Why I Signed With a Traditional Publisher

Note: Wednesday, November 7th is the last day to bid on a critique from me and other debut 2014 authors to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy!

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
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.

2. Advance
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.

3. Brand
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
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 school librarians through netgalley and conferences.

5. Convenience 
 My publisher takes care of the book design, e-book formatting, cover design, finding copy editors and proofreaders, etc.  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.

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?


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24 comments:

  1. As you know, I've self published and gone with a small press. There are numerous reasons. But I think the driving force behind self publishing was the continually changing contract language, the low ebook royalties and that authors were making less money now than they did in previous years, and the narrowing market. I think you chose your path for all the right reasons.

    I would try traditional with the right manuscript...maybe. I love that authors can try both and I support my friends whichever road they choose.

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    1. Laura - Yeah, there's a lot of shakedown with contracts and ebook rights/royalties etc. Here's to hoping that the industry settles on something that's equitable for all involved.

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  2. It sounds like you made the best decision for your book at this time.

    Congrats!

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    1. And thank you, Margaret, for your advice back when I was trying to choose between options! How are things with Fate's Mirror and the Caline Consipiracy?

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  3. I'm open to all options. I figured I have nothing to lose with querying agents first, then maybe I'll try small presses. I'm not in any hurry to publish, as I'm working on some other novels in the meantime. If I do decide to self-publish, I want to make sure I have a few books lined up so there is not a big gap between releases.

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    1. Patchi - That's a great strategy -- to self pub books close together. Worked well for Amanda Hocking :-)

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  4. Right now, I'm at the fork where the publishing paths diverge, working to finish my manuscript. But I'm leaning towards traditional publication, primarily for the editing and brand benefits you mention above. Although, with my design background, the option to create the cover and format the book myself is awfully tempting...

    I guess I'll just wait to see if agents find my writing worthy of publication. I'm glad everything has worked out so well for you, though! Looking forward to reading it.

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    1. Nate -- Ahh, I wish I had a design background. Or any artistic bone in my body would be nice. *sigh* Good luck with your manuscript! Keep me posted :-)

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  5. I'm leaning self-publish, and it's all sour-grapes. I just can't justify nor abide the disproportionate share the traditional method gives to people who did not do the writing. Why is the writer the lowest paid person in an industry solely dependent upon them?

    The internet has democratized the marketplace for other media, publishing might be next. Hope so.

    R

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    1. R.F. -- I do think it's great that the internet has opened up so many more options for writers, and given us so many more choices. Best of luck with your book!

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  6. I self-published my first book, Normal, primarily because I knew it would be a hard sell to traditional publishers due to the subject matter. It is a narrative nonfiction account of my survival of and recovery from a ruptured cerebral aneursym and my initial target audience was other survivors and their loved ones. The book is receiving far wider interest than that, which is pretty exciting.

    I'm currently working on an adult paranormal novel and I'm considering small house to handle this one. I've already had a publisher ask me to send him the polished manuscript when it's ready based on the quality of my writing in the nonfiction book. Wow. That was a rush! However, I had an "aha" moment recently. I was buying in book and the man ahead of me in line paid with a credit card. The author of the book gets 10% of the gross sales. She has to pay 3% for each swipe on the card reader and over 7% in state sales tax. Selling that book to that man and accepting his credit card left her with a grand total of $0 on that sale. Technically, she sold it at a loss. I felt bad for her because I suspect she didn't realize that.

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    1. Janet -- I think that author actually ends up a little better than that. Print sales are often based on wholesale or list price, so the credit card charges affects the store rather than the author. Also, sales tax is often added on top of the price, rather than taken out of the sale.

      And even if those percentages are taken out, you'd calculate that by multiplying rather than subtracting. So the author would get:

      10% (gross sale) x 97% (after credit card charge x 93% (after sales tax) = 9% of gross sale after deductions


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  7. Congrats, Livia! Sounds like you made an excellent, reasoned decision, and best of luck with the YA. :)

    I would like to add that any independent editor worth their salt will do a sample edit of 10-25 pages, so that both of you can figure out if you'll be a good fit. So it's not 'hire an editor and pray things work out' - professionals give (and get) samples before they decide to work together. :) That said, it still takes work to find the right editor.

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    1. Good point, Anthea! I knew that some editors did that, but I wasn't sure how common it was.

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  8. well as you read the passive voice regularly, I hope to god you read through your contract with a fine tooth comb....remember all those ways a contract can control your writing future.....all those clauses that prevent you from publishing "competing" works....control of the name on the book if you want to move to another house or another series......them owning your book for 70 years after your dead.....yeah yeah reversion clauses....good luck with that....

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    1. There's really no need to comment anonymously, Anon 11:11pm. Plenty of people have brought up your points already to my face, and it's not really the kind of thing I'd hold a grudge over. But yes, the clauses you bring up are very important to watch for and I agree that it's really important to know what you're signing and what you're willing to give up. If there are any authors who are thinking of going traditional and want to learn more about contracts, I can recommend some good books and resources. Just shoot me an email.

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  9. I really enjoyed reading your post and all the comments. It was very informative. I am polishing up my first ya and working on a second. Not sure which route I'll go, but thanks for all the great tidbits. Good luck with your book.

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  10. I cannot imagine anything other than self-publishing my upcoming book, "Think Like An Anesthesiologist."

    Why?

    I've had enough experience with various avenues (first book — my daughter's biography — traditional publisher; second book — neurosurgical anesthesiology textbook — traditional publisher; third book — "Quantations: A Guide to Quantum Living in the 21st Century" — self-published with iUniverse on paper in 2002; subsequently self-published by me this year for Kindle, with — for TechnoDolt®™© me — mandatory expert and expensive help from an eBook maven) to have a sense of the pluses and minuses of each.

    I simply feel more in control and with a better likelihood of a good outcome being the captain of the next book's ship.

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  11. So, I noticed you got some heat here, Livia. :)

    Sorry about that. I think there is a subtle pressure on writers from the indie communitiy not to traditionally publish. It's a way of starting to gather a writer collective and bargaining power, imho.

    But I do think your decision was very careful and well-thought out. I think your book sounds like great fun. And, at the end of the day, you have to make the best decision for yourself! Good luck! :)

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  12. Congratulations, and as others have said, you've clearly made a sound choice. I've struggling with these questions for my second novel, and it's helpful to see the thought process and outcomes in other situations, so thanks for sharing!

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  13. definitely self-publishing since I'm a control freak, and I think I can both create an edgier story while creating better branding (for the cover for example) that doesn't have to be mediocre like with a trad. publisher.

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  14. Hello fellow OneFour member! I'm really excited to have found your blog! I'm married to a scientist and am super intrigued by your neuroscience stuff--wow! And I also just signed with Disney-Hyperion, so I can't wait to hear how everything goes for you with them!

    My father-in-law (who isn't a writer and doesn't read a ton either, actually, but who is really into entrepreneurship) has always been super, super into self-publishing. And actually, a lot of my more academic- and science-minded friends are as well. I think some of that is because of the differences between academic/fiction publishing, and also because many of them hail from countries where the publishing industry is just really different. But I think reaching teen readers (and readers, period) and having the backing of an established brand were really important to me. The kind of story I write also doesn't translate very well to self-publishing, I think, in that I think really creative, high-concept stuff seems to do better when you're striking out on your own.

    Great post! Can't wait for the book to come out. :)

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  15. Hello! I came over from the recent discussion on Passive Voice. I know I've come across you on the web before.... but lost you. :)

    Thanks for detailing how you came to your decision. We learn the most when we educate ourselves and are willing to discuss all options. I've gone with self-publishing for now, but haven't had time yet to do any marketing. I do understand those time constraints you talked about. :) I wouldn't be opposed to different types of publishing in the future, but for now I'm really enjoying learning all the business sides of publishing and think in the long run I'll be much better informed that I was forced to learn more.

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