The decision between self-publishing vs. traditional publishing can be difficult for any burgeoning writer to make. Having done all the research and experienced it myself, let lay out the pros and cons for you in an easy to understand way.
With self-publishing, everything is on you. You are the marketing team, the editor, the book cover designer, the writer. Everything. The upside of this is that you can maintain complete creative control and you get a greater cut of the profits. Amazon self-publishing rates are 70% for eBooks $2.99 or over, and 35% for anything priced lower. So if you have a good distribution platform, such as a big social media account, and an audience that you can sell your product to, you’re going to do well with self-publishing.
This all sounds well and good, but if you don’t have that dedicated social media platform, and you don’t take up the successful self-publishing model (which is basically to write tons of pulpy trilogies), you’re not going to be making much real money. AWS ads payoff slowly, and social media advertising doesn’t convert well. More likely than not, you’ll be paying in a lot of money to the boutique industry of self-publishing services that surround this market. This is not to say you can’t be successful here: but if you think it’s going to be easier and more profitable than traditional publishing, I’m not sure that’s true. A certain kind of book tends to work well with self-publishing, and even then, it takes quite a bit of jack-of-all-trades skill with all of these other business factors.
The upside of traditional publishing is that they have a team of people who will take a lot of this stuff off of your hands. Someone whose profession is marketing will market the book, and they’ll likely do a much better job of it than you. Same thing with the editor and book cover designer. You’ll be able to focus primarily on writing which, theoretically, is what you want to do anyway. Unfortunately, you’ll also give up a significant amount of creative control.
Disagree with your editor? Tough cookies, the publishing company will be going with the editor’s idea. Don’t like the book cover? Again, tough cookies. A lot of people will say that the publishing company will outright own your intellectual property; that’s a worst-case scenario and you should try to avoid it. You should be able to negotiate, at the very least, retaining ownership over your story but allowing the publishing company to have book publishing and distribution rights. Typically your royalty rate will be something between 6-15% depending on how much you bring to the table.
Bizarrely, when it comes to self-publishing vs traditional publishing, both methods hinge on the same thing: your social media following, the size of your brand name, and your ability to market the book. The book may be fantastic, but if you don’t have a social media following, you’re swimming upstream trying to sell it when you self-publish, and if you’re traditionally publishing, you’re considered to be riskier by the publisher.
So in a way, books, just like sweatshirts, or hoodies and what have you, are predominantly social media merchandise. In a way, I think traditional publishing mitigates this, because they’re more experienced with targeting readers directly who may not know or care who you are; but in the wider world of selling things today, social media is king.
A lot of people will give you this recipe of basically building a stock author website, creating an e-mail list and publishing tons of pulp fiction targeting high-traffic areas of Amazon. If you’re going to self publish, that’s what I’d recommend. That’d be how to create an audience from nothing in that world. I suspect your audience would consider mostly of other aspiring self-published authors. However, to be honest with you, I think it doesn’t matter how you get a following. If you can conjure up an audience on social media by any means, you can sell a book to it.
If you want to get by on the quality of a single book, I might suggest that the traditional publishing option will capitalize as much as possible on a single book, and may veer slightly more toward quality and literature and less-so toward quantity and pulp genre-fiction.