Traditional vs Self Publishing


Recently author Tialla Rising and I had a chat about the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I talked about my experience publishing traditionally, and she talked about hers in self publishing. Here are the two interviews we had for each other! If you are thinking about publishing at all, maybe our experience will give you some insight.


ASHLEE:  How difficult is self-publishing? Doing everything yourself seems kind of daunting to me – is it as hard as it sounds?

TIALLA:  I actually didn’t do everything myself.  The thought of doing everything, as in designing the cover, formatting the interior, formatting the eBook….that is certainly daunting.  However, I purchased CreateSpace’s services to design my cover and format the interior, plus the eBook, so it wasn’t nearly as hard as it probably could have been.  However, I do know several self-published authors who have done everything under the sun by themselves, and they say it actually isn’t too hard.  I’d still be nervous to do it, considering I have no idea what I’m doing, but perhaps it wouldn’t be incredibly difficult after all.

ASHLEE:  Did you consider having your own “publishing company” to publish your books under, as I’ve heard some self-published authors do? What would be the benefit of that?

TIALLA:  I am very impressed by self-published authors who are brave enough to create their own publishing company.  Simply as an indie author with CreateSpace, if you want something done, you usually have to do it (with some exceptions).  However, if an author has their own publishing company, they literally have to do Every. Single. Thing. Themselves.  Meaning, the writing, editing, designing, formatting, printing, binding, shipping, listing on websites, the copyright, ISBN…everything.  The thought of doing that is rather terrifying to me.  I’d much rather let CreateSpace take care of the listings, printing, binding, copyright, and ISBN.  So no, creating my own publishing company really never was an option for me.

ASHLEE:  How difficult is it to do all the “business” stuff … obtaining an ISBN and copyright, uploading your book to various sites, etc.?

TIALLA:  This is partly why I love CreateSpace so much.  They take of the ISBN, copyright, and listing my books on various sites.  Now, authors do have the option of using their own ISBN instead of a CreateSpace ISBN, but I honestly have no idea what that would entail.  I’ve simply used the CreateSpace ISBN, and I haven’t had any problems.  Also, about the copyright…technically once you publish something under your name, you are claiming the copyright.  Copyrights really aren’t as scary as they seem, and you can read more about them here.

ASHLEE:  What are some of your favorite things about self-publishing?

TIALLA:  I love having the control over my work.  After all, the book is my “baby.”  I love that if I want to do something with my book, and I have the means for it, I can—and I have the final say.  If I don’t want to do something, I have absolutely no obligation to.  It’s as simple as that.  I also enjoy the higher royalties, though it really depends on where the book is purchased.

ASHLEE:  I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how horribly unpleasant it is to format their eBook. Is it really so bad?

TIALLA:  I haven’t formatted my own eBook, so I really don’t know.  For first-timers, I’ve heard it’s pretty complicated.  However, I’ve also heard it’s easier/faster than formatting the paperbook.  I suppose it really just depends on the person, how much experience they have, what program they are using, and if they know what they’re doing.

ASHLEE:  Do you spend a lot of money on advertisement or marketing? Or do you mainly do that from your own social media or with other bloggers?

TIALLA:  Well, considering I am nineteen, I don’t have all that much money to put towards professional publishing.  Because of that, a lot of my marketing involves other bloggers, Goodreads giveaways (AMAZING networking opportunity, by the way), and social media.

ASHLEE:  What site/company did you self-publish through? Can you tell me a little about the basics of using that company? I’ve heard of CreateSpace, but not really any other self-publishing places.

TIALLA:  I published through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company.  This means that when you publish your work through them, the book is automatically listed on Amazon, which is super helpful.  Also, authors have the option of choosing an “Expanded Distribution” option, which will list the book on Barnes and Noble, Google Books, and many more on the web.  I’ve come across my book on at least fifteen different sites that I didn’t even know existed.

Anyway, with CreateSpace, you can either upload your own print-ready PDFs of your interior and cover, or you can purchase their services to create and format them for you.  You can also purchase their services to format your book into a Kindle book.

ASHLEE:  Do you have a print run of your paperbacks? Or does your self-publishing service allow you to do print-on-demand?

TIALLA:  All books published through CreateSpace do print-on-demand.  I’ve heard that most other self-publishers do this as well, but I don’t know if it counts for all of them.

ASHLEE:  Who mails out your orders of paperbacks when they are purchased? Is that your responsibility? Amazon’s? How does that work?

TIALLA:  When someone purchases a book anywhere on the web, Amazon mails out the order.  That’s another reason why I love CreateSpace…they take care of all that for me.

ASHLEE:  How complicated is it to get the digital version of your cover design to look right on the paperback? Are there a lot of things you had to learn about as far as color schemes, etc., to get the finished cover to look like you wanted it after it was printed?

TIALLA:  Once again, I didn’t design my cover for my first book, “Holding the Future Hostage,” but it looked great when I received the proof, so I have a feeling the CreateSpace designer perfected that before sending it to me.  However, it’s been a bit of a different story with my second book, “Where Shadows Lie.”  WSL has a rather dark cover, so even though the digital looked great, it was far too dark once printed.  My designer, Perry Elisabeth ( and I will play around with lightening techniques a bit before finalizing it.

ASHLEE:  What percentages of your sales do you get from the various sites your book is available through?

TIALLA:  Amazon Kindle: about 70% of the profit (by far the most of all sites)

Amazon: about $3, give or take some change.

CreateSpace eStore: about $6, give or take some change.

Barnes and Noble: about 20 cents.

If my book is purchased from any other site than these mentioned, the royalty really isn’t anything.  As you can see, it’s pretty small for Barnes and Noble, even.  Everyone has to get their cut, I suppose.

ASHLEE:  Did you have any sort of detailed marketing plan before your book was released? What did you do to get it out there in front of people?

TIALLA:  Before my book was released, I began a blog to start publicizing my soon-to-be-published novel.  I was actually able to meet lots of people through the blogosphere, so that was definitely a great start.  Soon afterward, I signed up for Facebook.  I’m on lots of other social sites now, including Pinterest, Tumblr, G+, YouTube, and Instagram.  Marketing through these socials have really helped me connect with other authors and readers alike.  I don’t know if it’s resulted in many sales, but the networking helps to just get my name out there.

ASHLEE:  Can you tell me about how much you have to pay to purchase your own author copies?

TIALLA:  I pay about $6.63 per each copy I purchase, and then a whole lot more for shipping. 😉  Even though I have a vanity publishinggreat discount per each book, it’s the shipping that kills me.

ASHLEE:  What are the differences between self-publishing companies and vanity presses?

TIALLA:  Vanity presses are sites that offer publishing packages for at least $100 each.  These sites have big “Publish Now” buttons and are plastered with positive testimonials.  Even though they sound good, RUN AWAY.  You should not have to pay to publish your book.  Now, there is a difference if you are paying someone specifically for designing your cover, or specifically for formatting your interior.  However, you shouldn’t have to purchase any “package” for a few hundred dollars in order to publish your book.  You and your book deserve more than that.  Believe me, I’ve fallen into the trap of vanity presses before—three times, actually.  If you’re looking at a website, and you’re not sure if it’s a vanity press or not, send me an email at  I’ll be happy to take a look at it for you.



TIALLA:  What was the timeline between an agent/publisher interested in your work and the book being published?  Do you think this is about average or shorter/longer?

ASHLEE:  I began sending proposals in Jan 2013. I heard from the publisher around May of that year expressing interest. They offered me a contract around Oct 2013. In June 2014 my book released. So all in all it was about a year-long process (from the time they expressed interest to the time the book was in my hands!). I think that’s probably about average for traditionally published books, more or less.

TIALLA:  Did you have a say in the editing process-as in, keeping certain phrases or words and removing others?  Did the publisher have the final say?

ASHLEE:  I did, yes. They were very willing to work with me on any changes they proposed that I wasn’t ok with. Luckily they didn’t have any big-picture changes they wanted made to the overall structure of the story, so I didn’t have to deal with that.

TIALLA:  Would you recommend finding an agent first before contacting publishers, or is that not as necessary as it seems?

ASHLEE:  I think it has everything to do with what you, as the writer, want. If you already know you want to self-publish, or you’d like to go with a small name publisher and you’re comfortable researching your publishing contracts and coming up with your own marketing plan, you probably don’t need one.

Some things, though, an agent can do for you that you can’t do for yourself. They have connections, they can get your proposals in to big name publishers (which most times won’t even accept a query directly from the writer herself).

Agents don’t necessarily all offer the same thing either. Some agents may be more focused on marketing, some of them may be better at helping you revise. So again, it’s what you, as an individual writer, are looking for.

TIALLA:  What are your suggestions for writing a good-convincing-query letter to agents/publishers?

Query letters are always sooo tedious, there’s just no getting around it in my opinion! The trick for me was not to send off the first letter I wrote. I just hated them so much that once I got that first draft finished I was like, ok, here we go! Send! But you have to revise your query letters just like you’d revise your book. Maybe even more so! Because they are the first (and maybe only!) impression you get to make on an agent or publisher.

Another thing that’s crucial is making sure that your proposal follows the exact guidelines for each individual agent you are sending it to. That means you won’t be able to get away with writing just one query letter and sending copies of it to all the agents or publishers you’re interested in. You have to tailor-make each letter, bring out the points of your book or proposal
that appeal most to that particular agent (according to the research you’ve done on him/her). If they see that you’ve followed their guidelines exactly, that tells them a lot about you as a person and as a writer, and they will be much more apt to consider your proposal.

TIALLA:  I’ve noticed that a lot of query letter submissions require the author to explain why they are qualified to write the novel.  This seems rather daunting to me since I personally didn’t starting writing because I thought I was “qualified.”  I wrote because I had a passion for the story, simple as that.  How would you recommend tackling that question in a way that would convince agents/publishers to represent us?

ASHLEE:  I think most times you’ll hear that question is when you’re querying for a non-fiction book that would require some extensive knowledge about a certain subject.

However, the times I’ve come across that question before, or questions like “what are your previously published works” … well, what can you do but ignore them, actually? If you have no special qualifications for writing what publishing2you’ve written, it’s best not to bring attention to the fact. What I would do, though, if you feel you need to address the question in some way, is to outline exactly what you said: that you have a great passion for the subject you’ve written about.

TIALLA:  You’ve mentioned that it’s important to stay away from publishers who want you to sell ALL the rights to your book.  I hadn’t even realized it was possible to keep some rights.  Which rights would you deem important to keep?

ASHLEE:  I think most legitimate publishers would never ask you to flat out sell your rights to them in the first place. What a normal publishing contract does is to LICENSE the publisher to USE some of the rights to your work – such as editing, creating cover art for it, printing and of course listing and selling your book. No one could do that, obviously, without your permission as the author. Therefore you have to have an agreement that says basically, “yeah, I’ll allow you to do these things to help me out with my book, and in return you get a percentage of my sales.” My contract (and I’m assuming most publishing contracts) says something about the publisher “having the right to edit and revise the work, provided that the meaning of the work isn’t materially altered.” So you’re protected against your book being changed in any big ways.

It’s good to keep the rights to anything you think the publisher won’t take advantage of or actively pursue. For instance, if the publisher has no intention, or just doesn’t have the budget, to do an audio version of your book, you should keep those rights. That way if you decide you want to use those yourself down the road, you don’t have to play tug of war with your publisher. Same goes for movie rights or anything else like that.

TIALLA:  What do you pay for author copies of your book?

ASHLEE:  I pay just over 40% of the listed price of my books (that comes to around $5.50 per book). That means that when I sell the author copies on my own, I make 60% of the listed price (as opposed to the 30% I get when the publisher sells it).

TIALLA:  What are some of the most important reasons for having an agent?  Navigating publishing contracts?  Help with marketing/book signings, etc?

ASHLEE:  Well my situation is a bit different. I started querying publishers before I did agents, so by the time I got an agent I was already in the midst of negotiating a contract with my publishers. So I feel like I haven’t probably felt the full effect of the benefit of having an agent yet. I think after my next book is finished I’d be able to answer that question better. So far, though, my agent has helped me communicate ideas or concerns I have to my publisher in a clearer way than I’d be able to do myself. She’s also given me some tips on marketing.

TIALLA:  Could you list some qualities you think a good agent should possess?  On the other hand, what are some red-flags when it comes to agents?

ASHLEE:  It’s important to research each agent you want to query, and it’s important to remember that basically, you are hiring the agent – not the other way around! Yes, the agent is looking for specific things in your book, but you also have a right to look for certain things you may want in the person who is to represent you. You may want an agent who is willing to update you frequently on the status of your proposals. Or you may want an agent who is really aggressive with a marketing plan. Etc. It also helps if you can personally get along with your agent, almost like you would a friend. You’ll need to be able to trust that your agent’s vision for your work is similar to your own – that you’re both on the same page about where it is going and the potential it has. Not to mention, she should just have faith in your story and your talent in general!

I’d say anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, stay away from. If the agent is pushing you in a direction that you’ve already made clear you don’t want to go, that’s a bad sign. If she asks for too many rights or too high of a percentage of your proceeds, that’s not good either. Also I’ve heard of some agents who want to begin working for the author and sending out proposals before anything official and legal has been decided as far as their representation. That basically means the agent doesn’t want to take a risk by signing you until she already has proof that a publisher is interested – you definitely want to stay away from that sort of agent, too!

28 thoughts on “Traditional vs Self Publishing

  1. I have self published three books with CreateSpace, and doing all the formatting and some of the cover work is certainly daunting. There is a learning curve, but it gets easier every time I do it. eBook conversion isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

    There is so much help available on the internet that I rarely have to hire someone to help me. However, there is always that option. The world is filled with kind, reasonably priced saviors. =)

    The bottom line is that self publishing isn’t for everyone, but it has certainly worked well for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, you’re totally right. It just depends on the individual and which option works best for them. Self publishing has become more and more attractive to me the more authors I meet who have done it, and the more I learn about it!


  2. Great interviews, Ashlee and Tialla! 🙂

    One thing, about vanity presses… There are companies now that offer the separate services (cover design, formatting, editing) as well as publishing packages that combine them. I consider these nontraditional publishers, services-based publishers, or hybrid publishers. Vanity presses are different; they do charge purely for publishing, sometimes take author’s rights, sometimes also take royalties, and sometimes require authors to buy several copies at once. They also don’t tend to limit which books they’ll accept.

    Full disclosure: I happen to run a nontraditional publisher like this. Our packages are actually discounted compared to the individual services (which we also offer). The reason for this is because when I’m editing, formatting, and creating a cover for the same book, it takes me less time than it would to do each piece separately for different books. Once I’ve edited it, I know how the formatting should be – and so on.

    So while I definitely agree that research is important (it’s also good to check the contract first, since – just like with traditional publishing – you don’t want to sign your rights away), there are also some good options that may, at first, appear to be a vanity press. My company is listed on Preditors & Editors as a “vanity press,” because under their definition (a publisher you pay) that’s what we are. To me, there’s a difference. Tialla, I think you touched on this in your answer.

    Ebook formatting is pretty simple. There’s a lot to keep track of with it at first, but once you do the first book the rest are easy. Paperback formatting is more complex, but InDesign makes it easier. (I’ve formatted with both Word and InDesign, and while you can eventually get similar results with each, the time you’ll save with InDesign is worth the investment.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this discussion! It is very informative. I originally wanted to go with traditional publishing. Mostly because I am a terrible business person. Marketing and social media are some of my weak points. But recently I’ve been trying to keep a more open mind about self-publishing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, there are definitely pros and cons of both that are worth thinking about! It’s great that publishing has changed so that self and traditional publishing are BOTH such realistic options.


  4. I’m self-publishing my sixth book next month, and I’ve never paid createspace for any service (mostly because I can’t afford it), save for printing and sending my own personal copies (which, I agree, can be a killer on shipping, but my average cost per book is about $3.00 – they’re mostly novellas and short story collections).

    I do my own interior formatting, using the downloadable templates that CreateSpace provides. With the exception of my first book deciding it wanted to be funny with the indentation when I first uploaded it to KDP, I’ve never had an issue with formatting the kindle books. For my short story collections and my one novel, I’ve taken care of the cover myself, setting my own artwork into CreateSpace’s cover. For my fairy tale retelling series, my cousin did them for me. She’s amazing with photoshop, knows how to do a few things with it that even the tech support doesn’t know is possible.

    I handle my own marketing and that big hurrah (I’m elbow deep in planning a blog tour at the moment), which has been slower going, I’ll admit, than I might have achieved had I decided to go traditional, but for the most part, I’m quite satisfied. It’s fun to be able to get to know most of my readers personally.

    I like the control that self-publishing gives me. My books all spiderweb together on some level, and I’m not sure there’s any traditional publisher who would want to take me and my half-a-hundred-probably-more planned books on. As a indie-author, I can build my spiderweb at my own timing and pacing, focusing more on my reader’s pleas and my own inspiration, rather than a publishing company’s demands. Just my preference.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Can I just say… I love this so much? This blog post is incredibly helpful, and I will definitely be sharing it with my friends!

    I’ve never published something that required me to sign a contract or earn a royalty, but I hope to someday, so this is definitely a relevant issue to me. I feel drawn toward traditional publishing because all the wonderful books I grew up with (like the ones I want to write) were published traditionally. Meeting self-published authors is really expanding my view on the subject, though. It’s a field that’s growing so fast. I can’t make any decisions now, but I’m excited to see what it will be like when I’m finally ready to publish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, things have changed sooo much in publishing, just in the past few short years. It’s amazing. Even when you publish traditionally, the publisher expects you to do a huge amount of things on your own (although, as I said in the post, there are many pluses to traditional, too). On the other hand, self publishing is now much more respected than it used to be. Many people are choosing to self-publish, as opposed to using it as a last resort! Pretty cool 🙂 Maybe by the time you decide to publish, Allison, even more new things will have come about in publishing!


  6. Thanks for both of these helpful interviews! I’m thinking a little bit about publishing, now that I have stories I think might go anywhere, so I appreciate having both of the points of view to compare. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Really enjoyed this conversation! I thought about trying to get published with a traditional company for about two seconds… but I just really don’t like writing query letters. So, I’m self-published, and my family has created a “publishing” company of sorts, so I have a lot of support and talent to draw from surrounding me. I love the flexibility I have and that I don’t have to give up any of the rights to anyone, but it is cool to hear the other side of it. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I often envy self publishers their freedoms, I’ll admit! Choosing their own covers and editors and release dates … sounds great to me! On the other hand, I know it’s still a huge amount of work – things that take you away from the actual writing! I guess that’s one of the major reasons I haven’t wanted to self publish, although I’m definitely open to it if the time comes! Thanks for stopping by, Jenelle!!


  8. Very informative post :D. I have been doing all the formatting /ISBN purchase /cover design by myself. It’s work that in an ideal world I wouldn’t have to do but it’s not actually all that difficult or time – consuming. I can format an ebook in an afternoon and a paperback in a day, depending on length. Cover design takes a bit longer but I have developed a signature look for my covers which is bold and minimalistic (eg: the cover on this novella: I think if I was going to give some advice, I’d say don’t try to bite off more than you can chew – just do simple, well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very helpful!

    From the perspective of a self-publisher who does almost everything herself–cover design, ebook formatting, paperback formatting, ISBN-buying–I can honestly say that none of it is all that hard. Ebook formatting takes about a day, usually less. Paperback formatting takes a day or two. I keep finding and inventing shortcuts and workarounds. Buying an ISBN was as easy as buying an icecream. Well, apart from being way more expensive :).

    I use Guido Henkel’s guide to ebook formatting. Sooo hassle-free and easy.

    For paperbacks I’ve just switched to using InDesign, which allows me much greater creative control than Word. I just finished redesigning one of my non-fiction books and it looks ever so much better now.

    Cover design is where a LOT of authors fall down. Small publishers aren’t a lot better–I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve assumed an author was self-published based on a terrible cover, and then been amazed to discover that they were with a publishing house. So regardless of whether you’re a published or self-published author, I’d highly recommend learning SOMETHING about:

    – current cover trends (try googling “Cover trends 2015” and you’ll get heaps of info)
    – How to use the colour wheel to determine what colours should go together (and what colours really shouldn’t)
    – Typography, because even when the cover art is gorgeous, the typography usually lets it down (read Robin P Williams, The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books).

    My own preference has always been to do things myself, to aim for simplicity, and to do it well. My covers have a much more minimalist design these days (eg this novella).

    Those are most of my hot tips for Doing It All Yourself. Works for me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This was really thought provoking. I’m working on self-publishing one of my books… traditional publishing has never seemed like an option to me, mostly because I’m a control freak. 😛 And since I’m planning on just starting out with publishing for Kindle, I’m probably going to be able to do most of it myself, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I like the idea of having that control, too. On the other hand I like knowing that I’m not responsible for every single detail of marketing and publication … that seems overwhelming to me! Self published authors definitely work hard!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. For those who are self-publishing, a quick tip I discovered last year: formatting e-books is SUPER easy with the program “Scrivener” (which is only about $40, so it’s cheap, too). We used it on my second book and formatting took about an hour (and that was with learning how to use the program and fix a few last-minute typos). With my first book we used the Guido Henkel’s guide and it took us over 8 hours to format the ebook, it was a serious nightmare.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Questions for Tialla:

    How exactly does publishing through CreateSpace work? Do you upload your manuscript, design a cover, and voila, your book is available for purchase in a kindle and/or print format?
    Did you have beta readers? Do you recommend beta readers?
    Is there anything you can’t do with your book on CreateSpace?

    I’m hoping to self-publish sometime in the near future, so I’m kind of anxious about knowing exactly what it is I’m going to have to do…


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Symona,

      Thanks for asking!

      The very first step is creating an account with CreateSpace. You probably already knew this, but I just wanted to put it out there. 🙂

      Your uploaded manuscript has to be a print-ready PDF, formatted to the book trim size you chose, meaning proper margins, line breaks, chapter breaks, everything. You could also purchase CreateSpace’s formatting services, though it isn’t necessary if you can format the document yourself or find someone else to do it.

      Once you have a print-ready interior file and a print-ready cover, you upload it to CreateSpace. You’ll have to go through a series of forms regarding tax information, book description listings, royalties, etc. Once you’ve filled out all that, you can finalize the process by hitting the publish button, and your book will automatically be listed on Amazon in a couple of days.

      For a Kindle version, you’ll have to either format the .mobi file yourself or hire someone to do it. You can then upload it through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and follow their instructions, which are much like CreateSpace’s.

      Depending on if you choose to participate in Amazon Select or not, you may be able to also upload an .epub eBook file of your book to for eBook listing on Barnes and Noble. Once again, this requires a formatting process.

      I absolutely recommend beta readers. I have beta readers, and they make all the difference between a messy draft and a polished draft.

      I hope this helps!


      Liked by 1 person

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