Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Self-Publishing vs Small Traditional vs. Large Traditional

Hey, guys. I'm being published with a small press publisher. I know people who are published with large traditional publishing houses, and people who are currently working to self-publish, or who have self-published. The big differences really lie in two areas.


  • We all know that as a self-published author, it's on you and only you to promote your book.
    • Who's going to help you with that?
    • How do you know where to go?
    • Is Twitter and a blog the end all beat all of promotion?
    • How do you get on a blog book tour?
    • How many years do you have to invest to get enough information to be savvy?
  • With a small press publisher, they'll take it on for a few months, teach you how to do it yourself and then gradually let you go on your own, but they're always there for assistance or questions.
    • They partner with your to ensure their investment in you is worth it.
    • They show you all the hot spots, the best times to promote, the best ideas to get attention to your book.
    • And then if you have any questions down the road, they're there to point you in the right direction.
  • With a large traditional publisher, you might get a promotion assistant who has time to dedicate to your book, but then again, if its not one of the top 10% of best sellers, the likelihood is slim. Pray that you find the youngster just out of college who feels she has something to prove. If you don't, you're largely on your own. 
    • There are always the horror stories of any publisher. Always. People who were left out on their own, had no idea what their cover was going to look like, had no idea when they were even going to get published, had no clue what marketing was going to be done for them, etc.
    • However, there are good stories out there too. Large publishing houses have the BIG reach. That's why they publish the Best Sellers. They have the power to do so, whereas the small publishers and the self-publishers don't. A lot of that is marketing. They have a LOT of marketing power.

The other large difference is distribution.

  • Not all mortar stores will carry self-published books. Sometimes, they'll even say they won't take self-published books from certain publishers. The reason for this is that the mortar stores have to invest in the books they buy.
    • If the books don't sell due to poor quality, no marketing, a bad cover, or it's on the wrong genre shelf, there's nothing for the store to do but tear off the cover and throw it away.
    • Additionally, in order to get your book into the mortar stores, you have to pound pavement. Usually, you have to sell your book to the bookstore so that you can have 1-2 books on the shelf. How many stores are you really going to hit? How much work are you going to invest to get 1-2 books on the shelf of 1-2 stores?
    • Most self-publishers say they can get you into the major sellers, and they can, through their Internet sales. As long as you have an ISBN, you're in. However, ensure that your house issues those. If they don't, you're not published.
    • You're buying your books. You're the investor. It's on you to make it work.
    • Your distribution limit is you. You're the investor. How much can you afford to invest?
  • Small press houses don't have a lot of reach, but they do have a larger reach than the self-publishing houses. Their first "run" will get you into stores across the country, and will get you books for signings.
    • If you happen to schedule book signings on your own, you'll be buying your books. They can buy the books for signings they schedule at normal events because they understand that the investment has an instant return. It's all about business. However, if you decide to sign books at a privately thrown party or other venue, it's up to you to decide if the return will be good enough.
    • A lot of small press houses use POD. Internet sales, especially from their house website, is where their revenue comes from. Mortar store investments are risky (because f buy-back if the books don't sell), but they want to get you out there. Then you have the appearance of "being real". Perception is reality.
  • Traditional publishing houses have the largest distribution resources and that's the reason we traditionally push to be published by them. But this is where all the risk is.
    • They're investing a lot of money into your book to get it out to all the distribution outlets and all the mortar stores. Their investment in marketing is going to be fairly similar.
    • Their buy-back risk is bigger because their distribution is bigger. If your book doesn't sell, they have to buy the books back.
    • If they're investing heavily in marketing, it's because they're planning on investing heavily in distribution.
    • If they're barely investing in marketing, they've already decided your book won't sell, and they're keeping the distribution and their investment low-key.
    • It's a business. They have to curb their exposure, or they risk disappearing in a rapidly changing environment.
The age of E-books, though, is really bringing new shape to the publishing industry as a whole. As more people buy books off the Internet or purchase e-books, the need for the investment goes down. However, we still have the mortar stores. We all love the mortar stores. And we'd all love to see them thrive. We love to just go to the store, pick up a great book, grab a picnic lunch and go sit in the sun and grass and read a book.

I hope that the mortar stores don't disappear, but with their investment becoming less of a "need" for survival and more of a "want" for appearance, the small press and the self-published books are pressing forward as a better, more personable option for publishing your book.


  1. Great post. Very informative. I'm sending the link to some friends. :-)

  2. I'm glad I was able to help. *grin*

  3. Great article. Thanks for this!

  4. Thank you for providing us with some valuable information

  5. Good post, lots of detail. One thing off was I think you meant vanity publishers or subsidy presses when you used the term self-publishing.

  6. CJ, thanks for bringing that up. It's easy to to get the two confused.

    Vanity presses look like a publishing house from the outside. They request submissions, they go through the "rejection" process, but at the end of the day, you're left footing the bill to publish your book. Some vanity publishng houses will cover your editing and a cover. But there are some that don't, and they ask you to cover reproductions, copy and other miscellaneous fees. But they get you because you submit, they send you The Letter and accept you, and then you're paying for all this stuff becuase you were chosen.

    Self-publishers do NOT pretend. Everything they say speaks to the fact that it's your book, you're publishing it and your paying for it. They have several packages that include editing, covers, and launching/marketing. They have how-to's and Help, but at the end of the day, they're very clear. You decided to pay to publish your book through your site.

    If you're going to self-publish, I recommend Lulu or Amazon. Both seem to have some pretty good packages and those authors are doing fairly well.