Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: How to Choose

Posted on Sep 8, 2021

If you still don’t know all the differences between traditional publishing versus self-publishing, you are under high risk of making a wrong decision…

And before you waste a ton of time (like many of our students), we want to give you the information you need to avoid the pitfalls aspiring authors make.

Writing and successfully publishing a book is already scary without all the confusion over which avenue to choose.

We get it.

You want to or have already written a book and now it’s time to decide between traditional versus self-publishing.

So…which can help your book see the light of day for long-term success?

Here’s what you’ll learn about traditional vs self-publishing:

  1. How to Choose: Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing
  2. Reasons to Choose Self-Publishing
  3. Reasons to Chose Traditional Publishing
  4. Most-Asked Questions About Self-Publishing vs Traditional

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

ANALYSIS: Which is better for reaching your author goals?

Get the report that covers everything from time to publish, upfront costs, and book royalty revenue trends from each option. Find the best option for you based on the revenue and distribution goals for your book.

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Self-Publishing VS Traditional Publishing: How to Choose Which is For You

You’ve finally made the decision. After years of saying “I should,” you’ve made the bold decision to finally sit down and write your book.

It’s a tough, yet brave decision. Sitting down to get your message out in the world will be one of the most challenging yet rewarding things you do.

But now that you’ve made this decision, you may be wondering: 

Should I approach a publisher and go down the traditional route? Or should I self-publish and become an indie author? Which is better, traditional publishing versus self-publishing?

In order to make the best choice between self-publishing or traditional publishing for you, is to know the main differences:

The biggest differences between self-publishing vs traditional publishing are the time it takes to publish, creative control, and the royalty rate you’re paid per book.

Here are more differences between self and traditional publishing.

Traditional Publishing Process:

  • Need to query an agent
  • Agent has to accept representing you
  • Agent has to sell your book
  • You get an upfront advance (typically under $10,000 for first time authors)
  • Your advance often has to be “paid back” with book sales the equate it before you earn new income
  • You rewrite, write, or edit your book
  • The publishing house has the book rights
  • They create the cover
  • They professionally edit it
  • They format it in all version
  • They publish it
  • You get between 10% – 12.5% royalties
  • Takes between 1-3 years to publish after an agent says “yes” to representing you

Self-Publishing Process:

  • You can publish at any time
  • You pay for cover design (& choose it)
  • You pay for editing
  • You pay for formatting
  • You upload and publish yourself
  • You get full royalties: 60% on Amazon for print books
  • You keep all rights to your book
  • You can update or republish at any time
  • You can publish as many books as you want, as quickly as you want
  • You can write and publish a book in as little as 90 days (with our system)

Chandler Bolt writes about these 4 main differences to consider when choosing between traditional publishing & self-publishing in his book Published.:  

  1. Distribution
  2. Royalty rates
  3. Cost to publish
  4. How long it takes


SELF-PUBLISHING: All online or digital book distribution options that are available to traditionally published authors are also available for self-published authors. You just have to know where to apply your book to distribute online sites like Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and other book stores.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: Traditionally published authors have more opportunities to get their books in nationwide book stores as physical copies, including airport book stores, along with online bookstores. This is often a bigger perk for traditionally published authors.

Royalty Rates:

SELF-PUBLISHING: Amazon’s paperback book copy royalty rate is 60% of your book’s retail price minus the book’s print cost. So for a 300-page book that retails at $17.99, a self-published author would take home $7.54 per paperback book sold.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: First-time traditionally published authors usually make 10% per book sold until their advance is paid out, and then their earnings can go up to 12.5%. So for a book that retails at $17.99, a traditionally published author would bring $1.79 per book home.

Cost to Publish:

SELF-PUBLISHING: This is by far the biggest differentiator because self-published authors can spend up to $3,000 or more on the book production process, like book editing, formatting, cover design, and any extras like a program that teaches you how to publish and market a book effectively.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: $0 if it’s a true traditional publishing house, where the production of the book is covered (and not a vanity publisher). We do often say, traditional publishing is paid for with…time.

How Long It Takes:

SELF-PUBLISHING: As fast as you can get through the process of good, quality book production (editing, cover design, etc.). Authors in our Become a Bestseller program self-publish really high-quality books in as little as 90 days.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: The timeframe can take years, and even a lifetime if you never land an agent. If you do get an agent to represent you and sell your book to a house, you can still spend 1-3 years before your book is actually published.

[Pssst! Want to see some of our students’ published books? Check out the SPS library here!]

Self-Publishing: Pros for Choosing This Option

The publishing world has changed, and it’s time for you to reap the benefits. Here are seven reasons why self-publishing is the best route to take—and why you’ll think twice before dealing with a traditional publishing company again.

#1 – You Don’t Have to Wait for Permission

With self-published books, you do not have to wait for anyone to give you the green light.

  • You decide when and how to publish a book.
  • You decide whose hands your book gets into.
  • You decide how successful you are.

In other words, you don’t have to convince any gatekeepers to allow your book to reach the global market.

“But, don’t traditional publishers have a good idea for what will sell or not? I mean, if they reject my book, they’re probably right that no one would want to buy it.”


Have you ever heard of Tim Ferriss’s book “The 4-Hour Workweek”? It has been a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller for over four years. It sold nearly 1.5 million copies and has been translated into 35 different languages.

Oh, and get this: It was rejected by the first 26 publishers it was presented to.

Maybe you’ve also heard of a certain children’s book, the one about a young boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead who discovers he is a wizard. The ”Harry Potter” franchise is a patent bestseller, with the last four books in the series being the fastest-selling books in history. 

Yet it was rejected by 12 publishers in a row, and was only picked up because the eight-year-old daughter of an editor demanded to read the rest of the book. Even then, after the editor agreed to publish, they advised J.K. Rowling to get a day job as she had little chance of making money in children’s books.

Little did they realize the publishing success they had stumbled onto.

Now, just imagine all the other authors out there who stopped after the first 10 or 20 doors slammed in their faces, believing the lie that they didn’t have a profitable idea.

You cannot allow other people to determine your success.

Self-publishing gives you the avenue to do that. You and your readers decide the worth of your words, rather than one person at a publishing firm who may not realize the potential publishing success in their hands. 

#2 – You Can Publish Your Work Quickly

If you were to take your book to a traditional publisher, it would take years to publish.

For example, it may take up to six months for you to even hear back about the book proposal. And assuming they accept your proposal, it will take at least another year before the book is actually published.

With self-publishing, you can produce your content as quickly as you want. And in the Amazon Kindle store, you can publish a new book whenever you want. That way, you can share your work as quickly as you create it!

#3 – Bring Home the (passive) Bacon

Traditionally published authors are typically paid an amount of money up front. However, once the sales come rolling in, they only get a small cut of the earnings. 

Why? Because they have to pay the publishing house, the editor, the marketers, the designers, etc.

But when you self-publish, you take in most of the earnings (save for the money you actually choose to spend on marketing, book production, and publishing). On Amazon, for example, self-published authors receive 70% of the royalties for an eBook priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Now that isn’t bad!

#4 – You Form Invaluable Connections

Self-publishers around the world have gathered online and in-person to provide a community that supports one another in publishing their work.

These connections become priceless as you meet other up-and-coming influencers like yourself.

“Wait—so where would I meet these people?”

Because self-publishing requires that you find your own editor, cover designer, formatter and launch team members, you end up connecting with people throughout your whole writing experience.

Self-published authors also gather on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit.

The camaraderie allows people to expand far beyond what they could have done on their own, or what they would have been limited to with a traditional publisher.

#5 – You Control Your Objective

So much of a book is influenced by the motive that fuels it.

  • Is your motive to make money?
  • It is to launch a new career?
  • Is it to share your story?
  • Is it to become a public speaker?
  • Or, is it simply something to cross off your bucket list?

Remember, writing a book is hard work. And nothing is worse than seeing your hard work be transformed into something you didn’t want. When you self-publish, you are able to preserve the dignity and genius of your objective. No one is pressuring you to sell more books, or to taint your message so that it will reach wider audiences.

You are not pigeonholed or made to become someone you’re not comfortable with.

You write as you, and for you. And that is liberating. That is self-publishing freedom!

#6 – You Control Your Creative Concept

There are horror stories about authors whose ideas and voice became unrecognizable after they went down the traditional route. 

When you work with a traditional publisher, you don’t just sell them your manuscript, you sell them your idea.

Your book may become something you are not comfortable with. Or, your dreams for a sequel or a revision may be completely squandered if it does not comply with the motives of the traditional publisher.

But as an independent author, you retain total creative control. 

You are free to be expressive with your work. You are free to be vulnerable and controversial. You are free to be you.

When you self-publish, you also control who you write for. If you sell via the Amazon Kindle store, you can choose, and then tweak, your categories and keywords. You determine your marketing efforts.

With 45 percent of e-book sales going to indie authors, audiences are showing that they respect and want to purchase the ideas of everyone—not just those endorsed by traditional publishers.

#7 – You Control Your Future

Most people looking to write a book want to earn more money, gain more freedom or have a platform to share their ideas.

When you self-publish and have complete ownership over your ideas, you also have complete ownership over your future.

There is no traditional publishing firm to stop you from selling a supplementary online course that includes material from your book, starting a speaking career, re-releasing your book with a hardcover or audiobook, or even releasing an updated version of your book.

You determine the trajectory of your book, your ideas, and your publishing career when you self-publish.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

ANALYSIS: Which is better for reaching your author goals?

Get the report that covers everything from time to publish, upfront costs, and book royalty revenue trends from each option. Find the best option for you based on the revenue and distribution goals for your book.

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Traditional Publishing: Pros to Choose This Option

The traditional publishing in dustry can be confusing if this is your first time venturing these waters.

Chandler Bolt (our founder), writes this in this book, Published.

Traditional publishers are kind of like venture capitalists (VC). The premise of VC investing is to place 10 bets on high risk, high reward companies. Seven of them will fail completely. Two of them will do slightly better than break even. And one will be a huge success (20x-100x your investment) to pay for the losses of the other companies while still leaving the venture capitalist with a healthy return on investment. 

This same model is how most traditional publishers operate. For every 10 books they sign publishing deals with, here’s how the results shake out: 

4-7 books: fail to earn back their advance. These are publishing duds…write offs that get ignored by the publisher after launch while still earning minimal royalties.

2-4 books: Do slightly better than break-even. These are the baseball equivalent of a single or double. 

1 book: Smash hit. Sells 100’s of thousands or millions of copies. Continues to sell for years, earning “recurring revenue” for publishers as part of their “backlist”. 

As a result, here’s the experience of those authors: 

4-7 authors: “My book flopped! It’s all my publisher’s fault. And now I don’t even own the rights to the book or have access to data so I can try to sell more copies.”

2-4 authors: “That went okay I guess. It’d be nice to actually make money from the book though.”

1 author: “It feels good to be making money and building a career from this book but now I feel like I’m getting taken advantage of. My publisher is making most of the money while I do all the work.”

As you can probably tell, we here at Self-Publishing School are huge advocates of being in control and ensuring you get all the money you deserve for the work you’ve put in.

That being said, sometimes traditional publishing will be the best option to fit your needs.

Here is why some people might opt to go with traditional publishing instead of reaping the rewards of self-publishing.

#1 – You have connections in the publishing industry

The chances of landing and agent and making it in traditional publishing is very low.

Because this market is very saturated and publishers really only publish certain types of books, those who have better luck with traditional publishing are those who have connections within the industry.

Basically, if you know someone who is an agent or an editor at a publishing house, it might be beneficial for you to work with them in order to get published through that house.

#2 – You want the label

The best perk when it comes to traditional publishing is typically the fact that you can say you’re a traditionally published author.

Because you have to go through a number of different processes and rejections in order to “make it” with traditional publishing, it can be seen as a sign that you’re a better writer than others.

However, as much as it can sound impressive, it doesn’t always mean it is.

#3 – Distribution

Book distribution is much easier as a traditionally published author, mostly because you don’t have to deal with any of it.

Traditional publishing houses have very wide reaches and because of this, your book can reach a lot more stores in more places than if you traditionally publish.

#4 – Less responsibility on your part

If you’re the type of person who just wants to write the book but don’t want to worry about the title, book cover design, editing, or more, then traditional might be for you.

Keep in mind that traditional publishers do purchase the rights to your book when you get a book deal and therefore, can make you alter anything in it to meet their needs.

Meaning, your plot and characters can drastically change. If you’re okay with that, then traditional publishing works for you.

#5 – No upfront costs to you

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean traditional publishing is necessarily “free.”

Typically, those who get traditional book deals receive an upfront payment of varying amounts. From there, the rest of the expenses fall on the publisher.

However, those upfront payments aren’t often big enough to cover your living expenses for the length of time it takes to get your book finished and out into the world. And that means you’ll still have to continue to work another job while writing and meeting deadlines in order to get your book done.

#6 – A slow and steady process

This can be both a pro and a con. If you’re not in a rush to get your book out into the world, then the slow and lengthy traditional publishing process might be a good thing for you.

Traditional Publishing Pros And Cons

Top Questions About Self-Publishing Vs Traditional Publishing: Answered

How has the publishing industry changed?

Thankfully, this industry is changing for the better – at least for those of us who are savvy in self-publishing.

With the development of online marketplaces like Amazon, the publishing process has changed. You can distribute your book to everyone, regardless of what some traditional publishing house thinks about your idea.

Traditional publishing is cable, self-publishing is Netflix.

It’s more about making publishing books, and therefore literature, more accessible to everyone, and less of a “club” you have to work your way into. We here at Self-Publishing School are huge advocates of this, obviously, because we believe the more “regular people” who write books, the more diverse literature (and therefore our culture) becomes.

You have a book inside of you and the world needs to read it!

How much can you make from self-publishing vs traditional publishing?

The amount you make from self-publishing depends on your royalty rate, how much you sell the book for, and how much time you’re spending marketing the book.

But also keep in mind that you have to know how to self-publish the book correctly if you truly want to see high returns.

Thankfully, self-published books have a much, much higher royalty rate than traditional publishers because you get to keep anywhere from 50-70% of your book’s profits.

With a traditional publisher, they take much more and you only end up with 10% maybe 12% after years of proving yourself as an author.

These are the royalty rates for those options:

  • Self-published royalty rate: 60%
  • Traditional royalty rate: 10% – 12.5%

Keep in mind that self-published authors have to subtract the cost of the book’s printing fee before they know their take-home amount of money. For a book that’s 300 pages printed in just black ink, about $3.25 will be deducted from the royalty on your book’s retail price.

This means that the royalty rate on ebooks may be higher, due to no print cost. Disclaimer: for the example below, we are only using paperback copies in total sales (real sales for our authors here may have varied).

Here’s a breakdown of how much traditionally published authors make vs self-published authors, using two of our own Become a Bestseller students Alexis and Justin Black with their book Redefining Normal as an example:

Traditional Earnings:

Book retail price: $14.99

Initial Royalty Rate: 10%

Income per book: $1.79

Books Sold: 6000

Earnings: $10,740

Self-Published Earnings:

Book retail price: $14.99

Initial Royalty Rate: 60%

Income per book: $5.74

Books Sold: 6000

Earnings: $34,440

SPS students Alexis and Justin Black were able to put a down payment on a house because of their self-published book’s earnings with 7,000+ book sales (plus 10 book awards and counting!).

Want to see how much you’d need to sell in order to make a specific amount? The calculator below will automatically calculate the above equation to show you what you can make based on a certain book sales number.

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Book Profit Calculator

Enter Your Information Below To Cacluate
Your Potential Book Sales

Enter your details below to see your personalized book profit estimate!


Here's What You'd Earn:

Your profit per book: $20

In 3 months, you'll make: $90,000

In 6 months, you'll make: $180,000

In 1 year, you'll make: $365,000

Does self-publishing hurt your chances with a traditional publisher?

Self-publishing does not hurt your chances with a traditional publisher at all. The opposite is true, actually. Self-publishing a book and having success can make it more likely you’ll publish with a traditional publishing house.

Major publishers like their authors to have an edge. The more successful you are on your own, and the bigger your author platform, the more likely it is a traditional publisher will publish your book.

So by having success and building your following as a self-published author, it makes landing an agent and a book deal that much easier. And it also saves you a ton of time searching for that agent too!

Some literary agents may actually approach you if your book does well enough. Does the book The Martian ring a bell?

It does happen. But first, your book has to sell and be successful much like The Martian was.

That’s what we do here at Self-Publishing School. You can learn more about the process right here.

Even Big Names Choose Between Traditional Publishing VS Self-Publishing

Though there are some benefits to traditional publishing, even some well-established and successful authors admit that the joys of being an indie author outweigh a traditional publishing deal.

So much, in fact, that big name entrepreneurs who have large followings and could easily get a traditional publishing deal are opting to go the self-publishing route.

These people include Pat Flynn, Jeff Goins, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, Johnny B. Truant and James Altucher.

Is it worth it to self-publish?

It really is…but only if you’re dedicated and have the right process to get you results.

The fact is, a lot of misinformed people judge self-publishing as being a waste or that you won’t make money. Those people just don’t know how to properly position their book on Amazon, market it, or even title their book to sell.

That’s why so many of our students are successful; they follow our program and with the help of their coaches to tailor their strategy, they make money and have major success with their books.

Traditional Publishing Vs Self Publishing

Ultimately, Self-Publishing Will Change Your Perspective

It may be that, like quite a few writers, you’ve dreamed about working with a big-name publishing house all your life, and nothing will satisfy you until you get that experience. There is nothing wrong with that.

If you’ve identified this need early on, then maybe it’s best for you to go down the traditional publishing route. 

But let’s say you win the book lottery and get published. There is still no guarantee that your publisher’s efforts will get your work in bookstores or into the hands of the editors of your favorite literary magazines and newspapers. There’s also no guarantee in sales volume. 

However, self-publishing gives you an alternative path. It gives you an assured chance of getting your book out there. You have a better chance of seeing success in your sales and making an impact if your message resonates with enough people. Not to mention, you get to stay true to the vision of your book.

Self-publishing allows you the freedom, money, community and control to shape your life into one that you adore.

So, start writing your own bestseller today.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

ANALYSIS: Which is better for reaching your author goals?

Get the report that covers everything from time to publish, upfront costs, and book royalty revenue trends from each option. Find the best option for you based on the revenue and distribution goals for your book.

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Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a commission if you click through to make a purchase.
Avatar Of Bella Rose Pope

Bella Rose Pope

Bella is a longtime writer, reader, cheese enthusiast, and plant / pet mom. When not writing, you can find her recommending Reader Ranked books on the blog, divulging in her many hobbies, or editing others' books into shiny, quality works of art that sell.

What is Self-Publishing School?

We help you save time, money, and headaches through the book, writing, marketing, and publishing process by giving you the proven, step-by-step process and accountability to publish successfully. All while allowing you to maintain control of your book–and its royalties.
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