There’s a lot written on the relative merits of traditional vs self-publishing. There is a view that many authors only self-publish after failing to secure an agent or traditional publishing deal. While this may be the case for some, more and more are now making the strategic decision to publish their own work without ever attempting the traditional route.
As a brand new writer, with no knowledge of the publishing industry, I needed to understand the pros and cons of each approach. This meant reading a lot of blogs and other articles. As I did, the same themes struck me over and over, and it didn’t take long to decide I was going to self-publish. As a result, I have never written a query letter, nor do I plan to any time soon.
The reasons I chose to go it alone are:
1) Time: I want to be able to publish my books when I am ready, not when someone tells me to.
This covers several aspects of the publishing journey:
a) Numerous articles from aspiring authors describe the querying process. Most send out query letter after query letter, only to get the dreaded rejection months later. Rejection letters are often seen as badges of honour and it can take years before a person finds representation.
b) Once you have an agent it is only the beginning of the process. The agent still needs to find someone who will publish the book. Even once your manuscript is in the hands of a publishing company, it can take another two years to actually see it in print.
2) Control: My books are my work, not someone else’s to change at will.
Yes, I’m a control freak! The idea of handing over my manuscripts and letting someone else to change them, with little agreement from me, is too much. When you self-publish, and work with an editor, they will suggest how to improve the text. None of their suggestions are mandatory, however. The author gets the final say on whether the to make the changes and how they will implement them.
The same is true with covers. I know I am not a visually creative person, but I don’t need to be. There are many websites selling pre-made covers or you can use a professional cover designer. I did the latter, which meant that I had a lot of input into the them. I also got to say yes or no to the final versions. It seems that publishing companies often take control of the design, leaving the author with very limited input.
3) Genre: I’m in a niche genre. Would a traditional publisher have any interest in my manuscripts anyway?
For those of us in specialised areas, the chances are high that the market wouldn’t be big enough for traditional publishers to take a chance on us. That’s fine. As a self-published author, I don’t have their overheads and am likely to be happier to accept lower sales than they would.
It also highlights an area where self-publishing can help broaden book availability. By enabling self-published works, Amazon (and others) are encouraging diversity in the book pool. Books in niche genres are now readily available. If they prove popular, they may help to shape the birth of new segments in the market.
4) Marketing: Don’t be under the illusion that the publishing houses will do this for debut authors.
Before I started researching, I assumed an advantage of traditional publishing was that the marketing would be taken care of. It now appears that this is only the case for celebrities and best-selling authors. It tends not to apply to first time authors. I read many articles stating that you need an established email list and social media presence before they even consider you. If you are going to go to the trouble of building a platform yourself, why would you then pass it on to somebody else?
5) Royalties: Why should I give up over half my royalties?
I understand that publishing houses need to make money. They couldn’t support authors if they didn’t. I know they provide editing, cover design and other services. Authors may also get an advance before their books are complete, (although these are unlikely to be the eye-watering sums some might hope for).
The thing is, there’s a huge difference between the 70% royalties you get from Amazon (or 35% for books less than £2.99) and the approximate 10% you might get from a publisher. Particularly when the help they give to new authors is diminishing as time goes on.
With everything an author has to do to even raise the eyebrow of a traditional publisher, why not self-publish? Yes, it’s hard work, but that way you keep control and the vast majority of your earnings.
Will I ever use the traditional publishing route?
Who knows! I’m old enough to know, never say never. Traditional publishing still has a role. As an outsider it appears to me that they have a place for extended distribution. It could also be useful if there is a chance of getting a movie or TV deal. I’m sure there are also be other benefits I haven’t come across. With the publishing industry being in such a state of flux at the moment, it’s anyone’s guess what it will look like in ten years time.
First I’ve got to get my books out there and get some sales … after that, we’ll see!
Do you have any thoughts on the debate? Let me know in the comments below.
The Ambition & Destiny Series is a compelling saga of love, loss and betrayal set against the backdrop of Victorian England.