View Full Version : Compare: Traditional Agent vs. Publishing House vs. Self-Publishing

05-16-2009, 04:24 AM
Most of our learned members, who are published, would know all about the traditional agent. But what about publishing houses that accept queries, and the self-publishing route? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? How do they compare to each other? What about the dangers, and the work involved with each one? I think those who are trying to get published for the first time would be interested in this, and in the experiences from the published membership.

05-16-2009, 04:35 AM
Publishing houses = long slush pile wait. They also provide advances, professional editors, professional cover artists, mass distribution to bookstores, and professional promotion.

Self-publishing = no slush pile wait. They provide editing and cover artists for a cost, but you pay them to put your book together. Plus you have to act as your own sales person and sell your own book.

POD = no slush pile wait. Like self-publishing, though, you pay to have everything done, rather than being paid to let someone else do it for you.

M.R.J. Le Blanc
05-16-2009, 05:38 AM
Plus, with self-publishing and POD if your book doesn't do well by commerical standards (if that's what you're expecting - some folks are perfectly content to see the smaller success of self-pub and all the power to them :) ), and it most certainly won't, it's pretty much impossible to take it to a commercial house. Your first publishing rights have gone, and it's very hard to interest a publisher into second rights. There have been self-pubbed books that have gone on to see success with commercial houses, but that is the exception rather than the rule. So if it's commercial success you're looking at, you can ruin your book's chances by going route two or three.

05-17-2009, 06:51 AM
... There have been self-pubbed books that have gone on to see success with commercial houses, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Do you know of any that have been successful?

05-17-2009, 06:06 PM
The Celestine Prophecy is one out of several thousand.

05-17-2009, 06:49 PM
Here's an article with a bunch of them.


The Celestine Prophecy
The Christmas Box
If I Knew Then (by Amy Fischer, the "Long Island Lolita")
Life Lessons for My Sisters
Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding
Be Brief. Be Bright. Be Gone: Career Essentials for Pharmaceutical Representatives
Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club
The Real Slam Dunk
The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day With Passion and Purpose


Children's books, clever advice books, specialty non-fiction, and one celebrity tell all that surely could have been placed with a commercial house. Also, most of these were not actually best sellers until they had been picked up by a commercial house. The non-fiction books apparently sold about 10,000 copies, so you have to take best seller in context.

And keep in mind that these are out of hundreds of thousands of failures. The success rates for commercial publishers is much, much higher.

05-17-2009, 07:53 PM
The rate of self-pub going big is probably about the same (or smaller) than the rate of manuscript leaping out of the slush. If mainstream publishing is the metric of success, self-publishing seems a rather indirect way of going about it.,

05-17-2009, 08:33 PM
I only have experience with a small publisher. I queried them myself and they bought the manuscript. The novel was published in 2005 and continues to sell. It was also nominated for a readers choice award and is on high school reading programs in Ontario. I was happy with my experience with a small publisher and although the novel earned only a few thousand dollars I'm content with the outcome as many writers are unable to sell their first completed novel. I feel quite fortunate.

M.R.J. Le Blanc
05-17-2009, 08:36 PM
There's nothing wrong with a small publisher - it's really mostly about being realistic about what to expect. And if you're happy with that all the power to you :) I don't know about many writers being unable to sell their first novels though, but I know I wouldn't sell mine. It's horrible :)

05-18-2009, 01:51 AM
I don't know about many writers being unable to sell their first novels though,
I was going by what many writers say and quite a lot say they've either trunked the first novel or been unable to sell it. Of course it took me years to write my first novel so maybe that had something to do with being able to sell the darned thing when it was finally finished. That and my husband says I'm like a dog with a bone - I just won't give up.

05-18-2009, 04:43 AM
And your first novel was of a publishable quality (i.e. hundred or thousands of people were happy to buy it), this is often just not the case. I published my first novel with a samll press, and retrospect I probably shouldn't have. When I read it now I wince ;)

05-18-2009, 06:34 AM
a big publisher and a small publisher are like a .50 cal and a .35 cal. Both will get the job done.

05-18-2009, 07:45 AM
well then the question becomes:
Are there any big publishing houses which will accept submissions (rather than going through an agent)?

Feel free to list here :P

M.R.J. Le Blanc
05-18-2009, 08:34 AM
Actually I think many of the big houses accept unagented mss. They just give higher priority to agented ones.

05-18-2009, 10:17 AM
Self Publishing:

Pro: You have control of your work.

Cons: Total control of your work is a terrible idea if you don't know what the hell you're doing. Most neos don't.

The vast majority of self-published books go unnoticed and unsold--especially books by unknown writers with no professional sales.

The writer is out of pocket for all costs, including covers, editing, formating, interior design, etc. This includes writers who go to Publish America, which does not edit and overprices the books, making sales to the public nearly impossible.

Most of the time there is no distribution, which is essential to getting one's book in a store. Most stores will not stock vanity or POD books. Most libraries don't care to crowd their shelves with vanity and POD titles.

Unless you go with a place like Lulu, it can get bloody expensive.

Selling your book to a publisher:


Professional editing, covers, etc. free copies, reviews in Publisher's Weekly, DISTRIBUTION, foreign sales, you're welcomed into pro writing organizations like MWA, RWA, Writer's Guild, and get to sit at the tables with the cool people at events.

Cons: YOU GET PAID. Once you start selling words to a publishing house for real money, it's damned-near impossible to break the habit.

05-18-2009, 09:15 PM
The Shack: self-published initially and then picked up by a publishing house.

My only issues with self-publishing are as a consumer. As screwed up as the traditional publishing world is, at least I know that on some level, there is a gatekeeper. If I pick up a book published by Harper Collins, that fact gives me some assurance that there are minimal typos in the book, that it is well-organized, that the writer has some level of talent and that a group of people familiar with books and marketing has determined that book will appeal to a large number of readers.

Anyone can self-publish and make a book available through Amazon. The reviews are worthless because the author can enlist all kinds of family, friends and buddies who owe him/her a favor to write reviews.

So, yes, some authors have been very successful self-publishing, but I doubt that I would buy a self-published book. I don't have the time or the money to waste on the uncertainy.