Why You Should Pay Any Attention…
If you have any hopes, dreams, or aspiration about making a living out of writing novels and similar things, then this is unavoidable. At some point, you will have to make the decision to either submit to a publisher or go the lone wolf route.
And that is not a decision that should be taken lightly. At all. For obvious reasons like workload, money, and freedom.
When the idea of publishing came to my head, I was almost dead set on being published traditionally. But after I came to college, I learned something very important about myself that threw this waaaaaay of balance: I don’t like being managed, people having control over my profits and rights, or even having my success rely on the performance of other people. Three things that are pretty much guaranteed to happen under a publisher.
That isn’t to say that traditional publishing is bad. It’s just not for me. If you want to know if it’s for you, consider the questions I’m about to ask.
But first, keep in mind one simple thing.
Whatever you choose, you are not locked into it forever. Meaning if you want to self-publish a novel now, but traditionally publish something later then by all means go for it. If you want to traditionally publish a series and then unwind with a standalone novel later, yes it is possible.
Don’t feel like you have to become one or the other. You are just choosing what you think is best for the title at hand.
If you want more than an overview on self-publishing, I highly recommend the Indie Author Power Pack by Sean Platt, Johnny B Truant, Joanna Penn, and David Gaughran. It was only 99 cents when I bought it, hopefully it is for you.
But as for those questions…
1.) Do You Care About Setting Your Own Prices?
If you don’t, traditional is still an option because it is likely that this is something that a publisher will take over for you. Depending on your views, that is a good thing or a bad thing.
The pro of a publisher is that other people do this thinking for you. The cons are that traditional publishers tend to set prices at ranges that are kind of unappealing at this day and age.
Nowadays, more and more ebooks are coming out from indies at cheaper prices. And as an avid ebook reader myself I’ll say: the cheaper, the better. I don’t really like the idea of shelling out almost $10 for an ebook. It makes me uncomfortable because why should I spend money on one $10 book when I could get 5 $1.99 ones that may be just as good and entertain me ten times as long?
2.) How Much Do You Care About Profit?
If you’re one who wants all your bacon and don’t want to share, then self-publishing is the way to go. In self-publishing, you only need to earn back what you spent on getting your book together. Everything else is yours to keep.
With a publisher, things get complicated. Say you have a $20 hardcover book, okay? The retailer that’s selling that book is going to take a huge chunk. Let’s say 50% for the sake of this example. Then the publisher takes their share, let’s say 35%. That leaves the writer with a cut of 15% (and not every publisher will give a cut that big) of what remains, unless they have agent. That agent will probably take 15% of the writer’s cut.
So let’s take our dummy numbers and turn them into money.
Retailer 50% ($10)
Publisher 35% ($7)
Writer 15% ($3, unless they have agent. If they do, then we take out the agent’s 15% and the writer is left with 2.55)
Keep in mind that the publishing contract you may get will vary, not just by publisher but also by book format. Paperback cuts and e-book cuts may be totally different. So view these numbers as rough ideas, not hard absolutes.
But if you were an Indie on Amazon it might look a little different
Let’s say you have a book priced at 4.99.
Writer 70% ($3.49)
Amazon 30% ($1.50)
It’s cheaper for the reader, and gives more to the author. As an indie, our imaginary writer is making more per book sold that his/her traditional counterpart.
If writing is something you do on the side, this may not matter so much. If it’s your life, soul, and cosmic being… choose wisely.
3.) Do You Mind A Lot Of Waiting?
The traditional route has lots of this. It could be years between when you get your final draft and just actually getting your book published, let alone actually have the thing on the market. It takes a lot of patience, there are a lot of gatekeepers to go through who can make your process as slow as cold syrup. However, at the end of the long grueling road, you can be reassured that your book will come out as an appealing professional product.
In self-publishing, you can get your book out to the market as soon as you are done tinkering with your last draft. That does not necessarily a good thing. Not every self-published book is ready as soon as you type: The End. Most aren’t. And not necessarily everyone has the monetary resources or time to do what a publisher can do much easier.
However, publishers are notorious for holding back releases of paperback and ebook formats as a way of protecting hardcover sales. And this is a pain, for the reader and writer alike because hardcover is more expensive to buy, and a hassle to store. I will admit some people do like their hard copies, but that’s just the thing: some people do.
And you can do print as a self-publisher if you absolutely wanted, but that requires a whole different kind of know-how than just making an e-book.
4.) How Much Control Are You Comfortable With Giving Away?
Remember, if you go with a publisher there are rights to consider. Book rights, film rights, other merchandise if you get that far. And it’s likely that your publisher may have the authority to pass them off to the highest bidder without even going through you. And if you want to do anything special with your book– giveaways or the like, then you’d always have to consult your publisher first.
But that’s not all. Decisions about book covers can get hairy too. You may not necessarily get consulted about your book cover until it’s close to when your book is supposed to go out into the market, and by that time saying no to the book cover you don’t like could mean getting behind schedule with. release dates. Or the book can get canceled altogether.
Once you say yes to the deal, your thoughts and opinions about your own work and what you want are going to start mattering a lot less.
Indies don’t really need to worry about this as much, since they are their own boss.
5.) How Much/ What Kind Of Uncertainty Are You Willing To Deal With?
With self-publishing, you are at the direct mercy of the market and buying habits of people you don’t and that (pardon my language) is scary shit. But also there’s no one over your shoulder to tell you do x strategy to get more sales. You’re on your own. That can be empowering, but it can also be a lonely and frustrating existence trying to get more people to buy your books. You have to figure out what to do next all of the time.
But with traditional publishing… first of all, there’s the uncertainty of getting a literary agent, the uncertainty of getting the deal itself, and the uncertainty of actually keeping the deal. Some people think that once they get a publishing deal, then they’re set and they can put their feet up and watch sales roll in. But your book is still just as certain to be published as it was before you even had a deal. Books can be suddenly canceled. CJ Lyons, a best selling thriller author had her debut book canceled by a publisher 90 days before it released because of (drum roll) cover art issues.
That’s not to say that traditional publishing is all bad. It’s just not set in stone. Just like self-publishing isn’t.
In fact, traditional publishing can be really good for you if you’re not so good at the next thing on this list.
6.) How Much Marketing, Promoting, And Task Outsourcing Are You Willing To Do?
If your answer is none, you’d probably want to go traditional. No promotion at all can really kill you if you’re an Indie. And this is where we get the short end of the stick.
Publishers have easier access to professionals who can make your book look professional. That is one thing that they have down flat. But that isn’t to say that Indies can’t look professional. However, the money for this will probably come out of pocket.
Publishers act like a buffer and absorb a lot of these costs for you, but this drives up the cost of your book in return.
I’m actually fortunate for this because I have an artistic background, and have the professional equipment to make my own covers. And covers are one of the most important parts of your book. And if you are self-publishing for a living, you can’t afford to look like an amateur.
But the most important question you need to ask yourself…
7.) How Much Does Your Work Mean To You?
Always remember that another person may not always have the enthusiasm and put out 110% for your work. If you don’t really care and you just want a book with your name on it, then you’re free to do what ever you want. But if that’s not you, then think really hard.
Would you get mad if someone cancelled the book you put so much effort into?
Would you get mad if you wanted to do extra events for your book, and your publisher said no?
Would you get mad if you outsourced your editing and you found that your editor doesn’t mesh with your project?
Would you get frustrated if your cover artist didn’t get your cover right?
Would you get frustrated if your book got pulled off bookshelves because sales were awful?
Would you get discouraged if you were rejected over and over again by publisher after publisher?
Would you get discouraged if your marketing and promotion efforts don’t get sales?
How much would it hurt you if you saw the people working on your book not putting in very much effort?
Are you the kind of person who minds restrictions?
A Final Word
Wow, this post ran on for a lot longer than I thought it would. But these are some serious things that need to be consider. Always remember that you don’t need to strictly do one mode of publishing over the other.
For those of you who have already made the decision, please feel free to share in the comments! How did you make the decision to go traditional or published? Did you hit any obstacles on the road to becoming an author? How have those obstacles made you stronger? If you’re published, do you ever wish you could’ve published a different way? And what book did you publish or thinking about publishing?