In April 2011, I had a conversation with my dad about changes in the publishing industry and what to do with my manuscript MIDNIGHT THIEF. By the end of our discussion, I’d decided to self publish.
My writer’s group was supportive, but suggested I query a few agents to keep my options open. Sounded reasonable, so I mailed some queries while I sent the manuscript to one last round of beta readers, figuring I wouldn’t lose time this way. Seventeen days later, I had five offers of representation and a lot of thinking to do.
As most of you know, I did end up signing with an agent and selling my book to Disney-Hyperion. Since I hang out a lot with indie authors, people have asked me why I went traditional. So I thought I'd outline my reasons here.
1. Editing (edit: 3/12/15 - higher production quality in other areas as well)
This was the biggest reason. Many of the agents I spoke with had solid revision suggestions that I was excited about implementing, and these conversations convinced me that I would benefit from working with an editor. While I could have self-published with a freelance editor, in practice, I probably would have made do with beta readers. Since I had no prior sales record, I wanted to keep expenses for the first book low. And there was some risk to hiring a freelance editor. I would've had to vet editors myself and pay for the editor’s time before knowing how I would resonate with her suggestions.
On the other hand, if I went traditional, there were people willing to share the risk with me (Agent Jim works on spec, and Disney-Hyperion pays my editor's salaries.). Also, I knew going in that both agent Jim and editor Abby had strong track records and that they “got” my book. Thus far, I couldn't be more pleased with how things have turned out. The original manuscript I queried with was a fun read, but the changes since then have added depth and maturity, and I’ve grown significantly in my craft.
Edit 3/12/15: Three years and two books later, I've noticed that my publisher is willing to pay for higher production quality than I would as a self publisher. On the editorial side, this includes multiple rounds of copyedits and proofreads in addition. On the production side, this includes custom photography for book covers and professional hardcover book design.
Self-publishing is backloaded income. You start out in the red, and you make the money back in small amounts over years. Traditional publishing is frontloaded income. You start out with your advance, and you only see royalties once you earn out your advance. For me, an advance was attractive because it allowed me to spend more time on my writing, thus increasing my output.
Disney-Hyperion has an established brand, which matters to a subset of readers that includes influencers like booksellers, librarians, and book reviewers. As a new author starting to build a readership, I wanted that extra push.
4. Reaching Teen Readers
(Edited 3/12/15 to add specific examples)
This is related to #3. My online platform is limited mostly to adults, and if I were to launch my book, I would primarily be marketing to this audience. By releasing my book with Disney, it will be easier to reach teens through library and teacher conferences like ALA, TLA, and NCTE. Opportunities like Scholastic's book club and Junior Library Guild can also greatly increase your visibility if your book is chosen.
My publisher takes care of the book design, e-book formatting, cover design, finding copy editors and proofreaders, approving netgalley reviewers, sending out review copies. All things I'd have to arrange myself if I self published.
Those are my main reasons. Am I going to tell everyone to sign with publisher now? Of course not. I've never seen the indie versus traditional debate as a either/or decision. It's an exciting world with lots of options, and what path you take depends on your priorities for any particular project. To balance things out, here are what I think are the main advantages of going indie.
1. Higher Profit Per Book
If you take on the role of publisher, you take the publisher's cut of earnings. For e-books especially, this makes a big difference.
2. Total control
If you self publish, you have the final say on everything, from editorial to cover design to pricing to release date.
3. Faster time to release
With traditional publishing, it takes about two years from sale to publication. If you self publish, you're only limited by how quickly you can work.
4. Flexibility with Rights
Because publishers invest money into your book, they justifiably buy the rights for a certain period of time in order to recoup that investment. Your book will stay with your publisher until the requirements for rights reversion are met (This usually will be a time limit or a minimum sales threshold.). If you self publish, you own your rights, and you're free to switch between services or sell the rights to another publisher at any time.
Edited (3/12/15): While my publishing experience has been good so far, you do hear some horror stories. If your publisher closes down for example, or your editor leaves and you end up with a new editor who hates your book and cancels your contract after multiple revision rounds and you have to pay back your advance, including the portion that went to your agent. (A legal loophole in many standard publishing contracts allow for this. And I've personally met two debut authors who had that happen to them within the past three years.)
5. Flexibility With Other Work
Some publishing contracts have noncompete clauses that limit what other work you can publish at a certain time. Obviously, if you self publish, this won't apply to you.
So now readers, your turn. What publication path are you pursuing, and why?
Hope you enjoyed this post! To get regular updates from this blog, use the subscription options on the sidebar.