Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing: What I Chose and Why

It’s been an amazing week. I just finished writing the final words of my first book. I also made a deal with a traditional book publisher. The book will be released in early 2014.

These days, there are many options for authors and would-be authors. Anybody can use a service called CreateSpace to have their book published within days. That book will also be instantly listed in Amazon’s directory and available for sale to the public. There are no massive printing costs associated with this service, because all books are printed on demand (POD). When somebody places an order, they print the book. There is no inventory. This is a great option for those who want their book available quickly. It’s an even better option for those that just want a book to say they have written a book. There’s nothing wrong with that – books make excellent business cards – but I wanted a bit more from my first book.

Very few self published books make it into bookstores. The CreateSpace service offers a premium service that will make your book available to brick and mortar book stores, but don’t hold your breath for that to happen. From my research, it is very rare for a CreateSpace book to make its way to the bookshelves. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the books available through CreateSpace are usually nonreturnable. Traditionally, if a book doesn’t sell in a certain period of time, the store can return it to the publisher for a refund. Another reason I have seen is more out of spite. CreateSpace is an Amazon company and Amazon has driven many a book store out of business. Book store owners and chains seem to take this very personally.

It was important for me to have my books in bookstores for a variety of reasons and that made my choice simple.

One of those reasons is it sets you apart from the rest. In the past couple of years, self publishing has exploded. There is nobody on the other end that is checking the quality of the content. A book can be full of gibberish and still get published. This is not the case with traditional publishing. A traditional publisher takes a lot of risk when agreeing to publish a book. They put up all the costs associated with the printing and they do it up front. For these reasons, a traditional publisher is very cautious about what books they agree to publish. Out of hundreds of submissions, they may only choose to print a few of them, each year. Then there’s the idea of having your book actually in stores. While anybody can have a book on Amazon, you kind of get an elitist feeling by saying your book is available “everywhere”, instead of saying you can only buy it “online”.

Some “authors” are also using the ease of self publishing to pull a fast one on their readers. What the buyer thinks will be an informative book on a topic ends up being nothing more than and advertisement. I recently read a review of a how-to book about Internet marketing that accused the author of being one of these bait and switch artists. The review said, “The primary purpose of [title omitted] is to get readers to sign up for his more expensive products, such as $40 software, but much more focused on his $2,000 and $5,000 seminars (plus travel, room and board).”

Another reason I chose to go with a traditional publisher is the possibility of making it to the various best seller lists. Brick and mortar book stores report sales to some of the biggest lists around. USA Today and The Wall Street Journal each publish a list of the week’s best selling books. Once you acquire a best seller status from one of those lists, it is a title you carry for the rest of your life. The “Holy Grail” of best seller lists has always been the New York Times Best Seller List. An NYT Best Seller often gets their foot into doors that would normally be closed for most. It’s often the difference between begging a conference for some stage time and having the conference write you a check for thousands of dollars to appear on their stage. Several of my friends and associates have made it to that list and they tell me it is life changing.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an author calls himself a best seller, but has never made it to any of the actual best seller lists. A common trend in the world of marketing is to self publish a book, or even an ebook, and list it in Amazon under a category that barely has any action. For example, anybody could do a little research and bust out a quick book on restaurant food, then place it in the Amazon category of “Cookbooks > Food & Wine › Professional Cooking”. That category has just 760 books listed in it. A few well placed ads on Google and a few favors from friends will likely get the book to number one in that category, at least for a day. The quality of the book wouldn’t matter. The fact that it only sold a dozen or so copies wouldn’t matter, either. The mindset is that it was the best seller in that category for a few hours and therefore, that author is now a best selling author. This is not a practice I feel comfortable with.

I’m not knocking self publishing. Self publishing has its advantages. As an experienced Internet marketer, I could easily sell a lot of self published books online and I am not ruling that out for future books. Traditional publishers do not give you the freedom of choosing your own price points and they take a larger cut out of the sales. If money was the main motivator for my current book, it would be my first option. Another disadvantage to traditional publishing is the time it takes for your book to go from completed to actually printed. If you are in a hurry to get books in hand, then self publishing is certainly the way to go.

If you have written or are thinking of writing a book, keep all of this information in mind. No matter which way you decide, be sure and write the best book you can possibly write and be proud to call yourself an author.

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