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.