Embarking on the publishing journey is a significant step for any author, and the publishing path an author chooses will shape the entire experience from production to distribution and beyond. As is true across many other industries, the publishing landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, and while it may have taken a handful of brave pioneers to step away from the traditional route, today the verdict is clear: authors have options.

At Ballast Books, we understand the importance of making an informed decision that aligns with your goals and values as an author. While it’s true that the publishing world can feel a bit like a “choose your own adventure” with a myriad of options and outcomes, let’s identify and explore the most common pros and cons of the three leading and most credible paths to publishing in the industry today: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and the independent hybrid model. And because you’re a busy author with some big decisions to make, we’ll break it down to the four main factors that are likely weighing heavily on your choice: accessibility, author autonomy and ownership, ongoing support, and of course, financial considerations.

Traditional Publishing: The Time-Honored Route

1. Accessibility: The Gatekeeper Model

Traditional publishing operates on a gatekeeper model where literary agents, editors, and publishers hold the keys to deciding which manuscripts even make it so far as the infamous “slush pile,” let alone which lucky few will see a bookstore shelf. Manuscripts (and their authors) go through a rigorous selection process, and only a fraction make it to publication.

While you may have heard that success often comes down to who you know, in the traditional publishing world, being one of those select few often comes down to who knows you. An enthralling, impeccably written manuscript and a bulldog for a literary agent are essential, of course, but a recognizable name and built-in audience will get you through the gates a lot faster. Unless you’re Matthew McConaughey or Joanna Gaines, you’d be wise to prepare yourself for a querying journey where patience and perseverance are key.

2. Author Autonomy and Ownership: Their Game, Their Rules

Most commonly, when a traditional publisher offers an author a publishing contract, what they’re actually offering is an agreement to purchase the rights to the work for the length of the contract. What this means is that the publisher is now the legal owner of the work produced by the author, and when it comes to who has final say on how that work is presented to the world, the entity holding the copyright has all the power.

This will apply to everything from editing to cover design to title to even the author headshot that is chosen for all the world to see. Now, don’t fret—they are the professionals, after all—but don’t be surprised when the experience isn’t quite as collaborative as you had imagined.

3. Ongoing Support: Who’s the Boss?

The level of ongoing support an author receives from a traditional publisher is largely dependent on the contract they were offered and how much their agent and lawyers advocated for them in the process. It is not uncommon for a publisher to expect an author to dedicate any advance they’ve been given to securing outside PR and marketing help for ongoing promotion of their book. Just remember—even in a case where it is the author’s responsibility to secure the coverage, the publisher still has final say on how, where, and when the book is promoted.

On the bright side, when it comes to distribution, it is no secret that the big traditional houses secure the most shelf space and move the most copies. If you’re lucky enough to secure a traditional deal, you can count distribution as a major pro in the column of ongoing support. As long as your book is performing well, your publisher should have distribution covered while you sit back and watch the royalty checks come in. Which brings us to…

4. Financial Considerations: Consider It a Loan

Simply put, in the traditional world, most upfront investment is usually the responsibility of the publisher. This means that pre-publishing expenses such as final editing, design work, printing, and more will be taken care of by the publisher. For authors without the ability to fund these portions of the project themselves, this is great news. But wait–there’s more.

While a traditional publisher is going to foot the investment for this work, it is important to remember that they are still a business, and their goal is not only to make back their investment but to profit. To do this, they need to take the lion’s share of the royalties on sales of the book while the author receives a small percentage of sales as part of the arrangement.

Authors working with a large traditional house might receive the benefit of an upfront advance. Yes, they get paid by the publisher in exchange for rights to the work. However, the advance is an advance on future sales, meaning that it comes out of the author’s royalty share down the road. If sales on the book never eclipse the amount of the advance, the author will never see a royalty check (and probably not a second book contract either). In some cases, this also applies to the publisher’s costs. Think of it as a loan. The publisher contributes not only expertise and services; they also provide the financial investment to make the author’s dream come true. But until that investment is paid off, the author won’t reap any financial benefits themselves.

Self-Publishing: It’s All in the Name

1. Accessibility: Gates? What Gates?

Self-publishing has evolved in strides over the past decades. What used to be a taboo answer to the inaccessible traditional route has become a widely accepted, legitimate path to publishing. The number of self-published titles each year is estimated to be over three times the number of traditionally published books. Without the gatekeepers, literally anyone can self-publish a book.

Does that mean that every one of the millions of self-published titles released each year will be successful? Naturally, no. In fact, relatively few will. Achieving success as a self-published author means a lot of hard work. Think about the traditional model and try to envision all those people working to produce, publish, and distribute a single book. Now, remove all but one of those people from the equation: you, the author. Is it doable? Yes! Is it as easy as clicking “publish”? Not at all. In short, when it comes to self-publishing, there is no one holding you back. There’s no one helping you along either.

2. Author Autonomy and Ownership: It’s All You. And We Do Mean All.

Self-published authors make all their own decisions and never have to question who’s in charge. That’s because self-published authors are on their own–for better or worse. When it comes to hiring and managing freelancers or taking a gamble on editing their own work and designing their own covers, authors who self-publish without a professional publishing partner bear both the benefits and burdens of complete autonomy.

3. Ongoing Support: What Support?

In the same way that self-published authors maintain complete autonomy over the creative process while writing, editing, and designing their books, authors who choose this publishing path will have decisions to make when it comes to ongoing support such as distribution, marketing, and accounting.

There are many self-published authors who take the grassroots, DIY approach to these items. Self-publishing platforms such as IngramSpark and Amazon’s KDP make it easier than ever for authors to make their titles available to their audiences and also help authors track sales and royalty payments. Today’s social media platforms and user-friendly design programs like Canva give authors the access to various self-promotion tools to market their books online. For the first-time author with the time and skill to experiment, today’s technology certainly offers an advantage over the days of self-publishing past.

Of course, self-published authors also have the option to invest in professional help for ongoing support and get a leg up on the competition. Depending on your goals, you might hire a marketing and PR firm, a branding agency, or even a personal assistant with a knack for creating TikToks and writing press releases. Self-published authors who have produced books of professional quality that meet industry standards may also have success in finding an independent distributor to distribute physical copies of their books to brick-and-mortar retailers. From an investment standpoint, these options are not dissimilar to going the hybrid publishing route.

4. Financial Considerations: You, Yourself, and…

You’re probably getting the picture here. While self-publishing costs can be lower compared to paying a well-regarded industry professional, you’re still 100 percent responsible for any costs along the way. The benefit to this, of course, is that once those royalties start coming in, as few or as many as there may be, they are all yours!

This is the payoff for taking full responsibility for your work from start to finish. The fewer people involved in getting your book into the world, the more you keep for yourself on the back end. Just remember, you have to weigh your chances of success against that. Will your self-edited, self-designed, self-published, self-distributed, and self-promoted book see as many sales as one that has had the help of the professionals?

Hybrid Publishing: The Best of Both Worlds?

1. Accessibility: A Delicate Balance

The goal of a true hybrid publisher should be to produce high-quality books without the gatekeeping biases of a traditional publisher. Think of it as democratizing the publishing industry. You don’t have to be a celebrity or have a timely and controversial book to publish with a hybrid publisher. Rather than submitting a manuscript and hoping to be accepted, authors have the opportunity to research and approach the hybrid publisher of their choice and hire them to produce, publish, and sell a book fit to stand beside any traditionally published book out there.

Now, this may sound on par with self-publishing in terms of accessibility, but there is something important to keep in mind: a quality hybrid publisher will have standards and take a sense of pride in the books they publish. After all, while the author’s name is on the cover, the publisher’s logo is a stamp of approval of sorts–we’re proud to put our name on this book. Any publisher worth their salt won’t take that lightly.

2. Author Autonomy and Ownership: You’re the Boss

When an author hires a hybrid publisher to guide them and their book through the publishing process and beyond, the author retains creative control and ownership rights throughout. The publisher acts as the industry expert and will make recommendations accordingly, but the author should always have the final say. This applies to edits, design work, distribution methods, retail price, marketing efforts, and more.

Why do hybrids operate this way? Because at the end of the day, it is your book, and hybrids offer the only path that combines both professional industry experience and author autonomy.

3. Ongoing Support: A Partnership from Start to Finish

Just as someone should closely examine the terms of a traditional publishing contract, authors who invest in the publishing of their books should choose their publishing partner wisely. Look for a hybrid publisher who offers ongoing support in-house. We’re talking about what happens to the book after it is launched: distribution and marketing.

As an author, you’ll want to find a hybrid publisher who invests in their distribution strategy and marketing team. A good hybrid publisher will have a variety of options to support your goals and work within your budget, and they’ll be able to guide you in making those choices.

4. Financial Considerations: Consider It an Investment

In contrast to the traditional model, authors who hire hybrid publishers fund the production, publishing, and distribution of their books. As with any upfront investment, there are risks and rewards to weigh, and you’ll want to examine those closely before making a decision.

We’ve already outlined a couple of the benefits above: creative control and ownership rights. When you invest in your book upfront, these are two things you should never have to compromise on. But what about royalties? Remember that a traditional publisher takes a large cut of royalties to recoup their investment in the production of a book. When the author invests, the model is flipped, and they enjoy the lion’s share of royalties on sales. While you won’t be offered an advance by a hybrid publisher, there will also be no advance to repay once the book starts selling.

The truth of the matter is all authors pay something to publish their books. The publishing path they choose only determines when.


In the ever-evolving world of book publishing, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and an author should consider a number of factors when deciding which path is the right one for their book. It all comes down to your specific goals, preferences, and priorities as an author. If upfront costs are a major deterrent and you aren’t concerned about creative control or ownership rights, seeking out a literary agent and exploring the traditional route may be the best path for you. If you have a natural knack for project management and self-promotion as well as the time and dedication to devote to becoming the industry expert yourself, self-publishing might be worth looking into. If you find yourself in need of an option that combines the expertise of a professional publishing house with the flexibility and creative control important to you as an author, hybrid publishing may prove to be the sweet spot between the two.

Paving Your Path to Publishing Success with Ballast Books

If you’re looking for a publishing partner to shoulder the heavy lifting, be the expert, and produce your book on your terms, reach out to Ballast Books. As a leading independent hybrid publisher, Ballast understands the impact choosing your publishing path will have on your book’s journey, and we know you have options. So, let’s have a conversation. Let us show you why Ballast is the publishing partner for you. Contact us online today.

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