Traditional Versus Self Publishing

Most authors dream of being the next J.K. Rowling or even the modern day Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. However we look at it, life for the average author is tough to start with. I am speaking as if I have loads of experience……..

Although I am a relatively new self published author, I do have the experience of being both traditionally and self published and so for this reason, I wanted to write this blog post. I also wanted to get it all down in writing while the whole self publishing thing is still fresh in my memory – it is important to capture the moment at my age!

My traditionally published book was one I co-edited with a colleague and is a textbook. There was one shortcut I made during that route and that was that I didn’t have to approach an agent as textbook editors still allow direct contact from would-be authors. I was able to ring the editor, talk through my proposal, get a go ahead and then jump through all the other hoops required, knowing that the book was highly likely to be accepted for publishing.

In this article I thought I would like to consider the advantages and disadvantages to both forms of publishing as the publishing world has been taken by storm over the past few years by the whole Indie scene, mainly due to that ever growing phenomena called Amazon!

Traditional Publishing

Advantages

  • Kudos – The first thing my friends asked me last year when I published my nurse memoir was who is the publisher? Even my oldest friends were less than encouraging (note I said oldest not best)
  • Agent – if you have an agent (and you have to for traditional publishing), they will contact the publishers for you and their contacts will mean they are heard
  • Advance – money is not everything but it is nice to have a bit of money up-front that assures you that someone believes in you – it might be the last money you ever see from a publisher!
  • Distribution – this is probably the biggest positives of traditional publishers, they have an army of sales and distribution channels with industry contacts at their fingertips to distribute books.
  • Bookshop access due to their distribution channels (note I say access)
  • Editors/proofreaders at their fingertips and they pay them, not you!
  • Industry standards – this is another important lesson for all Indie authors to take on board, books via publishers will have gone through a fairly rigorous process before hitting bookshelves
  • Reviewers – instant access to reviewers, with some of them famous. For my textbook the forward was written by Lady Cumberlege!
  • Marketing – linked to distribution, they can market your book for you – note I say ‘CAN’

Disadvantages

  • Finding an agent – even J.K was turned down on multiple occasions when she first started out! Its hard and agents are very reluctant to take on new authors. If you are a children’s author it is harder and as for poetry……..
  • Slooooow – Its really slow, with a lead time of around 2-3 years from proposal to book in hand!
  • Editors are constantly moving on – my editor left just before publishing and you have to start again with a new one
  • Less control – although you can have some input regarding cover design e.g. colour, you don’t get much input
  • Not guaranteed to be in bookshops – the biggest lesson I learned was that the publisher does very little to market your work once published, they send out some review copies and then its left to the author to promote. It did make Waterstones in universities though, which of course helps
  • Lots of revisions, although this should happen whether Indie or traditional
  • Royalties – the royalty rates are paltry and in many cases you might never see any money again after the initial advance due to the royalty rate being a percentage of net profits. Most authors are lucky if they get 10% of net.

Self Publishing

Advantages

  • Speed – this has to be one of the attractions, you can work as fast as you like and get your book to market within a much shorter period of time
  • Control – it is up to you how fast or slow you work, you get to have input on cover design, formatting, book size, page length and everything in-between
  • Direct access to editors, proofreaders etc usually through ‘outsourcing’
  • Marketing – although this is really hard, nobody believes in a book more than the author and this it what I have learned through the difficult times
  • Networking – it is fun, networking with other authors in the same boat as you – some of them on the opposite side of the world but you gain a whole new world of friends
  • Satisfaction/pride – When that first printed book comes through the door there is not greater feeling and there is the added satisfaction that you did it all by yourself
  • Royalties – You retain between 35-70% ebook royalties and around 30% print on demand depending on size, colour, number of pages so can be less
  • You are the publisher – you have complete control over what happens to your book and you can call yourself a publisher as well as an author
  • Doing what you love to do? I hope so because otherwise it is going to be all uphill and there are much easier ways to make money!
  • Expertise – not only do you develop expertise as a writer but also as a publisher, marketer and all things in-between
  • Print on demand – a vital part of self publishing that helps keep costs down are companies like Createspace (Amazon) and Lightning Source
  • Working with local Independent bookshops for me has been one of the nicest things about being an Indie author

Disadvantages

  • Expensive – it is important not to overspend but to spend money wisely on absolute necessities such as proofreaders, editors, cover design, marketing budget
  • Standards – some indie authors put out books full of errors and I learned from doing this initially that proofreading is absolutely essential, thankfully as an indie author you don’t usually print off 5,000 books before realising your mistake – poor publication and formatting drags indie authors down
  • Almost impossible to get into bookshops – the major wholesalers of books in the UK are Gardners & Bertrams and it is really difficult to get them to stock your book. WH Smiths don’t use either but that doesn’t mean they will stock and Indie book
  • Difficult to get literary awards – its not impossible because there are some awards specifically for Indie authors
  • Charlatans – there are large numbers of people out there promising the world and delivering very little for the money. As Indie authors we are wide open to being taken in by scammers. There are many genuine courses for authors to help with marketing and editing but there are a lot that are not worth the money. Be picky – be careful!
  • Lack of kudos – in some cases, people do not think they are reading a genuine book unless it comes from a traditional publisher
  • Reviews – one of the hardest things to do is to get genuine reviews for a book, apparently only around 1-2% of Amazon customers review purchases

I hope this article has given some food for thought and I know its not exhaustive because there is so much more to learn. It is not meant to be a guide to self publishing so I have not included the ‘how to’ element – that can wait for another day. If I have missed anything out please feel free to comment – no spam please or it will be removed.

Dawn Brookes

31/03/2017