Which route should I go? Traditional publishing or indie?
I’ve been battling with this question from the very beginning. Well, not quite. My “very beginning” was a couple of years before indie publishing started becoming an acceptable and viable option. Before then, I was an avid fan of the traditional route.
But within the past few years, we’ve seen networking and service-and-support sites for indies multiply exponentially and become amazingly effective. Freelance editors, cover designers, formatters, distributors, marketers, and promotional sites, all geared for the DIY author, have made going solo lucrative for the right people.
If you invest enough of your own money, and if you know how to work the logarithms and logistics of the various publishing sites, and if you’re a constant presence in social media, and if you rub your nose just right, you might succeed. Depending upon your definition of success, that is.
I’ve read articles supporting both sides of the story: traditional vs indie. This morning, I read “Stay Away From Traditional Book Publishing,” by Dean Wesley Smith. The article enumerates every single reason most indies—myself included—want to stay indie, primarily control and ownership.
I also read Steve Laube’s “Goodbye to Traditional Publishing?” in which he tackles the complaints of one author with a major publisher who sold 170,000 copies of her book and earned only $20,000 in royalties.
Roughly 11c per book.
Granted, he admitted that publisher pays its authors below the industry standard, emphasizing the house is a nonprofit entity. It must earn a profit to remain in business. Not sure that argument works as a defense for short-changing authors. Very few major publishers are in the business out of altruism, yet they manage to pay the average.
But Laube doesn’t really cover the question of royalties in the article. Instead, he concentrates more on the number of sales the author made. Sales translate to readers, which, if you’re good, translate to a fan base. Probably not the whole 170K, but perhaps a good percentage of it.
With the sales of all my indie and traditional titles combined, I’ll tell you now, I don’t have that many fans.
I already know why I enjoy being indie, and my reasons include many of the ones Smith uses to argue against going traditional. But Laube offers this:
If you wish to wave goodbye to traditional publisher and go Indie (independent) I believe the first question to ask is whether or not you want to start a small business. Just like an entrepreneur. Those authors who are entrepreneurs are ideally suited for the self-publishing route. The [sic] understand the energy it takes and pitfalls ahead.
The second question is whether they can sell enough copies to make it all worthwhile. And are also are [sic] willing to take responsibility if a book fails.
Apparently, I stink at being an entrepreneur. So far as I can tell, the only ones who don’t stink at it (1) take the time to sift through and understand the mountain of ever-changing information out there and (2) are Type A personalities.
The question of whether an indie can “sell enough copies to make it all worthwhile” is just short of moot when you look at the traditionally published author who made only 11c per book. Using a per-book measurement, I make considerably more. Once the initial expenditures are reimbursed through sales, indies don’t pay a percentage to a publisher and agent, so the bulk of their royalties can go back in their pockets (or, if they’re smart, get reinvested into their businesses).
Like it or not, the marketing aspect of this business lands on the unknown author’s shoulders whether they’re trad or indie. Even if I went with a top five publisher, I can’t expect the marketing budget offered to someone like Nora Roberts. So if I decide against going indie because I hate marketing, I’ll still find myself in the same swamp.
Let me summarize: I love having control and ownership over my books and keeping the bulk of my royalties, even though I stink at the very thing I’d have to do anyway regardless of how I’m published. So I should probably stay indie, right?
Still, my wobbling self keeps going back and forth. What’s pushing me over the edge this time is the 170K sales. Not that every author can expect this, but as long as I’m indie with a Type B personality, I don’t think I can expect anywhere near this. Traditional publishers have access to retailers I don’t have. True, bookstores are closing left and right, but bookstores aren’t the only outlets, and ebooks are great, but they haven’t fossilized print novels as once expected. The TV didn’t kill the radio, the microwave didn’t kill the stove, and ebooks haven’t killed print.
Another thought is that the larger traditional publishers pay advances. Granted, they aren’t as big as they once were, and they aren’t likely to be large at all for a new-to-them author, but having a lump sum up front could go a long way if invested in a publicist or an effective marketing campaign outside what the publisher itself provides.
I’ve been indie for a while now, and I’d like to see how those on the other side of the debate live. I believe I’ve established enough credibility over the years that I should be able to land a star agent and a major publisher—and if not, then the debate between indie and trad will be settled. But I think I’ve made up my mind. Once I finish my newest WIP, I’m going to shop for an agent.
2019 should be an interesting year.
I am very interested in following your experience with seeking an agent and looking for a traditional publisher. The process sounds daunting (and scary). Thank you for letting us follow along with you. 🙂
First, I have to write the book. 😀
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Well, there is that. Just a minor detail. 😉
I’m planning to go the traditional route largely because I fancy the challenge of trying to get a book published via the traditional route. I’ve not given much thought yet to rights, sales and so on.
Actually, getting past the gatekeepers is a huge accomplishment. Hope you crash the gates!
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Thanks. Here’s to hoping, eh? 🙂
Let me know how it goes.
I’ve been traditionally publishing for nine years now, and only in the past month have I independently released (re-released actually) two of my novels. I really enjoyed it, and will do it again. That said, I will continue seeking traditional publishing also, but I stink at agent hunting. I don’t see bigger doors opening without one, yet I’ve had more success pitching to small houses than to agents. It’s daunting all the way around. I plan to try again when conference season rolls around, but if it doesn’t happen, well… I won’t cry about it. My biggest goal is to put forth my best effort while also remaining content with whatever successes (biggish or wee) God allows me to achieve.
I read an article about mega-star Harlan Corbin and how he spent 20 years in the small houses before he hit it big. I hope you and I don’t have to follow his track record. I’ve been indie or small since 2011.
I know, right?! He started at a much younger age than I did. He’s only 56 now. I don’t have 20 years of lucidity left to wait that long! 😀 😀 😀
Good luck, Linda! You can do this.
I question this occasionally myself, but at this point, I’m so ingrained in (and for the most part happy with) the indie approach that I think trying to go trad, even as experiment, would be more trouble than it’s worth.
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I remember you sticking to your guns about going indie before indie was cool. Now I’d consider you a success at it. Don’t know why you’d want to change, but it would be interesting to see what would happen if you did.
I am with you, Linda. I began traditionally; have also loved indie but there is a validation about having someone believe in me enough to buy the right to publish my work. I intend to pursue traditional pub again in 2019 on two projects and indie on a couple of others. I look forward to hearing your agent success!
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And I look forward to hearing about your success! Keep in touch!
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I understand what you are saying about the money, but I firmly believe that the choice depends on the author’s personality. Someone who likes working with a team, in a collaborative effort, is going to do better with conventional publishing. Someone who wants more control over their work and is interested in entrepreneurship is going to be happier as an independent author.
I hope it works out for you!
That may be narrow view of the reasons authors go indie. Many big-name authors who have been their publisher’s team members for years are also putting out their own works independently and are enjoying the benefits of control and higher income. Many no-name authors are indie because they don’t want to jump the hoops required of traditional publishing or they weren’t able to make it past the gate keepers. Doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t work with a team.
A lot of writers don’t think past the point of publication, so for them, entrepreneurship doesn’t enter the equation until they’re scrambling to figure out how to distribute and sell their books and keep up with their records and file their taxes. Despite bloggers’ best efforts, the business end comes as a surprise.
I imagine personality is part of it with a percentage of authors, but I don’t believe it’s a factor for most.
Thanks for the comment.
I phrased that badly.
I was agreeing that the money is a factor, but I believe that those aspects of a writer’s personality should be taken into account when making that decision, if they are going to be happy long-term.
As you wrote in your article, Type A and Type B.
Ah! Now I see what you’re saying, and you’re right on the money. Personality should definitely be a factor to consider. Thanks for clarifying.
“right on the money.” Giggle! No pun intended. 😀
Yeah, money would be nice. LOL While I like being indie, and it suits my personality, I am hindered by the fact that I am not a fast writer, and I don’t have the appealing personality that some successful authors of Christian fiction do. I have all the Type A qualities without the speed and charm. Christian readers do like to see a face behind what they are reading. It builds trust and connection. We live in a social media age!
But I’ve drifted off your original comment. I think you are being wise in your decision, because you’re going into it with experience and a solid understanding of your options.
Oh, girl–when you get to the “appealing personality” part, believe me, we can talk. Remind me someday to tell you of some of the idiotic things I’ve said not realizing just how “public” I am as a blogger. Oy vey!
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This author has done both ways,,, interesting info… check it out and see what you think??
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