Saturday, 7 February 2015

Traditional versus Independent - fors and againsts?

It struck me yesterday, as I emailed my completed and edited new novel to my agent, that I am, quite frankly, a Crazy Mixed Up Author. Why? Well, here I am, on the one hand hoping the new book will enchant and excite an editor in one of the big traditional publishing houses enough to earn me a new contract. On the other hand, I'm getting ready to self-publish it anyway, and I honestly don't think of this as the second-best option.

What's going on? Do I really want a new publisher or don't I? It's not as if I haven't been there, done that, already - it was my lifelong ambition to be published, and I did it, eight times over. Now, I'm loving the experience of self-publishing, and to be honest, I earn more from it than I ever did when I was with a publisher.

So what are the points in favour of being with a publisher - or without one? As someone who's sat in both camps for some time now, I have my own views - others may of course disagree.

1. One of the joys of self-publishing is the speed at which it happens. Obviously the writing and careful editing takes the same amount of time! - but from the time you have everything, including cover image and blurb, ready to upload, it's SO quick, your book can be published before you've even finished telling everyone about it if you're not careful!

2. Getting paid also happens a lot faster. However much, however little, you earn from Amazon, it comes to you every month, as opposed to six months with a trad publisher. And there's no waiting to 'earn out of the advance' (because there's no advance - just royalties, straight off - and to be fair, some traditional publishers have scrapped advance payments too now).

3. Communication! Questions, queries, problems ...  I've found Amazon great, and fast to respond. To be fair, my editors at the publishers were brilliant, very friendly and helpful - but some of the other departments take forever to respond to an email, and it's really hard to find out, in between six monthly statements, how your sales are doing.  With Kindle Direct Publishing, you can see literally every day how many copies of each book have been sold and how much you've earned. That's a real plus.

4. It's all about taking control of your own career - that's what a lot of Indie authors say, and yes, to a certain extent that's part of the pleasure. All decisions, for a self-publisher, are your own. Cover image, selling price, and especially publicity and promotion - all down to you. But it's hard work, and it takes time away from the actual writing. I enjoy it, but I also think it can be a mixed blessing.

5. Not having an editor ... that can be a real problem for self-publishers. You either pay for an editing service, or you're lucky enough to know someone suitably qualified and capable, or you do it yourself, which is risky. And an editor is someone on your side, someone who actively likes your work and wants you to succeed. It can be hard not having that relationship.

6. Physically publishing the book isn't always easy. It was a steep learning curve for me, although after the first couple of times with KDP I found it a lot easier. I've found CreateSpace (for print editions) more tricky. Some authors are completely put off by having to learn these processes, and they either pay someone to do it for them, or choose not to self-publish because it's too challenging. But I'm proud of the fact that I've mastered it (apart form occasional hiccups), considering the fact that I'm 'Not Young'!

7. Self-publishing is still looked down on by some people. Yes, it's become a lot more respectable these days, and yes, most of us 'in the business' know, and understand, that there are loads of good books being self-published, just as there are plenty of not-so-good books being brought out by publishers. (Think about all those celebrity authors ... !).  But while so many people 'wannabe an author' without actually being able to write, and while they're able to put books up on Amazon that aren't good, it's hard not to get tarred with the same brush.

8. In the same way, it's hard to stand out from the crowd - especially hard for those writers who haven't already acquired a fan base before self-publishing - because of the sheer numbers of books 'out there'. It's a gamble whether huge amounts of self promo on social media will help; some get lucky, others struggle away and only sell a handful of copies of what might be a very good book that just doesn't get noticed.

9. But traditional publishers expect us to do most of the PR ourselves these days, anyway!

10. Bottom line, for me, is that the offer of a contract from a big publisher is still the 'proof'' that your book is considered good enough. It's damned hard to be taken on by an editor these days, everyone knows it, and that email saying your book has 'passed muster' is the ultimate approbation. Likewise, seeing your book on the shelf in a bookshop - that's such a thrill. Seeing it on offer on Amazon because you put it there yourself is immensely satisfying - but having done both, I admit I wouldn't have missed the thrill of that first 'bookshop experience' for anything.

So which is best? Hmmm .... Well, a new contract would have to be a good one, to tempt me away from self-publishing now, although I'd be thrilled and excited to be offered one. The potential earnings would need to be better than I'm doing with self-publishing. But I'd probably be far more desperate for the mainstream experience if I hadn't been lucky enough to have experienced it already.


  1. Really balanced and interesting blog Sheila.

  2. Thanks Jenni. Glad you found it interesting. x

  3. Really interesting blog post. Thanks for doing this.

    1. Thank you, Rhoda. Glad you thought it was interesting.

  4. I'd never thought of it like that Sheila, totally agree. Great post.

  5. Thanks, Shirley. Funny, since writing this post I've now got a new contract with one of the big publishers! But I'll still be self-publishing books that are in different genres. Best of both worlds.