If you were to ask me what your ultimate goal for writing should be, I would say: Happiness. Fun. Delight. Enjoying writing for writing’s sake.
But sometimes, as a writer, you want to strive for a greater goal. A bigger endgame. A purpose beyond the thrill of succeeding at NaNoWriMo or the elation of writing a fanfiction into the wee hours of the night. And that’s where publishing comes into the mix.
However, when I meet writers eager to publish, my default to response is to temper their expectations. Because publishing is sacrifice. No matter what route you choose take, there will be something you will sacrifice in the process. But, if you’re willing to make sacrifices, there are a lot of options right now, from self-publishing to online publishing to traditional publishing, and each has its own pros and cons.
Self-Publishing vs. Online Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Self-Publishing: Without a doubt, self-publishing is the most expensive option for you. Whether you use a self-publishing company or do your research and go it alone, there are a ton of costs and factors to consider. A quick Google search can give you a plethora of information on the topic, so I won’t go into too many details here, but here are a few costs to consider: printing costs, editor costs, paying for a cover artist, formatting, etc. However, there are also lots of cheaper options with self-publishing too. It all depends on how much you want to invest into your book.
The Pros: You won’t have to change your story to fit the expectations of a publisher, you can have a physical copy of your own book to set on the shelf and share with family and friends, and you’ll have the most creative control from beginning to end.
The Cons: You’ll be spending more money out of pocket (potentially into the $1000 range), you’ll be pouring a lot of time and effort into marketing if book sales are a major goal for you, you may have to deal with negative reviews (as there can be a stigma against self-publishing among readers), and your book may only reach a few readers before falling into obscurity.
Self-Publishing is like gardening: you get out of it what you put into it and even then, you may not see a bountiful harvest at the end. However, if your goal is to have book that you can share with your friends and family, self-publishing might just be the best option for you.
Online Publishing: Online publication is probably the easiest option, especially if you’re just looking to share your love of storytelling with like-minded readers. And, depending on your success online, you could gain a following of fans strong enough to get your book traditionally publish. However, this is the exception and not the rule with online publishing.
The Pros: You’ll have an easy platform to reach your target audience, you’ll have more freedom to build up a fan base around your story, you won’t have to spend a penny out of pocket depending on the website to choose to use, and you’ll be able to simply enjoy writing for writing’s sake.
The Cons: You may never make any money off your story, the internet as a platform gives reviewers the privacy to be even harsher in their reviews, you may run into issues with plagiarism as other writers may borrow from your works, and there is a risk that your story won’t take off due to the fact that the online market is quite saturated.
Overall, I recommend online publishing if you’re writing just for fun (especially for fanfiction). However, if your goal is wider publication and earning royalties, I highly recommend looking into other options.
Traditional Publishing: The gold standard. The ultimate dream. The reason many writers type until their wrists crumble under the weight of carpal tunnel. Traditional publishing has the potential to be the least expensive option for you while giving you the greatest likelihood to make royalties. But, even then, you’re not guaranteed a giant paycheck. Especially if you go for a more independent publisher. There are also a lot more factors that go into getting a publishing contract with an traditional publisher such as: getting an agent, building up your platform online, having a marketing plan, maintaining a professional online presence, adjusting your word count, and being flexible and willing to change your manuscript to match the publisher’s requests.
The Pros: Once you have a publishing contract you won’t have to worry about the costs of publishing itself, you’ll be able to receive marketing assistance from the publisher as they help to connect your book with the right readers, and you’ll be able to experience the fun of receiving a consistent royalty check (that may or may not be enough for a night out at Olive Garden).
The Cons: Depending on the publisher you may lose some or all of your creative rights to your book, you may have to “kill your darlings” (by cutting out sections, characters, or plot-points you love so you can meet the publisher’s requests), you’ll have to face a wider variety of potentially negative reviews as your book will reach even more readers than ever before, and you’ll have to be willing to work under pressure as you face hard deadlines and concrete goals for publishing and marketing.
Traditional publishing is probably both the greatest and yet the most difficult goal to achieve, not only due to the challenge of getting a contract, but also because of the amount of sacrifices you’ll make after you sign your contract. But, if you’re okay with adjusting your manuscript to meet the requirements of the publisher, traditional publishing can be incredibly rewarding.
The key thing to remember is publishing is not the end, but the beginning of a new journey. The question now is, which path will work best for you?