Self publishing vs traditional: finding the right approach for you


This week I'm celebrating a year since the launch of my bestselling book, How to Style Your Brand, and sharing some of the things I've learned along my bumpy journey from trembling self publisher to sell-out sensation! Today I'd like to explore the question of traditional vs self publishing.

There are certainly a lot of preconceptions around self published books. I've bought several over time that have been poorly edited, designed and structured. Ten years ago it became a bit of a 'thing' to have a book as your calling card. Quality wasn't as much of a priority as it perhaps should have been and for that reason, self publishers began to get a bad reputation. Certainly in my head I developed this notion that whilst anyone can publish a book but only good books are picked up by traditional publishers.

I hope that what's happened over the past year has very firmly put that notion to bed.

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Some of my favourite images via the #howtostyleyourbrand Instagram hashtag. I love seeing how inspired you've been by the book!

Beautiful book! I loved how the author explained, step by step, how to determine what your brand identity should be for maximum effectiveness with your target market.

REALLY helpful book. Just the right length. It struck a good balance between delivering great information and not being overwhelming.

Would be excellent for any solo-preneur or small business who wants to establish their own brand identity, but it would also be a good book for those who might still end up hiring a designer. It's an excellent place to start, for sure, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Dawn Michelle via

Over the past couple of years, and in the course of exploring whether I could get my book published the traditional way, I've learned a lot about the traditional publishing industry and the new wave of self publishers. I genuinely don't want to knock the traditional publishing industry. They are experts at what they do and they bring a wealth of experience, perspective and knowledge to the table. But self publishing is changing.

Self publishing can be a real strength

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There are some genuinely exciting opportunities for small, creative self publishers to make beautiful, meaningful books that enrich our lives and our businesses. The Hoxton Mini Press is just one example of a boutique publishing company with a strong commitment to quality and big ideas. Over time, I hope to develop Copper Beech Press into something that can be world- renowned for creating beautiful business books: books that combine style and substance. (I guess I should start by getting that website built...)

Self publishing doesn't need to mean your book won't be taken seriously, or that it's of lesser quality and it definitely doesn't need to mean that you aren't good enough.

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I knew based on Fiona's blog that the book would be good. WOW!! It is better than good. I have never seen a book be able to marry up beauty with incredible, informative, how-to, practical information as this book does.

The beautiful layout and photos put puts me in such a creative state that I long to get to work on my brand identity and that is where the uncluttered, unclomplicated instruction comes to the forefront.

I have never met Fiona in person but I feel as though she is right there with her energetic personality helping me figure it all out. Best of all, while this book energizes you to create the best brand identity, it is practical and not one of those vague cheerleader type books.

Kathleen Murphy via

What self publishing does mean is that you are in control. You're in creative control. You're in control of your time, your destiny and your finances. It means you live and die by your decisions and for that reason, it's not for the faint hearted. If you're an entrepreneurial spirit then publishing your own book gives you the opportunity to do things your way. It gives you the opportunity to create really interesting, brave books that you know your tribe have a need for.

And very frankly speaking, it gives you the opportunity to enjoy the financial upside should your book be the success you believe it will be.

The opportunity to do this on my terms

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I was confident in my vision: I felt certain that there was a need for a book for entrepreneurs that explained how the brand styling process worked. I could see that the high-end design books were completely inaccessible to many entrepreneurs and they didn't effectively explain the why. I could also see that the existing business books just didn't cover off the creative side of branding. And - and this was the most contentious of all. It had to be full colour.

And here's where my book just didn't work in the traditional publishing model. Here was I, an experienced entrepreneur, wanting to write a business book that looked like an interiors book. That was my vision and in that I was totally immovable. But in that, I wasn't a neat publishing proposition. Business book publishers don't do full colour, illustrated books. And publishers of coffee table books don't do business books.

This is what I've been looking for!

I've been working on my brand as I get ready to launch a new business and I kept finding myself getting overwhelmed with an inability to communicate a clear and consistent message and brand story. I am inspired by so many things which can be tricky when trying to figure out your own brand.

Fiona's AMAZING book is helping narrow down what the key messaging of my brand is and how to convey that in logos, fonts, textures, imagery and mood. This book is worth every penny and I can't wait to share it with others that I know are on this same journey. Thank you Fiona for helping us navigate the sometimes rough waters of finding our brand- I'm optimistic that it will be pretty smooth sailing from here on out!

Kristina V via

I sent several, very targeted proposals back in 2014 to publishers I felt my vision would be a good fit with, and held my breath. One editor told me it was the best proposal she had ever seen. But no one bit. Most didn't even respond.

That was when I decided to embrace the opportunity that self publishing would give me. And rather than seeing it as a failing, I totally see this as the strength in my book and the reason for it's success. It was only by self publishing that I could truly execute my vision for such an image rich book. I feel certain that had I pursued a publisher at all costs the photographs would have been sacrificed as I fitted into a traditional business book genre. And what a shame that would have been.

The right choice for me

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I don't really think of myself this way, but I guess I'm a WAHM (work at home mum). I work in term times only, and mostly only when my littlest one is at nursery. Take out time for school runs, pilates and running and I don't have much more than around 10 hours a week to work. I have to be ruthlessly efficient with my time and I work very, very hard (I don't always succeed) to keep social media from encroaching on our lives.

I don't have hundreds of thousands of social media followers, my blog hits aren't in the millions but I've still maintained a bestselling book for pretty much a year.

Traditional publishing is a numbers game. More important than the quality of your book, your concept or your writing is your numbers. The number of visits to your blog, your social media stats. They matter. A lot.

I get it. The publishing industry is a business and they need to make money like the rest of us. A book written by a high profile blogger or TV personality is an easier sell than someone unknown. They have reach, they have a platform, a ready made audience. And with more overheads than I have, traditional publishers need to sell a lot more books than I do.

But I don't have the stomach for building my platform. I want to write, to consult, to teach and to balance that with a visceral need to spend time with my children and my family. I can't do it all and for me, the book slots into one part of my business. It can't dominate.

I'm much more suited to self publishing. I'm entrepreneurial and I have a strong creative vision. I want to take the risk and be there to reap the rewards.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the team, the marketing and the distribution, but ultimately I value my creative control, my financial interest and my balance more. There are no targets, no pressure and most important to me, no comparisons.

You probably don't need to be a mum to acutely feel that pressure we are all under to do more, be more, achieve more. The idea that whatever you have achieved, it's not enough. There simply aren't enough hours in the day. I love the flexibility that self publishing gives me and I love the fact that I can define success on my terms.

If you hate marketing or recoil at the idea of running a business or taking the risk that self publishing involves then going down the traditional route is probably the right option for you. But don't underestimate the power of self publishing: these are exciting times for those of us with a strong vision and dogged determination!