Self-publishing or traditional publishing: what should I choose?

Self-publishing versus traditional publishing brims with debate, with hype and hysteria on both sides: the Gatekeepers of Quality versus the Fighters for Freedom! Actually, it’s just a question of choosing what’s most appropriate for your book. What’s your book’s purpose? Who’s it for? How much creative control do you want or need? How much investment can you make? What’s your timescale?

In this series of articles, we’ll look at choosing the best option for you.  Along the way, your vision for your book will come into sharp focus, so whichever path you choose will run smoother. The first, most crucial deciding factor is this: what is your book FOR?

What is your book’s purpose?

What your book is for decides more than your publishing route. It decides your content, the book’s length, the quality of printing, everything. If you can’t put down clear bullet points stating exactly why you’re writing your book, stop writing and work on that first. (Of course, this only applies to non-fiction. Fiction writers write their books because they are crazed, passionate, and can’t not do it; it’s less a vocation and more a serious condition.)

Keep your motivation alive: Gold medals looked at the key rewards that writing and publishing your book can bring:

  • raise your status
  • earn you passive income
  • advertise for you
  • reach people you never will
  • teach you more than you teach

It’s not enough to say, “Yes – all that stuff!”  You need to choose from that list and make it yours; make it specific to your expertise, your business, your clients. Otherwise, you find yourself in a web of contradictions, trying to be all things to all people.

Do you want your book to bring people into your coaching services, showing them what they need to do but reserving the how-to for your workshops? Okay, but without the how-to, any reader who pays for it will just feel cheated – which will hit your reputation. Right, so now we’re thinking something more like a white paper, an ebook, a giveaway.  In that case, you can cross out passive income and put the whole book-budget time-and-money investment under “marketing”. And it might raise your profile then, but not really your prestige…

So, back to the drawing board. Let’s include the how-to; clients will want to come to you anyway when they realise your expertise. And including the how-to will demonstrate it better, anyway. Prestige matters, so we’re going for a full-length “proper” book. You do want to make money from it, but it’ll also be a fantastic giveaway for a selection of clients, especially new incoming clients… Two red alerts. 1) If you’re planning to give copies away, self-publish. Cost-price books you’ve self-published are far, far cheaper than author-discount books from a publisher. 2) If you’re planning to impress your clients, you need quality. Not just quality content: a book that feels good in your hands, with the right texture of cover not a weird plasticky feel, the right binding, paper that doesn’t curl.  That will put up your self-publishing costs – so if you’re planning to make money from it, the book will retail for more, and does that keep it within the reach of your audience?

How do you untangle this web of considerations? Prioritise. Write down everything your book is for, everything you want to use your book for, and everything you want it to do in your business. Get as specific as possible. Next, put them in order of importance.

This is the first conversation I have with my clients, before we even start the project.  Everything else hinges on this. Once you know what your book’s for, your whole pathway becomes smoother – from the content-planning through the writing and all the way to choosing your publishing route.

YOUR TASK: Write down everything your book is for, everything you want to use your book for, and everything you want it to do in your business. Get as specific as possible. Next, put them in order of importance.

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5 thoughts on “Self-publishing or traditional publishing: what should I choose?

  1. Interesting stuff. In relation to considering your audience, I would also add consider your outlets. Book shops (and buyers) can still be surprisingly snooty about self-publication. I once suggested that a book shop might like to stock my (not self-published) book as I was a local author. The owner smiled patronisingly, looked me up and down and asked ‘Self-published?’ with an arched eyebrow. I took great satisfaction in crushing her judgemental assumptions, but you might want to think again if you want booksellers to take you seriously.

  2. Absolutely, Lucy. I’ll touch on aspects of that when I talk about audience (including whether or not they’ll be finding the book primarily through bookstores), but it also relates strongly to quality (actual and perceived) and likewise to status.

    I see the outlets as part of the next tier of thinking. Emotionally, we’d all love to see our book spread all over the 3-for-2 tables and in bespoke stands around the shops. Practically – for non-fiction business books, at least – that kind of model might not best suit the book’s role in the business. So we need to think about its role first.

  3. Pingback: Self-publishing or traditional: prestige & quality | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

  4. Pingback: Self-publishing or traditional publishing: who’s your audience? | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

  5. Pingback: Self-publishing vs traditional publishing: time, money, and creative control | Thought Leader Books: The Blog

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