Publishing a book: Is the traditional route the best chance of success?

So, you’ve finally finished the last draft, you’ve tweaked every chapter to death, and now comes the task of publishing your precious book. But wait! How do you even go about doing that? Will you be an overnight success? What if they steal your ideas? If these thoughts have plagued you whilst you Google and email various people about your book, then read on because, in this article, we’re going to discuss the pros and cons that come with traditional versus self-publishing and how to go about it.

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Traditional publishing 

For many, the idea of sending their work to a publishing house can conjure up feelings of both hope and overwhelming confusion as many do not know how to approach this tricky process at all. For instance, how do you write a book proposal or what if you don’t hear back? Traditional publishing works by a publisher offering you, the writer, a contract and, in return, prints and promotes your work, and pays you royalties when it sells. 

Royalties and an advance are not the same thing, and, for most unknown writers, they can expect an offer of around €5000 to €20,000, if at all. If there is no advance paid to a writer, then the royalties offered can be higher, but, typically, the standard ranges between 10% and 30% for every book sold, with variables for paperback, hardcover, and ebooks. Not to put a damper on the idea but, if you were imagining an advance in the range of a six-figure deal, remember those offers are usually reserved for established writers, celebrities, and high profile athletes. 

The pros associated with traditional methods are that it costs the author very little money to send in a book proposal, and, if it is accepted, the writer does not have to take responsibility for the distribution and promotion of the work. It is handled by the publishing house and, therefore, writers have the greatest chance of getting their work onto the shelves of bookstores all over their country and perhaps even internationally. 

However, there is also the downside of the traditional approach. For one, many authors are worried about losing control and ownership over their book. With regard to the rights to the book, there are several options that can present themselves: the author could sign over all the rights to the publisher and, in return, they collect royalties and possibly an advance or the author could agree to publish under a licence. There are a few variations regarding the different types of licence, which allows the author to retain the rights over their book and still collect a certain amount of royalties. 


There is also the thorny issue of rejection, as many first-time authors find that the literary world is in a constant state of flux. What is popular and in demand versus what is not can seriously affect your chances of getting published. For example, if you are writing a fiction book about a zombie apocalypse or a controversial political piece, but publishers are seeing a demand for cookbooks and self-help guides, your idea more than likely would be tossed on the scrapheap. 

As it stands, the top three genres that sell the most books are romance, crime and thriller, and religious and self-help. With that in mind, if you are still determined to go the traditional route, then here are the most basic steps that you will need to take:

  1. Decide which category your writing fits into
  2. Contact an agent
  3. Establish whether your work is fiction or nonfiction
  4. Submit a book proposal 
  5. Include three or four sample chapters with a synopsis of each
  6. Once you have been contacted by a publisher, negotiate a deal 
  7. If you agree, proceed, and, congratulations, you’re an author

On the topic of agents, just a quick side note. Many writers skip the step of finding an agent and submit their work themselves. Whilst this can work and save you money, if you are unsure of the process or if your book is a little more niche, you may be better off hiring an agent who knows which houses to contact and which ones are the best fit for your work.  


In recent years, self-publishing, although getting a bad rap, has become a more popular option for writers and, with less than 1% of authors being accepted by traditional houses, it’s easy to see why. After all, J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter was allegedly rejected 12 times before it was finally picked up, which goes to show how difficult it can be for first-time authors. With this in mind, there are a few risks involved in self-publishing, which should be considered carefully.

For one, with self-publishing, you have to take charge of your own editing, cover art, marketing, and promotion. All of which can cost you money before you’ve even sold a single book. If you choose to do everything yourself, you run the risk of publishing a poorly formatted piece of work that people may overlook if the cover is not attention-grabbing or if there are numerous plot holes and typos, both of which can be extremely damaging. 

It can also mean that, for many writers, their work is lost beneath a mountain of other self-published works on Amazon’s book shop. Therefore never ever underestimate the benefits that come with hiring a good editor! 


Now for the advantages that can be gleaned from this nontraditional approach. Recently, Amazon stepped up their game and offered a new feature that allows writers to self-publish their work in the form of ebooks. There are a number of different methods to this, with Amazon Kindle direct publishing having an entire webpage dedicated to taking you through the entire self-publishing process. With Amazon, writers are able to retain the rights to their book, set the price, and, in some cases, earn up to 70% in royalties, a far higher percentage than would ever be possible had they gone the traditional route. 

However, if you are looking for a more informal publishing process, there is also Wattpad. This site is free and easy to use and, with writers from all over the globe, it is an easy way for people to flex their creative muscles whilst also retaining the rights to whatever they upload. Authors can simply upload their stories and readers are free to give feedback through the comments section at the bottom. Although the vast majority of Wattpad stories are free, it can be a good training ground for first-timers.

If a book is particularly popular, as was the case with Beth Reekles, who was just 15 when she wrote The Kissing Booth, Wattpad then puts authors in touch with larger publishers and, as we all know, this book was later turned into a popular Netflix film. In fact, in Wattpad alone, there are numerous examples of people who have managed to carve out a career for themselves or turn their side hobby into a full-time occupation. The site even features an awards section, editors’ top picks, and a paid selection of books. Ideal for those who are nervous about taking their first steps as a writer.

So, there you have it, the pros and cons of sharing your work with the world and the best way to go about it. Feel free to like and share, and let me know which option you think is better in the comments below. 

Grace Duffy
Grace Duffy

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