Traditional Publishing Vs. Self-Publishing: Which Publishing Path is Best for You?

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This past year while promoting my latest two books, Boys and Sammie & Budgie, I was asked quite a lot during interviews, “Would I go with a traditional publisher for my next book?” Having taken the indie route and self-published some of my fiction work, I initially thought this question to be intriguing. Could I relinquish all the control I have as a self-publisher and opt for a traditional publisher to take control of my new book’s life? My initial response was, “Sure! Why not?” Then on further reflection, my thought was, “Well, I don’t know.” What a conundrum!


Boys front cover
Photo by Lori Hoadley

Boys By Scott Semegran

These are the stories of three boys living in Texas: one growing up, one dreaming, and one fighting to stay alive in the face of destitution and adversity. There’s second-grader William, a shy yet imaginative boy who schemes about how to get back at his school-yard bully, Randy. Then there’s Sam, a 15-year-old boy who dreams of getting a 1980 Mazda RX-7 for his sixteenth birthday but has to work at a Greek restaurant to fund his dream. Finally, there’s Seff, a 21-year-old on the brink of manhood, trying to survive along with his roommate, working as waiters and barely making ends meet. These three stories are told with heart, humor, and an uncompromising look at what it meant to grow up in Texas during the 1980s and 1990s.


I decided to research this issue and I found that there were drastically different opinions on this: traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Many authors still tout the traditional publishing model as the best way to go, particularly if you want to be taken “seriously” as a writer. One author, Ros Barber, declared that she’d rather starve as a traditionally published author than risk appearing amateurish as a self-published author. Another author, Hugh Howey, favored self-publishing because he spent less time jumping through the hoops of the traditional system and instead published straight to the “real” gatekeepers: the readers. Both writers have a point. Ultimately, aren’t they both trying to accomplish the same thing? They both have the desire to be published writers. Arguing about the method of publishing is like arguing about the best way to get from Texas to California: budget airplane ticket or expensive automobile. Would you rather fly cheaply or drive an expensive car? Who cares! I just want to get to California. Most writers just want to publish their work for the world to read.

I think the better approach to this dilemma is to figure out other factors that influence the writer in you. Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Or do you like to focus only on writing? Does marketing your books sound appealing to you or does it make your brain hurt? Does graphic design and typesetting sound fun or does it turn you off? How involved do you want to be with the life of your book? Do you want to give it to a publisher then walk away, trusting that they have editors and graphic designers and marketers? Or do you want to follow it down the long tail of its distribution, getting involved with the book cover design as well as marketing and promotion? Like discovering your love language for a successful romantic relationship, figuring out some of these personality traits in your writer-self will be important in deciding the publishing route you should pursue.


Sammie & Budgie front cover
Photo by Lori Hoadley

Sammie & Budgie By Scott Semegran

Sammie & Budgie is an illustrated novel brought to you from the quirky mind of writer and cartoonist Scott Semegran. The novel explores the bond between a caring father and his children, one affected by his own thorny relationship with his surly father, and the connection he has with his sweet son is thicker than blood, going to the place where dreams are conceived and realized.


For me personally, I had another career that grew in tandem with my writing career: webmaster. In all the years of designing websites, I acquired many different skills and a lot of computer application expertise. Graphic design? Yes, I have extensive experience with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Typesetting and fonts? Yes, I have experience with Adobe Acrobat Professional. HTML? Well, of course, I’m a webmaster! Did you know that the ePub format of eBooks uses HTML and CSS as formatting? I discovered this while learning how to create eBooks. I also discovered that many of the skills and tools I learned as a webmaster translated to creating eBooks and formatting paperbacks. Create styles for formatting the HTML in an ePub? Turns out I knew how to do that. Embedding fonts in a PDF for on-demand printing? Turns out I knew how to do that, too. Self-publishing was a path I could nimbly pursue, using the skills I developed as a webmaster as the skills I needed to publish books, whether as eBooks or in print. What if you do not have these skills and are reluctant to acquire these skills BUT you still have that entrepreneurial spirit? Then delegate these things to skilled contractors. Although self-publishing sounds complicated, there is a wealth of information on the internet to help you as well as professionals–graphic designers, editors, proofreaders, and promoters–willing to perform some of the publishing tasks at very reasonable rates. Does this sound daunting to you and you just want to write? Then maybe traditional publishing is the way to go for you. Time to start writing those query letters!

Or, you may turn out to be a hybrid author, one who pursues traditional publishing as well as self-publishing. I fit more into this category as I have had work published in literary journals as well as major-city newspapers and alternative weeklies. I had a literary agent pursue a deal with a non-fiction humor book. I’ve written hundreds of query letters. I’ve received paychecks from publishing companies. And, I’ve published books through my own imprint: Mutt Press. I know everything about the publishing process from writing to editing to proofing to typesetting to book cover design to print layouts to eBook coding to book distribution to marketing and promotion and… WHEW! Would I accept a traditional publishing deal now? Sure! I have a lot to offer a traditional publisher and would make a great partner. Would not getting a traditional publishing deal keep me from publishing books in the future? No, I’ve successfully done it on my own.

Look, I understand that most of the articles you’ll read on the internet about traditional publishing versus self-publishing are, at their core, about monetizing your books. People really are curious about writing books as a career. And why not? Sounds like a fun career. Scott Semegran, bestselling author. Has a nice ring to it, right? But let me tell you, if what you want is to make money, then a writing career is not really the best choice. I mean, there are thousands of easier ways to make money than writing books. And even traditionally published author Ros Barber decries her financially depressing writing career while peering at the self-publishers of the world with her jaundiced world-view. Even so, she wants to write, as a lot of us do. We, at our core, are creative creatures. Creating art, writing books, playing music–these pursuits are what make us human. And to debate about the best way to make money while creating art is like putting the horse in front of the cart, or debating about the best mode of transportation when arriving at your destination is really the point. Business-class airline? Or a convertible with a manual transmission? Who cares… the goal is CALIFORNIA!

The world needs more writers, whether it’s in fiction or non-fiction or journalism or bloggers or whatever. And, right now, there has never been a better time to be a writer because the paths to publishing have never been greater–EVER! If you have a love for writing and you have a dedication to the craft of writing, then I am certain that sometime in your future, a financial incentive may present itself. And most successful writers will tell you this: love writing first. There’s nothing more important that I could impart to you than that. But just as important, there are multiple ways to accomplish becoming a writer. Going to graduate school at an elite university will not magically turn you into Michael Chabon. Inversely, simply uploading a manuscript to Amazon KDP for the world to read will not transform you into Amanda Hocking. You have to put in the work to develop your mastery of writing, however you decide to accomplish that.

So, what publishing path are you going to pursue: traditional publishing or self-publishing? Whether you decide to write query letters to literary agents or create a Lulu account and upload your manuscript, just get to it. What are you waiting for? Fulfill your dream. Be a writer. I look forward to seeing you on a bestseller list someday.


Scott Semegran
Photo by Lori Hoadley


Scott Semegran lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, four kids, two cats, and a dog. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English. He is a writer and a cartoonist. He can also bend metal with his mind and run really fast, if chased by a pack of wolves. His comic strips have appeared in the following newspapers: The Austin Student, The Funny Times, The Austin American-Statesman, Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, Seven Days, The University of Texas at Dallas Mercury, and The North Austin Bee. Books by Scott Semegran include Sammie & Budgie, Boys, The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood, The Spectacular Simon Burchwood, Modicum, Mr. Grieves and more. He is a Kindle bestselling author.
Scott Semegran’s Store on Lulu.com:
http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/scott_semegran
 
Find Scott Semegran Online:
https://www.scottsemegran.com
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3409317.Scott_Semegran
https://www.twitter.com/scottsemegran
https://www.facebook.com/scottsemegran.writer/
https://www.instagram.com/scott_semegran
https://www.bookbub.com/authors/scott-semegran
https://www.kirkusreviews.com/author/scott-semegran/
https://www.rifflebooks.com/profiles/172809
https://www.amazon.com/author/scottsemegran
 
 
 

24 thoughts on “Traditional Publishing Vs. Self-Publishing: Which Publishing Path is Best for You?”

  1. I turned to self-publishing when “traditional” publishing failed me. I’m glad I did. There’s a j oy in taking a stand for myself.

  2. Hi Scott,
    I’ve self published a lot of collrctions and books on Lulu.com over the years; my main area of ‘expertise’ is modern poetry. My work is available as POD. I’ve had no success as a writer, quite possibly because my work is very dark. I’d love to be able to throw lots of money at promoting my work but I don’t have any right now. I hate the thought that my undiscovered genius is going to die along with my body sooner or later. I’ll be 71 this year.

    1. Congratulations on self-publishing a lot of collections and books! I can’t really comment too much without knowing what your definition of success is. When you say, ‘I’ve had no success as a writer,’ then I’m assuming you mean financial success. For a lot of us writers, many may never see financial gains from publishing books but that is a reality for traditionally published authors as well as self-published authors. But you said you’ve already published a lot of collections and books and–to me–that is success in and of itself. Publishing books is a long journey and many do not get that far. You may have to temper your expectations if you hoped that you would see a monetary return. Your “undiscovered genius” may still see the light of day in the near future. Keep trying if you believe in your work. There are several promotion opportunities that are free or low cost. Reedsy.com curates an excellent list here:
      https://blog.reedsy.com/book-promotion-services/

    2. Thanks for your detailed reply Scott. I think I was always hoping to find some intellectual satisfaction from an appreciation of my ‘poetic’ efforts. It’s been a really hard road for me on this journey and now my brain hurts at the prospect of facing it again. Gremlins have even got into the file document creating process on Lulu in one of my book projects at least; I only noticed this after it got a 1 star rating on a review I paid for. The ending on the firs 4 poems were missing, (FUNDAMENTAL EXISTENTIALISM: The emthe whole of my life. otional blackmail of existence.) I didn’t have the heart to go through the rest of the book after spotting that. That kind of bad luck has dogged the whole of my life. I’m posting work on Allpoetry.com now but none of it’s on a memory stick so I couldn’t turn it into a book file document even if I wanted to.

  3. Victor Ola. Kayode

    The writeup is quite illuminating but the crux of the matter is that most up-coming writers like me do not understand all these differences in self publishing and traditional publishing. For me, I just want to write and let Lulu do the rest with the little I’ll get as royalty, I’ll be fine. What do you think?

    1. If you’re happy with the publishing services that Lulu provides, then I encourage you to continue. Share your Author Profiles with us so we can check out your books.

  4. I’ve labourer long and hard on this dilemma…and meanwhile the unpublished scripts keep piling up!
    If I understand Lulu.com correctly, it’s free to the point of printing. In which case, there’s no choice. I have no money, so the only way forward is indie.
    But my special project – a real life trilogy – deserves the best it can get.

    1. Hi Linda,
      You’re not likely to find a more independent self-publisher than Lulu! We are totally free to use. The only cost you would ever pay would be to buy copies – a cost any self-publisher would charge. You can always sell for free and we offer a variety of formats.
      Hoping for the best in bring your project to life!

    2. Robert Richardson

      I have been writing novels for 20 years and have experienced great help from the staff at Lulu. A number of people interested in my style of writing regularly request a copy of my latest contribution. My style is to stay ‘clean’ as young persons read my stories and hope that each reader paints a picture in their minds as each paragraph directs their attention to the ultimate ending. Some of my novels include my own experiences during the 39/45 war when I served in the RAF in the Far Eastern theatre including a tough time in Java. My love of writing is more important than publishing but I forever hope more people will read my books. Robert Richardson aged 91

    3. Mrs\miss Linda could you email me on @hjafridi2003@gmail.com
      I am working on something for people like you, awesome writers but no recognition, please do email me..

  5. Sandy Dea Beard

    Over the years (many) I have written over 40 books, with only 1 “gone to print”. I have 18 grandkids & great grandkids & most of my books are for them. I have been asked to write books for other children too, but I laugh at my self….Children’s books need pictures. I can’t draw…even my “stick man” looks dead ! You can’t put “dead stick men” in children’s books! Yes I laugh, joke & make fun of myself, but I still keep on writing. I have other books too, but don’t know what to do with them? My last 3 books I finished in less than 48 hours each ! I get an idea for a book and I can’t stop till I have finished. (Those are the nights I can’t sleep till I have written “The End”.) I write like I talk and I don’t want someone to change that. I will be 80 years young next year and I can’t stop writing. WHY? I have been dealing with Lulu and don’t want to change now. Yes, I really need money, but just enough to pay for a few bills and my next book. Beside my drawings I have trouble getting pages the right size, pictures on the right pages.etc… Other words I don’t know enough about my computer to get my books to print. Where should I go from here?????

    1. Mrs\miss Sandy Dea Beard send me an email on @hjafridi2003@gmail.com , it would be an Honor..

  6. Wonderful post, Scott, and the readers’ comments highlight all the different reasons writers opt for self-publishing. My first novel, way back in the 1990s, was traditionally published, reviewed in the NY Times Book Review, etc. — my fifteen minutes of fame. It was a wonderful ride. Years later, ready with another book, I opted to self-publish, though. Why? All the reasons mentioned in others’ comments, PLUS I don’t want to be on anyone else’s timeline. My husband and I live and travel full-time in our RV, and I don’t want to be more focused on hitting publishing deadlines than enjoying the very life that inspires my work. I write when I want, publish and market when I can (because of iffy wifi connections on the road), and it balances out for me better than trying to meet the needs of someone else’s calendar. My traditional publishing experience was actually a pretty good one, but working with Lulu has been much better. We all need to find what fits our individual needs — and then go for it!

  7. Do traditional publishers give you a ‘good deal’? I mean, they pay for the cover design, editing, etc. That’s about $5K worth.
    They have some marketing power, but you still have to get involved in the process, just like self-publishing.
    Then they decide what happens with your backlist.
    And all you get is 10-20% of the sales?
    Even if you’re an author who hates marketing, I can’t see how traditional publishing is worthwhile.
    Thoughts?

  8. Hello everyone my name is Hafsa and I had an idea..My dad is an awesome writer but because we are broke we can’t traditional publish his books..so we(you all) book readers or book worms and writers of awesome content from around the world, make a community, a group and support each other, share our ideas and buy each other books…I want to work on this community thing so anyone interested send me an email to help me with this thing.. My email: @hjafridi2003@gmail.com

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