As with many things, your budget will play a large role in the decision on whether you decide to self-publish or go the route of traditional publishing. Both the upfront costs of self-publishing, as well as the financial risks, can be significantly higher than with traditional publishing. No matter how wonderful your tome is; selling books is an unpredictable mix of luck and hard work. Self-publishing can pose a significant financial gamble.
In the past, a traditional publisher would provide experienced “known” writers an advance. This practice is not as prevalent as it used to be, and today, as then, rarely would inexperienced “unknown” writers get an advance. And you need to remember, an advance, is just that, an advance. It is money advanced to you with the expectation that your book will make money. The advanced money will come out of any earnings you may have coming to you after the book is published and sold. So you might receive money before your book is published if you take the traditional route, but if you do, it is likely going to be all the money you will ever see. On the other hand, after the book is written, the traditional publisher will absorb all of the other costs including editing, formatting, publishing, legal, and sometimes marketing. This will free your time up to get started on your next book!
However, if you self-publish, all of those expenses fall on your shoulders. You will be the writer, editor, graphic artist, marketer, printer, and PR firm. Self-publishing can be quite costly; and even though it is possible to keep costs down, you must maintain a very high level of professionalism both in content and presentation or you risk losing sales. Even though self-publishing can be very time-consuming and expensive, another benefit is that you will have significantly more control over the end product which is paramount to some writers.
But you don’t have to walk the self-publishing path alone! There are many experienced and highly qualified editors and designers available to help your on your journey to successful self-publishing.
At a minimum, if you decide to self-publish, you should plan to have funding for at least one (preferably two) experienced professional editors and an excellent graphic designer for a compelling book cover. Hiring someone trained to help you through this process is invaluable. In addition, if you are not technically proficient at formatting, you should consider hiring someone to format the book as well.
There can be huge financial benefits to self-publishing. Your profit margin (royalty) will be much higher as you keep all of the book earnings yourself minus expenses. On average, a traditional publisher will pay you a 15 percent royalty for each book sold; whereas you will earn between 60 to 85 percent if you self-publish.
In summary, taking the traditional route requires no real upfront costs other than time, postage and paper; but the potential for earnings is much smaller, not to mention the competition for the limited contracts available to writers from traditional publishers can be insurmountable. The costs and risks incurred in self-publishing are higher, but the potential fiscal return can be tremendous.
Either way you go, there are a lot of pros and cons to think about. But ultimately, at the end of the day, there is no feeling quite like the one you get when you hold your published book in your hands for the first time! Except for maybe that first royalty check!