People often ask me what is the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and more importantly, which is to be preferred. Here are some definitions and a chart which will hopefully provide a quick answer:

Traditional/Legacy Publishing

This is where an author writes a book, submits their manuscript to a traditional publisher (e.g. Scholastic, Penguin, etc.) usually through an agent), gets rejected a lot before at last being accepted, does some back-and-forth with an editor, and then waits for their book to come out in stores.


This is where author writes a book, hires editors, cover artists, etc. (or does these tasks themselves), contracts a printer to print their book, arranges with a distributor to release it in stores, and in general manages not only the writing of the book, but its marketing and sales as well. Publishing an eBook eliminates the need for a printer, though the author must register with an online distributor like and upload a properly formatted version of their book for them to sell.

* For the chart below, the range of data for self-publishing covers both print books and eBooks. Note that eBooks are less costly to produce and tend to have higher royalty rates/net profits. All data in the table is based on industry averages.

Self-Publishing Traditional Publishing
Royalty Rate 35%-100%
(depending on who’s selling it)
(depending on how famous you are and the edition)
Percent of Manufactoring Costs You Bear 100% 0%
Control over Book Cover, Title, etc. Total None, or almost none
Who Arranges Distribution You Them
Publicity/Promotion Provided None None, or almost none
(unless you’re J.K. Rowling)
Time to Publication after Done Writing 1 day – 1 year 2 – 2.5 years
Book Rights Retained All Very little or none
Business Acumen Needed A lot
(less for eBook publishing)
Very little

In my opinion, it is far better to self-publish than to traditional publish, especially if you are intending to publish eBooks. The only exception would be if a traditional publisher gives you royalty rates comparable to self-publishing rates, and design control over your book. Amazon is the only such publisher I am aware of that sometimes does this.

I suppose if you are truly terrible at business or are writing as a hobby, rather than a profession, then you might prefer traditional publishing. Just realize that you will probably invest as much time in finding an agent, getting your manuscript accepted, and working with an editor as you would in becoming a successful self-publisher.