The Pros and Cons of Independent Publishing: Part One
Welcome to a three-part series on the pros and cons of independent or self publishing. This is going to be an honest discussion about what you need to consider before deciding which route is best for your publishing goals and skill set. First, we’ll look at overall concerns within the positives and negatives of each type of publishing. Part two will dive into potential earnings and royalties along with the business concerns you must address for successful independent publishing. In part three, I’ll detail the many decisions you must be prepared to make if you choose to indie publish your work.
Traditional Publishing Positives
Advances: Most authors are paid an advance when a publishing house buys their work. Advances vary in amount, based on the genre of the work, size of the publishing house, and the experience/past publishing history of the author. (The author should never be asked to pay costs if the company is truly a traditional publisher.)
Professional Team: When signing a contract with a publishing house, you should have access to a professional team that includes an editor, cover designer, copy editor, book marketer and more, depending on the size of the publishing company.
Prestige: There is a certain amount of prestige and validation to be signed by a traditional publisher as there is often a fairly rigorous selection process at each publisher.
Access to Top Reviewers and Book Prizes: Many national-level reviewers and well-known book prizes are only open to traditionally published books.
Traditional Publishing Negatives
Royalty Rate: The royalty rate you’ll be paid is often much lower than what you can earn with independent publishing.
Slow Process: Securing a traditional publishing contract can take years. Often to successfully query the top publishers, you first need an agent. Finding that agent through the query process can take many months. If you’re lucky enough to find an agent enthusiastic about your work, then the agent takes over the querying process with publishers. That can also take many months. Once a traditional publisher acquires your manuscript for publication, it will be another 12 – 18 months before your book hits store shelves. So I’m not exaggerating that this process can take years.
Limited Creative Control: Once you sell your book to a publisher, it’s not really yours anymore. You do retain some creative control, and you would likely have an agent at your side to assist with any impasse over changes the publishing company might want to make that you’re not comfortable with. But overall, your ability to assert creative control is limited—depending on the contract you have with the publisher.
Varying Levels of Marketing Help: Some publishers give excellent marketing support to their authors, but others only support their top-tier authors with significant marketing help. You should be prepared to learn about book marketing, so you can jump in where your publisher’s assistance leaves off.
Short Time to Gain Attention: While the world of traditional publishing moves slowly at first, once a book is released there is only a short time to gain traction with each title before a book is shoved aside for new releases. (Some genres have longer shelf lives than others.) But the first three-months after a book’s release is typically the timeframe where you can expect support from your publisher. After that, they must move on to the next titles coming out. If a book hasn’t gained attention by then, it is often up to the author to continue marketing efforts.
Independent Publishing Positives
Higher Royalty Rate: If you self publish your books, you will see up to a 70% royalty rate, depending on the format and publishing platform you are using.
Quick Process: The time it takes to publish independently is far shorter than traditional publishing. (However, I always caution indie pub authors to take the time for proper editing, formatting, cover design etc…)
Complete Creative Control: You make all the decisions about everything to do with your book. (Now, that might seem like a negative to some, but it is a distinct positive if you are more comfortable controlling the details.)
Longer Time to Gain Attention: An independently published book is not subject to the same limitations on gaining market attention quickly. Instead, indie pub authors can follow a steady promotional plan that may extend for many more months.
Empowerment: Choosing to indie publish empowers you to launch your career when you want to do it. It allows you to make your book/message available to readers, bypassing the lengthy validation process of publishing industry gatekeepers.
Independent Publishing Negatives
Upfront Costs: There are usually upfront costs that you must pay to hire professionals to assist you with producing a professional product.
No Professional Team: If you need the advice and assistance of professionals (editors, cover designers, formatters, book marketers etc..), you will hire and pay them for their services. (see upfront costs above)
Limited Access to Prestigious Awards and Reviews: Some of the top book awards and reviewers do not accept independently published work.
Perception of Quality: While this is changing, there remains a bias against indie published books as they are perceived to be of a lower quality. In all fairness, many authors rush to publication with poorly edited and designed books with cringe worthy covers that do taint the entire world of self-published books. For those who take the time to do it right, an indie published book should be indiscernible from a traditionally published one.
Marketing: An indie author is completely in charge of their book’s marketing and promotion. Taking time to do this well is imperative for success, but it does require the dedication of many hours leading up to and after a book launch. This eats into creative writing time immensely. (Although, many traditionally published authors must also do this if they have minimal marketing assistance from their publishers.)
CAN’T WE BE BOTH?
The answer is yes!
Some authors have been successful publishing books in both ways. Authors who gained a lot of attention (and earnings) for their indie published books went on to sign amazingly lucrative contracts with traditionally publishing houses; Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, E. L. James, Andy Weir, Meredith Wild and more.
And some top-tier authors have left their traditional publishers to publish (at least some of) their titles independently; David Mamet, Nathan Bransford, Eloisa James, Claire Cooke, Fred Waitzkin, Maryanne Vollers and more.
Personally, my Circle of Nine series is independently published and will continue to be so as I add books to the series; however, I do have an agent for my middle-grade books. My hope is to publish those traditionally to more easily reach that audience of book buyers!
We’ll continue this discussion with a breakdown of business concerns and earnings expectations in part two. <Read Part Two Now.>
Don’t hesitate to ask questions or share your own experiences in the comments below! - Valerie