The publishing world can be daunting, so I thought I’d share some of my lessons-learned with writers/writers-to-be who are endeavoring into this world. I will post a series of short articles addressing my own perspectives so far. This is the first article in the series, and it covers my take on the pros and cons of Traditional vs. Indie Publishing.
The decision to go “Traditional” vs. “Indie” is very personal, and it depends on many factors, including the writer’s personality, situation, strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. I decided not to go Traditional for any of my books, so far. To date, I have published three books independently: Antonio’s Will (a historical novel and Book 1 of The Antonio’s Series), Antonio’s Grace (a non-fiction book and Book 2 of The Antonio’s Series), How the Colonel Got His Nickname (a short-story inspired on Antonio’s Will) and Does Your Compass Work? Practical Legal Guide for Florida Businesses (a non-fiction legal guide). I am currently writing my second novel, a historical fantasy novel (with some paranormal), which takes place in 15th-Century medieval Spain, and I plan to publish it as an Indie author, as well.
So, here are some of my thoughts on “Traditional vs. Indie.”
In general, Traditional Publishing requires the author to select one or more editorial houses that best fit the author’s genre(s) and query these publishers with appropriately formatted proposals and/or manuscripts. Many authors choose to accomplish this task with the help of an agent to advise them of their best prospects and represent them with publishers. The agent will help secure a percentage of the author’s future earnings on the book, may charge an initial fee for services rendered and will likely take a cut from the future sales if the publication is accepted by the publisher. Writers can purchase publications, such as those by Writer’s Market, to identify candidate publishers and agents.
Pros. The traditional publishing framework has worked very well for many authors who just want to concentrate on their writing and leave everything else to their agent and publisher. A major benefit is that the publisher will absorb the costs of editing and proofreading, cover design and some (not all) marketing for the accepted manuscript. In addition, besides the perceived benefit to the author’s reputation of being affiliated with a traditional publisher (which is greatly changing with the growth of the Indie publishing industry), large publishers have massive networks of contacts at global levels that can facilitate market reach of the book, quick turnaround in other language translations, and perhaps even enable the launch of the book as a movie. They are likely in a stronger position to fight piracy and undertake other legal responsibilities that can be very costly for a self-published author. Many authors choosing to go this route (e.g., Grisham, Brown, King, Roberts, Rowling, Allende, among thousands of others) have experienced ‘stardom’ by “going Traditional.” For these authors, having a tiny piece of a large pie is not such a bad thing. Some of them have more time to focus on writing (this depends based on the demands of the publisher on their time to support marketing efforts and events.)
Cons. Querying a publisher can be a lengthy, burdensome, and demoralizing process, likely accompanied by dozens of rejection letters (if not more!) Some authors have waited years to publish traditionally, and some works have never been published because they were not picked up by a traditional publisher. In addition, publisher contracts can be quite onerous. Although the publisher will absorb much of the upfront cost of publishing the book, the author’s royalties are typically very low (5-10% or less). In addition, publishers (and their lawyers) like to secure exclusive intellectual property rights to the accepted work (this includes film!) As such, they will have a final say, sometimes against the author’s wishes. “Advances” paid to the author are sometimes a “loan” based on projected sales. If published at all, a book may not be released for years (often, at least two), as publishers typically reserve the right to decide when (and if!) to publish an accepted work. Also, many authors under contract with a publisher feel as though they are treated much like “employees.” Some must produce a set number of books within a specific period of time and all have to abide by the terms of their publishing contract. An author wishing to go the traditional route can benefit from hiring a lawyer to negotiate their contract with their agent and publisher and to understand the rights, responsibilities and risks acquired under such agreements.
Indie publishing puts authors in charge of publishing their own works. They are responsible for the product creation, promotion and sales, much like any other business owner. Some authors undertake all steps of self-publishing completely on their own while others outsource some portions of the process.
Pros. Indie publishing bypasses the gatekeeper nature and contractual constraints of the traditional publishing world. As such, it lowers the barriers and shortens the time to publish a book. With the advent of self-publishing, anyone can be a published author, not just the authors selected by a given publisher. Indie authors retain all intellectual property rights to their work. They enjoy the freedom and total control of their products, including the design of its interior and its cover, and when and where to sell their books. The Indie industry has been fueled by providers like Amazon, which have enabled independent authors to publish in electronic and print form. These providers also make available promotional and distribution services and venues to Indie authors, making book marketing much easier than ever before. Other providers of Indie e-books are Smashwords, iBooks, B&N, Scribd, Oyster, OverDrive, and Kobo. These Indie-friendly providers charge a much lower percentage than the traditional publishers for their service (e.g., an author publishing through Amazon in the U.S. may be able to retain 70% of their e-book sales.) Favorable predictions for Indie publishing continue (See Articles below.)
Cons. Independent authors are self-employed individuals, business owners, and as such must be entrepreneurial in nature and must learn how to manage time and operate like a business. Indies not only have to create their own products, but they are also responsible for developing the business and marketing plan(s) to launch and sell their books, as these are not going to sell themselves. In addition, a book’s quality depends not only on great writing, but also on great editing, proofreading, and a professional cover design. Indie authors are responsible for hiring editors, proofreaders and cover designers for the books they wish to publish. And they have to have a budget for all this, much like a start-up business. Other responsibilities include determining the right price for the book and choosing the book’s promotion and distribution venues, including Internet-based and physical stores and events. All the time invested on running the business, including hiring the right support, marketing and sales takes away from the time for writing. In addition, an author wishing to go Indie should consult a lawyer to help them protect their intellectual property rights, such as copyright and trademark rights, prior to publishing. Indies are also responsible for the cost of defending their rights, including defending against the plagiarism and “piracy” of their works, if at all possible.
A Quick Note on Author Platform and Author Groups
Regardless of whether they choose to go Traditional or Indie, all authors must also have a strong author platform and reach out to other authors. For the most part, authors will be responsible for building their own author platform, even if they are publishing via a traditional publisher. This includes having a good online presence, such as a website, a Facebook page, a book video, and a blog. Many authors also leverage other Internet-based promotional tools, such as other social media (e.g., Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+), guest blogging, and the use of reader sites, like Goodreads. Joining author groups and discussion boards can be very beneficial, and I would suggest, “a must.” Peers can help each other with advice, alpha and beta reading and reviews of each other’s work prior to manuscript final completion. Personally, I found that joining LinkedIn and Facebook online author discussion groups to be very helpful. In addition to various other groups (genre-based), I found the Indie Author Group and Indie Author Writing Group are very active groups and provide great tips (particularly helpful for authors considering self-publishing.) Although I have not joined a local author group regularly meeting in my area (mostly due to time constraints), peers have shared that this has been extremely beneficial to them. Some other authors do not use them, and they set up a virtual beta reading group.
Updated 11/2/2015: So far, I am enjoying the Indie journey, although I must admit this publishing approach does take time away from writing. I am the consummate entrepreneur, and I love the business aspect of publishing. I plan to continue publishing in this way, but I will never discount a good opportunity and remain open-minded to traditional publishing given the right situation!
- 2015 Book Publishing Predictions by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords
- Top 10 Reasons Why I Would Never Publish Traditionally by author Dean Wesley Smith
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