Traditional Publishing, Self-publishing: What’s the Difference?

If you’re a new author who hasn’t yet seen your work published, it’s likely that magazine advertising promising to “Get Published Now!” or “We’ll assist you self-publishBlurb” have enticed you. Perhaps after submitting work to conventional publishers and receiving rejection letters, you decided to self-publish out of anger.

But how do you get started? Online searches quickly turn up a dizzying assortment of self-publishing choices. How many are trustworthy? How many of these are scams? And how would you know?

Let’s examine the definitions of publishing, self-publishing, and subsidized publishing.

Standard Publishing

This concept of “publication” allows anything from a note posted on a grocery store bulletin board to a book that is printed between two covers. Publications include websites, blogs, newsletters, and self-printed pamphlets.

When we talk about “conventional” publishing, we mean businesses that purchase the rights to release particular works to the public. Small or large, traditional publishers will choose the finest work from a pool of submissions, create a contract with the author, obtain a copyright in the author’s name, and pay the author for a variety of rights, including first publishing rights. The publisher assumes all financial risk, makes the whole financial commitment, and recovers that commitment through book sales. An “advance,” often known as a “advance against royalties,” may be given to the author. The author receives any additional royalties from subsequent book sales after the advance has been repaid.

The publisher must be very picky about the books it chooses to publish if it is to prosper in the cutthroat world of book sales. Nobody can foresee actual book sales, and occasionally a book’s quick ascent to the top of the best-seller list catches the industry off guard (or that plunges far below expectations). A publishing house cannot, however, afford to take a chance on a book that it thinks would not likely sell.

This explains why only a small percentage of manuscripts submitted to established publishers are accepted. Every year, thousands of manuscripts are sent to each publisher. Unsuitable for that publisher, poorly written, or even illegible, many of these are publishable in some form. Only a small portion is publishable, and only some of these can be accepted because the publisher only has a certain number of openings in the year’s calendar for publication. The work must be well-written, meet the needs of the publisher, have a strong sales appeal, and be presented properly in order to be approved.


By starting their own modest publishing companyBlurb, authors who self-publish avoid working with traditional publishers. The author invests all the money, assumes all the financial risks, and keeps all the gains.

An author must locate a reliable printing firm that creates high-quality books in order to self-publish a book. Finding a solid, reasonably priced service that creates a high-quality output is getting harder as more businesses adopt Publish On Demand (POD) technology, which may or may not result in high-quality books. Getting a sample copy is usually advisable before paying for a POD service.

The self-published author registers for copyright, purchases an ISBN and bar code, and applies for a Library of Congress number. While the latter is not necessarily necessary if one just plans to sell locally, it is required if the author wants to sell books through online book distributors and stores and if they want to sell books through online book retailers.

Bar codes can be acquired from Bower’s and ISBN numbers from the US ISBN office. Multiple ISBNs are obtained with the anticipation that a publisher, big or small, will release multiple books. Although they are not inexpensive, having your own ISBN number when trying to sell books through distributors is advantageous compared to having one provided for you by a subsidized publisher. Since subsidized publishers, particularly the infamous “vanity” publishers, are readily identifiable in a database by their ISBN numbers, distributors and bookshops are frequently wary of purchasing books from them.

The author who self-published must be prepared to handle all of the marketing. Rarely is it sufficient to simply have the book listed on or Barnes & Noble Online. Online booksellers only account for a minuscule portion of all books sold in the United States, and even fewer of these are self-published works. The majority of books are purchased by brick-and-mortar bookstores from wholesalers before being sold. It might be expensive to have one’s books listed with a distributor, although some book publishing firms can assist with this. Additionally, authors can boost their sales by personally promoting their books through book signings, author tables at regional fairs and events, their own website, and word-of-mouth advertising among their network of friends and acquaintances.

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