Publishing: Traditional vs. Hybrid vs. Self

June 14, 2021 7 min read

Printing Press

Guest post by Willie Handler, author of two satirical novels, The Road Ahead and Loved Mars Hated The Food.

You’ve finished your manuscript, done several rounds of editing, and sent it out to beta readers. 


So, you’re probably asking yourself what do you do next? That’s simple. Get your book published. 

Why am I smirking? I was goofing around with you when I said, “that’s simple.” It’s really not simple at all. There are several routes that you can take on the road to being a published author, all with pros and cons.

Let me run through those options to help you decide what will work best for you. There are essentially three publishing options you can choose from:

Traditional Publishers

This option is straightforward. I wish I could say it was easy, but it’s not. Traditional publishers use literary agents to screen manuscripts. You could say literary agents are the gatekeepers to the publishing industry.

You can’t usually approach a traditional publisher directly if you aren’t represented by an agent. So, the first step is finding an agent willing to represent you and get you a publishing contract.

That’s the hard part. An agent will only take on a limited number of clients, and there are thousands and thousands of writers looking to be published. Agents are familiar with what publishing houses are looking for. In a nutshell, agents and publishers looking for books that will be enough of  a commercial success to offset the time and money they will need to put into a book.

I don’t have to tell you what that means. Just look at the books released by the major publishers and you will quickly figure out what they’re looking for.

They also deem a debut author to be more of a risk since they have no track record of success.

If the traditional publishing route is what you are truly want, then you need to begin the querying process. It involves searching for literary agencies and finding agents that are interested in books similar to yours.

Some agents are so busy that they will not accept any submissions. They might be open to queries for only a few months each year. Each agency has different submission guidelines. You need to review them carefully. If you don’t follow their guidelines, they might use it as a reason for rejecting your submission.

All agents will require a query. You might be asked to for a synopsis and a  writing sample, which might be anywhere between five pages and fifty pages.

Here is a previous post on what to put in a query letter and synopsis

Then you wait. 

Each agency will let you know how long it will take to get back to you. It might be as long as twelve weeks. Some agents will respond very quickly. Many agencies have a policy where they will not get back to you unless they are interested in your manuscript.

I am currently querying a manuscript. I’ve sent out 145 queries and received about 35 responses – all rejections.

So, for the majority of queries I will just have to assume at some point that they are not interested. It can be a demoralizing process. 

Should you receive a positive response, you will be asked to provide more of the manuscript or even the full manuscript, so be sure you’ve finished it before querying.

If the agent wants to represent you, they will pitch your book to editors at the various publishers based on what the companies are looking for. The agent might first ask for another round of edits to polish your manuscript further. Once they are ready to pitch your book, you wait some more.

Get the picture? This is a long and drawn-out process. Even when your book is accepted for publishing, there is more waiting. Publishing is like an assembly line. Your book has to wait in line as they prepare the manuscripts that they’ve previously accepted for publication. So, from the time you begin to query until the release date, two or three years can pass.

What are the advantages to traditional publishing?

  • The prestige of being part of a well-recognized publisher.
  • The support of a design, editing, and marketing team.
  • Production costs are covered by the publisher.
  • They have strong relationship with book sellers.

What are also disadvantages that you should know about?

  • As mentioned, it’s a long, drawn-out process and is often not successful.
  • To gain access to a publisher’s connections and services, you give up a lot of creative control.
  • These will be a lot of pressure on you because of the money that a publisher invests into your book.
  • Royalties are between 5% and 15%.
  • Books tend to be priced higher because the publisher takes a big cut of sales.

Independent or Hybrid Publishers

Let’s be honest, some very good books are passed over by agents. They are not just evaluating whether your book will be a commercial success but whether the author will be a success.

Do you have an established platform? Do you do public speaking, which can be used to promote your book? What can the author bring to the table to ensure commercial success? That’s the reality of publishing.

Fortunately, a new breed of publishers has developed over time. They are referred to as independent publishers or, in some cases, hybrid publishers. They are small presses that will accept books that traditional publishers are not interested in.

The "indies" are often small teams of editors and publishing staff. They will not provide the level of services that the big guys provide but they will provide editing, cover design, book formatting, and copyright registration.

They can get your book onto websites like Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble, but they can’t get your book into bookstores. They do not have advertising budgets, so much of the marketing will be on your shoulders. You need to be able to sell in the online world.

Do not confuse the vanity press with independent publishing.

A vanity press will ask you to cover the cost of publishing your book. I’ve heard stories where writers have paid money upfront, never to see a finished product or their money again. If anyone asks you to pay for anything related to your book, run away as fast as you can!

Querying an independent publisher is simple. They will often ask for a query letter and a partial or full manuscript. When they get back to you, it will either be a yes or a no. This eliminates the middleman (the agent) and you get your book published quicker.

When I published with an independent, it was a little over a year from the time I sent my query until the release of my novel. I selected my book cover, and other than cleaning up the manuscript, they asked for no content changes.  

What are the advantages of an independent publisher?

  • You have much more control over content and design.
  • The publisher provides design and editing support.
  • Production costs are covered by the publisher.
  • Your book will be released sooner than with a traditional publisher.

What are disadvantages that you should know about?

  • Your publisher has no access to bookstores, so your sales will be through online sales, book signing, and other book events.
  • You need to have some marketing savvy and cover most of the marketing costs.
  • Royalties are better than through traditional publishers but only between 15% and 25%.
  • You will need to price books high enough to allow the publisher to recoup their costs and make a profit.
  • It’s more difficult to reach readers solely online.


Self-publishing is the process of undertaking all responsibilities related to publishing a book. If you decide to self-publish, you’ll be in charge of edits, cover design, formatting, and releasing and marketing your book.

The internet and online sales have been a godsend for authors. You don’t have to wait years hoping to be published. Instead, you can bypass the publishing industry and do it yourself. This isn’t the route for losers. There are successful authors who choose this option because they are able to exploit all the advantages of self-publishing.

Of course, being in charge doesn’t mean you have to do all of this yourself. You can hire an editor, a cover designer, etc. to help you out. However, you will have to arrange and pay for these services out of your own pocket.

This can cost up to $2,000 depending on how much you contract out to others.

I want a polished and professional looking book, so I pay for editing, cover design and book layout. There are a lot of excellent and inexpensive freelancers out there. Many are also self-published authors who have developed these skills. You may be good at these things and don’t need to pay others to do it for you.

You are also able to maintain ownership of your book’s rights and royalties when you self-publish, which is exactly why so many people take this route. I’m not going to cover the entire process in this post, but I will be covering how to get out a book on your own in a future post.

The beauty of self-publishing is that once your book is completed, you can get it published in no time at all.

You decide on the price and you only share with the online sellers you select. You can get a supply of paperback or hardcover books printed to sell to friends or at book events and keep all the profits.

What are the advantages of self-publishing?

  • It’s guaranteed that your book gets published.
  • You control everything including cover design, price, and release date.
  • Your royalties on ebooks can be as high as 70% and 50% for printed books.

What are some disadvantages that you should know about?

  • You will still have no access to bookstores, so your sales will be through online sales, book signing, and other book events.
  • Unless you plan on doing your own editing, cover design, and book formatting, you will need to pay someone to do these things.
  • You need to develop marketing savvy and cover all marketing costs.
  • It’s more difficult to reach readers solely online.

The Bottom Line

The good news is that you have options. Each option is quite different and needs to match up with the books you write, your entrepreneurial skills, and your expectations.

There are many successful authors that fall into each of these categories. Some people start off self-publishing and move to traditional publishing while others have moved the other direction. Whatever you choose, good luck!

Thinking of publishing? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with one of our experts, or our favourite editor to get your book in top shape.

Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

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