Writing a book for a publisher Vs self publishing a book – ten differences

If you are a long time reader, you know I published three books with Packt Publishing. You should definitively check them out and buy them all, let’s say at least 10 copies each.

Now I just finished to write my first indie book, to ready to be self published. Actually, it’s not a book as it’s made by less than 70 pages, let’s say it’s a very long chapter.

Although this is just the beginning of my indie writer career, I want to share my thoughts about writing a book for a publisher Vs self publishing a book, I hope you will find it useful if you are planning to write your own book.

What I am going to write is about programming book niche, but I am sure the market is not that different in other topics.

1 – Book topic

When I wrote my books for Packt, the editor asked me to write a book about a specific topic. This means they made some market researchs and decided such topic would have been popular during the next months.

When you write books on your own, you choose the topic. This means you have to be sure the topic is popular – but not already full of popular books – or nobody will want to but your book. Probably you have a lot to say about Turbo Pascal and the impact it had in early 1980s in every programmer’s life, and you really want to merge all your Pascal manuscripts into a 743 pages book, but please, don’t.

2 – Advance payment

If you write a book for a publisher, they will usually give you an advance payment, this means they pre-pay you the commission of the first sales. The amount of such commission depends according to author fame. Should you book sell zero copies, the advanced payment remains in your hands.

When you write a book on your own, there’s no advance payment unless you start a crowdfunding campaign. No cash at all. Now, if you are writing a book just to keep your advance payment, just don’t. It means you don’t believe in your book. You should write a book which surpass the pre-paid royalties on the first week.

3 – Deadline

Publishers give you a strict deadline for each chapter. You will have to notify with some days in advance if you think you will miss the deadline.

If you write a book on your own, you don’t have a deadline. This means you can work more relaxed, but try not to turn your book into vaporware. You should follow a deadline in any case. If you aren’t able to write a chapter in less than two weeks, just quit.

4 – Page Count

Publishers will give you a page count for each chapter. This isn’t that strict, but I found myself wiping out some hard written pages because they exceeded the max page count.

If you write a book on your own, you are free to write as many pages as you want. Just don’t think more pages = more value. I know people which can’t even handle a cheatsheet. Explain what you want, go in depth as much as you want, but come to an end.

5 – Book Layout

Publishers will give you a template where to start writing. Any style and font use do make a sense. They refined their template through thousands books, so if they don’t use CAPITAL LETTERS TO EMPHASIZE IMPORTANT CONCEPTS, TRUST THEM!!!

If you write a book on your own, you choose your own template and styles. Often with – let’s say – not that good results. Google for book templates, have a look at the book you own, inspire yourself with successful examples. Normally, you will want to use Serif fonts for normal text and Monospace for the code.

6 – Revisions

Publishers will find someone skilled in the same topic you are writing to review the book and help you delivering the best manuscript.

If you write a book on your own, probably you are the one and only reviewer. My suggestion in this case is to write a chapter with your favorite text editor, then print it and review it on the paper, in a different room. You can even read your manuscript in the bathroom – and in some cases you’d better use it THAT way – but do not review your drafts in the same environment you wrote them. You will end missing most errors.

7 – Marketing

Publishers generally give your book to people which run blogs with the same topic as your book, and ask for reviews in change with some free copies. Sometimes they organize giveaways to spread the word about your book. If you are lucky, you can get featured on publisher homepage and have some mentions in their newsletters

If you write a book on your own, there’s nothing a publisher does which you can’t do. Google for blogs with the same topic as your book – but I am sure you already know them, don’t you? – and ask for a review in exchange with a copy. Host contest and giveaways. Remember publishers don’t promote your book, they promote THEIR BOOKS. They will never place your book as a signature in a forum, or in a banner on a blog. This is where you can do a better work than publisher. They have thousands books to market, you only have one.

8 – Commission

Publishers won’t give you more than a 20-25% of the sales. Fullstop. If you know a publishers which pays more, just drop me an email and I will be glad to write for him for the rest of my life.

If you write a book on your own, you get 100% of the sales, except when you place the book in some marketplaces like Leanpub which ask for a minimal commission. Writing a book on your own is a win-win as long as you get your book distributed in as much markets as possibile. Publishers can do it in almost a click. You, well, will find it a little harder.

9 – Feedback and updates

Publishers don’t encourage direct contact between the author and the readers. Every request is filtered by them and only the most important ones will get to your attention. Also, often your book will remain “as is” with no updates

If you write a book on your own, you can update it anytime you want and get in direct touch with your readers. This is priceless because if you find the time to give prompt replies and listen to feedbacks, you can build your base of royal readers.

10 – Popularity return

If you write a book for a publisher, your name will be on the publisher site. You can say “I wrote a book for XXX”. You can refer to XXX as “my publisher”. That’s an huge popularity return. You are a professional writer.

If you write a book on your own, to tell the truth, in most cases you just exported a Libre Office document in PDF format and distributed here and there. Not that much popularity return, unless your book becomes a best seller.

Final thoughts

In my opinion having at least a book written for a publisher will help you a lot in the process of writing your own book, but I’ve also heard about people which have been contracted by publishers after they released some PDF documents. It’s up to you, what I would really recommend is: write. There’s nothing better than writing. Well, selling what you wrote is actually better.

And prepare your piggy bank for the sacrifice because next monday my first indie book will see the light. Prove me I made the right choice. Please do.

  • George

    Nice read! And what good timing, I was just thinking of writing a book.

  • Interesting and concrete as always.
    Thanks for putting this all together in one article.

  • to

    If you self publish you have now two jobs (instead of one) congrats! It means you have to do the publisher jobs without the publisher workforce. It means for 6. that you have to find someone to make revisions, someone to proofread, someone to translate, someone that is not you and can have a different view on your book spotting the errors, typos.

    And you don’t have reach i.e. you don’t have access to library, bookshops, review in magazines, book fairs etc. The point is, is it worth it? I mean, writing a good book is already time consuming and handling a publisher job is not a light thing to consider. All you other points are on the spot though, and you are right, writing is probably one of the best things in the world ; and it’s free!

  • Renaud

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    • Emanuele Feronato

      I wrote you an email