Traditional or Self-Publish? How about the third option?

Authors and aspiring authors I meet at our workshops frequently ask:  Which route should I go? Traditional, or self-publishing?

I tell them that actually they have three choices, not two. There is Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing, or use a service-provider (SP) to publish it for you (Lulu, Xlibris, CreateSpace, LightningSource, etc.) The latter third choice is not the same as Self-Publishing.  It’s sort of the difference between owning and leasing a car. You can’t sell a leased car because you don’t hold title. Whoever owns the ISBN has the rights to pitch the book into wider distribution channels.

Wholesalers and distributors only buy from bonafide, registered publishers — not from service providers. If you use a service provider’s ISBN, you are not the publisher, they are. Only by purchasing your own block of ISBN numbers are you a self publisher. Most SPs today won’t get your book using their ISBN into wholesale distribution channels. They can’t even if they want to. That’s because they lack a pre-requisite: editorial accountability.

SPs make their money off of authors buying their service — not selling books. They don’t care if their books are mispelled and poorly written. So the big wholesalers and reps won’t even consider books sporting one of their ISBNs. SPs may promise to submit your book to wholesale distribution channels, but that doesn’t mean it will get past the wholesale buyers’ gatekeepers.

Really it all depends on what you want to do, how many hats you want to wear, and what you want for your book. Some memoirists only care to print a few hundred copies to give away to family and friends as a legacy, and don’t really care about sales. Other authors just want their book as a professional calling card, to open doors, sell copies at the back of the room where they’re speaking, or to promote an online business as an ebook, to be able to sell other products or services to the buyer. In that case, service providers which are the least expensive and the fastest, are just fine.

To determine the best choice, you need to understand your own desires.

Do you want to be mainly two wear just two hats: writer, and book promoter? Do you want your book widely available at bookstores, airport gift shops, and in libraries?  Do you care about contributing to the literary genre you are writing in, in a quality way? In other words, are you seeking critical attention by reviewers? If so, then traditional publishing is the way to go.

Do you want to wear a lot more hats? Do you crave and can you afford having creative control over the editing, production, interior design, cover design, printing and marketing of your book? Marketing is not the same as promotions. All authors promote their own books. Marketing is getting the book into the proper channels to reach your market. Are you interested in learning what it takes to manage your book’s distribution and fulfillment? These are the functions of publishers. If you want to take on these other hats, then becoming a self-publisher is the way to go.

If you are content, however, with selling your book through just a few narrow sales channels (ie. online and as ebooks), one copy at a time, direct to the reader, and you don’t care to have your book be available widely in libraries and bookstores, then using a service provider is the answer.

Answering these questions will help you decide which route to choose.