It’s not for everyone.
Traditional publishing has a lot of advantages. You’ve got a team behind you—experienced professionals working to package your book as a great product people will want to buy. If you self-publish, you have to do all that on your own, or hire out some of the work. In return, the gross profits go to you: after the retailer takes their cut, the rest goes to the author.
That sounds a lot better to me than accepting a small royalty, with most of the profits going to the publishing house for the life of the contract, just because they incurred the upfront costs before the book was published.
Of course, that means I incur all the risk. There’s no guarantee I’ll make back the money I put into my books. There’s no guarantee I’ll sell any books at all. But my background and skills put me ahead of most authors who jump into self-publishing.
Here are some professional and personal reasons I’ve decided to do this on my own:
- My day job is technical writing. Not only am I experienced in writing and editing, I also have skills in graphic design and document formatting. I understand metadata. All those things traditional publishers can do for me, I can do for myself. The only exception is the final editing. Everyone, no matter how good a writer, needs an extra pair of eyes (or two) on their manuscript before it goes to publication.
- The decision-makers at the publishing houses seem to be highly skilled in the art of Not Getting It, as demonstrated in this humor piece (Publishing Vs. Amazon: A Play in Five Acts). They are Luddites, clinging to the old way of doing things, making incremental changes with the hope of adapting—in an environment that requires utter transformation. If you’re a book publisher and you can’t figure out how to thrive in a market where consumers are buying more books than ever, then maybe it’s time for a career change.
- When Random House and Penguin merged, they had the chance to name their new company Random Penguin (for reals), which is THE BEST POSSIBLE NAME FOR A PUBLISHING COMPANY. Instead, they went with the boring corporate mashup Penguin Random House, which is a dull, lifeless thing.
- Courtney Milan said that publishers want to STEAL from me, and now I’m scared to sign a contract. (Okay, that’s not really what she said, but that’s how it sounded to me as a newbie at last year’s RWA conference. Publishers aren’t really big meanies—they’re just trying to stay in business in a competitive climate, like everyone else. They write contracts that are favorable to themselves. That’s why you need a good agent to negotiate for you—emphasis on GOOD.)
- I want complete creative control over my manuscript. I want final say over every word, every comma, every page break. I want a cover and a title I love. The problem with this, of course, is that I AM SOMETIMES WRONG ABOUT STUFF. The only person who’s seen my cover art so far is my husband, who sometimes makes useful comments like “That looks good.” Other times, though, he’ll say things like “That looks blurry,” to which I’ll reply (in my head of course), “What do you know, you engineer, it’s supposed to look blurry, it’s art!” And then, after my mental temper tantrum, I’ll go back and make it less blurry. Because he’s right.
- For the past six years, I’ve been building an author platform. I’ve got a significant social media following. I’m active in writing organizations, including leadership roles. Will this translate into book sales? I don’t know. It’s a chance I’m willing to take.
- If this whole self-publishing thing doesn’t work out, I can write more books and try the traditional route. There aren’t traditional and self-published authors, only traditional and self-published books. It’s been repeated so often, it’s become a truism in the industry: hybrid authors do the best financially. Even indie-publishing guru Bob Mayer says he tends to think that new authors are better off going the traditional publishing route (at least to start). This isn’t a choice I’ll make once, but for each book or series I write. Indie publishing will be an adventure, a challenge, and a learning experience, which sounds like great fun to me regardless of how it turns out.
In preparation for my first release this year, I’ve started my own publishing company, Artesian Well Publishing, which also offers editing and cover design services to indie authors. I know it’ll be a lot of hard work, but it’ll be work I love. I feel blessed to have this opportunity.
Authors, if you’re unpublished, are you leaning toward traditional or indie publishing? If you’ve been published, why did you choose the route you did?