What are the differences between self and traditional publishing? On the brink of launching her novel Call Me Lion with Firefly Press, Camilla Chester offers her personal experience of the two routes to publication.


I call it ‘going hybrid’ — as if my publishing journey has been a deliberately planned procedure. This is not true. I’ve twisted and turned through a series of grabbed opportunities and meanderings into the fortunate position I’m currently in: three self-published titles, still in print and will remain so for as long as I want (Jarred Dreams, EATS and Thirteenth Wish), a completed unpublished novel that I could self-publish (Darna’s Sky) and a novel on the brink of ‘traditional’ publication with Firefly Press (Call Me Lion).  

So what are the major differences that I've experienced?


I used Matador for each of my self-published books and the outlay costs weren’t cheap. I paid for book production, proof-reading, cover design, copy-editing, type-setting, illustrations, promotional materials, printing — and I ran up quite a bill. I had to sell 800 copies just to break even.


With Firefly, they paid me which means that, if and when my book sells out its advance, I’ll receive royalties — 10 per cent of the sale price. I’ll have to sell a lot to make much from royalties. My Matador books, on the other hand, are all paid for and, when I sell them, I get a 100 per cent return. 

How many do I sell now? None, is the short answer.


Camilla's first traditionally published book, out 16th June



I’m impressed when self-published authors say they’ve sold hundreds or thousands of books. I make money from mine if I sell directly and that’s through local schools. Six years along and those schools are now bored of me and my books. I’ve exhausted my pond and this is the main reason I’ve stopped self-publishing.


Firefly holds the UK rights to Call Me Lion and because of their extended reach into the market the book will hopefully sell much more widely. If it sells well in the UK then my agency, which has an excellent foreign rights team, will be in a good position to sell the book to overseas publishers.

Camilla pictured with the Thirteenth Wish, self-published through Matador


Distribution has been my biggest limiting factor as a self-published author. Even though I have 100 per cent return on my self-published books, because they are not well known, I sell very few. I may only have a 10 per cent return on my traditionally published book, but, in theory, I’ll be selling more.




From signing the Matador contract to holding the printed book in my hand took four months, compared to 14 months with Firefly. They actually wanted to bring out the book in 2023 which would’ve meant 26 months. Also, it’s seen as bad form to put a book out on submission until the one due to be published is out — your hands are tied time-wise much more with traditional publishing.


When you self-publish you’re in control of the publication process. You decide everything and fit it in with your own schedule. With traditional publishing, it's set to the market. It’s often joked about how publishing moves either at a glacial or a super-sonic pace. I’ve actually not experienced undue pressure at all from my publisher, but I hear lots of stories about unrealistic deadlines.

Camilla presents a promotional poster for Call Me Lion



I worked with a book production specialist at Matador, but I felt like a one-woman band. I had to do all the leg work — it was exhausting, and selling books, and yourself, is the hardest bit of all. For Matador, they get most of their money from the book’s production and there’s no incentive for them to shift copies. This is different for traditional publishers: it’s their business to sell books.


I’m now getting to work with people who love my book and want to sell it. It feels incredible to be part of a team and I’ve not had to work nearly as hard or feel as alone. I’ve been learning as I go: for example I’d never heard of NetGalley as self-published books are not on there. This is an online resource for anyone wanting ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of upcoming titles. Call Me Lion became available to download as a proof for bloggers, reviewers and librarians. This, in theory, will create a buzz about my book before it goes on sale. This is just one example of how a traditional publisher works to promote a book and make it stand out in the market.




I realised I could self-publish after Jarred Dreams was a finalist in a competition run by The National Literacy Trust. If they, and Bloomsbury, thought it was good enough then it must be. But I’ve always had that niggling doubt about the quality of my writing and I’ve read plenty of badly written traditionally published books. To have the Firefly kite mark, to me, means validation. It will open doors, and hopefully shrink my imposter syndrome.


Camilla with her three self-published books



You need the hind of a rhino to be an author — and one of the major benefits of self-publishing is not having to go through the horrors of submission. I was keen to have a product to sell. I’d spent a lot of money on my craft and chose to invest in producing a book I could sell. It was hard work but rewarding and, at the end of it, I had my ticket into schools.


The other path is less upwards towards the summit: more hope-filled waiting followed by heartbreak. I’ve been on sub with two books and, if I didn’t have my agent, I don’t think I could have handled it. You have to write something else, it’s the only way to cope with the near misses and the months of waiting.


Best of Both


For now, I’m going to stick to traditional, but, if my current work-in-progress goes on submission and is not picked up, then maybe I’ll self-publish it. I’m also considering self-publishing a series of dog picture books.


I have talked about all this with my agent. If you are a self-published author about to sign with an agent, please be clear about your history and whether you want to continue publishing your own work. My agent always gets first look, but we have it in my contract that I can self-publish if she feels it won’t sell.


And so...


There have been pros and cons to both routes, but, overall, I prefer traditional, probably because Firefly are a fantastic publisher and I have a very supportive agent. But self-publishing has given me an advantage and I’ll probably self-publish again. 


PS I’m happy to be contacted if you’d like to know more about my experiences so far.

Call Me Lion is out on the 16th June, with a launch on the 19th June. Tickets and info here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/322670916397

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*All images courtesy of Camilla Chester.


Camilla Chester is a dog walker who writes. She’s been a finalist in two national children’s writing competitions, for the National Literacy Trust and Mslexia. Call Me Lion is her first traditionally published novel. You can find out more about Camilla and her writing by visiting her website: www.camillachester.com and if you would like to pre-order Call Me Lion you can do so through your local bookshop or using the links here: https://linktr.ee/camillacauthor


Fran Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Camilla for this refreshingly honest look at both sides of the publishing conundrum. As a fellow Matador author, I concur with all you say about your experience with them. They have - on the whole - high production values (sometimes you need to push them in this respect) but of course footing the bill for every part of the process makes it expensive for the author. On the other hand, at least you can get your book published! I am delighted with the quality of the 3 books I published with them: Ante's Inferno, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst and, most recently, The Fall of a Sparrow, but because the retail prices of children's books are expected to be unbelievably low (frankly, I don't know how commercial publishers make the numbers work!), doing more than breaking even is extremely hard. I'm thrilled for you that you have a traditional publishing contract this time round, with all the support that brings, and hope Call Me Lion flies off the shelves. I am also cheered at the thought you will keep your options open on self-publishing in the future.

    Incidentally, I don't think self-published children's books are a genre that can sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Those seem to be generally in the Crime, Thriller, Romance genres, selling - crucially - as ebooks, much cheaper than hard copies. Very few children do ebooks.


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