6 min read

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: Which Path is Right for You

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: Which Path is Right for You
Photo by Fallon Michael / Unsplash

Many years ago, I emailed a blogger. I said I liked one of his articles.

He thanked me, then asked for advice on publishing.

I suggested self-publishing, but he wanted to go traditional. So he did.

That blogger was Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

His book sold 15 million copies, got translated into 60+ languages, and is one of the bestselling nonfiction books over the last few decades.

Here's the reason I got it wrong with Mark:

I didn't take the time to fully assess Mark holistically as an author – his goals, his preferred experience, his assets, his desired lifestyle, what help he needed and didn't need, etc.

Nowadays, I don't make this mistake. I take the time to understand each author's unique circumstances, then make a personalized recommendation for them.

When it comes to your publishing path, there is no "right" or "wrong." There is only what's right for you.

In this article, I'm going to give you my criteria for how to decide which publishing path is right for you.

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The Problem with Trying to Figure It Out Alone

I speak with authors every week who aren't sure which route is best. And I don't blame them. There is a seemingly infinite number of combinations of service providers, processes, and experiences you can have.

It's also extremely difficult to tell the level of quality you're signing up for. I know several authors who have spent in the multiple six-figures in ghostwriting services, only to find themselves starting from scratch and re-writing the entire book by themselves due to poor craftsmanship.

The biggest mistake I see authors make is deciding to just get started and try writing their book alone. This is a strategy with a 97% failure rate. I do not recommend it. You need to have a game plan with clear outcomes, and – above all – a professional and experienced team who can support you.

Why? Because you cannot do this alone. Just check the acknowledgments section in any of your favorite books. Creating a great book is always a team sport.

Choosing the right publishing path for you is similar to choosing your mode of transportation to Hawaii.

Sure, you can try to row a canoe alone, but it's not going to work out so well.

You're going to need help. So, the question is which mode do you prefer?

  • Private jet? (Luxury, ease, and speed)
  • Business class on United? (Premium service)
  • Economy class on Spirit Airlines? (Cheap, expect painful delays)

How to Find The Right Publishing Option For You

Here are 15 essential questions I take into consideration for every author, along with some actionable advice based on their responses.

Once you have answers to each of these questions, you'll have more confidence in what you need. And that will make conversations with publishing service providers much easier moving forward.

1. What stage are you currently at with your book?

  • Just an idea: Be sure you validate demand for your book idea with your target audience. Before you write the book, have conversations with your ideal readers, write a guest article, blog posts, emails, and/or social media posts on the topic. Assess the feedback to ensure it's a book worth writing (and reading!)
  • Outlining/planning: Take the time to write a "Book Business Plan" so you can begin with the end in mind, and see a clear path to achieving your goals.
  • Writing first draft: Ensure your Table of Contents and chapter outlines are structured properly before you go too far down this path.
  • Editing/revising: Edit first by reading out loud and listening to your book via Speechify. Then invest in professional editing and bring in beta readers.
  • Completed manuscript: Prepare for publishing, launch, and marketing. Strategize around bulk sales. It's much easier to sell 100 copies to 100 people than it is to sell 1 copy to 10,000 people.
  • Signed a deal with a publisher: Collaborate closely with your publisher, and use your advance to hire the help you need to create and launch a 5-star book.
  • Ready to launch: Plan your book launch strategy with an expert who's repeatedly achieved the desired outcome you want. Hire a project manager to ensure all essential tasks are delegated and achieved on time.

2. What is your primary goal for writing your book?

  • Establish authority in your field: Showcase your expertise with high-quality content, stories about your achievements, and client success stories.
  • Share your personal story: Follow Tell Your Story's formula.
  • Educate or inform readers: Provide your exact secret recipe for success, do not hold anything back.
  • Solve a specific problem for readers: Offer your battle-tested solution.
  • Generate more income: Understand the most effective ways to make significant revenue from your book (hint: it's not selling copies).

3. Why are you writing your book? (Choose all that apply)

  • Get new clients/opportunities
  • Speaking engagements
  • Raise visibility/profile
  • Increase authority/credibility
  • Leave a legacy
  • Impact others

4. Do you care about the financial return on your book?

  • Yes: Focus on using your book as a lead generation tool for your business, not a product to sell.
  • No: Write your book for ONE specific, real person who you want to help (instead of a big general audience).

5. What category does your book fall under?

  • Business/Leadership
  • Self-help/Personal Development
  • Health/Fitness
  • Biography/Memoir
  • History/Science

6. How would you describe your writing experience?

  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
  • Professional author (earning a living from writing)
  • Published author (has published at least one book)

7. What is your preferred timeline for publishing your book?

  • Within 3 months
  • Within 6 months
  • Within 1 year
  • More than 1 year
  • No specific timeline

8. What is your budget for writing, publishing, and marketing your book?

  • Less than $10,000
  • $10,000 - $25,000
  • $25,000 - $50,000
  • $50,000 - $100,000
  • $100,000 - $250,000
  • More than $250,000

9. Do you have any of these assets to help market your book?

  • Professional services clients pay 5-7 figures for
  • Keynote speeches (regularly speaking at conferences, seminars, or events)
  • Excellent network (connections with influential people or organizations)
  • Large active email list (250K+)
  • Large social media following (1M+)
  • None of the above

10. How have you validated that your book idea will be something people want to read?

  • Conducted market research
  • Tested ideas with my target audience
  • Received feedback from industry experts
  • Published related content with high engagement
  • Not validated yet

11. What type of publishing are you most interested in?

  • Traditional publishing
  • Self-publishing
  • Open to both traditional and self-publishing
  • Not sure

12. How involved do you want to be in writing your book?

  • I want to write it all myself and enjoy the creative process
  • I want to be involved but hire help for organizing and researching
  • I prefer to be hands-off and hire experts to handle most of the writing

13. How involved do you want to be in marketing your book?

  • I want to handle all the marketing myself
  • I want to be involved but hire help for certain tasks
  • I prefer to be hands-off and hire experts to handle most of the marketing

14. Which of these milestones do you HAVE to hit in order for you to believe your book is a success? (Select all that apply)

  • New York Times bestseller
  • Amazon bestseller
  • High reader engagement and positive Amazon reviews
  • Significant media coverage
  • Generating a certain amount of revenue
  • Establishing credibility and authority in my field
  • Building a loyal reader base
  • Sell a ton of copies

15. What type of support are you looking for during the publishing process? (Select all that apply)

  • Ghostwriting
  • Book coaching
  • Editing services
  • Cover design and interior layout
  • Marketing and promotion
  • Full-service publishing

Do You Need Help Choosing Your Path?

I’d love to hear from you! Just reply with your thoughts on the publishing path you’re considering, any apprehensions, or excitement you have about writing a book.

Your feedback will help tailor future content to better meet your needs. Please comment below with your questions and share this post to spread the word.

Ready to transform your book-writing journey? Book a call with me today and take the first step towards becoming an author.