Book Update: Traditional vs. Self Publishing

I know, I know, I’ve been dragging my feet on the Heroic Technical Writing book. Bad Bart! But fear not! This week, with the help of an editor friend I paid for professional input, I was able to submit the proposal to an honest-to-goodness publishing house. Now I’ll just have to see if they’ll accept it or not. Below are some other tidbits/updates for any of you considering writing/selling a book of your own.

Traditional Publishing

Like I said, I’m lazy when it comes to my own projects. I also prefer a process I know to a process that takes a lot of trial and error. Publishers require a formal proposal, which will show that a) you know your audience and b) there’s enough of an audience that the publisher will take a chance on a first-time author to try selling it.

Plus, I won’t lie: writers publishing through a traditional house–depending on the company–can get treated somewhat better, either by other publishers, writers, or literary agents, if you choose to get one.  There’s somewhat of a snob appeal to known publishers vs. small press or self-publishing, which is diminishing as now as the smaller companies have only mushroomed in the last decade or two. When I bought my first Writer’s Market in 1991, I was strongly cautioned by a writing friend against self-publishing. What a difference the internet makes!

If/when your manuscript gets accepted, traditional publishers have some things you don’t have to pay for, like an editor or cover artist. You might or might not get an advance on earnings (I’m not counting on it, for example). The down side about the cover artist is that you generally have little or no control over what they will produce. You will also have no control over when your book will be published, how many copies will be printed, how or where it will be distributed, or how it will be marketed. However, the publisher will not complain if you get out there and do your own marketing/hustling, which is something even a lazy guy like me doesn’t mind. I more or less understand marketing my product, and it’s typically easier for a bookstore (or, say, a university) to order more books from a known publishing house. As I understand it from my research, going with a known firm is more of an advantage to a nonfiction writer.


I reached out to a few (fiction) author friends of mine for inputs on the sorts of costs I might conceivably incur if I were to go the self-publishing route, which is still a possibility if I can’t get a regular/traditional publishing house to buy the book. They provided a lot, including some of their own prices, as one of my author friends is also a fantastic editor:

  • Cover art: Quick covers that I get by forthemusedesigns is $50.00 for e-book and $25.00 for print. For my more elaborate covers I use Yocla Cover Designs which are $300.00. She is extremely sought after, so I don’t know if you can even get in with her.
  • Editing: I use a content editor that is okay, I don’t love her, but she was $280.00 for 20k [20,000 words]. I’ll let you do the math. 🙂
  • Copy Editor is: $0.004 per word. She is new also, but I like her so far.
  • Proofreader: $0.003 per word
  • Formatting: I do my own with Vellum on my MAC. When I used one I think it was $50.00. Don’t quote me on that one, though. I didn’t find the invoice first run through my data.
  • Promo images: I use Canva, which is free unless you want to use an image that is not free which is $1.00. I also pull in images from other resources like Big Stock photo. Of course, you can also hire a graphic artist. When I had one, she charged $35.00 per package. I loved her, but I haven’t found a deal like that since.
  • For my most recent ebook/print book, I paid $235 for the formatting of the files necessary for both types of books and for the requirements for Amazon and IngramSpark which are different. The cover art cost$85 for the ebook plus $50 for the print wrap cover.
  • I typically charge $0.005/word when I edit fiction.
  • You’ll also need to buy ISBNs for each format (ebook, paperback, hardback, audio) from Bowker. I don’t recommend using Amazon’s because they they’re the publisher of record and B&N, etc., won’t carry them.

All of the above might explain why, for someone who’s lazy about his own projects as I am, would go through the effort to write a proposal to a regular publisher rather than go out on my own. Yes, I had to write a proposal to get it sold, but for me, that’s easier than jumping through all those image-hunting, ISBN-adding tasks.

The upsides to self-publishing?

  • Not having to wait weeks or months for an editor to get back to you if you’re sending in an unsolicited manuscript–something that typically gets thrown on what’s called unflatteringly, “the slush pile.”
  • You don’t have to worry about editorial/in-house content preferences. You just have to get your book–whatever it’s about–through the process.
  • You control your own destiny (which is partially true in the traditional publishing world as well, as noted above).

What’s Next?

If I get a rejection, I will repeat my process, updating and tweaking the cover letter and proposal to meet the new target’s focus or interests. Maybe if I collect enough rejections, I’ll give self-publishing a try. Who knows? The adventure continues!

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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