Should You Self-Publish or Go Traditional? [Infographic]

Should You Self-Publish or Go Traditional? [Infographic]

You might be ready to publish your book, but how do you decide whether to self-publish or pursue traditional publishing?

It’s not necessarily an easy choice for authors to make.

To help you decide which path is right for you and your book, I created a “choose-your-own-adventure” questionnaire that breaks down the crucial elements of each option. The Write Life turned it into this infographic:

Self-Publish or Traditional?


Want to embed the flow chart on your own site? Copy and paste the code below:


Looking for a more detailed explanation of each point? Here’s the full questionnaire.

1. Do you hope to become a millionaire from your writing?

If so, consider that for every J. K. Rowling, there are a million Henry Herzs. Who’s Henry Herz? Exactly. Go to 10.

If not, very good. You have realistic expectations. Go to 2.

2. Are you willing to work hard? Very hard?

If not, you’ll need to change your attitude. Honing one’s writing craft and becoming traditionally published take a Sisyphusean work ethic. Go to 10.

If so, very good. You have realistic expectations. Go to 3.

3. Why do you want to be published?

If you’re seeking the sense of accomplishment and bragging rights that accompany traditional publishing, good for you. Go to 4.

If you’re seeking personal growth, career development, speaking opportunities or want to see your writing in a physical book, good for you. Go to 8.

4. Have you built a community of people who want to buy your book?

Before you publish your book, make sure there’s a market for it and start building your author platform. Is selling 10,000 or more copies a realistic prospect? If so, fantastic. Go to 5.

If not, you should recognize that publishing is a business. Publishers won’t accept a project if they can’t reasonably expect to make a profit. Go to 10.

5. Is your skin too thin to withstand a hail of criticism and a deluge of rejections?

Does your critique group consist of your mom and your spouse because you only want to hear that your manuscript is fabulous? If so, go to 10.

If not, you appreciate that it is precisely the tough love offered by critique groups, beta readers, agents and editors that strengthens a manuscript and sharpens yourwriting. Go to 6.

6. Are you in a hurry to see your book traditionally published?

By “hurry”, I mean less than 18 to 24 months — a common timeline for publication. If so, you may not be aware of all the steps performed by traditional publishers in preparing, printing, and promoting a book. Go to 10.

If not, you have enough patience to be traditionally published. Go to 7.

7. Are you willing to follow publishing industry standards and the guidance of a professional editor?

If not, you must recognize editors have standards because they know from experience what works and what doesn’t. Your 3″ by 3″ 200-page dystopian picture book concept may be unique, but it probably won’t sell. Go to 10.

If so, you trust editors’ professionalism. Congratulations — you’re ready to pursue traditional publication! Go to 11.

8. Do you have the time and skills to publish, promote your book, fulfill orders and run a business?

Or do you have the money to pay others to do so? If not, perhaps you didn’t realize that the indie publishing path means you must have both writing and publishing skills. In addition to your role as an author, you must be an illustrator, an editor, an art director, a salesperson and a businessperson. Go to 10.

If so, impressive! Go to 9.

9. Are you well-organized?

Do you use calendars, spreadsheets, to-do lists and other tools to plan and keep track of your tasks, expenditures, sales and revenue?

If not, please recognize that running a business by using a shoebox to file your receipts is a recipe for disaster. Go to 10.

If so, you understand the benefits of being organized. Congratulations — you’re ready to indie publish! Go to 11.

10. You’re not ready — yet

If you’ve landed here, it means you’ve realized that you’re not yet ready for publication.

Don’t despair — while you may not be ready now, you may simply need to make a small tweak. Maybe that means saving up money to pay an illustrator, learning new skills or adopting more realistic expectations.

11. Indie versus traditional publishing

Let’s wrap up with a quick comparison of the benefits of each path.

The benefits of indie publishing include:

  • Publication is guaranteed: You know you’ll be published, since you’re the one making it happen.
  • Move at your own pace: Publish as quickly or as slowly as you’d like.
  • Full transparency and control: You make all decisions about creating, publishing and promoting your book, so you know what’s going on with every aspect of your project.
  • Set your own standards: You decide what your book will look like.

The benefits of traditional publishing include:

  • The publisher pays expenses: Someone else picks up all the costs.
  • Your team brings expertise: Your editor and agent know their jobs well and make your book as strong as possible.
  • You’re only responsible for writing: The publisher doesn’t expect you to be a copy editor, art director or marketing guru.
  • Wider potential audience: The resources and connections of a traditional publisher often lead to wider exposure.

The lesson? Your publishing decision should not be taken lightly.

While self-publishing gives you all the control and all the profits, it also means you’re responsible for all the expenses and all the work.

If you’ve published a book, how did you decide between self-publishing and traditional publishing? If you haven’t published yet, what are you considering?


  • I write for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association newsletter. I’d love to include your infographic in one of our upcoming issues, but wanted to check in on a few things.
    1. Do you own the rights to the infographic ie: did you create the infographic? If not, are you allowed to agree to another group utilizing the infographic in a newsletter?
    2. If yes, may we (WFWA) have permission to utilize the infogrpahic in the Industry News newsletter.
    3. Also, how should the infographic should be attributed?

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Hi Mary Helen,
      Thanks for your comment! This is our own infographic, and you’re welcome to share it. Please credit Henry Herz and Andrew Kirschner and link to The Write Life. Thank you for sharing our work!
      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa Rowan

  • Mridul says:

    Found this video helpful in regard to this topic.

  • Haley says:

    Even for humor’s sake, I find it awfully strange that wanting to see your writing as a physical book would make it impossible to publish traditional, not to mention that the only alternative that leads to traditional is bragging rights. I want my books to reach my readers, even if that means letting someone else take the reigns on a few categories of the work. If I know anything from talking with most self-published authors I know, it’s a) they refuse to accept traditional publishing as anything worth spitting on, and b) they’ve sold maybe 10 books per each publication, but they’re pretty darn proud of those 10 books so it’s okay.

    Then again, I also find that traditional route has been given a majorly negative stigma. One article I read basically suggested it was a “lazy route” for people with too big of dreams, and a lot were directly shutting down the mode of work altogether, treating it as a dying resource. That just seems downright ridiculous to me, and it’s really making it difficult to find the resources I need to get started (note, I was brought here and to a lot of pro-self publishing articles by a Google-search for traditional publishing resources, because the only one I can think of is the Writer’s Market).

    Oh well, inquiries aside this was a really cute chart, and very fun 🙂 I was thrown off by the first question, since I read it as “I want to be the next J.K. Rowling” which I do want to be, since I want to give as many readers as possible a place to escape and to dream through the outlet of a book, which often requires selling a lot of books. It was a bit depressing when I got the “need more experience” ending, but it was a nice laugh when I realized that I misread it haha (goodness knows my writing isn’t perfect by any means).

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