Traditional, Hybrid, and Self-Publishing: Pros, Cons, and Choosing Your Path

By Naren Aryal

Last week, I presented to a group of authors at the National Writers Union in New York City and had a great conversation with a group of motivated writers about the ever-changing market and the various publishing paths available to content creators. I’ve given this presentation many times and love giving it, so I thought it would be appropriate to share parts of my presentation here on the Amplify blog.

At a high-level, there are three paths to publishing: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and where we reside at Amplify—hybrid publishing. This post provides a brief overview of each path, including the pros and cons of each approach.

Traditional Publishing

Up until the early 2000s, traditional publishing was virtually the only way to get your book into the market. This approach requires securing a literary agent who shops your manuscript to large publishing houses, typically in New York. If your manuscript is sold to a large publishing house, congratulations—you’ve beaten the odds!

Agents and large houses generally look for authors offering (a) compelling content, (b) massive author marketing platforms, and (c) a track record of selling books. I’ve met plenty of authors that have amazing content, but just don’t have the requisite platform or sales track record to be a good candidate for a traditional deal.

Traditionally published books typically have high production quality (editorial, cover and interior design, premium book printing) and have access to large distribution channels. For authors, the upside of this model is the publisher bears all the up-front production costs—the publishing house assumes the financial risk. Some (not all) authors also collect advances against future royalties.

Potential downsides that come with traditional publishing include loss of creative control and intellectual property rights (including ancillary rights, like merchandising, film, etc.), an agonizingly long time to market (18-24 months on average), and smaller royalty percentages on sales (which may be offset by an advance, meaning you don’t collect any royalties until the house recoups its investment in your content).

Regarding marketing, there seems to be a misconception that all traditionally published authors enjoy overwhelming levels of marketing support. This is true if you’re an A lister that’s authored a book with runaway bestseller potential. For rank and file authors, however, meaningful marketing support only kicks in if sales meet or exceed projections. Authors have to be fully-engaged in book-related marketing efforts—and this is true regardless of the pathway to publishing.

I have simple advice for authors considering this route: if you get a solid traditional publishing deal with a reasonable advance (and this definition differs from project-to-project and author-to-author)—take it!


Self-Publishing

Many of the elements that make self-publishing attractive to some are exactly what makes other authors refuse to consider it. First, the barrier to entry is low (or non-existent, depending on the platform). You can become a published author today by simply uploading your content onto to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform—you and everyone else that fancies themselves an author—placing you among the masses clambering to stand out and get their content noticed.

On the flip side, you’ll have complete editorial control and will have final say concerning your book’s physical specifications, including its cover and interior design—a great thing if you know what you’re doing, but something that can easily become overwhelming. If you have no experience producing a book, you could end up with a book that’s riddled with typos and has a cover that “looks self-published,” a criticism you hear often in the publishing industry. If you do go the self-publishing route, and you’re intending your book to have an audience beyond your friends and family, invest in hiring an experienced editor and designer—it will be money well spent.

Distribution can be a challenge for self-published books, and even more so for self-published print-on-demand titles. Retailers work almost exclusively with their preferred distributors, such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a few others that service specific account types—grocery stores, warehouse clubs, airport vendors, big box retailers, museum gift shops, hospitals, museums, gift stores, etc. Procuring inventory from these channels allows them to get inventory per industry terms, namely standard wholesale discounts, full returnability rights, lengthy payment periods, shipping and freight agreements, chargebacks to publishers, and any number of other terms, most of which are highly favorable for distributors and retailers, but not so much for authors and publishers. Most retailers won’t even consider POD and self-published titles for their shelves.

Self-publishing also places all the responsibility for the marketing and promotion of the book squarely on the author. While all authors should engage in marketing their book, self-published authors have a heavier burden. There are plenty of resources online, but it can be difficult to know what’s worth the investment, making increasing awareness of your book a challenge.


Hybrid Publishing

So what is hybrid publishing? Up until February 2018, there really wasn’t a universal answer. That’s when the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) attempted to clear-up lingering confusion by issuing their Hybrid Publisher Criteria, which is definitely worth a read.

The high-level takeaway is that a true hybrid publisher maintains the highest industry and ethical standards and produces books that are on par with traditional houses. Hybrid publishers have a vetting process for content, provide access to meaningful distribution channels, and offer book marketing services. In other words, there’s a commitment to creating high-quality books and emphasis on helping get those books into readers’ hands through distribution and marketing. Other benefits include speed-to-market (the average timeline is about half that of traditional—sometimes even less), creative control, and ownership of all intellectual property rights.

Unlike traditional publishing, there are production-related costs, and therefore the financial risk falls largely on the author.  To make up for these up-front expenses, the author often receives a much higher royalty rate per sale than traditionally published authors. At Amplify, we pay our authors 85% of sales, and provide distribution and marketing services designed to maximize visibility and sales potential.


Every writer’s publishing goals are unique and there are benefits and disadvantages to each pathway to publication. I encourage you to investigate each opportunity available to you before deciding which path to choose. Do your research. Ask questions. Compare your options and then confidently pursue the publishing path that’s right for you.


Naren Aryal is the co-founder and publisher of Mascot Books and Amplify Publishing. After starting his career as a Washington lawyer, Naren launched Mascot Books in 2003 with the publication of his first book. As an author himself (How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform), Naren appreciates the opportunities and challenges facing storytellers. As a publisher, he’s well-versed in the market factors that determine a project’s ultimate level of success. Naren’s more than fifteen years of publishing experience have made him an expert in the editorial, production, distribution, and marketing arenas. He’s passionate about staying up-to-date on industry technology and trends and is a respected commentator on anything publishing-related.

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