To self-publish or work with a publisher?

Publishing a book has long been the exclusive right of traditional publishers. Nowadays, as an author, you have more choices and that’s a good thing. But how do you decide whether to approach a publisher or work with one of the many self-publishing platforms? With this handy choice matrix, you can make an informed decision.

Book promotion and visibility

A publisher

Of course, you would prefer your novel or management book to be published by one of the major publishing houses. Or by a niche publisher that focuses specifically on your target group, for example medical or scientific publications.

Publishers have the experience, can deploy a multifunctional team, arrange and pay for everything and also do promotions. In short: the greatest chance of a bestseller. However, you ‘pay’ for this with the fact that you never receive more than about 8% royalties.

The choice to be published through a traditional publisher often lies not with you as an author, but with the publisher. And they are extremely economical, knowing that they lose money on more than 80 percent of the books published. Reason enough for these publishers to reject 99.99 percent of the offered manuscripts.

Despite the small chance of success, I can still advise you to approach a number of publishers. Find out which publishers have published similar books and only approach those that seem like a good match. You immerse yourself in the market, the players, the offer, and the competition in your niche, you will make new contacts, and will probably receive valuable feedback.

If you do receive an offer from a publisher, you can make an informed decision whether to accept it or not. If you don’t hear from the publishers you approach, or if you’re rejected, that doesn’t mean your book can’t be published. I recommend that you always walk the two paths in parallel (searching for a publisher and preparing for self-publishing at the same time), so that you don’t sit around waiting and become dependent, but keep the helm yourself.

Self-publishing platforms

Self-publishing a book is a great way to get your message out to the world. There are no gatekeepers – the publishers – who judge whether your book is ‘good enough’. There are many fine examples of books that were rejected by traditional publishing houses and eventually became bestsellers when self-published.

With self-publishing you publish your book yourself, you are at the helm, execute everything yourself and can make all choices. You also pay for everything, by the way. This is offset by a higher margin: 15-70%.

There are various players in the field of self-publishing. The main platforms that guide you through the entire publishing process are:

These margins differ per book type (for example, paperback and e-book) and per sales channel. I would advise to choose all sales channels. Good self-publishing platforms are transparent about the margins and offer a price calculator. This was you can see for yourself at what price you can buy your own book, whether there is a volume discount, and what margins you can earn as an author.

There is also an intermediate form, where you pay a fee to a publisher/service provider. They then provide various services (ISBN, fulfillment, possibly editing and layout) and ensures that you receive a certain number of books.

Choice matrix

How do you ultimately decide where and how to publish your book? Based on your goal and what you are willing to do yourself, you can use the following matrix to decide.

To self-publish or work with a publisher?

A quick overview of the choices

Are you looking for maximum sales? Then try to get published via one of the major publishing houses. They have the experience and expertise to deliver a polished book and the network to promote it.

Do you want the highest margin? Self-publishing always offers the highest margin. With a traditional publisher, you get between 7.5 and 10 percent of the book’s selling price. If you sell a lot, it may be a higher percentage. Self-publishing is between 15 and 70 percent.

Do you just want someone else to take care of it all for you? Is business not your thing? Then don’t self-publish. Aim for a traditional publisher or a niche publisher. They’ll take care of all the executive business. Accept that your manuscript will be rewritten and that the publishing process can take longer than a year.

Do you like being at the helm? Then self-publish. You will need to involve your network or have a modest team around you that provides positive critical feedback. A good manuscript needs it. You also want them to assist you with the correction and layout and brainstorm on cover design, or even take it off your hands. On the other hand, you really have total freedom regarding tempo, content, price, and everything else.

Clueless as to who should buy your book or how to sell it? Then don’t self- publish! Unless you’ve actually written a spectacular book. For self-publishing, you have to think about who your target market is, where to find them, and how to reach them.

Have the publishers rejected you? Don’t worry. This does not make you a loser. As mentioned earlier, publishers only publish 0.01 percent of the manuscripts offered. So your odds aren’t particularly good to start with. Go with self- publishing, learn what’s needed, and make it a success. Take strength and drive from the injustice of rejection.

Does your manuscript require frequent updates? Maybe due to developments in the world or in your field? This mostly applies to specialist non-fiction books. In this case, self-publishing is the only solution. Only there will you find the flexibility you need to keep your material up to date.


Consider carefully what you want, what you need and make good agreements with any publisher/service provider you intend to work with.

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