Indie Publishing vs Traditional Publishing:

Pros and Cons

If you’re still trying to figure out whether or not you should independently publish your book, you’ve come to the right place! Check out the nifty table for the pros and cons of both publishing tracks. Depending on what you’re willing to do, how much time and money you have, and what your goals are, you can choose the right path for yourself!

Indie Publishing Traditional
Royalties HIGH / PROFITABLE. Tend to be much higher, ESPECIALLY for ebooks. For ebook sales: Amazon offers 70% of the royalties on book sales; Smashwords offers 80-85%; Barnes and Nobles offer 65%. Royalty payments are monthly. LOW / MARGINAL. Ranges from 8% – 12%, and each percentages depends on how many books you sell. However, you don’t get royalties until your book has made back the money the publisher gave you for your advance. (See below). Also, watch out for “Royalties on Translations” and “Royalties on Adaptations” in your contract. Essentially, you are selling away your rights for foreign language versions of books, adaptations of your book (such as movies, video editions, audio versions, etc) in exchange for royalties. Royalty payments don’t come for a while. 
Advances NONE. No one is paying you to produce the book because you’re producing the book yourself. Whatever money you make after this though, goes straight into your pocket. MEDIUM – HIGH. This is usually an “Advance on Royalties”, which means that you get a nice chunk of money ranging from $5,000 to a few million (if you’re an established writer) depending on how marketable your book is. However, until your royalties on the book “pays off” the advance the publisher gives you, you won’t get royalty money. 
Rights Over Your Work UNLIMITED. You keep all the rights to your work; licensing your work to others is a possibility; licensing & selling rights is at your discretion; foreign rights / translations also belong to you. EXTREMELY LIMITED-NONE. Once you sign with a publisher, they now own your book. You are still acknowledged as the author, you are still expected to finish writing the book, but what happens to it after you’re done writing the manuscript is up to the publisher. Read your contract carefully to see what you have rights over and what you don’t. 
Creative Control UNLIMITED. Control; book layout, cover design; story content and direction are all at your discretion. EXTREMELY LIMITED-NONE. Usually once you sign a contract, you are handing over all creative control (the rights) to the publisher. Sometimes you may have a great deal of input into the final product, but this is more common with smaller publishers. 
Retail Distribution EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. As an independent publisher, it’s nearly impossible to get hardcopy distribution in a retail store (unless you’re independently publishing as a celebrity, politician, or an already famous author like Stephen King).  EASY / GUARANTEED. Traditional publishers already have established relationships and agreements with bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc to get your book in and on the shelves in hardcopy.
Online Distribution EASY/GUARANTEED.,,, and other ebook retailers are all open to any author wanting to independently publish. Make sure that you are aware of their royalties agreement though. (Check the “Royalties” box above!)  EASY/GUARANTEED. Traditional publishers are definitely taking advantage of the ebook surge, so your book will be available in print format and digital format. (Be aware that your digital rights also belong to the publisher once you sign with them.)
Time SIGNIFICANT. You are doing ALL the work: writing, editing, hiring developmental editors, copy editors, illustrators, graphic designers, printers, and ebook designers. You’re also doing ALL the marketing, book tours, publicity, etc. So it takes a LOT of time.  MEDIUM – LOW. All your doing is writing the book and then handing it over to the publisher, who has all the resources in place. You get to write and write, and just show up looking pretty for your book tours.
Upfront Cash
Investment (aka How Much YOU Have to Pay)
SIGNIFICANT. Indie publishers need to be prepared to foot ALL the bills of writing, editing, producing, printing, and marketing a book. LOW. You mainly focus on writing and completing the book you wish to publish as well as the query letters. The only cash investment is what you’ll spend on envelopes and postage when mailing your query letters and manuscripts to agents. 
Book Production FAST / YOUR DECISION. Goes much faster for indies. You can release a book as quickly or as slowly as you like, to whomever and wherever you like. Book layout, cover design, text & typography are all at your discretion. SLOW / NOT YOUR DECISION. Production time is typically much slower here, especially for larger traditional publishers. Your book may not be released until about a year (or even more) after it’s been written. 
Marketing UNLIMITED. The possibilities for marketing your book are virtually endless. Your marketing plan can be much more personalized to your readership; you can watch your book sales and your growth more closely and with actual statistics and data; you can do special promotions and releases (especially with ebooks) for your readers. You can also speak to your readers more directly, tailor your marketing to their feedback, and network more personally with them. You can also change the price of your book for promotional purposes.  SLIGHTLY LIMITED. You are able to market your book, but the sales and the reader feedback are not nearly transparent. You don’t know who’s buying your book and when. You aren’t able to hold back for special promotions, and you can’t change the prices on your book. The publisher already has its plans and promotions in place, and you have little input. However, this doesn’t stop you from organizing your own book signings and tours.
Visibility EXPOSURE NOT GUARANTEED. You have to work at building up your visibility all on your own. Social networking, book signings, promotions, getting book reviews, doing blog tours, all these things are necessary to attain high visibility and there are no guarantees. Takes lots of work to gain a readership, but success rewards the persistent. GUARANTEED MEDIUM EXPOSURE (at least). Contrary to popular belief, even though you are traditionally published, this does not guarantee high-visibility. You are still competing with hundreds of other books in your genre for exposure, shelf space, and media attention. You still have to put in some leg work to achieve high visibility, but your chances at attaining it are higher with your publisher behind you. 
Getting Past the Gatekeepers EASY. With the new online distribution available to authors, no one is standing in your way of publishing. You don’t need to ask literary agents’ and publishers’ permission to write and publish your novel. DIFFICULT. Rejection runs rampant in the publishing world and the writers who make it through the crowd into publishing glory are the ones who have thick skins and a lot of determination. Getting published traditionally is difficult, but you need to be willing to keep at it to succeed!