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.
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.
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.