Why Traditionally Publish? A Response To A Comment

So, the other day I said something about how in publishing no real debate exists and hey isn’t it super-nifty that we have lots of options and all options are equal and valid in the eyes of WRITING JESUS and I dunno, I probably said something else but I tend to fade out.

One such comment on that post was the following, by addadinsane:

You think that’s just vanity publishing? There’s no difference between how much work you have to do in marketing whether you’re trad published or self-published. The only authors that get a marketing budget nowadays are the huge sellers. (Even my friend who is A-list doesn’t get one – he’s still not big enough.)

It was funny, I was on a panel a couple of months back with a bunch of traditionally published authors and someone in the audience brought this up, said to me “But don’t you have to do all the marketing yourself?” So I turned to the other five panellists and said “Hey guys, how much marketing do you have to do?” Answers ranged from “Loads” to “All of it”.

And trad publishers take a lot more than 50%. One wonders what for.

I’m all in favour of “no debate” but I think people should be accurately informed about the truth of traditional publishing rather than looking through rose-tinted spectacles. Then they can make an informed decision.

Frankly I don’t know why anyone goes trad published to be honest. The only reason I’ve heard recently is that they want to be a “proper” author. And if that isn’t vanity, I don’t know what is.

And I wanted to respond to it. But I started to write up my response and found it too long for a mere paltry comment, and figured, hey, well, I’ll take up some oxygen at the blog, proper.

The commenter followed up with an additional comment that bears looking at:

The most accurate statement of my viewpoint would be: “I personally can see very little benefit for someone who is serious about being published to pursue traditional publishing because the negatives that I perceive far outweigh any benefits (of which I have trouble seeing any).”

Negatives include: (a) Years chasing agents/publishers because it’s not only about having a great book, it’s whether you hit the right person at exactly the right time and you might never hit it just right; (b) If you get the contract, its years before the book comes out; (c) Only allowed to produce one book per year; (d) restrictive contracts (my A-list pal is *not allowed* to promote except on FB, Twitter and his blog (he is *not* allowed to create a mailing list of fans) other restrictions apply; (e) poor royalties on ebooks (trad publishers are raking it in on over-priced ebooks and not passing the money on to authors; (f) loss of artistic control (if they think it would be better a different way, you have to change it); (g) no marketing budget; (h) book goes the shelves sale after a few months; (i) long delays in production of paperback and ebook (because they make more money out of hardbacks – even though tests by Hugh Howey has demonstrated no loss of income producing all formats simultaneously); (j) Two book deals – fail to sell and you’re out; (k) loss of rights to your books;

Benefits: (a) Book on shelves for a couple of months? I have bookshops wanting to sell my physical books. (b) Professional editing? I have that; (c) Professional covers? I have those. (d) Global distribution? I have that. (d) Translation? I can get that (Babelcube website – yes that’s real human translation); (e) Film rights? Hire an entertainment lawyer for that one deal; (f) Audio books? (Go to ACX) (g) Advances! (Yeah, right, don’t give up the day job); (h) … um …?

The one thing I learned from my A-list friend is that he was clueless about the true state of the indie market, which presumably represents the state of most people in the traditional publishing world, since he most definitely is not a fool.

Do I think there is a lot of indie crap? Yes, of course there is. However I don’t associate with indie authors who think publishing their vomit draft with a cover drawn by their dog is a good idea. Most of use care about what we do. (And what reader checks the publisher? Only the totally anal ones.)

Ultimately, of course, it is the individual author’s decision.

Everyone must indeed make a private decision about their books and how to publish and promote them. And going indie — self-publishing — is one such path forward. That said, I find in that indie community you sometimes find some bad information (or, at the least, very weird assumptions) about publishing with a publisher big or small, and some these misconceptions are on display here. Suggesting that traditional publishing is equivalent to vanity publishing is one such thing — it’s an analogy that fails at the most fundamental levels, given that a) traditional pays you where b) you pay vanity. The flow of money is different. (Now, if you want to talk about how some traditional publishers also run vanity publishers? That’s nastier business.)

So, let’s hash it out a little bit. Why would anybody go “trad?”

a) The simplest and most forthright reason is: “I don’t want to publish my own work.” In much the same way not everyone wants to open a storefront or do their own home repairs or 3D print their own sex toys, sometimes you do not possess the skill-set and/or the interest to self-publish. Because, to some people’s surprise, self-publishing requires more than just writing a book. You’re now a publisher — with all the work that being a publisher now entails. (Translation: you have less time to write. Maybe you’re okay with that. But maybe you’re not.)

b) Because bookshelves. Yes, you can get on bookstore shelves with self-published work, but a bookstore friend estimates that this is less than 1% of the books on her shelves. And “book on shelves for a couple months” isn’t necessarily accurate — I poke through bookstores and find books from a couple years ago bobbling around there. Which is both awesome (woo hoo! they carry me!) and anxiety-inducing (oh god are the books just not selling?!).

c) Because advances. Advances are not universal, but can be pretty great and are pretty common in some genres. I’m a fan. I dunno what to tell you — sure, you can take all the risk yourself, and I’ve done that and will do it again. But it’s also nice to have someone give you several thousands of dollars right out of the gate. The commenter says, “Yeah, right, don’t give up the day job,” but it is exactly this that has helped me to give up the day job.

d) Because marketing and advertising. It’s easy to say, “PUBLISHED AUTHORS GET NO MARKETING BUDGET,” but that’s provably untrue. Now, whether they spend that on you or not is up for debate — some authors get nothing, bupkiss, shit-on. Others get a little or a lot. My anecdotal mileage is that I have received efforts for marketing from all of my publishers. Do I wish they did more? Sure, because I will always wish they could do more. They could put my naked ass on a Times Square billboard display for four weeks and I will lament that it wasn’t there for five. And yes, traditionally-published authors still do a helluva lot of on-the-ground marketing of their work because, honestly, human connection (me talking to an audience and also selling books that way) is not something a publisher can really do. (That being said, some publishers will say: “Okay, our marketing plan is a blog tour,” to which you should respond, “That’s my marketing plan. Now I’m waiting to hear yours, motherfucker.” Except don’t say “motherfucker” because jeez, rude.)

e) Because access to doors that are, at present, more open to traditionally-published authors. Interviews, blogs, professional trade reviews, foreign rights, film/TV rights, and on and on. This isn’t always fair and it isn’t universally true, but being traditionally published is a larger foot in that door. It just is. Self-publishing can be a little noisy, and occasionally unprofessional, and sometimes the unwashed throngs in that group form an unfortunately noisy minority and rush the gates of review blogs and other outlets, which forces that door closed more tightly for the rest. Sure, you can sell foreign rights or film/TV for your self-published book. Many have. But I promise: it’s also a lot harder. Maybe that will change over time, but right now, it is what it is. It’s easy to say, “I want to sell the rights to my self-published book,” but it’s a lot harder to get those people to take your fucking meetings, I assure you.

f) Professional editing and cover design: yes, you can get both of these things as a self-published author, and if you are an author-publisher, you jolly well should. But they will cost you money, and they will cost you time, and you will have to wrangle it into existence. Further, professional editing is tricky because you have to find the right editor — one who will edit your work accordingly, but also won’t edit it just to make you happy. The freelance editor has a weird, weird job — you’re literally hiring someone to criticize your work. You’re paying them to attack your book with scissors. That can be a fraught relationship. And not every author wants to or knows how to navigate those storm-churned waters.

So. There you have some reasons.

Now, I’ve also known folks who have been kicked around when going that way, too. Hell, I’ve encountered some pretty gnarly shit on my own (and am, in fact, dealing with some publishing drama even now). But you’ll also encounter it going your own way. No matter how you write and publish, you’re going to cross antlers with some nasty elk, and you just have to harden yourself to the realities that all roads to art are hard. Life is tough. Protect thine genitals accordingly.

(I tackle the pluses/minuses of both publishing paths in a different post, should you care.)

Now, to tackle some of the perceived criticisms of the traditional path:

a) “The only authors that get a marketing budget nowadays are the huge sellers.” Provably untrue. What I mean by provably is, I can provide nearly endless exceptions to this. Including me. *waves hands* Now, the question is, do enough authors get marketing budget? Is that budget big enough? That’s a meaningful question, and one you need to consider.

b) “There’s no difference between how much work you have to do in marketing whether you’re trad published or self-published.” Also untrue. Even my earliest books reached places I never could have with my self-published efforts. Trying to get seen as a self-published author is, honestly, pretty hard — and increasingly so as the elevator gets packed to the walls. But my externally-published work just sorta… went out into the world. I had reviews in places I never expected. Had film interest I didn’t drum up. It felt a little bit like magic. But it wasn’t magic. Because I had publishers actively working on my books’ behalf. Agents, too.

c) “Years chasing agents/editors.” Well, true, to a point. I spent a lot of time chasing agents for a book that, I realize now, was kinda crappy. For Blackbirds, I got an agent fairly quickly — and this seems to be the experience of a lot of authors once they have the right book. Editors, yeah, it took a while. Was quite some time for that book to reach a publisher and then to reach shelves. But that series, the Miriam Black series, has continued on and on for me. New authors mustn’t be freakishly averse to time. Patience is key. You don’t just throw some grape juice in a bottle and then drink it two weeks later hoping it’s wine. It’s not wine. It’s just old-ass grape juice. Good books and good authors take time. This is part of that. That said — it’s usually not “years” before the book comes out. It can be — but these days, if I had to eyeball it, it’s about 9-12 months. Which is not unreasonable. If you’re self-publishing, it could take several months to get proper editing, to make the edits, to design the book.

d) “Only allowed to produce one book per year.” Holy shit, what? Not seeing too many authors held to that. Not saying it’s not there in some contracts — maybe this is an overly restrictive non-compete clause? I dunno. But most authors these days, indie and traditional, seem to get by writing multiple books a year. I’ve got… well, a lot of books coming out this year. Like, it’s so many I’m pretty sure only an imaginary number can represent it. A good agent should be able to run clauses like this over a fucking table-saw to whittle them down.

e) “my A-list pal is *not allowed* to promote except on FB, Twitter and his blog (he is *not* allowed to create a mailing list of fans)” — Double-triple-jaw-drop-holy shit, what? This is beyond sense. Again: maybe it’s a real clause. But one I literally can’t understand. What’s the takeaway here? You can’t promote on someone else’s blog? Or on Google-Plus? Or Ello, Tsu, Faceplate, Wonkcircle, Wankbag, Flippr, Pornhub, or any other social network that comes along? Why would you not be “allowed” to create a mailing list of fans, which, by the way, is not something a contract could even mandate. This sounds like either it doesn’t exist, was misunderstood, or the supposedly A-list author has a D-List agent.

f) “poor royalties” — well, that’s a meaningful concern, innit? Publishers could do better here, particularly on digital. And if they don’t, more authors will defect and publish their own work. So, this is one of those things that goes into your calculation of worth it/not worth it.

g) “loss of artistic control” — A little too vague to be a meaningful criticism, as ostensibly you have a great deal of artistic control over the book itself. Less so the packaging of said book.

h) “long delays of production of paperback and e-book” — Nearly all publishers produce e-book immediately, and most books are also released in paperback. Those that come out in hardcover — I understand the desire to have all forms at once, but that also means bookstores have to make a decision which version to carry. Libraries, too. Indie authors do not universally require bookstores or libraries, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still a thing. Bookstores and libraries, are in fact, total fucking aces.

i) “Fail to sell and you’re out.” Depends on what that means — fail to sell. If you sell nothing, yeah, you might be shit out of luck, which is harsh and unkind and maybe even unfair, but I don’t mean to belabor the obvious when I note that publishing is a business. Further, many publishers continue to take risks on authors they believe in. But lots of midlist authors survive despite having midlist sales. They continue to publish. If they see a good book from an author who hasn’t sold well in the past… from what I’ve seen, some will invest the time and the money. Not always when they should, and sometimes when they shouldn’t, but writers are best served on all sides of the publishing fence by continuing to write past the point of failure and back toward success.

j) “loss of rights to books.” A meaningful concern, and some contracts won’t let you out easily, if at all. This is rarely eternal, and many authors do indeed get their rights back (*waves hands*), but if it’s something that truly concerns you — then either get an agent who will ninja that shit out of your contracts or don’t sign ‘em.

None of this means that traditional is best, or easiest, or smartest. In fact, even in this post you may find reasons to avoid going for a traditional publisher — just don’t make that decision based on bad calculus. However, it remains one option for writers, and one to which many are suited.

*disappears in a puff of boring publishing talk*


  • I guess I’m a hybrid author. Most of my sales have been digital even with a traditional publisher. Advance is the big thing for me as well as more time for me to write as opposed to being the guy that wears all the hats. I would prefer traditional publishing, still, even though my self-published work is selling very well. That said, I’ve had bad experiences in traditional publishing with two different publishers and that bothers me. And for me, at least, I don’t really see there is much that my two traditional publishers were offering on my books in the way of marketing that I couldn’t already do (and did) on my own. Still, still, still … for me it’s all about the advance. That’s the only reason I’m still sticking with a preference for traditional publishing.

  • I have four kid books coming out this year, traditionally. Most years I have two, but schedules collide sometimes.

    The publisher has bought an ad campaign on Funbrain, set up ads on Publisher’s Weekly, set up a website with interactive comics. In the past, they’ve put banners on Nickelodeon’s website, made foam hats, made temporary tattoos and big cardboard standups. They send me on book tours, they send me to book festivals, they are at big publishing conventions giving away swag. My personal marketing consists of going to the things they send me, answering fan e-mails, and once a month tweeting something from the twitter account dedicated to one of the characters.

    My first book in this series came out in 2009 and is still on bookshelves in stores.

    Oh, and I live on my advances!

    I don’t know what else to say about it…I exist? This is a thing that happens?

    I mean, it’s all finely crafted artisanal data, as you say, but none of the wisdom about how authors are treated has applied to me at all. So I never know what to say to these things, particularly when they’re expressed (as they usually are) as “EVERYBODY” has to do this and “NOBODY” gets this.

    I mean, hell, if a publisher is going to all this trouble to buy a book and produce it, the goal is to make money from it. They’re not doing this as a charity to authors. So it would be awfully dense of them to rely on the marketing skills of the author, which may be one step above that of a slime mold. “Here, let me invest all this time and money and our editor’s salary and printing costs into your book, and now we will just blithely put it in the hands of you, who may live under a rock in the back of beyond and hope that your completely untested marketing skills are up to snuff!”

    Feh, sez I.

  • I would love to be a hybrid author…that’s my dream. I do plan to self-publish, but I hope to have a traditional deal first. Self-publishing is a lot of work, and I laugh when people suggest it as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. Done right, it’s the furthest thing from easy.

    One of the great things about being a writer today is that we have lots of options. We can carve our own paths, and decide what’s right for ourselves. I’m so tired of hearing that people who want traditional deals are ignorant sheep, or that people who self-publish weren’t good enough. Stop with the in-fighting, already! This industry is hard enough without writers criticizing each other.

    • Self-publishing IS the easiest thing if you don’t give a crap how your book looks. Hell just produce some word-vomit, slap on something you did in Paint as the cover and hit publish.
      But if that is the first thing you throw out there in the world, it will come back to haunt you when you suddenly do get your self-respect back and decide to produce something that actually is worth some money.

      Sadly a lot of people are too hasty and don’t edit and invest time and money to bring the best product they can on the market and think self-publishing is so easy and end up shooting themselves in the foot. As a reader I sure won’t buy something that has a cover that looks like my cats drew it. No seriously, they can’t draw.

      Like you said, doing it RIGHT, is far from easy.

      And I agree, people should stop fighting each other what path is the best. I want to go both routes, just like you and be a hybrid author. Simply because I like having options.

  • I began as self-published (2001), moved to small press, then NYC and now I’m a hybrid. If I hadn’t been traditionally published it would have been incredibly more difficult to sell foreign rights into 9 countries, been a bestseller (internationally, not in the US) and have a dedicated group of readers across the globe. Bottom line — that NY contract set me up nicely to move forward in the years to come. Was it a perfect experience? No. Was it beneficial for my career? Most certainly. Could I have duplicated the same results indie pubbing? Unlikely.

    So I remain totally open to either tradition or indie, both of which have served me well. The bottom line is do what’s best for you and don’t waste one’s time dissing the other side.

  • A lot of what the commenter said is true, but none of it is a reason to avoid traditional publishing.

    There are two big reasons to go trad: 1) when I tell someone I self-published a book, they say “oh, that’s nice.” When I tell them that a publisher has picked me up, they are like, “Wow, that’s great! Congratulations! When’s it come out? How can I get one?”

    In other words, they know there is a gatekeeper, and my work was good enough to get past her. With self-publishing (which I have also done), people know that anyone with a mouse and internet can “publish.” They know that 99% of it is utter crap.

    The world is so full of self-published authors hawking their tripe that no one will talk to you. Many blogs won’t review your book. Want to write a press release? What kind of news is it that you clicked the upload button on D2D and got “published?”

    Want to have some real fun? Put in a query letter that you’re self-published.

    In short (I know, too late) self-publishing is not a credential. It don’t mean dick point squat to nobody. Will you sell? Maybe, but probably not (particularly since Amazon has buried indie authors)

    As to the contract, that shit’s negotiable. Didn’t the motherfucker read it? If he signed it, he agreed to it, assuming that he understood what the fuck he was reading. I’m a lawyer by trade, and the people running the publisher with which I signed were also lawyers. In spite of that, their contract sucked shit in hell. I don’t know where they got it, but it was poorly drafted, ambiguous, and (did I mention?) sucked. So I negotiated it to be slightly more in favor of me.

    I think even as shysters they were surprised. Everyone else just signs it. So, the commeter’s pal must have done that. “A-list?” Well, that must mean he signed with one of the big five, which means he must have had an agent. So, I agree with Chuck that either he doesn’t understand it, or he should have a talk with his agent, along with a couple of brothers with a blowtorch and a pair of pliers.

    Here’s my advice: Always, always, always first try to get an agent or a publisher. Always. Try until you run out of possibilities. On the book that got a publisher, I was rejected so many times it got to the point I could tell from the subject line of the email that it was a rejection.

  • I’d be really interested in Chuck’s (or anyone else’s) opinion of Booktrope. I’ve just been accepted by them and now I’m like a cat on a thermonuclear tin roof trying to decide what to do. Any thoughts?

  • I’m a hybrid author with self-published works coming out right now. I released a book last week. I’m releasing new ones in Feb and March, and I want to chime in to say that Chuck’s analysis matches my experiences almost exactly.

    My self-published work has done fairly well, but the money doesn’t come close to what I received for advances.

    It’s super-common for trad-published authors to say their publisher has done nothing for them, but usually this ignores some invisible things that authors often don’t think about and self-publishers don’t have access to: galleys to review sites, catalogs to bookstores, that sort of thing. Yeah, Publishers Weekly now has an indie-friendly (and free!) review portal in Booklife, but generally-speaking, getting reviews for indie books is insanely difficult.

    As for the years it takes to get an agent and publisher, my experience was that I started querying Labor Day weekend of 2007, I signed with an agent in mid December, and I had a terrific offer from Del Rey in February. That’s unusually fast, for a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons was the book I had written.

    I did have a no-compete clause with my publisher, because they didn’t want me publishing Twenty Palaces novels with them AND with another publisher at the same time. In the old days, authors like Dean Koontz, Donald Westlake, and Stephen King just used pen names. Nowadays, there’s less concern about authors competing with themselves, and the long list of traditional authors who put out more than one book a year is available to anyone willing to Google it.

    As for “Fail to sell and you’re out,” yeah, that’s a thing. It happened to me. In a way, it’s easier to break in than stay in. But I’m still writing and still reaching readers. For me, it’s better to have been in and get kicked out than to be on the out all this time.

    That’s why, after these books are released, I’ll be hard at work on a new series that I hope to publish through a big NY publisher. My Kickstarter was phenomenally successful, my books look fantastic, I’ve worked with pros from the traditional publishing world, BUT…

    But I’ll never get back the time I spent on all those things. I love writing. The words are what matters to me, so picking trim sizes, fretting over cover copy, trying to find artists willing to do the work within my budget, all that stuff steals writing time. So I plan to self-publish if I have to, but I hope I don’t have to.

    Publishing traditionally isn’t an easy path, and there are a lot of problems, but we don’t need to exaggerate them or make them up.

    • “but generally-speaking, getting reviews for indie books is insanely difficult.”

      Agreed. Here’s my experience:

      Since my book released in September, I’ve looked at a list of over 500 book blogs and review sites. Of those, a bit under 150 review fantasy/sci-fi. Out of that 150, I’ve so far found 67 that review indie/self-published work.

      I’ve contacted all of them. I’ve received responses from *5*.

      All of those responses have been polite rejections.

      There are any number of reasons why this might be – including the perceived quality of my book, I’ll admit – but that’s just an example of the difficulty. Once you’ve even whittled down the huge list by sites that will review self-published works in your genre, getting them to even respond is (from my anecdotal experience) a less-than-10%-endeavor, and all you can do is pray that one or two of those will even take on the book to review.

      • By my experience, a great many review blogs are mainly useful as a source of blurbs or quotes, not as a way to bet your book in front of new readers.

      • “There are any number of reasons why this might be – including the perceived quality of my book, I’ll admit…”

        Or, the ACTUAL quality of your book. Reality check: you may well have written dreck. In fact, it’s the most likely explanation. Maybe your book should not exist. Thanks for proving yet again why self-published books are a waste of time.

        • Well, I don’t think I’ve proven anything, yet.

          To address the non-trollish part of your comment, how is it possible for any of these reviewers – or you, for that matter – to assess the quality of my novel without having actually read it? That is, frankly, the point of getting reviews. Were they to have read it and found it to be “dreck”, the review would reflect that. Not reading it proves… exactly nothing.

          I’d love to address the wild hyperbole of your above statement by offering you a free digital copy of my book. Fire me an e-mail at luke(at)chroniclersaga(dot)com and I’ll send it to you. You may very well find it to be dreck, but then, at least, you’ll be making that statement informed by the actual content. And, who knows, maybe it’ll challenge your perceptions.

          • I just bought your book, mainly because Kell Brigan’s comment pissed me off. But based on the Amazon reviews I can’t wait to read it. Hopefully I’ll get through it this weekend and I’ll pop reviews on every social media site I can.

          • I find it impossible to believe that anyone blinded by that much egotism can see their way through to actually editing anything. No thanks.

          • Kell, your “blinded by that much egotism” statement literally makes zero sense in this context, so I can’t properly address it.

            As for your editing comment: CONSTRUCT went through three drafts (including one major rewrite) before being given to beta readers. After the beta feedback, there were two more drafts before being sent to a professional developmental editor. I went three rounds with the dev editor to create the sixth draft. I then went three rounds with a separate professional copy-editor, plus one more round of checks on my own, to create the seventh and final draft. I think you’ll find my process to be nearly identical to – if not even more thorough than – the majority of traditionally published books.

            I designed and coded the ePub and Mobi files myself. I bug-tested them extensively using not only online tools, but on three separate reading devices, by hand. I corrected and cleaned all of the code page-by-page.

            So, what you “find impossible” is pretty far off the mark. Rather than openly discuss anything with me, you’ve chosen to engage in straight-up trolling. I can’t imagine what must have happened for you to develop this kind of hateful prejudice toward self-published authors. I don’t believe there is any way for me to address your wild misconceptions and willful, impenetrable closed-mindedness.

            I’m still willing to send you a copy of my well designed and professionally edited novel, though. You have my e-mail address.

          • “Self-published” is no more an indictment of quality (or lack of quality) than “traditionally-published” is an indictment of an exploited, abused writer. All that matters is the book and the story.

          • Why should any reader waste time dealing with writers who never consider the possibility that the book is the problem, that the book sucks, that publishing the book was a mistake? And, as I’ve said over and over, there is no way, right now, for a reader to quickly and reliably evaluate the quality of a self-published book. All reviewers, now, including bloggers, podcasts and the especially fecal comments sections on retail sites, are so frequently paid or otherwise compromised, their input is worthless. No reviewer stands out from the crowd as being committed to uncompromised reviews and 100% full disclosure. Are you saying self-publishers should all be satisfied selling only to their friends or the people who know them from message boards? Matthews, above, is describing a book that no one is interested in, yet, he assumes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the book is still worth other people’s time. On what basis does he get to continue believing this? No one has evaluated the book, other than him or people he’s hired or otherwise personally influencing. You’re demanding readers take “writers'” (who may or may not be deserving of that title) opinions at face value, as if our time and money are worthless.

            You folks have got to get a system of gatekeeping established to weed out the crap in self publishing. Or, you need to be forever satisfied with selling fewer than 100 copies to your buddies. Anything else is wasting readers time and money. You do not have the right to make this demand of readers. We already have plenty of stuff to read. There’s no reason we should waste a second dealing with people who aren’t willing to put their stuff through a third-party, impartial evaluation process. “Writers” who don’t have to guts to be screened (by impartial reviewers, by editors in traditional publishing, by some sort of automated screen that would cull the illiterate crap, etc.) just aren’t worth the time. They can just go talk to the mirror about how great the book that everyone else is ignoring is.

  • Chuck, I always admire the metaphors you plop into every simmering pot of words. Have you ever tried indie publishing? Whip up a short story, get a cover from a graphics person you probably already know, an editor buddy to vet it, and put it up on your favorite electronic site. I’m sure an indie author or two can walk you through the steps. I think you’ll find, with your existing marketing mind-share, the new story will sell very well relative to your other titles. Consider it an act of advertising as much as spending a day on a blog tour. Dipping your spoon into that simmering soup might be tasty, but who knows without trying?

  • I also think a great reason to stick to traditional publishing especially when you’re starting out is that you can have the necessary time to breathe and learn the ropes. Arguably, the two paths differ, but the steps remain the same. With traditional publishing, you have the benefit of relying on a supportive network while you experience everything from editing rounds to getting art and going through the marketing stages and your launch. I imagine that with self-publishing you really have to figure a lot of the things on your own and that can be exhausting.

    Not that I’ve actually sold a book either way, but I’ve been dabbling with short fiction the traditional way and self-publishing (in early stages), so yeah, for me it’s definitely harder to have to do everything else. It’s gratifying to have the control, but a lot less fun than just writing and have others handle the edits, covers and the push to spread the piece once it’s out be it in a magazine or anthology.

  • January 19, 2015 at 3:09 PM // Reply

    Excellent! As someone who worked in publishing and big box bookstores (in Canada so slightly different animal) the biggest thing a publisher can do for you is to actually get you distributed. Even ebooks require some sort of distribution. And the relationship with editors is exactly as you described–fraught with a lot of emotion–and finding that fit can be daughting. Add into the mix you’ve paid this person yourself and it’s easy to just dismiss anything they might have to say. An editor doesn’t necessarly just “clean up” the grammar!
    Is it a perfect deal to go with trad publishers–no–but it’s also not perfect to go it alone either. I like the idea of a hybrid, depending on the genre it sounds like the best.

  • ” “There’s no difference between how much work you have to do in marketing whether you’re trad published or self-published.” Also untrue. Even my earliest books reached places I never could have with my self-published efforts. Trying to get seen as a self-published author is, honestly, pretty hard — and increasingly so as the elevator gets packed to the walls. But my externally-published work just sorta… went out into the world. I had reviews in places I never expected. Had film interest I didn’t drum up. It felt a little bit like magic. But it wasn’t magic. Because I had publishers actively working on my books’ behalf. Agents, too.”


    As a recently self-published author my provably anecdotal experience is that traditionally-published books are just kind of in the wind, as it were, whereas I can fart in the breeze all damned day an no one will be around to smell it. Even if a major publisher doesn’t specifically provide a particular author with marketing budget, they act as content aggregators for book reviewers and the general blogosphere.

    Book reviewers and bloggers have THIS ONE WEIRD TRICK when it comes to trad-pubbers: trust. They can trust in a certain level of professionalism at all levels with publishing houses, and thus will go to *them* to seek out things to review. And even if they’re not specifically seeking them out, the publishing houses can mass-blast their authors’ books to the more reputable sites. These factors alone make it 475,623% more likely that a trad-pubbed book gets face-time in front of readers than that of a self-pubbed book, thus meaning more people talking about the book in general, even if it’s just guys on forums or Reddit or the comments of some guy’s blog.

    Now, after that blast has happened and the release-day glow starts to fade, authors are all pretty much in the same boat unless you’re Lee Child or Stephen King. BUT: A publisher-supported author might get more “oh, yeah, I heard about this guy” where a self-pubber gets “who the fuck are you?”. So, even without full-on marketing budget (and maybe you should talk to James Patterson about what it takes for a million-selling author to get an ad on TV), trad-pubbed books have a higher tendency to be in the general consciousness of the reading world.

    Trying to get my book in front of faces has been, hands down, the hardest part of publishing. The writing was hard. The editing went pretty smoothly. The cover art and design was amazeballs. The logistical and mechanical parts of actually publishing it were pretty fun. The marketing is some GRADE A BULLSHIT. And it’s a demonstrable difference from even a midlist author at someplace like Tor.

    • I just realized I sound kind of bitter here, and that’s not my intention at all. Just trying to illustrate one of the most difficult parts of my self-publishing process. I *lurve* the fact that I self-published, and I’m planning on doing it again. :)

  • Hell to the YES on this. All of it. Thank you! I so don’t want to be my own publisher. I will, eventually, but right now I’m enjoying having someone else do the work. Thanks for the clarity!

  • I walk through Times Square nearly every work day, and I, for one, am grateful I don’t see Chuck’s naked ass up there.

    The rest, though, is some good breakdown. I went down the traditional route because there’s a certain credibility that goes with it. You were the barbarian at the gate, book in hand, slamming at the iron bars…and they let you in. You’re in a catalog presented to booksellers and the sales guys know to talk about your book. You’re in libraries! (Dude, library sales are awesome — never underestimate those. I don’t see self-pubbed books in libraries, though I know they’re there.)

    Look, I like my path because I have a full-time job. I don’t want to be a publisher. I write books, and my business partner, the publisher, takes care of the editing, layout, cover, printing, distribution, audiobook rights, etc. Yes, I do marketing, but that’s what I do for a living anyway, so I personally don’t find it onerous; I am a fine carnival barker indeed.

    Could I be making more money as a self-pubbed author? Absolutely. But I would have zero time. I would write fewer books. My family might wonder whatever happened to me. I wouldn’t be making enchiladas or brewing beer or traveling regularly. So…to each their give and take, man. You figure out your own equation. Just understand that there’s no right or wrong answer.

  • I was bent over the fence for about six months, then decided to go vanity press (and they’d help promote the hell out of my book, handle all the messy self-pub details, and charge me accordingly) and in the end, I scrapped that in favor of going entirely self-pub. I pretty much followed this same path with my grammy-aware music career, because of exactly what you say here:

    “all roads to art are hard.”

    My decision to go indie music and self-pub are for the same reasons: this is art for me, not business. If I make gorillions of dollars, that’s a bonus, but as soon as I get all hard-core business on it, it’s not art anymore, it’s a business.

    I could have chased a record deal, toured nationally, extensively, but instead I got to do everything the way I wanted to, just be a local celebrity, (local=2 bars, both 4 blocks from my house, and celebrity=drunks who can shout my name between brawls and yakking).

    Thanks for this article Chuck – totally reinforces what I thought I knew. Also – hurry up with Atlanta Burns. I’m in Atlanta, so, that’s that.

  • Is there any other profession where people gleefully advocate for no barriers to entry? There’s a reason I pay a beautician to shape my eyebrows rather than hand a pair of tweezers to the person standing behind me in the checkout queue.

  • Amen, amen, amen. I’ve been a little fish and a bigger fish at a major house, and I saw the advantages that only that kind of backing can give an author. Like someone said, even at the basic level, the machinery of networking, branding and distribution makes a difference. And now, as a small press trad publisher myself, I guarantee that my company is doing behind-the-scenes work on behalf of our authors that they could never do for themselves–to name one example, putting their books in every big and little sales platform around the worldwide, making deals with distributors, getting them into library programs–the kinds of things that an indie author cannot accomplish.

  • As a debuting author following the indie publishing path, I can say this process is akin to trying to build the airplane while I’m flying it. It costs money to hire free-lancers and find printers. It takes time to drive around to IndieBound bookstores to see if they will carry my book. I can’t tell if I’m barking up the right social media tree or not. However, for every book I sell myself, I make $5.50 over the cost of printing it, and it’s that low because I couldn’t afford to print that many at the outset. Some day my sales will cover the cost of the free-lancers, too.

    As much as I long to be enveloped by a trad publisher so I can get back to writing, searching for one feels like I’d be trying to keep two planes in the air while flying one of them. Right now I’m devoting time to hunting reviewers. (you have no idea how tempting it is to put in a request for a reviewer right here). I’m working with my editor on my second book. But I’m not writing anything more than snatches of ideas a couple of random times a week. Being freed up to write is what trad publishing represents to me.

    But, I must say, I am enjoying the journey immensely.

  • It’s always interesting when people talk about rights and self-published work. Years into the self-publishing boom, I still haven’t seen movies produced from self-published works. Outside of Hugh Howey’s Wool, I can’t even think of things that have been seriously optioned. (Even the louder self-publisher in the other nights debate — to my knowledge — hasn’t had film or television rights gobbled up.)

    There seems to be an almost terror with some self-published authors to keep all rights, but the reality is it’s unlikely to see even a successful print book turned into a movie or TV show…and the odds are even worse with self-published work. Electronic rights I get; I think it’s cool that Hugh Howey kept digital rights after making his own way as a digital self-publisher. But other rights…I can’t think of a current self-publisher who’s had people beating down the door to turn their stories into movies or TV. (I could be talking out of my ignorant butt and be totally wrong, of course…)

  • My experience (as both self and trad) is that the traditional publishers have sold more books, paid me more money, covered all the costs of marketing, editing, cover design, investigated film rights negotiations and done all the things I couldn’t do as a self-publisher.

  • OK, procrastinating on writing my book so somehow here I am writing comments on a blog, go figure…

    Anyways, while I certainly appreciate Chuck and the other commentators’ opinions (otherwise, why else would I be here, right?), this all seems a bit one-sided and anecdotal. Yes, there are people doing well traditionally, and others independently, and most people trying to make a living as authors are not going to be able to via either method, that is a given. But for a more than anecdotal sense of how likely it is that one’s books with still be in a bookstore more than a couple months after book launch and the range of support authors can expect from traditional publishing houses, I think Merchants of Culture by John Thompson (a major figure in traditional publishing) is a useful resource.

    Here’s my anecdotal story to add to the pile. I was picked up by a major publisher in my field, but by the time the book came out editors had played musical chairs and my book fell off anyone’s agenda as something to promote in any kind of serious way. Book cover, pricing, and even the editing process were phoned in or worse. If this had been the Soviet Union in the 1930s, someone would have been executed for wrecking and sabotage. (Seriously, my copy editor and then the layout person both actually entered more errors than they fixed.)

    While this was a case where self-publishing wasn’t an option (it was a history book, which, despite the fact that two of the major self-publishing podcasts have recently mentioned the idea of self-publishers intervening in the history or textbook marketplace, that’s clearly delusional, as here peer-review and publisher prestige are indispensable parts of the publishing process), my understanding is (and Thompson makes this case very clearly) that this sort of practice is central to the traditional publishing process and how budget priorities often override the desires of editors that love books and wish they could support them more. This underscores a point Joe Konrath has made numerous times, about the role of luck in the success of traditionally published authors (although luck certainly plays a role in the success of indie authors as well, just in a (qualitatively) different way).

    So, given my experience with my first book, I am loathe to potentially have the same thing happen to the fiction that I am working on. Yes, things might turn out well. But if they don’t, there’s not much you can do about it. I’m definitely going to opt for more control.

  • I can’t spare the time to read all the comments, so I’m probably repeating shiz, but my main thought is: I can’t believe we’re still having this debate at all (as you implied in the beginning). It’s not a “better-worse” issue. It’s “who are you, and what are you trying to accomplish”? It’s all valid, it all has positives and negatives, it’s all good and bad. Learn about it, look at your strengths, weaknesses, goals and objectives. Look at your genre, look at your audience (or future audience), then make the best choice for you, for that book, for now. Next book: do it all again. There are no teams anymore, and anyone (like the dude Chuck wrote this post about) who thinks there are just isn’t in touch with the realities of publishing.

  • A good friend of mine is about to have his book put on shelves by Harper Voyager. Besides a (great) novel published by a small press, he has no other contacts/legs-up/previous conquests of the publishing industry.

    He shopped the novel for two months, found an agent. Agent shopped the novel for a month or two more, got Harper Voyager. They paid him well, ran the manuscript through a gantlet of editors, got a wicked cover made, all the rest. No rights were stolen from him (likely due to his agent *reading* the contract before anyone signed anything).

    In the end, from agent-shopping to on-the-shelves, we are talking under a year. For an unknown with talent.

    Sure, your milage may vary, and it likely will, but I’m thinking the “You will never get published/They pay you nothing/They don’t even edit your work” stuff is blown out of proportion. I’m sure some folks have gotten the poo smelling end of Ye Olde Stick of Clubbing when it comes to traditional publishing, even some folks who didn’t deserve it, who would have been amazing hits if they’d just had a little more budget thrown their way.

    But on the same token, I know indie authors who sell zilch, I know that it costs at least $500 to get a *single* edit on a mid-sized novel (and that is a deal, folks, really) and more if you want follow-up edits, I know that a good cover is worth hundreds if you have it custom made by a graphic designer, and much more if you want an awesome illustrated monster. Some folks think it’s all unicorns and rainbows. You trade in (maybe wisely, depending on circumstance, time, money, the genre, etc.) one set of goofy-assed drama for another, wholly different set.

    I mean, it’s all amazing, awesome, groovy-assed stuff. I can’t agree more that *both* ways are the way to go, the deciding factor being *what* way works best at *that moment*, and the “trad sucks”/”indie sucks” stuff is just another distraction from writing.

    And we all know, none of us need any more distractions.

    Also: I think the “trad sucks” idea is misinformed by certain statistics, namely that authors can’t make money writing. The whole, “average writer makes $2500 a year” thing. Dean Wesley Smith has a take on that idea here: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-top-ten-sacred-cows-of-publishing-8-you-cant-make-a-living-with-your-fiction/

    May be a good read for any on the fence about whether one can survive by writing either for publishers, or for your own indie venture.

  • Really enjoyed this post! Say, I was wondering if you could comment on the publisher that went under, cancelling your pub dates. Is that something you weigh in the comparison? Your opportunity costs? Not to say there aren’t opportunities lost during indie publishing, but speed to market without interruption is a big bonus on the indie side, IMO. What do you think?

  • I don’t know if this is the right place but seems close – If you like to procrastinate instead of churning words out onto paper this (long) article contains a bunch of stats regards author salaries and the Indie / Traditional debate. I don’t endorse them, I just found them online while procrastinating. They may be made up BS, shoddy interpretations of stats or backed by some conspiracy theory e-book selling cartel or something. If anyone could state an opinion I would be eternally grateful as I am confused (That’s just my common state of being, so nothing new)


    • Author Earnings goes deeper down the rabbit hole and I find it more dubious the further it goes. I find it dubious in the same way I’d find it dubious if a Big Five publisher released a website talking about how awesome Big Publishing is, because that’s what this is: a biased examination by self-published authors who are making tricky observations based on unseen methodology by an unnamed researcher. That link above notes how more self-published authors make a living wage than traditional authors, but almost fails entirely to recognize a trad-pub author’s ADVANCE into that equation. It mentions it hand-wavedly and suggests that advances are small now anyway, but then never actually backs that up. Advances are a significant part of that equation, and are totally vital data to incorporate. But they don’t, because it would skew their results.

      Now, if their goal is to say, “But indie is viable,” great. We know that. It totally is. But they’d be much better off focusing on indie only rather than comparing it to traditional in a flawed examination.

      — c.

      • I understand your point, but I think a lot of us are hungry for an accurate, well compared financial analysis of the two paths. The problem is that neither the big 5 nor Amazon (standing in here as the ‘self publishing publisher’, if you get me) have any desire to share data, so we’re left with these necessarily incomplete guessing games.So, yeah, there may well be methodological issues with Author Earnings (frankly, I don’t know enough about stats to be able to say that with certainty either way), but you can’t blame ‘em for trying, or others for finding it interesting, even if flawed.
        Surely with your specific point about advances, they only become significant in terms of the ‘wage’ comparison if they don’t earn out, right? By which I mean, once you’ve earned out your ‘advance’, you’ve generated that much money for yourself via sales. In other words, the advance only calculates into the equation where it also represents the authors earning ceiling (because the book never sells enough copies to earn royalties beyond the advance). Which I guess happens, but I’m not sure how often.

        • I agree that data is good, but I also think it’s vital to recognize when data is skewed, biased, incomplete, or otherwise dubious.

          As advances, the point is that, no matter how much a book sells, if the author gets $5000, or $10k, or $33k for a book, that is meaningful in the sense that they’re defining a living wage as being (I forget exactly which) either $20 or $25k. If you’re not figuring in those numbers, you’re not portraying a meaningful picture. You’re just capturing a snapshot of sales and cannot (and should not) make any commentary about how those authors do or don’t make a living wage. Again: but that’s the bias. The report is always skewed (gently or otherwise) toward following This Path, when that is a wildly incomplete and definitely inaccurate picture of what’s really going on out there. A little knowledge can be as damaging as no knowledge at all.

          • I had the pleasure of watching an actual statistician take these apart over on a writer’s forum–a self-publisher, no less!–who said in essence “the data cannot do the dances they are asking it to do and at least half of this is junk math.” Beyond a very broad “self-publishers be making money” this has more in common with arithromancy than arithmetic.

        • “…but I think a lot of us are hungry for an accurate, well compared financial analysis of the two paths.” That’s why I put it out there.

          Many years ago when I worked as a university researcher (Yawn) one of the first things I discovered was you can make stats say whatever you want if you’re clever (sneaky) enough.
          I suppose what we are all after is a point in the right direction about what to do with ‘this particular’ finished shiny manuscript ‘right now, today’ – In other words make an informed decision above an anecdotal one from people with work that’s a little on the piss poor side or simply hasn’t a market, even if it’s a fantastic piece of work.

          The poster below probably nailed it – “However, if I get twenty+ rejections saying “this is good, but we don’t know what the heck to do with it”… THEN I will start looking into self-publishing.”

          Nevertheless, I still welcome the day when a chunk of unbiased stats is available.

  • Lots to think about here!

    When I get to the stage where my current (debut) w-i-p is ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world, the very first direction I will be plying my wares in is the trad route. Agents first, then publishers. Because while it’s great to know all this pros and cons stuff re. trad vs. indie (and thank you for shining that torch in those corners, Chuck) I feel I’m too close to my book to know if it even SHOULD be published. I might think it’s the bestest thing I’ve ever produced in my life – but for all I know that might still equate to a pile of pants out there in the real world, and I’d rather have a ton of industry guys who know the territory protect me from my own delusory narcissism first.

    If I get twenty+ rejections that say “this is crap” they’ll have done their job and I will just have to suck it up, drop my dead donkey and improve as I write the next one. However, if I get twenty+ rejections saying “this is good, but we don’t know what the heck to do with it”… THEN I will start looking into self-publishing.

    (And if it’s s fifty-fifty split between the two opinions…. urrghhh, dunno yet, I’ll figure that out nearer the Moment of Reckoning…)

  • I’m a hybrid. I started writing seriously (as opposed to life-long noodling around) a couple of years ago, and started to self-publish around the same time I was seriously shopping around for a publisher. My first self-published book went out to one publisher, was rejected without comment, and since I was aware that there is not a huge demand for Christian LGBT fiction, I just published it and sent a less religious m/m romance out to a publisher of those. They sent me a revise and resubmit, I did, they liked the second result, and they offered me a contract. That was about a year and a half ago. I had five books with that press last year, and I have one in edits with their YA division.

    I still self-publish the quirky and/or overtly inspirational, along with a small amount of erotica under another name, and I have no plans to give up on either approach. I do not get advances, but I sell a lot more of my traditionally published books, mostly in digital format. I may branch out to other publishers, but I love my editor at this house, I’m happy with my contracts, and they seem to be happy to see almost anything I send them.

    They don’t do anything specifically to promote me, but they promote their catalog, of which I’m a part of, regularly. As an indie, I don’t have access to their distribution network or many of the opportunities they send my way, either. I was able to get a couple of reviewers to look at my last self-pub, but I think that is at least partly because I now have a track record.

    The other my publisher does for my traditionally published work is provide professional services. I pinch hit, with varying degrees of success, but I am a writer, not a proofreader, graphic designer, copy editor, or formatter. The services they provide are of a quality I’d have trouble easily finding in the marketplace. Especially editing. Not only is editing a highly co-dependent relationship that is even more difficult when said editor is directly reliant on the editee for his or her paycheck, it’s a crowded marketplace with no regulation and a lot of incompetents.

    There will always be some validation from “Hey, random strangers with professional reputations think they can make money from this!” One of the nice things about being a hybrid is that validation does kind of spread to your other work, as well.

  • I love when people use the example of ONE experience to support their view on something. Great proof there >.< Whoever made that comment obviously didn't do their homework and their friend signed a really REALLY crappy contract.

  • January 20, 2015 at 12:15 PM // Reply

    The one book a year thing must have to do with that writer’s contract. In the romance writing world, that’s sort of laugable as most in that genre HAVE to write more than 1 book to keep earning. Those who don’t it’s by choice, probably day job related.

    The upside to having this conversation–and I appreciate how open of a dialogue you keep and welcome to your blog–is this is an information age where we can educate ourselves on what’s a shit contract. In some cases, it’s probably better to self pub depending on what’s offered for what’s written and for what each individual wants. I would never agree to a contract where my social media was restricted (that just has to be a misunderstanding), or I had no say in a mailing list, or whatever. But that’s partly because I’ve been doing my homework far before a contract has been offered. There are so many writers to learn from and so many resources. Even if the end choice is to not go traditional, it’s up to each of us to be informed about our own careers.

    I knew nothing about publishing 4 years ago beyond a joy of reading books. The majority I’ve learned through blogs and resources linked by the community of writers.

  • Sounds like the author of this letter’s friend had a run in with Publish America, or some other fraudulent vanity press.

    Still, I like to see letters from your fans and the educated criticism and praise that they receive from you.

    Nice article.

  • I would like to think I coined the term “Hybrid Author” back in the dark days of 2011 in a blog, but perhaps it was already being bandied about. Nowadays it seems authors are hybrid, publishers are hybrid, agents are hybrid, and so are goats.

    The pendulum has swung too far, as it usually does. At two recent conferences I talked to two new authors who’d just signed traditional publishing and they were afraid to mention it; because they told me when they did, people belittled their decision, saying they should have self-published. I told them they should be very happy they got their deals, and it was the best move for them to start their careers.

    I found that attitude regarding publishing rather astounding. Without backlist from trad publishing, success at self-pubbing is more of a long shot than getting an agent, editor, publisher, etc. And there is a reason all those people in a publishing house exist: they do things that help make a book a book.

    Every author is in a unique position. One size does not fit all. Anyone who plants their feet in a position and consider any other position wrong, is going to get overwhelmed by change.

    They key to success is to evaluate one’s own position and goals and make choices accordingly. Since no one is in the exact same position and, more importantly, we’re not them, who cares what other people do? The only person I have to evaluate is me, because that’s the only person I can make decisions for.

    Sort of like letters to the editor– no one writes one saying “Hey, I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing and I need to change.” They’re all about changing other people– as if that’s going to happen.

  • I think there are advantages to getting something trade published first. Yog’s law is one, certainly. Not everyone has the money to spend on professional editing and cover design. And working with industry professionals would provide valuable experience. How in the heck is one supposed to know if an editor you track down on your own is doing good work.

    There’s that respect thing too. Everyone and knows people, including kids, cats, and dogs, who have self published. Someone up thread summed it up very well when they said that you tell someone you self pubbed a book, they smile and change the subject. But if you say you’ve gotten one published by a “real” publisher, people might actually go buy it (and proudly tell their friends and relatives they know a published author person).

    And there’s also the simple fact that, until you’re published, you don’t really know whether you’re really writing publication-quality work. Sure, your critting buddies, writing instructors, and workshop leaders might tell you they love your writing, that you have excellent craft. Your betas may devour your work in one sitting and rave about how they just know this one’s a winner. But if all you’re getting is form rejections from agents and editors, then you’ll never really know if your work is great but just in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as the publishing industry is concerned, or if your betas and workshop leaders and writing instructors are liars and you suck, or maybe it’s well written, but just so bland and ordinary (or out there) that it’s not going to catch anyone attention on Amazon or Smashwords either, even if you do shell out for editing and a slick cover.

  • Thanks, Chuck for your honesty on the publishing scene. One thing is for sure, it is not easy being an author in today’s world. I’m traditionally published. I wanted to be traditionally published and I still want to be trad published in the future. When I meet new authors and say I am published they ask how much I paid for the publishing. When I mention I didn’t pay for the publishing, an incredulous look comes over their faces. I then explain trad published means not paying for the publishing. About 90% of new writers I talk to know zilch about publishing. They believe they can write a book in a few hours, they’ll publish online and that’s all there is. Just wait for the royalties to roll in. There are the writers who have gone vanity publishing and been burned and have a garage full of books waiting to be sold. For other circles I move in it seems when I mention I’m trad published and my books can be found in the libraries, I’m taken more seriously as an author and they want to know more about my journey. Trad publishing gives me the credibility to build on for my future works. The important point to remember though, regardless of which path we choose to publish our books: write a GREAT book that the market wants and it doesn’t matter who publishes it. Then there are times when a book just doesn’t make the sales for one reason or another. I think there’s one book like that in every author’s stable.

    Keep up the good work of educating writers.

  • Traditional publishing has been good to people I know, but so has self-publishing. I know people who have retired on the sales from just one hardcover novel, and people who have self-published for under $100 and then earned in high the five figures. Luck? Talent? Both?

    Nobody in publishing actually knows what will strike the public fancy; it’s all a complicated game of roulette. I could keep knocking on the usual doors, revising in between attempts–even though I do not know what part of my story the gatekeepers don’t like. Or I could do my due diligence and get editorial feedback, hire technical assistance, revise until my novel shines, publish a polished package, and let the public decide. The advantage to me of self-publishing is that I can move on to my next novel, and my next. It’s not for every author, but it is less drawn out and depressing than the traditional route of submit, wait, get rejected, seek opinions, revise, submit, wait, get rejected–ad infinitum.

  • Sometimes it seems as if the people who have the most negative things to say about being traditionally published, are those that have actually not been published traditionally. Those who have been know there are pros and cons either way. While I will be exploring self publishing in the future it will be somewhere in the long future, and it will probably only be for my backlist that has been through the process of being edited, promoted etc so I get the benefits of both.

  • Wow, so much good information here, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Thank You! to everyone for your valuable input. I now have much to think about.

  • Fine post. For what it’s worth, I’d love a trad deal to provide the kudos and the extra writing time, so I could have more chance of getting known to make the cash on my self published stuff. However, I don’t have the time for the submission process and if it takes me 13 years to learn how to write a novel it will truly take me for the rest of my life to fail, dismally, to learn to write a query letter.

    Also I’m having trouble writing the kind of normal book that I could pitch for a trad deal. Also I’m a shade dyslexic which hampers my hoop jumping and humble grovelling capabilities and I have a sense of humour which, in a business setting, is often be misinterpreted as unprofessionalism. Except when I already had a high powered jon, then they thought it was awesome. I think the only way I’ll ever get a trad deal is if my self published stuff takes off, or if I become famous for something else first.

    In short, neither is the universal panacea so I just do the one that will, currently, result in my seeing my books in print BEFORE I actually die. But I’m with you. I love options and the way I see it, the more I have the better. Hence my ardent wish to be hybrid.



    • Jeez I hate my iPad. That’s a high powered ‘job’ people.

      Look the fact of the matter is, there are people who’ve done really well by trad and people who have been bitten, people who’ve done really well self publishing and people who… well… haven’t.

      Only we, ourselves, know, deep inside, what we want for our art. What sucks for some will work for others.



  • I would have to put myself in the hybrid column, and a lot of the points raised in the comment and your responses to them have flitted through my mind at various points in time. Although I have no mysterious ‘A-list’ friend to cite.

    I am determined to find a publisher and go the trad route this year. I may take a loss on royalties, and I may still have to work just as hard to get my things published, but at the end of the day, the trad route is still the one that appeals to me the most as a writer.

    The are undoubtedly pros and cons to all of it at the end of the day.

  • Does it help to think of the editor/acquisitions staff of the publisher as part of its marketing? Because I gotta say, as a reader, the fact that someone else was willing to invest their own time and money in a book is a bigger selling point that all the self-promotion that self-published writers pour into the commons. I think of publishers as providing a service to ME, the reader, by sorting through all the crap. Obviously, they aren’t always right, but my luck has been much MUCH better with traditionally published work. I don’t want to read 2000 sample chapters to figure out if I’m going to like a self-published. Traditional publishers save me a lot of time

  • For me it was all about insecurity. One hour I’d think my book was great, the next hour I was sure it sucked. I needed the validation of a company that reviewed thousands of books and rejected most of them. I could never aggressively market my book if I was the only gatekeeper. (Plus, with traditional I don’t have to worry about catching grammatical errors like that one.)

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