Creative Writing Course Lesson Twenty-Three: Traditional Versus Indie Publishing
New? Begin with lesson one.
You've written and polished your work to a fine gloss, and now you're ready to begin thinking about publishing it. Today's market offers a variety of options. It's important to consider the pros and cons of each. We'll take a look at one of the biggest divides in today's lesson, whether to go the traditional route or become an indie author.
Both have their good points and their bad ones. Different genres do better with different mediums, and one direction may work better for your life or business model than the other.
Some grimace when the word "business" is applied to writing, but when you get to the publication stage, there is a necessary bit of business about it unless you're simply ordering copies for your personal collection or to give as gifts. If you want to try and sell your written work either to a publisher, magazine, or as an ebook, you essentially begin to build yourself as a brand. Even if you decide to go with a traditional publisher as a novelist, you will be expected to at least help with the marketing by building an author's platform and making appearances.
When I first began looking into publishing, the traditional route was the only way to go. Self-publishing was seen as a scam and a route only taken by desperate hacks who couldn't land an agent or publishing contract. At the time, quality of both the paperbacks themselves and the, often unedited, writing within them was rarely up to par. Perhaps worst of all, these "vanity presses" as they were known at the time, charged thousands of dollars for low quality products.
So for these reasons and with dreams of becoming the next JK Rawling, I set off down the traditional publication route. I purchased a copy of The Writer's and Illustrator's Guide for the year, bookmarked Preditors and Editors, and started researching markets targeted toward the formats and genres I was writing at the time. Almost everything I found the first several years was unpaid but decently looked upon. My first publications were in college literary journals and in a now defunct online magazine. Eventually I placed "From the Ashes" with The Sword Review, and I received my first check for something I'd written.
All of my experience with traditional publishing was for short stories, poems, and essays. There is a considerable difference between submitting short stories and a novel. The scale of the publishing houses is usually much bigger for ones accepting novels, and they're less likely to accept submissions from authors who aren't signed with an agent.
Traditional publishing offers help. You write the manuscript, a summary, and query letters. They provide an editorial team, cover art, handle the printing and distribution, and the introductory marketing. You still have a vital role to play within the marketing plan, but they assist in developing it.
When signing on with a traditional house, you also lose a fair bit of control. They choose the cover art. They handle interior formatting. They might even change the title. Then at the end of the day, the majority of the profits stay with the publishing house to pay for the teams who got your book onto shelves. And don't forget your agent's cut of your earnings, because without their help and negotiation, you never would have gotten your book on shelves in the first place.
I self-published both Right of Succession and Daydreams and Myth. There were many different reasons behind my decision to do so. First and foremost, I'm a bit of a control freak, so having complete control over the publication process appealed to me. Then there's the fact I have a background in marketing, so I wasn't intimidated by the idea of going it alone.
You have full creative control over the entire process. Writing, formatting, cover art, font choice and size, marketing, distribution, and publication schedule are all up to you. Then, since you're doing all of the work, the entire profit margin belongs to you.
Just keep in mind, the costs of printing and shipping are real, and if you use a third party seller such as Amazon, they will keep a percentage of each sale as their fee. The entire cost of the finished product is not your profit. Profit equals unit price minus expenses to produce the unit.
Any goof ups in the writing, editing, formatting, and marketing are all on you. If you go with a bad cover, that's on you too. With complete control comes full blame if your work bombs.
You'll also find indie publishing has a lot of overhead and stress attached to it. High quality work costs! You don't want to work for free, and neither does anyone else. No one knows this more than independent artists. You'd be amazed how many people try to get you to sell them work you put hours or weeks or months into for next to nothing. You'll see and hear it yourself when trying to sell your work whether online or in person. Don't go looking for an editor or a cover artist and be disrespectful enough to expect them to sell you caviar for the price of a candy bar.
This is just a brief overview of the differences between traditional and independent publishing. In depth discussion could easily become a secondary course all on its own. If there's interest, it's something I might keep in mind for 2016. Or we could simply get a discussion going in the comment section below.
Thank you for reading, and please join me here again on Monday, November 23 for a discussion on how to go about placing your story with a traditional publisher.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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