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What are the Pros and Cons of Various Publishing Formats?

By Kenneth Shumaker

Issue 007 (Part One)

June 9, 2017

What are the pros and cons of various publishing formats?

  • Self-publishing
  • Author is responsible for all aspects of work
  • Author is responsible for all your own costs
  • Author controls all rights to the work
  • Author can earn 4% to 100% royalties on net sales depending on sales distribution and vendor channels route taken
  • No agent needed
  • Supported publishing
  • Guided work with the publisher
  • Publisher looks after printing and distribution
  • Author is responsible for all fees
  • Shared control of aspects of publishing (varies with publisher)
  • The author may need to lease rights to the publisher for agreed terms
  • Author earns from 4% to 65% of either net or gross sales, depending on arrangement
  • Typically, do not need an agent


  • Traditional publishing
  • Most publishers assign all tasks in-house, except most marketing and promotions
  • Most publishers cover most costs except marketing and promotions
  • Some publishers offer a cost sharing but then offer higher royalties or other benefits
  • The author may have to relinquish some or all of their rights
  • Publishers tend to purchase rights or lease various rights of the work
  • The author can earn 6% to 65% royalties on gross sales
  • Some publishers offer advances or other benefits
  • Usually, need an agent to acquire entry to most publishers

Today there are almost equal advantages and detriments to self-publishing and traditional publishing, while the supported publishing gets a stiff bad rap from both sides. This is not to say that all the different publishing formats condemn each other.  Some people utilise and support all three formats. These are termed the hybrid published authors, or publishers. And they take a lot of flak for fence sitting.

Myself, I’m hybrid, as I’ve dealt with all three publishing formats. I’ve been traditionally published twice, I self-publish my work, and I’ve been supported published. As well, I own a supporting desktop publishing business. With this mixed bag of experience, I may be one of the few who can speak (from experience) from on top of the fence.

Traditional publishing, gets top marks from some of those who break its barriers and squeak into the houses, getting published. Through perseverance and hard work, mixed with a ton of luck, some manage to make some money and/or fame. Basically, besides the writing and submitting manuscripts to the publisher, all the author has to do is the marketing, putting in the effort that is agreed upon with the publisher. Some publishers may still pay a small monetary advance to strong, promising authors. But the advances have reduced significantly to just a mere few thousand dollars. And the author has to realise that they receive no royalty payments until that advance is paid off. Also, with traditional publishers, royalties are paid on gross of sales after expenses are deducted. So, if you sign for a 12% royalty, you do not receive $1.20 of each $10 of sale, you receive 12% after expenses are deducted. A book selling for $10 could gross you $0.86 or less on a 12% royalty. You are also expected to do almost all of the promotions and marketing after the launch and the release. You are responsible for building your own branding, etc. Also, most publishers now expect you to have your author brand and a social presence established before they’ll sign you on.

Royalty payments tend to range from 4% to 12%, but may be as high as 24%, depending on predicted sales of your product and your marketability. This is because the publisher has to recover the thousands of dollars they spent getting your product ready for distribution and market. Once your advance is paid, you may receive your royalties quarterly, if enough accumulate.

Supported publishing generally entails a publishing house who guides you, distributes, and prints your book. They organise all the editing, book cover design, formatting, and so forth for fees. Benefits? You, as the author, don’t have to hire the people to do the work or know what needs doing. You don’t distribute to vendors or organise the printing of your product, and you don’t have to collect the sales from vendors, etc. But you pay fees, or a fee. With most reputable supported publishers, you keep the rights to the work, or they may lease just the rights you want them to have for the length of term you’re willing to lease to them. Some help you with marketing and promotions, for a fee.

Supported publishers pay you a royalty, usually much higher than a traditional publisher, as they’ve already recovered most of their costs from you. However, they still have expenses in regards to distribution and to vendors for the term of your lease or contract. So, they keep part of the sales to recover their costs. Some pay royalties on net sales, some on gross sales. The typical range for royalties varies significantly, based on your brand, marketability, and your product. The royalties, usually based on gross of sales, range from 10% to 45%, and as much as 65% in extreme cases. The author may be paid quarterly, once enough royalties have accumulated, depending on the arrangement you make with the publisher.

Self-publishing gives the author the ultimate control of the publishing, as well as total responsibility. No one else is responsible for any aspect of your publishing. The self-publisher is in charge of deciding what aspects of the publishing they will hire out. You receive no help unless you ask for it, and even then there are no certainties in receiving help. If you succeed, you reap all the rewards, except for what you parcelled out in getting the product published.

Royalties? You reap what you sell minus expenses. It varies from distribution type and vendor, being as high as 100% of net sales to as low as 4% of gross sales. It’s up to you how you distribute and to which vendors. But realise that some types of vendors and some markets are restricted and closed to self-publishers. Some markets are still reserved only to traditional publishers even today. You’re 100% responsible for marketing and promotions. You get paid depending on the schedules of the vendors and distributors and your arrangements with them.

Then comes the issues of accolades and awards. Most prestigious awards are reserved for traditionally published authors, but there are many opening up to self-published and supported published authors now, though these authors find it much harder to break into awards and accolades.

(Continued in part Two)


What do you think?

14 Points


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  1. You provide a broad overview of the alternatives of publishing a book. I almost lay about this. I have only once dealt with the writing of books and publishers once officially when my big boss “wrote” (He gave basic ideas, frame, and some illustrative drawings, while the content was completely written by my wife and me as his direct subordinate at the company) a book. In your opinion, today, how should a new author publish his work?

    • In asking my opinion, I’d have to talk with the specific author discovering their abilities and how much work they’re willing to place into the publication of the book, as well as their financial abilities. These all determine the path they chose. It really isn’t a simple answer and there isn’t one answer for everyone. Anyone who says it has to be only one way for everyone is closed minded and not considering the variables of an author’s life situation.

          • No needs to apology, my friend, I understand very well. I just think about someone’s chances to become a writer, given that enough people are eager for it. In addition, I also think about the various things that concern the changing times; the difficulty of finding a job, the dismissal of employees, the number of authors today, the number of books and the limited readers, the number of queue posts to be published, both in print and e-books. Here are some reasons I am asking you, someone who has a lot of experience in that field.

          • Auh yes, Albert the myths of publishing, I’ve dealt with a few of them and talked with authors and publishers who deal with some of the myths.

            Times really are changing. Attitudes for some are not and they perpetuate the myths.

            Yes, we continue to have high rates of employee dismissal from many industries and businesses, but also high rates of employment in other areas for those who seek reemployment and are willing to risk learning new skills. The difficulty for many is not having the skills in the areas of the new employment of today.

            Limited readers is a perpetuated myth. In fact readers are increasing as literacy among developing countries and developed countries continues to increase and technology brings increased access to books in the form of electronic access. Print is slow to gain access to new markets. But the readers are increasing in many languages including english.

            There are now over 2.2 billion english speaking people in the world with 583 million of them read online, there is no lack of audience for authors. English is number two language as the Chinese speaking are number one with over 2.5 billion population wise and 800 million online. With the Arabic states and languages third with just over one billion.

            Queues for publishing only apply to traditional publishing, there are no queues in self publishing, when you present your work for proof to a POD the longest a person has to wait with a reputable POD is 24 hours for their electronic Proof copy, then you approve the proof and sign off on it and the book is immediately is available for print, you’re in and done. No queue.

            Traditional publishers can be two to three years before the author is published, from the time the contract is signed.

            The time from when I signed Eric to the date we had our first hard paperbacks in hand was eight months. I traditionally published Eric’s book for him.

  2. Hello Ginny, this is a tough question to answer. Does your kids novel have graphics in it? If so the easy answer is find a TRaditional publisher with experience and skill in graphic books. I say this because when you’re self publishing the graphics are a bugger to keep formatted the way you set them with most distributor and vendors. You’ll need three formats at least and you’ll have to test each vendor’s proof until your product sticks the way you want it. A good traditional or supportive publish with the software and experience knows how to handle this and will have the patience to work with it. Of course this only applies if your doing any e-formats or different print versions. You’re not stupid going the self-published route, just know it will be a lot of work. Especially if you go it alone and as soon as you start hiring out aspects, it starts getting expensive in most cases.

  3. So Kenneth… sneak preview on Part II – which do you recommend. I’ve got 17 kids readers published by publishers and am about to venture into self publishing with a little kids novel… am I stupid??


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