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What’s the Difference?

One of the things that I always tell the authors I work with is that print on demand has changed the self-publishing landscape. Previously, self-published authors had to source a printer, negotiate a contract, purchase hundreds (if not thousands) of books, and store and ship the books themselves. Instead, print on demand is when book copies are printed only as they are ordered, in the specified quantity, and shipped directly to the customer from the printer. For a relatively small piece of the royalty pie, self-publishing companies handle the orders, printing, and shipping and you get representation on their website. But, there is no huge up-front fee to buy thousands of books and no warehouse necessary.

Print on demand has made self-publishing more accessible to everyone. That doesn’t mean that the stigma of self-published books has changed entirely and here’s why: quality. There are still many other steps in the process to ensure a quality product and not all self-published authors engage in these activities. There are so many options today to pursue a publishing venture, so what are they and what’s the difference? How do you know what is the right fit for you? How do you know that your money is being well spent and that your project has the greatest chance of getting into a reader’s hands? These are the main options available to authors:

  • Traditional Publishing: The benefit of a traditional publishing house is that they have a process in place to qualify, develop, and produce a book, ensuring that it meets a certain level of quality…and they should. Their brand and reputation are at stake. Anyone can self-publish, but not everyone has the skills or the knowledge to ensure their book is good. Getting signed on with a traditional publisher isn’t an easy task though. Which is why many authors look elsewhere. In addition to traditional publishers, both small and large, there are also literary agents, vanity presses, and self-publishing.
  • Literary Agents: For a relatively small royalty, a literary agent helps the author to prepare their manuscript and present the project to a number of publishers. Then they help negotiate the best contract on behalf of the author. Afterwards, you still receive all of the benefits of a traditional publisher.
  • Vanity Presses: A vanity press offers some services to help you publish your book, but not all services. It often requires an up-front fee and doesn’t provide much creative control. Then you are still left to market your book. The quality control that a traditional publisher offers is lacking with a vanity press. So, you still might not be happy with the end result.
  • Self-Publishing: Then there are services like editorial and design for self-published authors to create a polished product. These you would have to source individually, schedule, and monitor, which can be very time consuming. And if you don’t know much about publishing, there’s more room for error.

I’ve used my extensive publishing experience to summarize the benefits of each option in the table below. There is no right or wrong answer, only what you determine to be the best fit for you!

I created Twin Horseshoes Publishing to offer benefits to authors that others don’t. I offer a true partnership between the publisher and author. I guide the author through the process and use my skills to produce a better product than they could self-publishing on their own. The author maintains creative control and keeps their intellectual property. Together, our shared networks ensure greater reach and success, and the author receives a much higher royalty rate. I truly believe that my approach combines the best of both traditional publishing and self-publishing. My approach will also help end the stigma against self-published books by ensuring a high level of quality. Please reach out if you would like more information on the Twin Horseshoes approach.

Everyone has a unique story to share, and someone out there needs to read that story. Maybe they will find courage within its pages, solace, or entertainment. Maybe they will learn something new or change their mind on a topic. What’s your unique story and why haven’t you published it yet?

What’s the Difference?Traditional Publisher with or without Literary AgentVanity PressSelf-PublishingTwin Horseshoes
Advance Against
The author is sometimes paid an advance against royalties to secure the rights to their book—this means that they receive a cheque up front, but once the book starts selling they don’t receive any royalties until their advance is “paid back”.None, and there is usually a large up front fee.None.None.
EditorialThe publisher pays for a team of editors and proofreaders to perfect the manuscript; the author responds to queries if needed, but has little to no say in the editorial process.The author pays for editorial services, usually at a markup; editors are often outsourced and may lack formal publishing experience.The author must source and pay for editorial services, and manage the project and schedule.The publisher has formal publishing experience and does the editing themselves to ensure the best possible product—the author keeps creative control throughout.
DesignThe publisher hires a designer with experience in the book’s genre, but the author typically has little to no say in the creative direction.The author pays the publisher for a cover design; again, designers are often outsourced and there may be a markup.The author must source and pay for the cover design, and manage the project and schedule.The publisher completes the book design in conjunction with the author after researching the market and the genre’s bestsellers. Again, the author has creative control.
Sales &
The publisher’s sales team will work to sell the title into stores and ensure strong and appropriate placement; the author will be asked to support sales efforts in a variety of ways.The publisher will list the title with a wholesaler.The author must determine the self-publishing platforms and distribution strategy, create accounts for each, and make adjustments to their files in order to load all material effectively. They must order proofs to ensure quality and possibly pay additional fees for each revision in the files provided. The author is then responsible for all retailer strategies.The publisher formats the files as required for each platform or distribution strategy and implements a B2C and B2B release strategy internationally with the largest distribution networks. Any necessary revisions that are made are absorbed by the publisher. The author and publisher work together to obtain placement in bookstores and implement other sales strategies.
PricingThe publisher will almost always choose a competitive retail price, but needs to maximize their profit.The publisher may choose a retail price higher than competing books.The author can select their own price.The publisher always chooses a competitive retail price that doesn’t devalue the book and still results in a fair royalty after printing.
Marketing &
The publisher’s marketing team will form a launch plan, authors will often promote their books independently as well.The author can choose to pay the publisher for basic marketing and promotional services…or do it all themselves.The author must source and pay for marketing and publicity services, and manage the project and schedule. They must plan their own book launch event or if they choose not to host one, their sales results might be less than favourable.The publisher and author work on the marketing and book launch plan together, leveraging their shared networks to promote the book.
RoyaltiesThe author will receive royalties on each sale, once the advance has been paid off—traditional publishers pay between 5-15%. If you also use a literary agent, then they get a share of the royalties as well.Depending on the contract, the publisher may withhold royalties unless sales targets or conditions are met.The author would receive all royalties directly at a rate of 60-70%. The success of the book depends on the quality at each stage and the online presence of the author.The publisher is flexible on payment, but only accepts payment for their time on the project—the author receives all royalties at a rate of 60-70% for as long as the book is being sold. Royalties go directly to the author so none of these can be withheld from the author.
Traditional publishers keep the author’s intellectual property. They are also often restricted from writing something else in the same domain that might directly compete against their own title. So if an author wanted to publish a subsequent book with another publisher or by self-publishing, they would be prohibited from doing so.Some vanity presses take the author’s intellectual property and some don’t.The author maintains their intellectual property.The author licenses the copyright to the publisher temporarily so they can publish the title, but maintains their intellectual property during and after.
Adapted from: Reedsy. (2022, Mar. 2). What is a Vanity Press? A Guide to Vanity Publishing. Reedsy Blog. Retrieved from

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