Will Traditional Publishing Secure Your Success
So you’ve finished your novel (first, second, or thirtieth)—congratulations! You’ve gotten through the easy part, and now it’s time to face one of the most difficult questions for writers: “Do I self-publish or work with a publisher?”
The world of publishing and self-publishing has vastly changed just in the last five years. Self-publishing is no longer looked down upon by the industry. A large percentage of the “successful” writers around today are either fully self-published or a hybrid (both traditional and self-published).
A lot of writers believe that getting your book published through a traditional publisher will guarantee their success. I’m here to tell you that is 100% not the case!
Publishing with the Big Five
Hachette, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, MacMillan—these are the names that every writer recognizes. They are the “Big Five”, the largest publishing houses in the US and the ones that seem to hold the promise of overnight success for new authors.
There are plenty of good things about these big publishers:
- Publishing with them all but guarantees a fairly sizeable royalty check
- No one else can offer such widespread distribution (though Jane Friedman gives some great tips on expanding your distribution as a self-published author in this article)
- There is a certain amount of prestige that comes from being published by these big names
- Once you are published with them, you have a greater chance of getting more publishing deals with them in the future
On the downside:
- If your book fails to yield sufficient returns, your chances of getting more publishing deals in the future plummet. Many publishers will choose a new author over one whose books failed in the past.
- You have ZERO control over your book. Not only does the publisher handle the editorial side of things, but they take control over covers, title, and everything else.
- The time to publishing is well over a year—on average 18 months.
- The chances of getting a publishing deal with these Big Five is VERY slim.
Many writers dream of getting a deal with these big houses. If you can land one, you’re doing good. However, if not, there are other options to consider, right?
Publishing with Small and Indie Presses
There are dozens of smaller presses run by the larger publishing houses, and then there are thousands of independent publishers around the country. Some are professional, well-run establishments staffed by competent editors, marketers, cover artists, and publicists. Others are little more than a pair of authors and editors teamed up to create their own publishing house for the sake of appearing more professional.
The good thing about working with small and indie presses:
- Higher acceptance rates. Many smaller presses are willing to take risks on unknown authors because the quality of the work holds as much value as its marketability.
- Easier access. There’s no need to go through agents with these smaller presses. You can often connect directly with the CEO or acquisitions editors through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts.
- More control. You don’t have total control over the novel, but your voice does count for more. You have more input in the cover design, interior layout, placement, and other aspects of the book production process.
- Greater specificity. You can find publishers that specialize in horror, dark fantasy, military science fiction, historical romance, and every other genre under the sun.
On the downside:
- The publishers tend to have limited reach and budget. They may not be able to help you with your marketing or advertising, and they may not be able to offer more than the bare minimum.
- You are limited in your earnings (royalties), but a lot of expenses (mainly marketing and advertising) fall squarely on your shoulders.
- The staff may not have experience in every aspect of the process. They may be great content editors but poor developmental editors, or they may not have publicists and advertisers on their staff. (Here are some tips from Heidi Angell to help you with editing.)
- The risk of finding inexperienced or unqualified professionals is significantly higher. But, because they’re hired by your publisher, you don’t have the opportunity to bring in a cover artist, editor, or marketer you trust—unless you pay for it yourself, of course.
Though small and indie presses do offer some benefits (no upfront publishing costs out of your pocket), they also have their own limitations.
Publishing your own book carries A LOT of risk. With a publisher, you have editors to go over your work and make sure you’re putting out a quality product. When you’re on your own, you have to do all of the quality control yourself. This leads to a higher risk of low-quality products.
There are a lot of good things about self-publishing:
- Total control over the product. You are in charge of everything from cover art to genre placement to keywords to marketing and advertising to interior formatting.
- All the royalties go to you. You’re not splitting the royalties with a publisher, so you earn all the money for each sale (after Amazon takes its cut, of course). If your book sells well, this means you earn significantly more than you would with a publisher.
- You can bring in your own team. From beta readers to editors to cover artists, self-publishing gives you the chance to find professionals you know will do a good job. (Our Write Side offers many of these services to authors who would like to hire someone, rather than doing all the work themselves.)
- Faster release schedule. As long as your editorial team can keep up with your output, you can publish books as quickly as you want.
On the downside:
- You pay for EVERYTHING yourself. Expect to spend at least $500 to $1000 per book just getting it ready to launch, plus all the added costs of launching a new book.
- Less quality control. Until you can put together an editorial team you can trust, the risk of turning out a low-quality product is much higher because you’re doing it all yourself.
- No help. You have no one to help you with the marketing, formatting, editing, cover art, etc. Without outside input, the quality of your product may suffer.
As you can see, all three types of publishing have their own pros and cons.
A bit of background on me: I self-published a novel in 2014, then went with a traditional (indie) publisher for every novel released since 2015. However, after three years of working with a publisher, I feel it’s time for me to step out and self-publish a few works on my own. By having control over the products, I will be better able to market and advertise—the true keys to success with any product.
I am facing the risk that my books will not be the same quality as my previous releases, which is why I’ve made sure to put together an editorial team I can trust. Though it’s a gamble, it’s one I feel ready to take.
Which is the right choice for you? When I started writing, I felt I needed the expertise and experience of a traditional publisher for my first forays into the publishing market. However, as I’ve gained confidence and understanding of the industry, I believe that self-publishing offers a lot of benefits that traditional publishing doesn’t. Though it doesn’t GUARANTEE success (nothing does!), I’m willing to give self-publishing a try.
Andy Peloquin, despite LOVING hiding in the comfort of his office to write, is a friendly, sometimes-outgoing guy whose massive smile hides a mind that produces dark, twisted fantasy stories.
To learn more about his books, pop on over and join his mailing list: http://andypeloquin.com/join-the-club/