Friday, October 9, 2015

Planning to Self-Publish? A Check List

A popular post from February 2013

by Annette Lyon

In the last couple of years, the publishing industry has seen a huge rise of e-books and the ability for any writer to publish their own work. This is both wonderful and awful.

It's wonderful because writers whose work is a square peg that doesn't necessarily fit the round hole of a traditional publisher can get their work out there for readers to find.

Bad, because any Tom, Dick, or Harry can publish so much virtual dross.

It's great because the gate keepers of agents and editors no longer keep writers out.

Yet they're no longer there to vet the quality, either.

The result is a huge spectrum of quality in indie e-books. In my experience, the most successful, and the highest quality, indie e-books tend to be by writers who already have years of experience and who likely have several traditionally published books already. (Not necessarily, but it's common.)

A big part of the reason for their success is that they have been writing a long time. They've learned the ropes through countless revisions. They know from experience how to take hard feedback. They've experienced the rejection/acceptance process, and (possibly most importantly) they've been professionally edited and proofed.

This doesn't mean that you can't have success with indie publishing if you can't check off all of those items. What it does mean, however, is to be careful if you plan to indie publish. Take your time. Don't rush it just to get your book online.

For starters, get lots and lots of feedback from trusted sources (tip: not Mom). When your story is as good as it can be, get it professionally edited. Consider doing both a content edit (the pace is sagging here; the MC's motivation doesn't make sense there, and so on) as well as a line edit (smoothing out the language, fixing grammar and punctuation). Make the needed changes, and then get proofed by several people, including at least one professional.

Even then, you're still not ready.

Get your book formatted correctly. You can find instructions online, or hire someone to do it for you. Some websites have very picky formatting rules, so be sure to follow them. Then send your book file to your personal e-reader and look at it to be sure the formatting isn't weird and distracting.

Be sure your file starts with the first page of the story. Don't clutter it with acknowledgments, explanations, or other content; for e-books, you'll want all of that stuff in the back. The reason is that readers typically sample e-books, and they may give your work only a click or two before dumping it. The one exception would be non-fiction or an anthology, both of which benefit from a table of contents at the front so readers can see what the book is about and use the links to jump to specific chapters.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, don't skimp on the cover art. Hire someone specifically trained in graphic design and book covers. Don't create your own cover with PhotoShop and stock photos unless you really truly know what you're doing. Even then, it's probably a good idea to hire someone who has a fresh set of eyes. Potential readers will be able to spot an unprofessional cover, and they won't buy the book.

Before finalizing your cover, look at it as a thumbnail. Can you still tell what image is? Can you still read the text? If you're too close to your project to be objective, ask someone else. Remember that potential readers will most likely see your cover as a thumbnail first, and bigger than that only if the thumbnail image has sparked their interest, making them click over to the larger image. Don't use a bunch of fonts; two is plenty. And make sure the font or fonts are professional looking and easily readable. So no Comic Sans or Papyrus.

Often, cover designers will put together a few mock-ups to get a feel for the direction you want to go. This a great chance to ask trusted industry friends and avid readers what they think: which mock-up draws them in? Which image is most intriguing? Which font style and/or placement is most pleasing to the eye?

To sum up: Take your time. Polish your work, using as much feedback as you can find. Get a professional edit or two. Have your book proofed by multiple people. Hire a cover designer to get a truly polished, professional look.

Need convincing on the cover issue? Spend some time scrolling through the Lousy Book Covers Tumblr.

That site will make you cringe and laugh. (Warning: some of the commentary has language and other content.) What's unfortunate in these cases is that most readers will never know if the story behind the cover is any good, because readers do judge books by their covers.

While the rule doesn't always hold, it often does: If a writer didn't care enough to put forth a professional-looking cover, they may not have cared enough to be sure the book is on a professional level either.

Give yourself and your book the best shot by doing it right.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good Writers Use . . .

A popular post from November 2013

By Julie Wright

Good writers use pens. That's the advice from my tenth grade English teacher, Mr. Cowden. I know I shred this man a lot due to the fact that he singlehandedly tried to put a stop to the writing career dreams of my youth. But I thought of something he'd said all those years ago that struck me as weird today while I edited over some of the new pages I'd written. He said something to the effect of: "Good writers always write in pen because it shows they have the confidence and education to know that they will get it right the first time."
I wanted to be a confident and educated writer. I wanted to be a *good* writer most of all. I wrote with a pen from then on. My first three and a half books were written by hand and all in pen. I have a dozen notebooks filled with pen-scrawled words (and scratched out words and even scratched out pages). It's been years since my handwritten manuscript days, years since a pen was used for anything more than signing a book.
The computer is my new pen. Bless the smart people who created word processing.
Today, I deleted a whole lot. The deletes made the dialogue smooth, the narrative stronger. And I thought back to that day with Mr. Cowden. I thought back to how on some level I must have respected him as a teacher--must have believed his declaration that good writers use pens. Why else would I write with such an instrument for so many years after his class?
I declare my independence from such bad advice.
Why use a pen when a pencil is so obviously superior? A pencil comes with an editing device called an eraser. Good writers should use pencils. Because good writers know the importance of a good edit. It isn't about being arrogant the first time you put an idea down. It's about getting it right.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hitting the Top 100 Categories on Amazon

A popular post from March 2014

by Heather Moore

An alternate version of this post previously appeared on Eschler Editing Blog.

Once you have your most-excellent manuscript edited, cover designed, interior formatted into a mobi file, you are ready to upload to the Kindle platform on Amazon. When you load your book to Amazon, every word in your book becomes a searchable item. From the reviews, to the text, to the author bio. Also searchable is the book description and editorial reviews that can be added when you upload. This is why it’s important to select key words that will be repeated throughout each searchable entity. 

Before you choose your categories and key words, do some research on Amazon. Find out what categories bestselling books in your genre are listed under. Some will be very broad (fiction, romance, suspense), others will be very narrow (art, Italian hotel, Egyptian History). If you choose a narrow category, you’ll probably hit the Top 100 a day or two after your book is listed onto Amazon. With a broader category, you’ll be competing with other bestselling books in that same category.

This post will give you a quick overview of how metadata and categorizing works on Amazon, and how it can be a key sales tool for being a successful Amazon seller. Michael Alvear’s book is great at explaining how to use metadata effectively in the file creation process, and how to categorize in the upload process: Make A Killing On Kindle Without Blogging, Facebook Or Twitter: TheGuerilla Marketer's Guide To Selling Ebooks On Amazon.

In short:
What is Metadata: Metatags are search terms that readers use to find a book on a specific topic.

What is Categorizing: Done when the Kindle file is uploaded through KDP on Amazon. You can select 2 categories and 7 keywords that will help your book get categorized and positioned for selling on Amazon.

Do now: Put together a chart for your book as you research:
Example for my historical novel, ESTHER THE QUEEN:
Categories (Amazon allows 2 main categories. I prefer ‘non-fiction’ to capture Top 100. I might go in and tweak this from time to time as I watch sales.)
(I researched a similar genre book: The Red Tent)
*Biblical Studies—Old Testament
Genre(s) (Amazon gives you 7 categories to list. I may tweak this as well.)

Esther, Famous Queens, Adventure, Judaism, Biblical Fiction, Religious Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction

Metadata List

Action & Adventure; Religious Fiction; Queen Esther; King of Persia; Famous Queens; Biblical Queens; Famous Kings; Biblical Kings; Book of Esther; Judaism; Jewish Life; Jewish Exodus; Middle East; Biographical; The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran; Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff; The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; Biblical Fiction; Turkey; Mediterranean; Tombs

To explain the chart above. I looked for a bestselling Biblical novel to compare to mine. I found The Red Tent. These were the categories and rankings:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A non-fiction book on Jewish Life:

I then went to Christian Books & Bibles, and checked out the books listed in the top 100. Then I clicked on those books to see what their rankings were. I slowly built a category list and decided where my book would best fit.

The Amazon page will also have “Other categories”

Look for Similar Items by Category

Other examples of books in Top 100 categories and their key words:

Sarah M. Eden’s, Seeking Persephone, with the $2.99 deal, its rank is here:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,594 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Spring Vacation Anthology:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,219 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Novella, Third Time’s the Charm:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,931 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Heart of the Ocean:
·  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,775 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

Other concepts recommended by Michael Alvear have to do with the Book Description and the Reviews. Every word in the description and a review becomes a searchable entity. In my Book Descriptions when I get a few great reviews, I’ll add them to the beginning of the description. Some recommend when you ask for a review to have the reviewer compare it to another best-selling book and use the Category words… this will become part of the Amazon algorithms.

Here is a Book Description example that uses key words in the description that will link the book to other authors and categories. I’ve bolded keywords that will help this book become categorized more effectively on Amazon. (Age, era, setting, genre, target audience, comparable authors, comparable books…)

Seven-year-old Helen Marie Heffner has a knack for getting into trouble, followed close behind by her older sister, Leona Mae. Whether it’s walking the barn beams like a tightrope, fooling the neighbor boys into thinking they’re being chased by a fiery jack-o-lantern, or making a mess rather than transferring a pattern for Mama’s Christmas surprise, Helen comes out the winner every time.

But life is not always fun and games in 1922 for this southern Indiana family. In the wake of the Depression of the previous two years, the girls and their mama are often left alone in Hancock’s Chapel while their papa travels to find work to keep the family finances alive. Lately, Mama’s been showing signs of not feeling well, and Helen is stuck at home, missing the entire school year while she recuperates from the rheumatic fever that struck her the year before. Mama fears the worst is about to happen. Everything from the barn owl, to the chicken thief, the stranger who passed by one evening to a poor neighbor-boy who falls into the ravine, all point to signs of trouble to come. And sure enough, it does.

Leona and Me, Helen Marie, a middle grade novel from A Small Town U.S.A. series, is hometown historical fiction in the style of Richard Peck (A Long Way from Chicago, The Teacher’s Funeral, Here Lies the Librarian) and Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), with a touch of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie thrown in for good measure.

Categorizing is not a one-hit wonder method, but it’s an important marketing tool to use when selling on Amazon. You can change your categories and key words anytime, but know that it takes 2–3 days for them to become effective. When I change them, I wait a few weeks to see which lists are being hit. If I’m not happy with the results, then I can easily go back in and change them.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Powerful Dialog: Shorter Is Often Sweeter

A popular post from February 2012. 

by Annette Lyon

In the famous movie The Fugitive from the early 90s, Tommy Lee Jones has a fantastic line that people still quote and remember And it's all of three words.

He delivers the line when he's got Harrison Ford's character almost caught, standing at the edge of a water pipe that opens hundreds of feet above a river. Jones's character is simply doing his job to catch an escaped convict.

Ford's character, who was falsely convicted, cries out: "I didn't kill my wife!"

Jones's reply is simple and powerful, and delivered with slow deliberation, almost without emotion from fatigue. "I. Don't. Care."


Not that is effective dialog.

There's more to that line. The story goes that the script originally had several sentences there, a mini speech for Tommy Lee Jones to deliver as to why this isn't personal; he's doing his job, and yada yada.

Jones as an actor had the instinct that shorter is better, to trust the audience to get it. That doing so will be far more effective.

He cut the speech entirely and replaced it with those three words, "I don't care," that communicate more to the audience in three seconds than a three-minute speech could.

Writers could use this as a lesson on how to write good dialog. Pontificating is easy; we writers like to hear ourselves speak (or, er, write). We want to be absolutely sure the reader gets it.

As with so many writing issues, don't stress this too much in your first draft. But when you go through revisions, pay special attention to your dialog and take note of a few things:
  • Can some of the words be cut?
  • Are characters saying more than they need to?
  • Are characters repeating stuff the reader already knows?
  • Worse, are characters repeating what every character present already knows, just for the reader's benefit?
  • Are characters repeating what someone just said to them? (Such as: "What are you doing here?" with the reply, "What do you mean, what am I doing here?")
  • Are they saying something they already said elsewhere (whether in this scene or somewhere else)?
  • MOST IMPORTANT: Is the dialog something we can figure out ourselves?
Trust that your readers are smart. They certainly don't need to have you beating a dead horse.

Or even tapping it with a switch.

This is probably the only situation where "show, not tell" ends up shorter rather than longer. Tight, concise dialog shows character and reveals plot so much better than long, meandering passages.

Or even three sentences that could be cut to three words.

Call this The Fugitive effect. I use it all the time on my own work and when editing clients. It's one of my favorite tools.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Self Diagnosis - Outliner or Panster?

A popular post from September 2013.

By Josi S. Kilpack

At first glance this seems easy to determine about yourself, but put off making the determination until you answer a few questions.

First, let's define the two terms:

Outliner: This is a writer who spends a relatively significant amount of time planning out their book in its entirety before sitting down to a blank page and beginning the actual writing process. A true outline consists of knowing the beginning, middle, and, especially, the end of your project.

Panster: This is a writer who's 'swinging by the seat of your pants.' This means that the author has no written plan when they start their project, but rather they let the story unfold for them as it will unfold for their reader.

So, here are the questions to ask yourself:

1) Do your stories typically begin (as in very first thought about it) with a character or a storyline?

2) When you sit down to write, do you have a pretty good idea of what you will be writing?

3) Do you have a set goal when you sit down? (# of words, specific scene)

4) Would you say your strength is in drafting or revising?

5) Have you ever written with an outline, if so, what percentage of your story stayed exact to the outline you began with?

6) Have you ever completely free-written a project with no written outline to follow?

7) Do you find yourself bored with your story if you know what is going to happen next?

Now, look at the answers you gave to these questions. Go back to the definitions of outliner or panser and see which one better suits you. You may very well find yourself straddling both places--that's actually pretty normal. Most of us are hybrids, but we tend to lean one way or another. Here's how I answered these questions:

1) My stories start with character--most pansters are the same way. However, I am currently writing a series that uses the same character over and over again. Because my character is established, I have to focus more on plot when a story gets going for me. I also have to be aware of plot elements, motivations, settings, themes, and methods of murder used in the earlier books. I've found that my panster ways are seriously impeded by the considerations I HAVE to make. Amid this series I've done a co-authored series as well and it has been much more in tune with my panster ways, and yet I've had to be considerate of the other stories in the series. It hasn't been as difficult as in my mysteries, but I've had to have some written plans, and especially, coordination with my co-authors

2) As a panster, I usually know what my writing for that day will 'start' with, but I don't know where it will end which I think is pretty typical for us panster types. When I'm using an outline, I find it's pretty much the same thing except I have a bit more direction because it's written down. Regardless of which 'mode' I'm in, I almost always go back and read/revise what I wrote the last time I sat down to write before I start new writing. This catches me up to my story and reminds me where I am.

3) I rarely have a set word count goal when I set down--when I am too invested in writing a set number of words, I get anxious. I will often have a goal regarding a scene to either write or revise. I try to keep my goals small enough that I KNOW I will meet it. If I have too big of expectations, I run a high risk of frustration. Often, a small goal will get me into a groove and I'll move on to the next scene without a problem. I actually have no idea if this is more typical of an outliner or a panster, I think it has more to do with anxiety issues :-)

4) My strength is definitely in revising. Most pansters are the same way--they draft to learn their story and then they revise to make it good. Outliners on the other hand are often very strong drafters and their first draft is quite solid and fleshed out because they developed a lot of the ideas prior to writing them.

5) I have attempted many outlines and, up until my most recent project, I would say I kept to about 25% of what I outlined. I therefore felt as though I had wasted the other 75% worth of effort. This isn't entirely fair because any amount of time spent planning and thinking through our story makes our end result better, if only because we reject something that doesn't work, but it still frustrates me. With my most recent project, however, I have done a very long and multifaceted outline. I spent a few weeks on it and used 90% of what I outlined. I am still pantsing a lot of the story and I've moved a lot of things around, but I feel as though I have well utilized the time I put into the outline, which is an exciting thing for me.

6) I have completely free-written many projects. I always have a second document for 'cuts' and have had up to 800 pages of cuts for one project. For me, the story does not develop fluidly so I often take tangents that result in 10, 40, 150 page cuts because what I've written turns out to be crap. I still have to be forgiving about it because it helps me learn my story, but it's a big reason why I want to learn to outline, so as to avoid so much cutting. I 'enjoy' freewritting more, however. Most pansters enjoy writing without knowing what's around the next corner.

7) I have never found myself bored with a story because I know what's going to happen next. Even if the story is fully developed in my mind, I know it's not 'real' until it's on the page. This leans more towards me being an outliner, as many pansters don't want to outline because it loses some of the magic of the story.

As my own self-diagnosis, I would call myself a panster. It's my natural inclination and my 'happy' place. However, as my writing has transitioned from a hobby, to an identity, to a career, I am developing into more of an outliner. The expectations of me require that I give summaries and even synopsis before a project is completed, so there is no option for me to free-write start to finish. I am, however, very happy with the experience so far. I'm learning a lot and growing and beyond wanting to write great books, learning and growing should be one of our top priorities as a writer. Perhaps the day will come where everything I write is brilliant and I can tell anyone who wants a summary of book not yet written to go to the devil and they will scurry away like mice, but that day hasn't come and if I ever want it to, I need to learn the skills that will take me there.

So, which side of the fence are you on, or like me, are your arms out to help maintain your balance between the two.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Staying True to Your Characters

A popular post from January 2012.

by Annette Lyon

I love reading a book where the characters are so well-drawn that they feel real. Where I read a description or action and know exactly why this character said, acted, or described something a specific way.

Writing characters that are round instead of flat, who seem to breathe off the page instead of walk around like paper dolls, is hard.

Some time ago I posted about character lenses. That concept is one of my favorite tools for characterization, ever. If you haven't read that post, go read it now to brush up on what I mean by "lenses."

Short version: It's the unique way each character views the world. (But the post explains it in greater detail.)

The crucial part:
Creating a lens does you no good unless that lens colors every page that the character shows up on. If we see it for the first time on page 287, it's useless.

Here are some ways to give your character a lens:

A Defining Characteristic
I've visited the house of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius twice in my lifetime. Both times, a trait of his stood out to me: he was a synesthete, meaning he had what's known as synesthesia.

Synethesia is when two senses that wouldn't normally cross, do. One synesthete may see colors with letters. Another may associate a personality with numbers, and so on.

For Sibelius, sound had color. He had a painting hanging in his house with a lot of a specific shade of yellow that, to him, was D Major. A bright green fireplace was the exact shade of F major. (Apparently he "saw" only major keys, not minor.)

Give your character something that distinguishes them, like synesthesia . . . or something less dramatic.

Does your synesthete hear a shrill minor key when walking in city traffic? Does a lullaby evoke a peaceful light blue? If we learn how your character interacts with their world through their individual attributes, everything will be more alive, even if that attribute isn't nearly as "out there" as synesthesia.

What really gets your character excited?

If it's food, then a totally awesome event should be described in terms of European chocolate or a favorite restaurant's cuisine.

If your character loves to knit, use terms about yarn, stitches, gauges, needles, and the frustration of frogging.

If it's motorcycles, use terms that evoke the passion, whether it's rev and gear, or other things, like the challenge of fixing the engine yourself, running out of gas, a flat tire, or the thrill of wind in your hair.

If your character is a football star and experiences something totally exciting, don't describe it as heavenly; describe it as feeling like he won the Super Bowl.

Whatever your character is good at is likely something that will color their lens.

For some old friends of mine, that would be theater. I could write about an actor and use theater terms to color experiences in the story, events in the story that of themselves have nothing to do with theater. Think green room, opening night jitters, break a leg, flop, standing ovation, etc.

Brandon Sanderson does this well in his Way of Kings. A main character is a soldier, but he's no ordinary soldier; as a boy, he was trained to be a surgeon. He views life (and the battlefield) in terms of a surgeon. He doesn't just see blood; he knows exactly where the man was pierced with a sword and how it must have missed an artery, because of the way the blood flows.

Dad grew up as a farm boy. Mom grew up in a metropolitan European city. People used to joke that they were the embodiment of the Green Acres TV show, and the idea wasn't that far off.

When Dad saw my sister watching Charlotte's Web and crying, he shook his head and said, "Pigs are dirty. And they're food." By this point, he was a professor, but it was the farm boy speaking.

Mom, on the other hand, to this day, finds her eye drawn every time she passes a Jaguar on the road. The metropolitan girl is still there.

A different way of looking at it: A few years ago, PEG's own Heather Moore and I co-chaired a writing conference, and as part of our duties, we picked up a literary agent from the airport. On the way to dinner, she commented about how gorgeous the mountains were.

This was mid-March. As northern Utahns know, that's probably the ugliest time of year for our dear mountains. But for someone who'd never seen mountains like this, close up, they were beautiful.

In a story, a Utahn might not notice the mountains unless the seasons were changing, especially in the fall. But a transplant would.

Along the same vein, a tourist might walk the streets of Manhattan, head back to see the tops of the skyscrapers, and a local would know right away that the other person is a tourist. Locals don't gaze upward at the skyscrapers.

In every scene, get into your point-of-view character's head and mindset. That could mean more than one of these elements. Perrin in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series uses both black smith imagery and wolf imagery as his lens, and both totally work.

As you think about your characters, you'll not so much create a lens for them as much as discover what's already there.

Friday, June 5, 2015

E-book vs. Traditional Publishing: Pros and Cons

A popular post from March 27, 2013

by Annette Lyon

With the huge boom of e-book publishing, particularly self-publishing, writers today have more options than ever before. What to do? Are there still benefits to traditional publishing? What are the benefits to going out on your own? Which should you pick?

Recently I talked about how to do self-publishing the right way if that's the path you take. You can read about that here.

Today I thought I'd talk about both sides of the fence, because the answer to the big question of how and where to publish and why will be different for every writer, because we all have different goals.

E-book Self-publishing

Some of the pros here are obvious. First and foremost, you don't need to snag an agent or publishing house to get your work available to the reading public. In addition, you have full control over the content and presentation, including the cover, editing, and formatting.

A huge pro for self-publishing today is that if your writing square peg doesn't fit into the standard round hole of the limited number of publishers out there, you can still find the audience out there who is eager to read your work.

Another big pro is the timeline: You can publish whenever you want, and you get paid much quicker. No waiting years for advances and royalty checks.

The cons for self-publishing are the flip side of the coin for each pro. Because it's so easy to self-publish, many writers jump on that ship and click the publish button before they're truly ready. They may not get their work ripped apart by solid critique partners, get it professionally edited after that, or get it proofed after that. They may not hire a trained graphic designer for the cover. (Basically, it's really easy to land into all of the pitfalls mentioned in that other post.)

I know many, many writers who will agree with me on this next point: While there will always be outliers who are the exception to the rule, generally speaking, the most successful self-published e-books are authored by writers who have already been in the industry a long time and who have experienced the submission/rejection/acceptance process, followed by the publishing house editorial processes.

Those are big things to have experienced . . . or to not have experienced. Writers who have gone through the ups and downs and who have had outside eyes weigh in on their work again and again: Those are the people most likely to succeed with e-books, because they've already experienced publishing and what it takes. They probably already have the chops.

This is not to say that if you've never been traditionally published that you can't succeed. It just means that you have to take the time to make sure you've worked long enough at your craft to have it down, and that you have people you can trust to tell you the truth. In other words: Don't self-publish your first book. And likely not the first several. You need to learn the craft and learn it well. Putting up sub-par work just because you really want to be published will only come back to haunt you.

Traditional Publishing

I can summarize the biggest con here in one word: gatekeepers. While agents and editors serve a valuable purpose in sifting the wheat from the chaff, sometimes they have to toss a great book to the side because it doesn't fit what they are selling or publishing right then. And that's frustrating. Great books don't always get published. That's a reality.

Another down side is that the time lag in traditional publishing can feel brutal. Getting an agent can take forever. Selling your book even longer. And once it's accepted for publication, it may not hit shelves for at least a year, possibly two. That can feel like an eternity.

And yet. Traditional publishing does have some major pros. Part of that is the professional package you get, with content and line editing, cover design, interior layout, and so on. Another is that they pay for all of those things, assuming all of the risk. And that includes hard-copy books getting printed and shipped.

More importantly, however, because publishers are assuming the financial risk, they invest money in your book so it can succeed. They have marketing dollars and advertising outlets writers simply don't have. (Scholastic book orders, anyone?) They have the muscle to reach more readers than you can ever do on your own. Granted, not all books get big budgets, but even a small one is probably more than you can do.

Part of their power lies in distribution. Good luck getting a hard-copy book into any bookstore, especially a chain like Barnes and Noble, if you're self-published. It pretty much never happens. Distribution is a huge plus for traditional publishers.

This includes selling internationally. Sure, Kindle is opening up in other markets, like Germany, Spain and Italy, but with traditional publishing, you can get international deals--and translations--of hard-copy books into bookstores in a huge number of markets. I know a writer who sells a lot of books in the US but makes more on his international sales through the different countries that have purchased foreign rights to his books.

Another thing to consider is that the bestsellers' lists are almost exclusively made up of traditionally published books. It's easier to get struck by lightning than to get on one of those with a self-published e-book. Meaning that yes, it's happened, but seriously, more people get struck by lightning each year than the number self-published books than have ever gotten onto those lists. (I actually looked it up.)

And then there's the fact that there's something to be said about the validation and respect that traditionally published writers tend to get more than self-published ones, whether or not it's justified. I don't know of a writer who wouldn't love to have "New York Times Bestselling Author" next to their name.

So Now What?

Many writers have concluded that picking one side over the other isn't necessary, and that doing both may actually help their careers. One romance author reportedly makes significantly more money with her self-published e-books, but she can sell them in higher quantities because she's traditionally published as well, so readers trust her name and brand more than they would if she were entirely independent.

Which side you pick—or whether you intend to pursue a bit of both—is a decision only you can make. You'll have to make a list of your personal goals and decide on the route mostly likely to to help you reach those goals.

Regardless of what you choose, one critical decision should remain the same for all writers:

Study up on your craft and write the best book you're capable of.

Everything else comes later.