Friday, May 1, 2020

To Traditionally Publish or Self-Publish

Whether to publish traditionally or self-publish is the question I get most from my ghosting clients. Most new to the writing arena don’t understand what’s involved with either path. This article will helpfully shed some light on the topic.

Traditional Publishing

With traditional publishing, you submit your EDITED manuscript to publishing houses and/or literary agents.

To submit to publishers means finding ones that accept submissions in your genre. To do this, you’ll need to write a query letter. It’s the query letter that you first submit. And, until you find a publisher who’s interested in your manuscript, you have to keep submitting.

It’s the same process for both publishers and literary agents.

There’s no way to determine how long it can take to find a publisher or agent who will offer you a contract. It could happen quickly (not the norm) or it can take a year, two years, or more. There are no guarantees it will happen.

As an example, it took Chicken Soup for the Soul 144 rejections before finally getting a publishing contract. They put a lot of time and effort into their publishing quest.

The traditional process takes perseverance and commitment. You need to research publishers and agents. For this process, I recommend getting “Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Marketing [current year].” It has hundreds of listings.

If you’re not a children’s author, you can use “Writer’s Market [current year].”

Assuming you do get a contract, it usually takes about two years before your book will actually be available for sale.

Again, there are no guarantees with the traditional publishing route.

But, with all that said, there is still a level of 'status' and credibility with books that are traditionally published. And, you never know if you'll get a contract quicker than expected. An added bonus if you’re writing a children’s picture book, you won't have to find an illustrator or pay for illustrations and a book cover.


With self-publishing you’re in control.

You write your story or hire a ghostwriter to write it for you. Just make sure the story is edited and proofed before moving onto the next step.

Once that’s done, you’re off to find an illustrator – this is if you’re creating a picture book or even a chapter book / middle grade that will include some illustrations.

You can find children’s book illustrators at:

You can also do an online search.

While you can find some ‘cheap’ illustrators out there, be sure of their skills. Be sure they understand what you’re looking for. And, be sure they proof their own work. You MUST also check the illustrations to the text – make sure the illustrations are relevant to the content on that page. You’ll also need to check for accuracy and consistency within the illustrations.

I’ve coordinated illustrations to text for clients and have found a number of errors from missing parts of feet to inconsistent furnishings from scene to scene.

After you have a fully edited and proofed manuscript and if it's a children's book, the illustrations and text combined, you will need to prepare your book (have it formatted) and upload it for distribution (for sale). For this, you can use services like Amazon KDP (for ebooks and print books).

If you want a wider distribution of your book, you might consider aggregators, like IngramSpark, Smashwords, or Lulu. (Be advised that Smashwords does not distribute books to Amazon.)

An aggregator distributes your book, making it available for sale at a number of retailers.

NOTE: Before you upload your book to an aggregator or a retailer (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble), the book needs to be formatted into print-ready files. You can use services like for this process.

If the thought of having to find someone to format your book and then upload your work is still too intimidating, you can simply use a service like, (, or for help in this area.

Note: While Smashwords has a large distribution network, it does not distribute to Amazon. 

Warning: Services you pay to format and upload your book for publishing will probably offer lots of other services: cover design, editing, illustrations, and so on. They can be expensive and I’m not sure of the quality of, say their editing services. So, have the book already to go. All you should need them for is actual publishing and distribution.

Summing it Up

Whether to self-publish or go the traditional route depends on your time frame, finances, and commitment to submitting your work. And, if you choose the traditional path, you’ll need to have patience and perseverance.

Self-Publish Your Book

For an in depth 3-part series on what to do when your book is fully edited and ready for formatting, check out:

Self-Publishing a Book (1) - Formatting

Self-Publishing a Book (2) – The ISBN, the Barcode, and the LCCN

Self-Publishing a Book (3) – You're at the Finish Line

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and successful children’s ghostwriter/rewriter. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move and as well as an author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

If you’d like more writing tips or help with your children’s story, check out: Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

And, you can follow Karen at:




Terry Whalin said...


Thanks for explaining the different publishing options for authors. Self-publishing is tricky and while I know many people are doing it, for an adult book, it's very easy to spend $10,000 in the process. I hope writers will seek good experienced advice before moving in a direction.


Linda Wilson said...

You have explained both pathways to publication very well, Karen. Neither one is easy, as you so aptly explained, and it's good for new authors to understand both before pursuing publication.

Linda Wilson said...

You have explained both pathways to publication very well, Karen. Neither one is easy, as you so aptly explained, and it's good for new authors to understand both before pursuing publication.

Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, self-publishing is so much easier for adult books. I just revised a nonfiction book I wrote a while ago on writing for children and I went the DIY route, with minimal expense. I have a four-part article series on how I did it. I'll be getting it up on WOTM next month.

Picture books and books with illustrations are an other story. I have a series client in London who is paying 12,000+ for illustration for each book.

I had another client here in the states who paid $10,000 for illustrations for one book. And, the illos needed at least three revisions.

It can get crazy!

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, it's true both publishing paths can be a bit difficult, but self-publishing is so much faster!

deborah lyn said...

Brilliant article Karen, concise and complete for both publishing options. Thanks much from all of us!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

In #TheFrugalBookPromoter I advise readers /authors to consider title/genre/ their own pocketbooks and personalities. With careful consideration they may find only one right path, or a combination. The process might also
point in the directions of one’s dreams. It might also suggest getting counsel from someone who has experienced the processes, someone who can help them avoid disappointment and spend more money than they are likely to recoup on a specific genre or platform or publishing track. This article is a very good start on that process.

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