It’s Not Either or Anymore – Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing, or a Mix of the Two. Whichever You Choose, It’s Up to You

A special thanks to two followers who initially asked the question of which type of publishing was better – self-publishing or traditional. Hard won lessons over the years have given me some insight for my own work, but sometimes the devil is in the details, and I believe in having all the information presented so you can make your own informed decision when it comes to your skills and desire to not only see your books published, but to sell them, too.

And that’s the key – books without sales isn’t why we’re in this business, right? And that’s the first lesson, first and foremost, remember an author is more than a writer of books, you are an entrepreneur, and each book is your startup. Whether you decide on self-publishing or traditional, you must also wear many hats – marketer, accountant, sales person, customer service agent, housekeeper, bookkeeper, subject matter expert, and ultimately, the CEO.

So, imagine you’re the CEO of your startup. The name of your company is the title of your book. If you’re crunching the numbers, determining time constraints, and want to sell books, one of your first decisions as CEO is self-publish or not, traditionally publish or not. My initial thoughts were thus:

At First Glance

The two biggest things, I think are this: self-publishing will give her total control but she’ll be responsible for marketing her book, getting it in stores, gaining reviews and so on. Traditional publishing is still around and there are a lot of great independent traditional publishers, but their usually small. If she’s thinking about a Big 5 publisher (Random House, MacMillan, etc), that’s a lot tougher. For example, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter might never have seen the light of day, except a publisher’s daughter, a child, picked up the manuscript and liked it. Anne Rice was rejected 200 times before Interview with the Vampire was published.

In fact, in some research I did on Anne Rice a few years ago, I learned Interview with a Vampire began as a short story. At a writer’s conference, she was encouraged to show her work to one last publisher. They saw its potential and asked her to expand the end. She wrote 200 more pages.

The idea is when it comes to self-publishing, the author must wear many hats – author, editor, proofreader, marketer, business person, publisher. Traditionally and historically many of those roles were done by the publishing house – but here’s the caveat or catch-22 now – for most you need to have a literary agent before a traditional publisher will take a look, but some lit agents won’t take on a client unless they’ve been published. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

The request intrigued me such was that I did a bit more research and found the ins and outs not only from the plethora of self-published authors, but from a traditional publisher who weighed in on the debate.

I wrote my first book in 2009 in preparation for an application to an MFA program. It would be nearly a decade before I self-published it. I wrote my second book as an Upwork gig in 2013 at the request of a digital publishing company. I wrote the book, worked with an editor, and graphic designer, and let them post the book to Amazon. Then, I let it sit. And sit. And sit. I did no marketing and to my knowledge neither did the digital publishing company. With absolutely no activity, Amazon dropped it from their digital files. Mistake number one and lesson learned. The second published book which was written first and ten years since it’s writing, I’m finally learning the hard way how much work it takes to gain a readership following and make sales. Below are bullet points for an at-a-glance sheet of pros and cons for both sides.

A Deeper Dive – Pros and Cons from a Traditional Publisher and Self-Published Indie Author

From a traditional publisher side, the benefits to go that route speak to the writer who has just begun their career. As you work with traditional publishers, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry, and the goal is to make sure your writing is high quality, well-honed, and that it is error-free. You’ll need to take constructive criticism and be willing to give up parts of your book to make it more saleable.

Pros of traditional publishing                                  Cons of Traditional Publishing  

An established professional team to work with.                Incredibly slow process

Print distribution in bookstores is easier.                           Loss of creative control.

Potential to become a brand-name author.                       Low royalty rates.

There are no upfront financial costs                                  Lack of significant marketing help

So, your publishing choice is more a question of the outcome that you want to achieve and your definition of success.  For some, the term self-publishing implies hobby. For those authors who choose work with top freelance professionals for a top-quality product, prefer the term independent author, or indie author. Remember our analogy above regarding you as author are also the CEO of your story.

Self-published pros                                                        Self-published cons

Total creative control                                         It’s a DIY gig and up to you to find professional help.

Faster time to market                                         You need a budget upfront for a professional result.

Higher royalties                                                  It’s difficult to get print distribution in bookstores.

Sell by any means in any global market           Niche books can reach an audience.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you and depends on how fast you want to grow your readership and sell books. If you’re interested in prestige, literary journals, and if this is your first book or novel, some suggest the traditional route. If you’re more of do-it-yourself person and enjoy project management, then the self—published indie author may be the route for you.

If you’re new to the blog or are interested in my writing services – ghostwriting, copywriting, proofreading/editing, beta reading, and more – take a look around my website or visit my Upwork profile.

Thinking about becoming a Patreon patron? You’ll love what we’ve got in store. I’ve reached out to a few authors and will be hosting my first podcast exclusive only to Patreon members. I’ll be speaking with a self-published author who has agreed to talk about their trials and tribulations in the independent author scope.

Connect with me on LinkedInFacebookTwitter, or Instagram. Join me on Patreon or share, if you’ve enjoyed this post.

Break a Pencil!

© Lisa Street Rogers 2018

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