I get that question a lot. I also get this one—When are you going to do traditional publishing? The short answer? Never.
That said, this blog post is geared more toward those writers who want to publish but haven’t quite decided how to get into the process. I’ll be fair right away—I am hugely biased toward independent publishing for many reasons but let me try to give each option a fair shake (I probably won’t).
First, the obvious route most authors consider is traditional publishing—or what I call, the black hole where all your hard work goes to die.
Once you’ve worked yourself half to death to write your book, edit it, polish it (rinse and repeat…), it’s time to get busy writing those query letters. Yep. You don’t just submit your manuscript to Penguin and get a book deal. You send a query along with thousands of other authors hoping to get noticed. Sometimes you get a bite (AKA manuscript request), but most often, you get crickets.
Here’s what’s great about traditional publishing if you are one of the lucky ducks. You get to say you’ve been published by (insert publishing house here). And… that’s about it. The common misconception is that getting signed by a publishing house means you will see your book on every big-name bookstore across the world. The reality is less glamorous.
Publishing companies are for-profit and money talks. Money is loud, and they already have an established list of authors who rake in the big bucks. Are there some breakthrough authors? Of course, but the average author signed to a publishing house must market their own book, accept they will get no say in cover design, never see their book on store shelves, and—very often—never even see their book go to print.
Let’s look at this another way. Publishers need to make a certain amount of money to do business, and they need a promised source of income to ensure they stay afloat—bring in the smaller authors who do all the grunt work to sell their own books yet share the profit with the publisher just for the privilege of stamping that famous logo on their book. All those revenues make it easier for the publisher to spend significant funds on marketing their star authors. As bad as this sounds, it’s true: publishing houses don’t need you to succeed. They only need you to make them enough money to make their established stars shine brighter.
That’s right. It sucks, but it’s business. The fact is, no one will care as much about your book as you do (okay, maybe your family, friends, and some readers will, too… but you see my point.)
If your book doesn’t meet sales expectations, you can kiss it goodbye. It’ll get backlisted and never see the light of day again. To top it off, you’ve also lost the right to publish it elsewhere. Had a whole series planned? Well… not anymore.
I’m not anti-traditional publishing. I’m just… realistic. But I also don’t like being told what to do, what to write, how to write it, and when to write, which is a lot of what traditional publishing is about.
Now, moving on to small press traditional publishing. Some authors find this option more pleasing than the cutthroat antics necessary to impress big-name publishers. Small presses have a much lower overhead, which doesn’t mean they don’t publish more prominent authors. Some do, but for the most part, small presses are more invested in their authors because they don’t have multi-million-dollar authors whose advertising budget costs more per month than my entire home mortgage.
Often, authors have more say in how their book is published, the look and feel of the final product, and can still find their work in bookstores. The downside? Depending on the publisher and your contract, you still might run into some of the same issues you would with traditional publishing. If your book doesn’t sell well, you might not be retained for future work. However, I have seen some authors manage to score sweet deals that allowed them to keep publishing rights if dropped by the publisher, but those are hard to come by.
Small press is a leap of faith in both directions—for you and the publisher—but it can be a rewarding venture if both parties are willing to put in the work.
And now, my favorite option—independent publishing (AKA self-publishing). We’ve all heard it before, and it’s been proven wrong more times than I can count… Independent authors are not real authors. I just want to say one thing to all the haters out there—thbbbttt!
First and foremost, there are plenty—PLENTY—of indie authors who make high six-figure incomes per year. Incidentally, that’s more than most traditionally published authors make. Remember, book sales are only a fraction of what makes up author income. Most big-name authors are also speaking at conventions, selling merchandise, offering classes, and more to earn income.
Independent publishing is growing exponentially for many reasons, not the least of which is author control. I get to write what I want, when I want, how I want, and run my own business like the boss woman I am. I answer to no one but myself (and the mini-me that lives here and thinks she runs the place).
With indie publishing, my failures are my own. My success is my own. And I am not held back by the expectations of a publishing house whose rules for what is “in” frequently change. I can publish with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google… the list goes on and on. I have a following of readers who are invested in my success, a family of other indie authors who see my success as a good thing, not as competition, and I don’t need anyone’s permission to do… anything.
There’s a mindset among the writing community that independent authors are hacks or that we just couldn’t make it into traditional publishing. Maybe that’s true for some authors, but it is by and large a load of poo. Even some big-name authors have dabbled in independent publishing because they know their days are numbered, and as soon as they stop raking in big money, their publisher will drop them like a bad habit.
I love the freedom of being my own boss, an entrepreneur, a content creator, a creator of worlds, a free-thinking and free-writing author. Is it hard work? You bet, but if writing is your passion, then the hard work should be worth it, right?
Is it expensive? Not if you do it right! Of course, there are costs associated with independent publishing, but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking those same costs don’t exist in traditional publishing. They absolutely do! You still market, pay for designers, editors, and everything else, but you pay it after sales which is why your royalty share is usually pennies on the dollar. Again, that’s a hard pass for me when I can promote other artists with amazing cover designs and so on for much less (and often with better designs!)
I know, I know… I’m raving about the indie position, but in fairness, I did warn you. The reality is this—you are your own best advocate, and no one will work harder for your career as an author than you. For me, it was a no-brainer to choose the independent author route. I don’t regret it for a second.
I get to meet tons of amazing people (readers, authors, illustrators, producers, and more) and make lifelong friendships and partnerships. I get to do interviews, podcasts, book signings, and more just like other authors—only I get to do it my way (which usually involves food), and I get to make real, meaningful connections with my readers.
So now, whenever someone asks me why I chose independent publishing, I just say—why wouldn’t I?