Self-Publish or "Traditional" Publish?

Updated: Feb 25

So you're thinking about writing a book, but you don't know what to do with it when finished. Do you go the hustler route and attempt to move book units yourself retaining most of the profits, or, do you place your book in the hands of professionals at a cost? If you're looking for a simple yes or no, this or that answer, I'm going to disappoint you right now. The answer all depends on the person. But, the one thing I do want to make clear is that no matter your final decision, it will be followed by a s#!t ton of work. This is the part that most creatives find frustrating, because we just want to make art and not worry about the business side of things. Well, sorry to ruin your fantasy...

First let's talk using a traditional publishing house. Getting your book published is easier said than done. You cannot just walk your manuscript into Penguin and expect to walk out with a three book deal. The publishing house will not deal with the author directly, which means you have to first obtain a literary agent. Here's a link to a list of agents if this is the route you'd like to travel:

The agent has to be one that represents your genre of writing. And most times they are not accepting new authors. On top of that, they only want to represent either someone that is an established author, or someone that can demonstrate they already have a considerable following. There's also the literary agent's fee, which is 15% of your earnings. Oh, did you think your book is so great that they'd work for free?

So you get an agent, you sign a book deal, Steve Harvey mentions your book on his show which leads to one hundred thousands copies being sold. Don't expect to be rich. The publishing house will keep the majority of the money and give you a percentage--kind of like a pimp. Here's a link to an article that explains the royalty rates:

Common Misconception: If you get a publishing deal the books will automatically fly off the shelves. I'm not sure what your name is, because I don't know you, and neither does anyone else. The publishing company may do some promo, but the brunt of the marketing of your book will be done by you. This is the same amount of work that you would put in as a self-published author. We will talk about ways to promote yourself later.

There are some independent book publishing companies that may not have the reach of a Penguin Random House, but will give you a much higher percentage of royalties. I published my memoir: Elevators in My Mind through one such company:

Self-publishing can be rewarding, but it's non-stop effort on your part. Though you have cut out the publishing company this does not necessarily mean you will retain 100% of the proceeds. More than likely you will have to give someone a cut to distribute your books, unless you are strictly selling out of the trunk of your car. However, if you have an electronic version of your book, someone will have to get it on a platform like Apple for people to download. One such company is LuLu. They ask for 20% of all net profits. Beware of the extra services they pitch, as most of it is very pricey and could be found cheaper elsewhere. Another option is Create Space, which is Amazon. They have two royalty options of 35% and 70%.

Distributors will also help you sell your hard copies, but you must provide them with the copies. Obtaining these copies is a beast all in it's own. In order to self-publish actual hard copies, you will need access to thousands of dollars worth of disposable income. The cover design will cost you some money depending on good you want it to look. The largest blow to your wallet will be the actual printing of the book. Other costs associated with your book will be editing, ebook conversion and obtaining the copyright. Editing will be the most costly of the three. You can get the done on a website like Make Your Mark, or a site like Fiverr that will have various individuals selling services that you may need. One important note about Fiverr is that the high review ratings of vendors are usually bullshit. It's almost like your damn near expected, and pushed, to give this rating after services are complete no matter what. The site also does not allow you to make a review at a later date or to update reviews you've already submitted either. So make sure to perform your due diligence before giving someone your money.

After you've gone through all of this, if you've survived and not put yourself into debt, it's time to get to work. You will have to make yourself as visible as possible in order to promote your book. How do you do this, you ask? Well, there are a number of ways that require a bit of creativity.

One things you want to do is get your book in as many people's hands as possible that can help spread the word. People that read books make their purchases just like everyone else: after they've read a review. Contact some book review sites and see if they are accepting submissions. Here's a list:

Some people may actually charge a fee as part of the submission with no guarantee that they will showcase your book. This payment also does not guarantee a favorable review. What do I think about paying for reviews? I'm not against it, but as someone who's day job is being a businessman, there has to be some type of ROI. NPR also has a couple of radio shows that discuss books. There's also a website called Book Hub that offers self-publishing authors a variety of ways to promote their new book, including the opportunity to feature a few free chapters of your book in hopes that it will motivate a reader to purchase the book for the rest of the content.

In effort to increase your visibility it would also be worth a shot at hopping on a podcast. Podcasts are all the rage now, and there are a plethora of podcast catering to every interest. I also recommend starting your own podcast. It would not be to discuss your book directly because you don't have a Game of Thrones cult-like following. But you could discuss the topic of your genre and other people's books. There is a website where you could create a profile as a potential podcast guest, as well as find guests for your show. Here is the link:

The next suggestion is probably the most underutilized, and maybe the more creative of all suggestions mentioned so far. The idea is to host, or be a part of, a book reading. The author in the hyperlink did just that. What better way to connect with potential readers than to physically be with them, letting them listen to your words expressed directly by you. You may have to join a book club in order to get your foot in the door. Search websites like and Eventbrite for things happening in your area. Social media is a given, so I will not waste any time delving into the necessity to utilize it as a promotional tool.

There is an important decision that you have to make in regards to your work, because once made it will be difficult to reverse. Weigh out all of your options and decide what is the best option for you and the career you want to see come to fruition. Though self-publishing is all the rave right now, do not go in that direction because the crowd is rushing that way. You know yourself better than anyone else, so take time while in the process of writing your book to look further into what I've expounded upon in this article.

If you liked this article support by subscribing to this blog. Or, you could always share it with a loved one! Or... someone you don't love. That's fair too.

Also, follow me on social media(IG: @jarray_davis). I take a mean selfie!

©2018 by Jarray Davis. Proudly created with