Which Publishing Route is Best?
You’ve just finished your book and you’re wondering how to have it published.
Should you go the traditional route and try to obtain a contract with a big publishing house? Or should you handle everything yourself? It’s a dilemma that many authors face and both methods have benefits as well as problems.
Many authors want to at least try for a traditional publishing contract. It feels more ‘real’ and there is kudos in being picked up by a known name.
And then there is the other camp: authors who want to go it alone and who have acquired a disdain for traditional publishing and the ‘old boys’ network’ (or so it can seem).
But, is it possible for you to pursue both avenues simultaneously? We think so. Even if you’re thinking,
“Who will take me on anyway as an author?”
there’s still no harm in reaching out for a traditional contract. But, if it feels like a long haul, then you might have already decided to go it alone.
If you’re undecided, then let’s review five aspects of the publishing process so that you’re better informed whichever route you decide to go.
Time is definitely an issue that favors the self-published route. It can take over a year for a traditionally published book to make it onto bookstore shelves and, while producing a good quality self-published book isn’t an overnight activity, at least you are setting the deadlines.
A major lament of traditionally published authors is the loss of creative control — from format to cover to, sometimes, even the title of the book. Until an author has proven that he or she knows the formula for success, then it is likely that the publishing house will want to make the decisions, at least at the outset.
And why not, they have the track record, right? The staff at large publishers will be industry professionals who know how to sell books, so in most cases, value their input and accept their proposals.
If you, however, you have a strong control streak, and you’re confident you know your audience and have tested your ideas, then self-publishing might be a better route for you.
Quality control is probably the most common reason people criticize self-publishing. However, it doesn’t have to be the case for your book.
You’re in control and there’s no reason your self-published book can’t be just as good as a traditionally published book. Sure, you have to invest, and you have to manage the process and your contractors, but you have the final say over whether something goes out of the door. Or not.
Your editing can make or break a book because a clunky read will get bad reviews. You should get top notch editing at a traditional publishing house but, with a bit of research and a reasonable budget, you can achieve a great result on your own if you hire your own professionals.
Marketing your book is the most important component of your publishing success. Well, after you get the quality right that is.
Although you may think that a traditional publisher will help you sell books, there’s no guarantee. Yes, your publisher will invest resources into some promotion for a new book. But, if you’re a new, and relatively unknown author, the investment you get might be limited and it’s still up to you get out there and market your own book.
Traditionally published authors sometimes leave this to the publisher — and pay for it in lost book sales. Poor marketing is going to sink a book faster than bad writing. Only the most prominent authors can really sit back and let the publishing house run a strong marketing campaign.
Where traditional publishing does have the upper hand is with bookshops — it is definitely harder to get into bookshops if you’re a self-published author, but with such strong sales through retailers like Amazon, brick and mortar stores only make up a portion of sales.
Self-published authors know from the outset that they will be responsible for their own marketing and building their author brand.
If the book is good and the author is tenacious, a self-published book can sell very well.
Whatever route you are publishing, you should strive to build your ‘author platform’. You need to understand how the industry works, make connections with the media, reviewers, learn how to leverage social media, and build a solid fan base. No traditional publisher will do this for you.
And, just because a traditional publisher liked your last book, it doesn’t mean they’ll like the next one. If you rely on their platform, you have nothing to take with you to the next publisher or your solo-venture.
And that’s if you get a publisher to take you on, of course. Traditional publishers can be risk averse and a new author in an unstable market is not always a good bet. When you’re in discussion with a publisher you might find that one of the criteria you have to meet before they will take you on (regardless of your book’s topic and quality) is having your own strong fan base.
There are always exceptions but the more you can build your own marketing assets, the better you will do as an author.
Although not all of your income will be coming from book sales, it is definitely part of the calculation when making a decision about publishing.
With traditional publishing you make less per book (around 10% of a paperback retail price and 30% of the ebook price is typical).
If you self-publish then you will make all the gross profit yourself — but what does this actually add up to? For ebooks it might be 30-70% of the selling price, and on the print book, it might be 25%, depending on how you price the book and what proportion you give as the wholesale discount so that the retailer can price test (50-60% is the norm.)
So the total of how much you make depends on your profit multiplied by the number of books you sell — even with a lower margin, more book sales could net you more income.
Some successful self-published authors, though, have turned down traditional publishing contracts because they did the math on this and decided to go it alone.
Which one is right?
If you’re priority is profit alone, and you have a strong platform and you know you can sell books then going it alone might be a profitable choice. If your self-published book is bringing in steady but somewhat lackluster sales and you were either offered a traditional contract, then it might be worth taking it to expand your reach.
For most authors, the factors involved are complex: you might want the kudos of a big-name publishing house behind you; you want the creative control, or maybe you can’t stand the idea of managing contractors; or maybe you want the contacts and you know you can leverage your platform to create a successful win-win for you and a publisher.
The choice is not always clear-cut, and the reality is that there is no reason you could not pursue both at the same time. Seeking a traditional publishing contract, or pitching an agent is a bit like an actor going on auditions: don’t pin all your hopes on it, but don’t give up either.
Then there is also the off chance that your self-published book might be recognized by a traditional publisher and you can hand over the logistics of publication of your next book to someone else.
The point is, that with the steady increase in tools, the lower cost, and the modern independent author’s ability to reach large audiences; there is no reason why the pursuit of both publishing options cannot be a viable path to success.
In the end, it’s up to you and it’s another one of those questions that is best answered by,
Your route to publishing will depend on your connections, what options are in front of you right now, what suits your timescale and budget, and where you want to put your energy.
And it’s important to remember that no decision is forever. What you decide now need not dictate your choices in the future.
This post is written by James A. Rose, a writer for Instant Publisher, a self-publishing company that specializes in transforming author dreams into reality. Instant Publisher has been providing exceptional and affordable service to writers for the past 15 years and aims to make the publishing process is efficient and painless.
[Ed’s note: we don’t recommend one route over another at Author Unlimited; you need to consider options and go with the one that works for you.]
We’d love to know what you decide — traditional or self publishing? (or which did you go for if you’re already published?) Let us know on social media!