Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs.Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusions

Red Quill

This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.

As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.

One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.

Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing  and illustration may be provided.

The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.

For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.

As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.

Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there.  As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.

As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.

Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.

Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.

Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.

Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.

In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.

And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?

After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.

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7 Comments on “Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs.Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusions”

  1. Tom Johnson says:

    I found the series very informative. Thank you for sharing. I’ve gone with small press publishers because I can write what I want, and not what publishers want, so I knew in advance that there wouldn’t be much money coming in. Thankfully, money isn’t an issue. I am a writer, and I want to write. And I want to keep complete control of my work. Yes, I sign contracts for three years with small press publishers, but after that three year period my contract comes back to me. Currently, I am down to just two publishers, and not seeking any new ones. One publisher will be dropped in mid year. After that I will hang on to a niche publisher that is my best seller of books. The rest will be independently published by my own publishing imprint, FADING SHADOWS. I am doing okay on Kindle with books selling every month, and that’s good enough for me.

    • Thank you for your input, Tom. The purpose of the series was to help new authors chose the publishing path that will work best for them and their goals. It seems that you have chosen the path that was best for you, and it sounds like you are pleased with the result. I’m happy that your books are successful. After doing the series, I can’t help but wonder how much time and/or money you are putting in to marketing and promotion in order to make it all happen? Whatever you are doing it would seem to be working. Any secrets you’d like to share?
      The whole series arose from my own desire to resolve my publishing dilemma with Delilah. I have not found a publisher for her, and I feel she is good and deserves to be read, hence I’ve been tossing around the idea of self-publishing her myself. I’m still toying with the idea.

  2. Nancy Oswald says:

    Good summary, Kaye Lynne. This whole series was interesting with a variety of perspectives. I think it would be particularly helpful to new writers trying to muddle through the choices. I will be sure to refer this blog to others as I often get asked some of the same questions you grappled with here in this series. Again, thank you for including me in the interviews. Nancy Oswald

  3. Informative and interesting.

  4. […] was discussed in Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusion, as well as in the preceding series, in today’s publishing industry, even traditionally […]


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