Side-by-Side Comparison of Two Book Publishing Methods

To quote the home page of PPG’s book publishing website: “When most people think about having their book published, they envision the traditional method of searching for a publishing company, sending them a query letter along with one or two sample chapters, and then waiting several months for a response as to whether or not their manuscript will even be accepted. That’s one way to publish a book, but it’s not the only way….” In this article, we’ll take a brief look at traditional book publishing versus modern supported self-publishing.

 Traditional (Trade) Publishing
 Modern Supported Self-Publishing
  • Traditional book publishers are organizations of highly-qualified people who have joined together to publish a specific selection of books each year.
  • Supportive self-publishing companies consist of highly-qualified people who will assist you in publishing your book by supplying you with the tools you will need.
  • Most trade publishers receive thousands of manuscript submissions every year from which they select fewer than one dozen new authors to work with—a discriminatingly low acceptance rate. One of the primary reasons for this low acceptance rate is that they have preset budgets and objectives for what they can publish each year.A common misconception is that traditional publishers always and only reject manuscripts that are poor in quality when, in fact, that is not the only factor involved. Budget and manpower play a huge role in which projects they can/cannot accept, particularly for the smaller presses. Unfortunately, this means many talented authors are overlooked every year.
  • Most supportive self-publishing companies will accept the majority of manuscripts submitted to them. The reason for this high acceptance rate is that the authors (self-publishers) are the ones who pay all the costs associated with publishing their books. The support company merely compiles all the publishing tools these authors need in a convenient “one stop shop” package so they don’t have to do it themselves.
  • When a traditional book publisher agrees to pay for the publication of your book, they are essentially buying the ownership of your book. They agree to pay for its publication because they believe they can make a profit from owning and selling it. (On the flip side, if the book doesn’t sell, they are the ones who take the loss on their original investment.)
  • When you choose the supportive self-publishing route, you are choosing to pay all your own production and marketing costs in exchange for complete creative control over your work. You also keep all the rights to your work which may prove profitable if/when that book begins to sell well. (On the flip side, if your book doesn’t sell, then you may not be able to recoup your original costs. That loss is yours as the self-publisher. That’s the risk you take if you choose this route.) 
  • Due to the volume of material they must consider, a trade publisher’s manuscript review process can take anywhere from three to six months; and most will reject multiple submissions (a.k.a. simultaneous submissions), meaning they will automatically disregard manuscripts that have been sent to more than one publisher for consideration. If your book is accepted upon review, the production process can take up to another six months to complete.
  • Once you submit your electronic book cover/interior files and payment to a supportive self-publishing company, you’re pretty much ready to go. It’s that easy to get started. The production process, itself, can be completed in as few as eight weeks.
  • If/when your manuscript is accepted, the traditional publisher takes care of all the necessary legwork, such as: obtaining ISBN numbers; managing publishing contracts; designing your copyright page; finding/organizing editors and graphic artists; typesetting your book; dealing with printers and distributors; submitting your book to the Legal Deposit at Library and Archives Canada (LAC); et cetera.
  • Supportive self-publishing companies will manage most (if not all) of the following background details for you: obtaining ISBN numbers; managing publishing agreements; designing your copyright page; finding/organizing editors and graphic designers, etc, for you; typesetting your book; and dealing with POD printers/distributors. (Click here to access PPG’s convenient checklist of the various tasks self-publishers must do for themselves.) 
  • Trade publishers will pay you royalties on whatever books they and their distributors sell on your behalf. You can also buy author copies of your books from them at a significantly reduced price to sell on your own. (Think of them as your book manufacturer/wholesaler, and think of yourself as a retailer.)
  • Supportive self-publishing companies will pay you royalties on whatever books they and their POD distributors sell on your behalf. You can also buy copies of your books from them at a significantly reduced price to sell on your own. (Think of them as your book manufacturer/wholesaler, and think of yourself as a retailer.)
  • If/when your manuscript is accepted for publication, an experienced editor is assigned to work with you to polish and perfect your book. This is a mandatory part of the traditional book publishing process.
  • Some publishers (i.e. vanity publishers) do not require their authors to go through an editorial process … and this is a serious issue, in my humble opinion. Everyone can benefit from copy editing and proofreading. The more sets of eyes you have to review your book, the better. (This is a notable viewpoint that sets supportive self-publishing apart from vanity publishing. It is described in more detail in the below-linked article.)I founded PPG because I strongly believe it is possible for authors to self-publish a professional product if they are willing to go through the same steps a traditional publisher goes through to polish and perfect a book. However, what sets PPG apart from other support companies is that we will refuse to publish anything that, in our judgment, has not been properly edited/proofread. It doesn’t look good for us or the self-publisher unless it’s done right.
  • Most trade publishers still use traditional printing methods, meaning they will print a large run of your books—usually from 500 to 2000 copies to begin with—on an offset press, and they’ll try to sell those off before printing anymore. Because they print this way, their production cost per unit is quite low, so they can charge less for each book. (i.e. The same book may retail at $9.99 when printed the traditional way while it may retail at $12.99 when produced using modern digital “print-on-demand” methods.) The down side is that it costs a lot of money to warehouse all these books; and once you’ve printed that many, you’re stuck with them. There’s no changing them even if you find typos after the fact … which happens more often than not, believe me!
  • Most supportive self-publishing companies use a modern digital printing method called “print-on-demand” (POD). An electronic copy of your book is stored with a special POD press that allows as little as one copy to be printed at a time. This is helpful because you can easily resubmit your book’s e-file to the POD printer if you need to make any corrections or updates along the way. This new method of printing also eliminates expensive warehousing costs. That said, because the books are being printed only a few at a time, the production cost per unit is a bit higher, and this is reflected in the price of your book. (i.e. The same book may retail at $9.99 when printed the traditional way while it may retail at $12.99 when produced using modern “print-on-demand” methods.)
  • Traditional publishing companies actively market and sell their frontlist books on behalf of their authors. They are well-connected.
  • As a self-publisher, it is up to you to market and sell your own books. It is up to you to get well-connected. (Blogging is a great way of doing this!)


  • Because trade publishers produce new books once or twice per year (spring/autumn selections), the shelf-life of each book is typically six months to a year. After that, it moves from the frontlist to the backlist and becomes less of a priority than the new releases.


  • As a self-publisher, you are not confined by someone else’s publishing schedule. You can publish a book at any time of the year, and you can be assured your book will always be given top priority because you are the one in charge of marketing it.

Click here to read another great article comparing traditional (trade) publishing, vanity publishing, and supported self-publishing.

There are obviously pros and cons to each form of book publishing, and there are many varying opinions out there as to which way is best. What are your thoughts on this longstanding debate? I would love to hear from you.

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PPG is a professional book publisher dedicated to serving serious-minded authors around the world. Visit our group of websites today:

PPG Book Publishing Website: http://www.polishedpublishinggroup.com/
PPG Publisher’s Blog: http://blog.polishedpublishinggroup.com/

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