Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing: What's the Difference?

Many authors do switch publishers - because what worked for their first book isn't always right for subsequent books. To help you with your decision, we've outlined the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.
We're finding that the more the publishing industry grows, the harder it is for authors to navigate which services they need to get their book out there. Many authors do switch publishers - because what worked for their first book isn't always right for subsequent books. To help you with your decision, we've outlined the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing.

There are actually three routes to publish your book:

1. DIY self-publishing - where you can use desktop publishing software and manage the whole process yourself through to organising printed copies.

2. Assisted self-publishing - when you pay upfront to work with a publisher who supports you through the whole process to get your book published.

3. Trade publishing - which describes the large, traditional publishing houses, who used to offer cash advances to commission new works from their authors.

A lot of the decisions centre around your wishes as the author - and your reasons for writing the book. With publishing, what might be seen as an advantage by some authors is actually a disadvantage or a negative factor for others. Here's what you'll need to consider:

Control over the final product

Think about how much control you would like to have over the final book - and how much guidance do you need? When you self-publish, you control how the book will look, although it does pay to hire a professional book cover designer. Inside, the typesetting is important - because even an untrained eye can tell when the pages don't quite look right. With self-publishing, those decisions are wholly your responsibility. The advantage of assisted self-publishing is the publisher should typeset the book in the same way a trade publisher would, and design the cover to a professional standard in collaboration with you, the author. A trade publisher creates the design, undertakes the typesetting and handles the final look and production of the book, often with no input invited from the author.


What help do you need from your publishing team - do you need emotionally supportive relationships? Many authors love working with an agent because they get to know them, developing a nurturing bond where their creativity can thrive with the support of a professional to critique their latest work. Traditional publishers used to have long-standing relationships with their authors, but as the industry has become more fragmented, this has become rare. One key difference between traditional publishing versus self-publishing is hearing the validation of how good your work is - it's an enormous boost when a professional is impressed with your writing. That said, one trade publisher might reject your manuscript only for another to love it and completely buy-in: personal opinions do vary even in publishing. It's worth noting that although assisted self-publishing relationships will typically be more transactional (because you're paying them) they should also be very responsive - giving you honest feedback on your writing, and keeping you updated at each step in the process.

Speed to launch

When would you like to launch your book - is your heart set on a specific date? Contacting agents and traditional publishers with your submission takes time. Then once you're successful in securing a deal, they can take months - 18 months on average - to bring your book to market, whereas self-publishing is much faster. With a DIY publishing route, provided you've lined up the printer, you can lay it out and have it ready in a few weeks. Assisted self-publishing can take between 12-16 weeks - or a little longer if you need help with proofreading and structural editing.

Quality assurance

With traditional publishing, the quality is guaranteed by your publisher, even though you have less control to assert your personal preferences. With self-publishing, you will need to recruit or hire an editor and proofreader to make sure the writing is consistent, with correct spellings and good sentence structure. Assisted self-publishing is the halfway house: your publisher will organise professional editorial support if you haven't done so already, with you investing in the service. Be aware: some less reputable assisted-publishing organisations rely on mistakes and editing to generate additional fees on top of their basic package. Authors can get caught out by these extras - make sure your publisher is clear about what is included before you sign up with them.


Self-publishing is an investment - have you worked out how much you can afford to spend on your book? Although DIY publishing seems like a cheap option, you need to remember you'll be investing a lot more of your time. And you'll still need a budget for the things you can't do yourself to a professional standard, and for marketing to sell the books. Crowdfunding is another option for self-publishing authors. With assisted self-publishing, you pay upfront yet this gives you the potential for a greater return per book sold. And you'll get the support of your publisher in return for the fees paid. Of course, if you need funding, traditional publishing does have the advantage because you don't have to find the cash. Do check the small print and the amount of your advance.


How much money are you hoping to make from book sales? If you'd like a steady stream of income, you'd need to look at the percentage per book sold to calculate which publishing service will suit you. Traditional publishers pay much smaller royalties - typically 7-10% or about 50p per book - and you will only start receiving them after you've sold enough books to cover the advance; self-publishing can yield typically 30-60% depending on your choices for print and publishing, or around £2 per book. Given the amount of time and effort you've invested in writing the book, it's reasonable to consider your return on investment before you publish.

Marketing support

How good are you at promoting your work - and how much time do you have to invest in marketing? No matter which publishing service you choose, your book sales will depend on you organising some events and spreading the word about your new book. If you choose the DIY route to publish your book, there's no one to amplify your efforts or share your posts on social media. Whereas with traditional publishing and assisted publishing, the company will help share your marketing when you put new content out there. Social media has opened up so many opportunities: however, if you are serious about selling your book, this will take consistent effort over time.

Distribution to bookshops, and foreign rights

Are you happy to sell your book online - or are you keen to get into bookshops? A traditional publisher should handle distribution for your book. They'll arrange opportunities to sell the foreign and translation rights, too - but you'll have to wait for them to do it. And they hold the rights, not you. With self-publishing, you can request support for distributing your book and you retain all the rights to your work. You do need to set realistic expectations about seeing your book in every bookshop though. Because SilverWood offers an assisted self-publishing service, we often encourage and support our authors by negotiating foreign publishing rights, improving initial offers, and achieving international book sales.

Whichever type of publishing service you choose, read the contract carefully and trust your instincts when you speak with or meet the people who'll be helping you. At SilverWood, we are always happy to talk on the phone with authors. And, if we think you could be successful in attracting interest from a mainstream publisher or agent, that's what we will recommend.

If you've got more questions about self publishing, please get in touch with us. SilverWood Books is a friendly, expert team, and we can support you every step of the way.

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“If you’re thinking of self-publishing, I hope you don't go at it alone. With a team like SilverWood behind you, you have the support you need to publish the best work you believe in.”

J A Higgins