-publishing. This method requires authors to do much of the work for editing and distribution themselves. They shoulder the costs for getting their work out into the world, but they also get to keep more of their royalties when the book sells.
Hybrid publishing resides somewhere between these two methods. An author using the hybrid publishing model will often work with a publisher for specific parts of the publishing process but will still take on a significant portion of the work and cost themselves. There are many hybrid combinations available to authors which offer a range of benefits and potential concerns.
So, which type of publishing is better for a new author? Ultimately, that depends on your individual goals, finances, and risk tolerance. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each publishing method individually.
Traditional publishing is the route most people think of when they imagine publishing a book. For many years it was the only way to get your work into the hands of a substantial number of readers. In today’s world, however, publishing through the traditional route is no longer the only viable option.
Pros of Traditional Publishing
Credibility – Many in the publishing world still consider traditional publishing to be the most credible method. However, this view is slowly changing as other publishing options pave the way for more writers to get their work out into the world.
Professionalism – Bigger companies who have established themselves in the publishing world have the resources to hire professionals to make sure that your book is polished and prepped to be the best version it can be.
However, some smaller publishing companies do not put as much effort and money into improving the book before publishing. It’s important to pay attention to a publisher’s standards and other bodies of work before signing with them.
Lower Costs – Working with a traditional publisher often means that the author’s costs are lower than they would be with indie or hybrid publishing. Costs for things like editing, formatting, cover design, and distribution are usually covered, or partially covered, by the publishing company. Occasionally, publishers will also cover marketing costs.
Paid Advances – Some authors get a paid advance before their book is even published. This can be very helpful for full-time authors who are not bringing in income from other sources. However, advances are rare for brand new authors, and those who do get paid up front rarely get paid enough to cover living costs for more than a couple of months.
Support – Publishing companies offer a sense of security and support for authors who have not gone through the process of publishing a book before. They can answer questions and guide the author through confusing or tedious aspects of the industry.
Publishing companies can also open doors of opportunity for some authors that may not be as readily available to their indie and hybrid published colleagues, such as wider distribution options and media coverage.
Cons of Traditional Publishing
Competition is High – The publishing industry is flooded with writers who want to get their work out into the world and do not want to have to go through the effort of doing it themselves. For this reason, competition within the traditional publishing industry is high.
Most large publishers will not even look at a manuscript unless it’s represented by an agent. Unfortunately, many agents are overwhelmed with hundreds of potential manuscripts each week. This is why traditional publishers are often seen as the gatekeepers of the publishing industry; there is more demand than availability.
Payments are Low – Though established authors may receive paid higher advances and royalties, new authors usually do not. It’s exceptionally rare for new authors to get paid an advance for their work, and even after they publish, most of their royalties go back to the publisher to pay for costs. Author royalties are often as low as 10% or less when working with traditional publishers.
(Stats gathered from The Bindery Agency website.)
Less Control – Traditional publishing companies are taking a gamble when they sign up a new author to work with them. Since there is no guarantee that the manuscript will make a profit (and most do not), the company often takes considerable control over that manuscript. Anything from cover design, to editing decisions, to marketing plans and payment timelines will be up to the publisher to decide.
The author may or may not get a say in changes made to the book once the contract is signed. Then, the publishing company keeps control of the book for a specified period, whether they are doing anything to bring in sales on that book or not.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the publisher’s primary goal is to make their money, not to protect the author.
Longer Timelines – Publishing with a traditional imprint often takes several years to accomplish, even after the manuscript is complete. Many authors have reported several years between getting accepted by an agent and having their manuscript picked up by a publisher.
Then, after all that waiting time, it often still takes two to three more years to see that book on a shelf. During this time, the author is not receiving any money or recognition for the work they have put into their book.
Unfavorable Marketing Priorities – Traditional publishers have a specific marketing budget that they will spend on all books coming out at a specific time. This means that they will often pour the most marketing dollars into those books they think will make them the most money, and usually those books are by established authors. Books by newer authors, especially those without an established audience, will often get left out in the cold to figure out marketing on their own.
Indie publishing, or self-publishing, is the route that many authors take when they are not comfortable with one or more aspects of the traditional publishing industry. There are several good reasons to consider indie publishing for a new book. However, there are also several challenges to overcome.
Pros of Indie Publishing
More Control – When you independently publish your book, you get full control and say over all publishing decisions. This could be a good or a bad thing. No one will ever care about your work nearly as much as you do, so no one is likely to put in as much time and effort into making your book amazing as you.
However, if you are unfamiliar with publishing best practices, or are inexperienced in how to make good publishing decisions, the learning curve could be steep. Luckily, there are countless resources out there to help you succeed.
No Gatekeeping – Choosing to take full control of publishing your work means you also don’t have to jump through the same hoops that traditionally published authors often do. You can put your work into the hands of readers as soon as you feel it is ready.
That means, for better or worse, readers will have the chance to judge your book based on its quality, rather than by its accolades or by the paid hype from publishers.
Shorter Timelines – Because indie published authors don’t have to wait on the “gatekeepers,” they can publish their books as quickly as they can write and distribute them. This means no waiting for an agent to “finally see their potential” or for a publishing board to decide when they will move forward with the project.
Indie authors can potentially begin bringing in royalties years sooner than traditionally published authors.
Higher Royalties – Because indie authors shoulder all the costs for publication and production, they also get to keep a much higher percentage of the royalties. Indie published authors often see royalties as high as 60-70% on their published works. (Stats based on PublishDrive website)
Cons of Indie Publishing
Higher Upfront Costs – Choosing to indie publish means you are choosing to take the costs associated with publishing on yourself. These costs may include editing, formatting, cover design, distribution, printing costs, and marketing costs. These expenses can add up over time, and the more inexperienced you are, the more likely you are to make mistakes that will cost you additional time and money.
It’s not uncommon to spend anywhere from $6000 to $15000 on a publishing project. However, the more experienced you become and the more fans you accumulate, these costs may reduce to more reasonable expenses as your author career progresses.
Little Support – Indie publishing means publishing largely by yourself. If you are new to the publishing industry, the process of getting your book into the hands of readers can be daunting and frustrating. There are many pieces of the puzzle that must be considered, and this leaves many writers feeling overwhelmed.
Luckily, there are sources out there, both paid and free, that can help you make the best decisions for your book. There are plenty of publishing coaches and support teams who can help.
Mindset – If you decide to self-publish a book for profit, you are essentially deciding to become a business owner. Many authors forget this essential bit of information when they choose to self-publish. They think that if they just write their book and put it out into the world, people will read it. But that’s not necessarily the case.
Indie publishing means you are also in charge of marketing your book and taking the time to build an audience and fan-base. There are people you can hire to help you do this, but they will add to your costs.
Some authors become exasperated with the time and energy it takes to treat their book publishing like a business. However, learning this essential skill can actually put an author on a much more lucrative path in the long run.
Hybrid publishing is often a term used to describe anything between traditional publishing and indie publishing. In this model, authors contribute financially to the publication process while benefiting from the expertise and resources of a publishing team. However, there are several things to consider when looking at hybrid publishers and choosing to work with one.
Pros of Hybrid Publishing
Lower Costs – Some hybrid publishers will help shoulder some of the publishing costs for their authors in exchange for a higher percentage of royalties. This can be a promising option for new authors who do not have the money to put into the upfront costs of publishing their work. Just keep in mind, this exchange will come with costs in other areas like control and timeliness.
Support Team – Working with a hybrid publisher often means you don’t have to make publishing decisions all alone. Hybrid publishers will sometimes coach authors through the publishing process and help them make the best decisions for their book.
Flexibility – Hybrid publishers are not usually as rigid as traditional publishers in making decisions about the books they contract. There are usually guidelines for the authors to follow, but the author retains many of the rights to their own work.
That being said, it’s important to read through the contract for any publisher before you decide to work with them, and make sure you understand exactly what you are agreeing to. You may even want to hire an attorney to help you sort through the legal jargon.
Cons of Hybrid Publishing
Less Regulation – Because hybrid publishing is so new, the industry is not as heavily regulated as traditional publishing. This means there is a lot of room for unscrupulous practices in hybrid publishing houses. Authors sometimes get tricked into paying for services they don’t need or handing over more control than they intended.
It’s important to thoroughly research any publishing company you choose to work with and make sure you fully understand any contracts you sign. You can check out the IBPA website for a list of criteria to look for before signing with a hybrid publisher.
Lower Profits – Depending on how the hybrid publisher operates, you may pay for services up front or hand over a larger percentage of your royalties for working with them. Make sure you understand how the publisher will get paid and how much you can expect to pay and receive from the exchange.
Also, keep in mind that you may be responsible for paying for print runs of your book in advance, depending on how your book will be distributed.
Solo Marketing – Even if you are working with a reputable hybrid publisher, you may still be responsible for your own marketing and public relations. If fear of marketing and sales is one obstacle you are trying to avoid by signing with a hybrid publisher, you may not be doing yourself any favors. Hybrid publishers will often help with the publishing process, but leave much of the advertising and sales up to the author.
Contracts – Just like with traditional publishing companies, hybrid publishers will expect you to sign a contract with them. This contract entitles them to certain rights and decisions concerning your work and usually lasts for a specified period. If you begin working with a hybrid publisher and then decide that you dislike them, you may still be stuck working with them until the contract is fulfilled.
How To Choose Which Type Of Publishing Is Best For You
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you decide which publishing method will be right for you.
1. How much money do you want to spend on publishing your book?
If you have the extra money to pay for the costs of publishing yourself, then you may not need to use a publisher. If financial costs are a concern, consider the traditional or hybrid publishing routes.
2. How much time do you care to wait to see your book published?
If timing is not a concern for you, then traditional publishing may be the way to go. If, however, you want to get your work out there more quickly and want to reach readers sooner, then indie publishing may be the best option.
3. How comfortable are you with learning the processes of publishing?
If you are one of those people who loves to dig in and do things yourself, then indie publishing may be for you. If you prefer to depend on someone else to make decisions for you, then hybrid or traditional publishing may be your best option.
4. How much control are you willing to relinquish on your book?
If you don’t mind handing over all important decisions about your book to someone else, then traditional publishing shouldn’t bother you. If you are like many authors, however, who have trouble letting go of the controls on their work that they have spent months or years producing, then you may be more comfortable with the indie or hybrid publishing models.
5. How much work are you willing to put into the marketing and distribution of your work?
Many authors shy away from sales and marketing, preferring to let the readers come to them. For indie published authors, this is not the most profitable option. However, keep in mind that you will probably be responsible for some marketing and promotion of your book, no matter which publishing method you choose.
6. What are your long-term goals in your publishing career?
Are you planning on just publishing one project or do you have many you would like to put out into the world? How will relinquishing control and royalties affect your career over time? This is something only you can consider for yourself.
In today’s publishing industry, there are several options for authors to consider before they choose which type of publishing they want to commit to. Traditional publishing, indie publishing, and hybrid publishing all have their advantages and challenges that authors must weigh against their goals, comfort levels, and available resources.
None of the publishing options available today are better or worse than any other. By researching and understanding the nuances of each of the three types of publishing, authors can more easily choose the best publishing method for them.