The Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent Publishing: Interview with Jeff Bowles, self-published authorPosted: October 10, 2016
In my post last week, Today’s Authors Wear Many Hats, I talked a little about the roles authors play in the publishing process vary between traditional and independent publishing. It got me thinking about how much the publishing process has changed since the days when I sold my first poem in 1997, before computers, the internet, and the digital revolution hit the scene.
I remember back in 2010, when I first started doing the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner gig, independent publishing, (or self-publishing, was frowned upon, the general feeling being that if you could write, you’d be able to get a traditional publisher. Digital media was still fairly new, but it opened up opportunities that made it so virtually anyone could get a book published. But, self-published authors were generally thought to be author want-to-bes, lacking in the talent and ability, so they had to publish their own book.
Over time, opinion toward self-published authors has changed, but I think it has been a long, hard struggle for self-published authors. Amazon came along and said, “Pssst! Hey! Yeah you. You got a manuscript you want to get published? You can sign on with us and publish your book for free.” Suddenly, anyone could publish a book, and just about anyone did. There were those who just want to get their book out quick and not spend the time or money required to put out a quality piece of literature, who have further tarnished the name of independently-published authors. But there truly are some fine authors out there who have chosen to self-publish in spite of the stigma attached to independent publishing, who have proven that the quality of an independently published book can be every bit as good as those put out by traditional publishers.
It was only within the last five or six years that feelings toward self-publishing have shifted. While earning my M.F.A. I watched the opinions of my professors, who are all successfully published authors change over time, from warning against self-publishing to viewing it in a more acceptable light and actually presenting it as a viable option for today’s emerging authors.
With all this in mind, I’ve asked both authors and publishers to share their thoughts on both self-publishing and traditional publishing, for this, Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing article series. I hope you’ll join me as I delve into this discussion with some representative players in the publishing game.
My first interview is with self-published author, Jeff Bowles, who has had numerous short stories published by in reputable publications such as Stupefying Stories Showcase, PodCastle,Nashville Review, The Threepenny Review, Pseudopod, and Spark: a Creative Anthology. He recently self-published his collection of short stories, Godling and Other Paint Stories on Amazon. Jeff was also one of my cohorts in the Creative Writing program at Western State,so he now has his M.F.A. with emphasis in genre fiction. He is a talented writer, with a self-proclaimed god complex, who has written some amazing stories.
Kaye: You’ve had quite a bit of short fiction published. Are there any publishing credits I didn’t mention in my introduction?
Jeff: My first short story appeared in an academic student arts journal called Riverrun, I also recently made a sale to Black Static also.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Jeff: I knew when I met my wife. I was a musician before, though I’d always wanted to be an author of some sort since I could remember. We wanted to have a family someday so I just decided working from home as a writer would always be better than touring as a singer/songwriter. I began my professional writing career about eight years ago now, I guess. Never looked back, but believe me there have been times I’ve wanted to. The very first story I wrote was in the third grade and it was a nice little piece of Star Wars fan fiction, in which Uncle Owen comes back to life as a dark Jedi assassin with wolf fur. Luke was gonna be in trouble, man!
Kaye: As a rising author, are you in favor of traditional publishing, self-publishing or a combination of both?
Jeff: I think a combination of both is definitely the way to go, though traditional publishing will always be the best as far as I’m concerned. If you’ve got the resources and you can snag reviews and distribute advanced copies of your work to the right people, self-pubbing is a damn fine way to get seen. But as an industry, we’re predicated on the big sales to the big publishers. I’d recommend young writers do their best to place their material with the largest publishers they can, and then if all else fails, get your stuff out there via Amazon or Barnes & Noble or some other online service.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?
Jeff: The major pro is that it’s easy to do these days. Every sale you make comes to you and if you’re good at self promotion, you can make a major dent in your readership just by being out front and being you. The major con is that the traditional publishing industry will always have more resources to throw around for their big name authors, which means if you can get to that place, you’ll never want for an audience and you may not have to do too much legwork yourself.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?
Jeff: As far as pros go, it’s the industry that can get you a spot in the NYT Bestsellers list, though the odds of that happening are always going to be slim. Cons of traditional publishing include the realization that as a new author, you’re going to be sidelined a bit in favor of writers who’ve been around the block a few times. You will still have to do most, if not all of your own promotional work, though distribution and rights management will most likely be on autopilot. Get yourself a good literary agent to negotiate your contracts and make sure you keep working your butt off after that first book hits the market. When it comes to short story sales, traditional publishing is definitely still the name of the game. If you can get your work published under the umbrella of a large publisher, you definitely should.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), did you have to do yourself to publish your book?
Jeff: There are a ton of resources these days for marketing and promoting a book. Amazon has it’s own internal advertising service which puts your work right in people’s faces over their Kindles, and Facebook and Google also allow for promotions which can be seen by thousands of eyes a day. I painted the cover of my book myself, and the interior design was mine as well. If you haven’t got any artistic ability you can hire craftspeople on the internet to help you put an amazing-looking book together. I was kind of lucky in that it hasn’t cost me much at all to produce Godling and Other Paint Stories, but if I had a bit more money, I know I could very easily be doing more. The sky’s the limit with this stuff. Your marketing potential will be matched by your time and resources.
Kaye: Would you recommend other authors publish independently? Why or why not?
Jeff: I would certainly recommend it. I think in a perfect world you’d want to be doing maybe 70% to 80% of your publishing via the traditional model, but I don’t know that I’d want to give up self-publishing entirely, just because it allows for so much flexibility. I’ve got material in my personal archive that’s never seen the light of day and I know for a fact much of it would be too risky for a traditional publisher. You can kind of stick your experiments and B-sides on Amazon at anytime. I love that about modern publishing. No matter what you do, you’ve got the ability to get your work seen, and that’s the ultimate high for a writer.
I want to thank Jeff Bowles for sharing his thoughts with us here on Writing to be Read, and I hope you will all drop by in the following weeks to hear from more authors, both independently and traditionally published, and publishers, too, to see how opinions vary on traditional vs. independent publishing models.
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