15 Steps to Writing a Successful Book. Step 7: Traditional publishing vs Self-publishing

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann.

- Hi, my name is Elena Nikitina. A few years ago, I wrote and self-published a book, Girl, Taken. It became a bestseller in the true crime books category and won a literary award. (More info about Girl, Taken you can find in the bestselling author store).

I promoted Girl, Taken to a bestseller using my own System of Actions. The book was talked about on TV, on pages of magazines, and discussed on radio shows. In my blog I share tips for writers, discuss book marketing tips and talk about my own experience in book writing, publishing and marketing. I want to share with you everything that worked for me. If you want to learn about my System of Actions and move your book to a bestselling list, then simply follow my blog or purchase this self-help guide:

Let’s take a look at step #7:

Find a literary agent or self-publish

Since my goal is to only share my own personal experience, I would like to discuss these two options. As you may remember from my story in earlier blog posts, I started working with a literary agent and was quite happy for a while until I changed my mind later, and decided to be a self-published author instead. Nevertheless, I have seen both sides of the same coin and can compare working with both forms.

Thus, the first possibility to proceed after you have your manuscript completed is finding a literary agent. Another approach – this is to be a self-published author. Before we talk about each method, let’s compare the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs self-publishing.


Traditional publishing: when we talk about it, we imagine a system of getting a book deal with a publisher’s involvement. Most publishing companies don’t take unsolicited material and prefer to work through literary agents. Once authors finish their masterpieces and decide to take a traditional publishing route, they look for an agent. A few rejections later, when an agent is found, the new literary agent and the author sign a contract. The manuscript undergoes corrections by the agent’s team and is later submitted for the considerations of different publishers. After another few rejections, the right publisher is found, and a contract is signed. The manuscript goes through more edits by the publisher’s team. Eventually, the book is published.

Self-publishing is publication without the involvement of an agent or a publisher. The process is pretty easy: an author needs to write a book, create a book cover and upload a formatted file to a platform of their choice. Almost immediately, the book becomes available on the market.


In traditional publishing, once a contract is signed, the author works with a professional team of editors, designers, formatters and marketers. Writers don’t have to worry about that aspect – it will be provided to them by agents and publishers as part of the contract. Most of the time, a traditionally published author doesn’t know exactly who worked on his book. The work is done by the team.

Self-published authors are fully responsible for editing, publishing, marketing. Unlike authors who choose traditional publishing, self-published writers choose who to hire for editing.

•Control and rights

In traditional publishing, as soon as authors sign contracts with publishers, they lose all the rights and power over the creative process. The publishing house controls everything from the editing process to the book cover design. Sometimes, the publisher may require the author to make changes that they won’t necessarily be happy about, such as a specific book cover design, title choice or modifications within the manuscript.

A self-published author controls the whole process and every aspect – creative, financial and anything in between: editing, price choice, marketing strategies, approaches, etc. All rights belong to the author.


In traditional publishing, after the contract is signed, the process becomes extremely slow. It could take a long time before an author can see their book on shelves – from six months to a couple of years. Additionally, publishing houses usually have very strict deadlines for authors.

Self-published authors control due dates and publishing dates. They can choose the date of the publication. The book will be available for sale almost immediately after uploading.


By choosing the path of traditional publication, an author has to understand that their manuscript has to stand out to be chosen by an agent first, and later by a publisher. While looking for representation, an author can get tons of rejections, unlike a self-published author, who publishes anything they want and when they want.


The publishing world is highly competitive. Having an agent and a publisher would give you better chances of getting noticed and being successful in the sales of your book. With traditional publishing, the marketing team may create a marketing plan for your book and manage a promotional process with author involvement. With the expertise of the publishing house, an author has better chances of selling a book successfully.

A self-published author can only rely on their own creativity and budget. They will be dealing with continuous book promotion on an everyday basis, overcoming marketing obstacles, and facing high competition.


There is no upfront cost for a traditional publishing deal and it’s always free for the author to start working with a literary agent.

Being a self-published author makes them solely responsible for paying the editor, book cover designer, proofreader, and other specialists who may be hired along the way. The cost varies depending on the book’s length, as well as the complexity and professionalism of experts.


Contracts with publishing houses can be very complex. The language and clauses of contracts can be tricky and complicated for authors who don’t understand their rights.


The ability to enter your work for a prestigious award or literary prize is usually only available through traditional publishing means.


The royalty rates for traditionally published authors are low. An author receives an amount of money only after the publisher and agent have taken their own parts. Typically, an agent takes 15% of all royalties, the publisher will take the part depending on contract terms, so the author makes about 10% on paperback copies and 30%- 40% on eBooks. A traditional publisher can pay an author cash advances after they sign a book deal. When a book starts selling, an author receives earnings after the advances are paid off.

Self-published authors make money when the book sells. They earn up to 70% royalty on sales in the US, Canada, UK and other countries. They earn up to 60% royalties on the list price of paperbacks, minus printing costs.

•Financial loss

Traditional publishers cover all upfront costs for authors, such as editing, proofreading, and cover design.

Most of the time, self-published authors have already invested a certain amount of money upfront to prepare their book for publishing and may deal with some financial loss if the book does not sell.

•Other nuances

Traditional publishing leaves the authors more time to write new books while excluding them from the subtleties of publishing.

Also, there is a stigma that surrounds self-published work. Some readers try to stay away from self-published books, and I can understand why. Nowadays, when anyone can be a published writer, the book market is filled with mediocre and low-quality content.

I’m happy to collaborate with Belka Books Press and offer affordable publishing and book marketing services for writers. We do book cover design and author's promotion, book video trailers and individual consultations for writers, website design and proofreading services, we share tips for writers and book marketing tips, and much more. Check out how we can help your book to become a bestseller: Click here

Next blog post: How to find a literary agent for your work

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