Why Do Authors Choose Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing?

Read much more about author preferences in our exclusive report, What Authors Want: Understanding Authors in the Era of Self Publishing

In a recent segment on NPR’s All Things Considered, future Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch speculates that authors choose to go with publishers over self-publishing because of “marketing.”

Though Pietsch has many years of experience working with authors and in a major publishing house, one could credibly speculate he hasn’t spoken with nearly 5,000 authors in the past six months and asked them what factors influence their decision to go with a traditional publisher or not. Had he, “marketing” would not have been his first answer.

According to a survey of nearly 5,000 authors conducted by Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest, the No. 1 and No. 2 reasons that authors decide to go with a traditional publishers are “wide distribution” and “distribution into bookstores,” respectively. In fairness to Pietsch’s speculation, “Marketing support from a publisher” was the No. 3 reason. The chart below outlines the response of our sample group. They were asked to check all factors that apply. But this is only a small part of the story.

pub factors for authors


The fact is that aspiring authors, traditionally published authors, self-published authors and hybrid authors (those who have done both) all have different factors that influence their decisions. Publishers looking to attract more self-published authors might want to focus on some factors over others, for instance.

All of this is explained in an upcoming report from Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest: What Authors Want: Understanding Authors in the Era of Self-Publishing. It will also be discussed in an upcoming free webcast.

13 thoughts on “Why Do Authors Choose Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing?

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  3. Erin Kelly

    This is certainly a small part of the story. Many people self-publish for a very simple reason: Their work has been rejected by traditional publishers. That’s not to say their work wasn’t good, just that no one would publish it.

    I’m not sure if that falls under any of the other umbrellas.

  4. Matt

    Another part of the problem is traditional publishers are looking for more of a mainstream book that can easily go through the distribution channels they’ve established. The thing is, for most writers just starting out, their audience is much smaller, just for the fact they don’t have a reader base already and the good ones are usually doing something more original or more for a specific niche and hence also makes the potential reader base smaller.

    If the audience numbers end up being too small for a specific writer or for the niche they’re writing about, publishers won’t touch it. This is where self-publishing can help, ie a book that sells 20k copies would be a disaster for a publisher, but a home run for a self-publisher.

    That said, agreed with results of the survey, writers hate marketing and any chance to avoid it to get back to writing is attractive.

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  7. James D. Best

    I now choose to self-publish for speed. Traditional publishers move at a glacial pace. My first technology book was traditionally published and obsolete by the time it hit bookstores. Now that I write novels, I prefer to manage the process myself.

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