Self-publishing versus traditional publishing. It’s kind of the ultimate question for not just new writers, but seasoned and even full-time professional writers, too. There have already been tons and tons of material written on the subject both for comics and novels, but I’ve really never spoken extensively on the subject; and after having experienced both, I do have some thoughts on the matter.
The truth is that there are pros and cons to both traditional and self-publishing at all levels of one’s career. Which is better than the other? That depends on a whole host of factors. While I can’t speak to everyone’s individual case, I can speak for myself. And the first big factor is money. When publishing traditionally, you are not the primary salesperson of your product. The publisher is. Therefore, any money earned from selling the book doesn’t go directly to you. It goes to your publisher. You will only receive a portion of that money. Likewise, with self-publishing, you will receive 100% of the money earned through sales. Well, that’s not entirely true, either. It all depends on where those sales are happening. If you sell a book through Amazon, Amazon will take their cut before you get yours. If the sales are made through your own personal website, however, that all goes to you.
So then I’m sure you’re wondering why anybody would traditionally publish? The answer is that traditional publishers might be able to provide you with reach and resources that you might not be able to obtain yourself. Selling to comic shops is difficult. Many self-publishers manage it on their own, but it requires a huge apparatus in order to do it with any real scale or scope on a consistent basis. A publisher may be able to provide that for you, along with marketing, production assistance, and representation in other markets such as foreign distribution or film rights. That’s not to say that every publisher can do that for you or that the publishers who do are fair in the contracts, but if you’re one person who doesn’t have the resources to reach the next level, a publisher may be able to help you with that.
Before I sign off on the topic (for now), I’m going to relay a story that articulates this dichotomy well. At the start of his career, Ed Sheeran was doing very well as an independent artist. He had gained quite a following through social media and was making a fair amount of money selling his music online. He was eventually offered a record deal with a major label, but he would have been making less money with the deal than he was making on his own. Ultimately, Sheeran signed the deal knowing he was sacrificing short-term money in exchange for a long-term opportunity. He hoped to use the labels resources and reach to propel himself to a much larger career. Others have probably thought the same and it didn’t pan out for them. Obviously, Sheeran played his cards right and became a mega superstar. He’s a musician and not a comic creator, but I think his story highlights the key differences between traditional and self-publishing and how one can leverage each to their benefit.