Holly Robinson is a traditional author who went indie. After self-publishing once, she decided to go back to her traditional publishing house and pick up where she left off. I can’t blame someone for that.
She then wrote a stunning blog post where she attempts to bust a few myths of publishing. In a nutshell, she sums up four myths this way:
- Publishers are out to screw authors
- Indie authors have more control
- Indie authors spend more time marketing
- It’s faster to self-publish
Her take on these four myths are as follows: Not true, somewhat true, somewhat true, and true.
Okay, that’s hardly myth-busting, but I applaud her willingness to speak up as a hybrid author and be honest about the differences between going traditional and going indie.
While Holly is a fiction writer, her insights can be beneficial to non-fiction writers who want to become authors. Whether you write memoirs, business books, or want to pen the ultimate financial technology treatise, you’ll have to decide if you want to pursue the traditional publishing path or the indie path.
Why Is There A Prejudice Against Traditional Publishing?
The Passive Voice sponsored quite a debate about Holly’s blog post in response to some of her comments, and The Passive Guy’s commentary which followed. I love reading his blog, but I noticed in the comments that there is a big prejudice against traditional publishers. Many self-published authors seem to be bitter against traditional publishers for some reason. I can’t imagine why.
Of course, I understand that traditional publishing’s business model may be based on outdated practices and philosophies. I’m a big believer in the disruptive technologies that allow writers to pursue their own paths to success without the need for publishers and agents. However, many traditionally published authors continue to make money and are happy with the deals they have with their publishers. Holly seems to be one of them.
So what are the problems with traditional publishing? Why do some authors insist on doing it all themselves? It’s not hard to figure out.
- Traditional publishers still pay royalties on a biannual schedule; Amazon pays monthly
- Many traditional publishers do nothing more than list your book in their catalog. If an author wants marketing, he’ll have to do it himself. In that case, you may as well publish it yourself. That makes perfect sense. However, most indie authors have no way of getting their books into big box chain stores like Barnes & Noble. The upside is, as long as Amazon is leading the pack in indie sales, they may not have to.
- You get a much less bigger piece of the pie if you publish traditionally than if you self-publish. In other words, your royalties are 25% on the top end. If you self-publish, Amazon pays you 70% of the cover price of your book through their Kindle Direct Publishing. On the other hand, to be competitive, indie authors have to sell their books for less than their traditional counterparts. Compare 70% of $2.99 or $4.99 to 25% of $25.00 (hardcover price). Caveat: Royalties for mass market paperback tend to be lower with traditional publishers and may be more comparable to selling e-books (one blog post can’t possibly reveal all the ins and outs of the differences between traditional and indie publishing financial reports).
- With Amazon, you can see all of your sales and upcoming earnings any time you want. With traditional publishing, you typically don’t have a clue until you get a check in the mail. However, as Holly Robinson pointed out in her blog, this is changing some. Some publishers are beginning to offer author portals, which allow authors a way to check their sales and royalties.
- The publishing cycle with traditional publishers is incredibly slow. It can take up to two years to get a book on the shelves, even with a small publishing house. If you do it yourself, it can be done in one month. Or less.
There are a lot of advantages to self-publishing. But there are some disadvantages, as well. Keep in mind that traditional publishers understand their markets, in a general sense. They know how to package a book that will sell. They’ve been doing it for years and they have it down to a science. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be right in choosing an author, a title, or a marketing plan. But it does mean they have some valuable experience that independent authors can learn from.
On my end, I see no reason to be angry or upset with traditional publishers for running their businesses the way that the publishing industry has operated for the past several decades. It’s difficult to change on a dime. That said, increased competition should naturally lead to positive changes, which will help authors who do decide to pursue traditional publishing.
Is Traditional Publishing a ‘Choice’?
The snark that I find the most entertaining among independent authors are the snorts that come when someone mentions traditional publishing as a choice. The attitude is this: Since publishers can reject my manuscript, and me, I really don’t have a choice. I can publish my own book and get better treatment from my publisher.
Sure, you can do it yourself. Then you’ll have to take responsibility for your own failures. Of course, you get to enjoy the fruits of your successes, as well.
Simple truth: There are no guarantees in life.
Whether you pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing, you’ll have to live with your decision. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. There’s no guarantee you won’t. And while you have no control over whether an agent or a publisher chooses to accept your manuscript or represent you, you do have a choice in whether you pursue that route. If you make that choice, you are deciding to accept the responsibility that comes with it. The possibility that you might fail.
It’s time for a more level-headed discussion about the publishing options. Do you want to take 2-5 years out of your life to pursue traditional publishing with the possibility that you might succeed according to rules that are a bit outdated but slowly adapting to meet the demands of the 21st century, or do you want to take that same amount of time and pursue the possibility of success (and failure) by doing it all on your own? For many authors, the best course of action is the latter. It makes a lot of sense. For others, maybe not.
If you already have a traditional publishing career, then I would not expect you to jump ship and go out on your own. That doesn’t mean you can’t publish a few titles on your own–maybe even under a pen name. But you have to do what is right for you.
If you are not a published author and have no desire to publish your own books and have no interest in learning to use the technologies that will help you get your books into readers’ hands, then maybe self-publishing isn’t for you. Are you willing to spend the time on publishing endeavors, which will take away from your writing, or would you rather take your chances on the traditional path?
No one can answer these questions for you. You have to answer them for yourself. Just be sure you do it with the proper education and knowledge, which you can only obtain through research and by listening to others who have walked these paths before you.
Who Can (And Can’t) Be An Indie Publisher
The indie publishing business just keeps growing. Every day, more authors are doing it, but are they doing it successfully? Some are, some aren’t. The big question is, How do you know whether you should or should not publish your book independently?
The following checklist applies whether you intend to publish in print or digital format. I am mostly concerned with digital, but print self-publishers can benefit from this checklist, as well.
Your Independent Publishing Checklist
Run this list through your mind and if you answer most of the questions in the negative, you should definitely NOT self-publish.
- My book is well-written and conveys information that other books on the topic do not provide
- I have thoroughly researched the market for this book and it is HOT
- I have had at least one offer from a traditional publishing company who is ready to make an offer or consider publishing the book
- It has been thoroughly edited by a professional editor I paid to judge the material independent of my own writing
- I have had multiple requests from my fan base for this information
- I have taken the time to build a platform of ready-to-buy book readers interested in this specific information or type of book
- I am capable of producing great book covers or I am willing to pay a fair market rate for a professional book cover artist
- I have counted the dollars and cents and it will NOT set me back too far to spend the money on this publishing endeavor
- I have self-published before with some level of success
- I have shown the book to other professional writers, publishers, agents, or book industry professionals and they agree it is worth publishing
- Fans of my traditionally published books are on the edge of their seats waiting for this title and are ready to buy it right now
- This book is not under contract to be published with anyone else at this time
- I own the full rights to this book to do as I please
- If the book fails, it will not ruin my career
- I am ready to think of my book as a business project rather than a work of art
Even if you answer ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions, it still may not be a good idea to self-publish your book. Publishing requires a business plan that is well executed. If you are not ready to think of your book publishing project as a business, then you should pass on publishing it yourself and try to publish it through traditional means.
Should You Publish Your Book In Print Or In Digital Format?
If you decide to publish your book yourself, you still have to decide whether to publish in print or digital format. You may want to do both. There are several factors that you can consider to help you decide whether you should publish your book in print or digital format. These include:
- Do you have the budget to publish in print? Have you counted the cost?
- What is the likelihood that you’ll sell the book in either format?
- Do you have readers ready to buy your book now? Are they asking for print or digital copies?
- How long will it be before the information is obsolete? It takes a little longer to publish in print than it does to publish digitally.
- Have you ever published a book in either format?
- Do you have the time to promote the book once it is published?
Self-publishing is a commitment. It’s not just a commitment to yourself. It’s also a commitment to your readers. If you are not capable of thinking about your book as a business venture, then you are not ready to be a publisher.
Independent Publishing Is First And Foremost A Business
If you are not ready to think of your book publishing project as a business, then you should pass on publishing it yourself and try to publish it through traditional means.
What that means is you must weigh the costs of publishing against the benefits of being published.
If, for instance, you are not ready to publish your book yourself, you may send it out to agents or publishers and attempt to publish it through traditional means. If you succeed, you do not incur any of the costs of publishing. Your publisher will do that. You will, however, reap the benefits of being published. Marketing is a different matter altogether.
As a publisher, your job is to look at the profitability factor of the material to be published. Can you do that objectively, knowing that you wrote your book? Fiction or nonfiction, it still has to have market viability.
Therefore, if you intend to publish your books independently, you must put on your business hat. You must be able to treat your own writing as you would someone else’s writing who submitted a manuscript to you and asked you to publish it. If you can’t do that, it’s not time to step into publisher’s shoes.
So to recap, you are NOT ready for independent publishing if …
- You have little or no business sense;
- You cannot or are not willing to evaluate your book from a business investment perspective;
- You have evaluated your book as a financial investment and have decided that publishing your book would result in a financial loss with no other benefit or gain;
- Or, you’re okay with losing money on the publishing project in lieu of gaining other benefits (i.e. market exposure, authority author status, potential business leads, etc.)
If you can evaluate your publishing project objectively and understand the risks involved, you may be ready to enter the world of independent publishing. It can be a very rich and rewarding experience.
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