Monday, November 19, 2012

Traditional or Self Publishing? That Is the Question...

I have found myself asking this question recently, perhaps it's because I have been talking to illustrators, cover artists, and editors, people who routinely are hired by the Traditional Publisher to do these tasks for you. And as I ponder the expenses and the process of becoming published, I have to wonder what is going to be the best route? Traditional or Self?
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at

First, let's just assume we will get published- regardless of the route, becoming a published author is within our grasp.

Second, let's define traditional v. self publishing. When I'm talking about traditional publishing, I'm talking about the route of having a publishing company offer to produce your book. I won't get into the nitty gritty, but in the most basic sense this involves submitting queries, possibly getting an agent, negotiating a contract,  and earning between 5-15% royalties on each book sold. Boom. This process can take literally years to accomplish (something that is hard to stomach in a world of instant gratification), but is the route that nearly all authors took up to recent history.

Self publishing, however, is where you glean the control and therefore all of the accountability of your books production. There are many "self-publishing companies" (here's one that make an arm and a leg producing your book. These companies can cost the author anywhere from $1500 to $10,000 and though your book will indeed be printed, most stores will never see them because they get lost in the sea-of-books-that-never-make-it-to-the-surface. These companies will edit, illustrate, and print your book.

Then there is what I consider self-publishing in the context of this article, having our own hands in the pot with every step of the way. WE write the best manuscript we can, WE have a test audience read it, WE hire a editor to professionally critique and proofread it, WE hire our cover artist and/or illustrator, WE format it for eBooks and print, WE set the price, WE are in complete control over every step in the process, and we earn a lot more for each sale- up to 70%! Plus, our out of pocket costs are generally less because we can shop around for the services we hire out, something that is important for those that are just starting out.

But is it worth going through a traditional publisher when we can do much of what they do without waiting for them to come around? Great question.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I think, and not to totally wimp out of offering any real advice here, but it really depends. It depends on how patient we are. It does take a lot of effort and time to query publishers or to win an agent. It takes thick skin to persevere in the face of rejection letters, and there's sacrifice, less control over editing, design- even the title can be changed. Plus we earn less money from every book sold. When the downsides are spelled out, it's no wonder that more and more authors are leaving the traditional publishing world with many others going straight to self-publishing.

But, if you do have what it takes to live through the process of getting a traditional publisher to notice your manuscript, then it has a better chance of ending up on the shelf at your local Barnes and Noble. Though, a self-published eBook can easily be sold for the Nook, it takes more to get a space in a brick and mortar shop.  Some people may also argue that marketing is easier or better from a traditional publisher. However, I have heard that this is not necessarily the case. Most successful authors will report that they didn't wait for the publisher to market them, they stepped in and did it themselves.

But being published traditionally doesn't mean that you're going to be a success, that takes an indeterminable combination of things such as a good book, great word-of-mouth marketing, and a whole lotta' luck. There's no shortage of advice out there, but what works for one author may not work for another. Some of it is being a well informed entrepreneur who makes good choices along the way, some of it is just timing, being at the right place with the right story. The right answer isn't always the first one we pick. Through experience we will learn what works for us.

If you have a burning desire to be traditionally published, then do it right. Do your homework and find out how the process works, and don't give up easily. If you know that you want to give self-publishing a try, then again- do it the right way. Get your manuscript edited professionally, be choosy about your cover art (we do judge a book by its cover by the way), pay attention even after your book is available- like how pricing affects your sales.

Some people will advise that it's better to start with self-publishing to have real sales to show a traditional publisher that you're a good investment. Others will say the exact opposite, to start with a traditional publisher then, if you want to self-publish, you have a fan base ready to buy your books. Yet others stay consistently either traditionally or self-published. People have been successful in all these ways, and not. 

If we accept that we will not be successful overnight, and that even with a lot of research, we understand we still have a lot to learn, we just may find the right niche for what we have to offer the world. In the end, it is a personal preference and something that we are allowed to decide for ourselves. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
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