Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Sarah McMahon
4 min readNov 19, 2023

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

A few weeks ago, I published a book of poetry called Dirt Girl (buy it here). It’s actually my third forray into the world of self-publishing (my previous two books are available on Amazon as well), and I’ve been asked a number of times why I decided to self-publish. My reasons are outlined below, but they all boil time to two reaons: time and money.

From 2011 to 2016, I attended a school called Bradley University in Peoria, IL. Bradley is a small, private Division 1 institution and I was only there because I’d earned a scholarship to run. My senior year, I suffered an injury that put me out for the season. With an extra year of athletic eligibility and a completed English degree, I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to pursue a Master’s (also in English), cramming a two year degree into a year and a half. One of my favorite professors was Dr. Susan Brill de Ramirez. She was a bit quirky, remarkably smart, and always happy to chat over a strong cup of coffee. In one of her classes during my final year at Bradley, she had us all write, edit, and publish ebooks. We were all skeptical and the English department at large rolled their eyes. What was the point? we all asked each other, when we really should have been asking what the point was in reading 1890’s literature or writing long essays our professors never read.

My ebook was about learning to manage time as a college athlete. My peers wrote about baseball, knitting, business, teaching, whatever they had experience doing. We learned how to write in a style that made an ebook compelling, how to edit them, how to format, publish, price, and market them. Dr. Brill was looking forward while the rest of us were simply looking down.

With the knowledge I gained in her class, I felt empowered to keep creating books. Here is why I decided to self-publish.

  1. Money: Not many people go out of their way to read poetry, and getting a book deal in any genre is notoriously hard. Even some poetry journals have fees to simply submit work, and I’d be lying if I claimed to read any journal with regularity. In traditional publishing, money (and not necessarily very much of it) flows toward the author, because the author is not the only one involved. There is an agent to pay…

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