Good Question: Traditional publishing or self-publishing?

“Alex: I want to write a cookbook. I am trying to figure out if I should approach traditional publishers or do self-publishing. Thoughts?” –Lucy

This is a great question.

I’ve self-published many books through the years, and I’ve had two books published by traditional publishers. I’ve also contributed interviews and essays to about a dozen other books, most of which came out through traditional publishers as well.

With traditional publishing, you get the delicious ego-thrill of being able to say, “I am working on a book for [insert fancy publisher here].” People look at you with awe and you feel like a demi-god for a moment or two. A publisher said “YES” to your book! It feels great! And it is great.

But that feeling often comes along with a price: you no longer own your creative concept because you’ve essentially sold it to a company, you feel stressed because your publisher is counting on you to sell as many books as possible, and if you ever want to change, stop selling, or re-imagine your book in some way (say, creating a sequel or a line of spin-off products, programs, or videos) in the future, well, depending on the contact you signed, that might not be a decision that you’re allowed to make.

Meanwhile, with self-publishing, nobody else owns your ideas and you have complete freedom to publish whatever you want, on your own timeline, in your style, maintaining total creative and financial control.

I’ve been blessed to work with two lovely publishing houses in the past, and I had very positive experiences with both, but personally, when I weigh all the pros and cons side by side, I feel that self-publishing is a much more efficient, liberating (and ultimately, more profitable) option for many, many authors.

With self-publishing…

– There are no barriers. No waiting for people to grant permission. If you’ve completed your book, and you feel that it’s ready to be shared, then you can share it. Nothing stopping you.

– You don’t have to convince a literary agent or a publisher that your book is going to be a huge financial success.

– You don’t have to worry about making your book a huge financial success, period. (After all, “making tons of money” may not even be your objective for this particular book project! You might have other motivations. More on that later.)

– You can create your book in any format you want: hardcover, paperback, digital, or all of the above.

– You sell it yourself.

– You keep all of your profits.

– You can also tweak/update your book, or release a new edition, whenever you want.

– You have complete control over every single aspect: the cover design, the font, the price, the release date. You’re in charge.

With traditional publishing, that is not the case. There are many, many hurdles that you’ll need to leap through in order to take your book from “concept” to “finished product.” For many aspiring authors, the hassle and stress is just not worth it.

Here’s another thing to remember: if your self-published book is a smash hit success, then you might wind up getting a traditional publishing deal later down the line. The Joy of Cooking, The Tales of Peter Rabbit, The Celestine Prophecy and Fifty Shades of Grey all began as self-published projects.

Interesting, huh?

If you want to create a self-published book, some great tools are:


Or, you can do what I’ve done in the past:

Just make a PDF on your computer (Word doc > File > Export > PDF, no fancy software required) and then upload your PDF to Gumroad so that you can sell it online. That’s how I sell all of my self-published e-books at the moment.

The traditional publishing vs. self-publishing question is an interesting one, and it’s one that many authors continue to debate.

I think, though, that a much more interesting question is…

WHY do you want to bring your book into the world?

Do you want to create a beautiful cookbook filled with recipes and stories as a precious gift for your daughter, so that one day, she can pass it down to her children? You don’t need a traditional publishing deal to do that.

Do you want to create a book filled with love poems for your husband or wife or child? You don’t need a traditional publishing deal to do that, either.

Do you want to write a book, print 1,000 copies, and give that book away for free to 1,000 strangers as a heartfelt gift? You definitely don’t need a traditional publishing deal to do that.

What are your motivations for creating this book? What is the destiny that you imagine unfolding for your book? How will it be enjoyed? And by whom?

Think it over.

There are so many reasons to create a book — and so many ways to deliver it to the world.

Once you feel clear about your “reasons,” then the exact pathway — traditional publishing or self-publishing — might not feel so important anymore.

Then, instead of wondering,

“Who will give me a book deal? How can I convince them to say YES?”

You’ll be saying to yourself,

“No matter what — I am committed to bringing this book into the world. I say YES to my project. I say YES because I feel called to do this and nothing will stop me. My YES is the only YES that matters.”