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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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 7): Interview with Children’s Author, Nancy OswaldPosted: November 28, 2016
In this series, we’ve taken a look at the publishing industry, which today, isn’t played by the same rules as it was 30 years ago, when traditional or independent publishing houses were about the only options an aspiring writer had. The rise in digital and self-publishing has opened up new options for aspiring authors and changed some of the rules by which the game is now played. We’ve heard from self-published authors, Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch, and traditionally published authors, Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw, as well as independently published author, Jordan Elizabeth.
In this week’s interview, we’ll hear from an author who has published work via all three publishing models, award winning children’s author, Nancy Oswald. She’s published traditionally with Holt, a big New York publisher, and a small independent publisher, Filter Press, LLC. In addition, her first book was published by Scholastic Canada, but she later rewrote it and self-published a Create Space version in 2013. Nancy’s Ruby and Maude Adventure series includes Rescue in Poverty Gulch, Trouble on the Tracks and her latest book, to be released this month, Trouble Returns. (Be sure and catch my review of Trouble Returns this Friday on Writing to be Read.) Her other publishing credits include Hard Face Moon, Edward Wynkoop: Soldier and Indian Agent, Nothing Here But Stones, and Insects in the Infield. And she has a very unusual story about how she broke into the publishing industry.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Nancy: In my early teens, I thought writing children’s books would be really cool and I enjoyed writing—some poetry—but most of it school related. I didn’t get serious about publication until I was in my late twenties.
Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?
Nancy: I wrote several books that I call my “cardboard cover” books for my stepson who was five when I married my husband. They were hand written and crudely illustrated and as you’ve probably guessed, had cardboard covers that were put together with rings that clipped through the pages and the cardboard and held the whole thing together. I did a couple of cardboard cover books for friends, too. But my stepson outgrew his “picture” books, so I started in on a chapter book. We lived in British Columbia at that time, so I mailed him the first chapter for Christmas and sent one chapter a month to him, finishing the book the next Christmas. This book was typed, yes on a typewriter, but still was a FAT cardboard cover book. After many many rewrites, this book became my first published novel for young readers. It had 35 rejections and was finally picked up by Scholastic Canada and five years later was reprinted by them. To this day, thanks to Scholastic’s book club program, it has outsold any of my other books.
Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?
Nancy: In 2013, I self-published the above mentioned book. I’ve had the rights back since about 1996, so I rewrote the book, adding about 10,000 words and it ended up as a winner in the CIPA Evvy award competition. My likes: I really enjoyed having full control. I used Create Space and used their interior design service, but did the other parts myself. The Create Space team was accessible and helpful, and I had a really positive experience from beginning to end. A word of caution: you really need to have a clear idea of the design, font size, layout ahead of time. You have to be clear in communicating what you want. Negatives: Reviews were hard to get, ALL of the marketing is up to you, and if you don’t have a well-edited, professional looking copy, it will sink you
Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 5): Interview with Traditionally Published Author, Mark ShawPosted: November 14, 2016
Those who remember traditional publishing prior to the digital age, recall an industry which was not easy to break into, but with persistence, it could pay off with large advances, and a contract from one of the “Big Five” publishing houses. Your publisher took care of the rest: editing and proofreading, cover and/or illustrations, publicity and marketing. In many ways, it is the same today, but one thing self-publishing and independent publishing have changed, is that they showed traditional publishers that authors were capable of doing their own promotion and marketing. Today’s authors, it seems, are now expected to carry the weight for these tasks no matter which model is chosen.
The rise of digital and self-publishing also brought about a rise in publishing scams, designed to take advantage of aspiring authors and empty their pocketbooks. In the 1990s, when I began writing, they called them vanity presses.An author would send in their work and receive a very favorable response, praising their work and offering to publish it for a fee. As the author moves through the publishing process, the fees keep adding up. Today they are called subsidy publishers. As with traditional publishers, subsidy publishers hold the rights to the book, although the author is paying them to publish it.
So far in the series we’ve heard from self-published authors, Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, and we’ve heard from traditionally published author Stacia Deutsch. Join me today to get more of the traditionally published POV in my interview with author Mark Shaw. Among his 25 published works are books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing as The Southern Colorado Literature Examiner: The Mask of Holiness, a biography of Thomas Merton, and Stations Along the Way, a biography of former Hitler youth leader, Ursela Martens. In addition to being a traditionally published author, Mark is a literary consultant and entertainment attorney, so he knows of what he speaks.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Mark: I’m a former criminal defense lawyer and I never considered being an author until I covered the Mike Tyson rape trial for CNN, ESPN, and USA Today. I believed Tyson was denied justice and so I wrote my first book, Down For the Count.
Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?
Mark: I was able to find a literary agent to represent the Tyson book and he found a traditional publisher. I had enjoyed the writing process and the book sold well so I looked for new subjects to write about and within a few years I had published several traditionally published books. Looking for a theme to weave through new books, I landed on “justice denied” and the last four or five I have written including my latest “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen,” are symbolic of the type of books I write. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that this book will be my 25th since I never had any formal training as a writer but I’m blessed that people have enjoyed the “stop and think” aspect of the books and continue to praise my body of work.
Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?
Mark: As noted in my book about the publishing process, “How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication,” as long as it’s what we call “traditional self-publishing (no subsidy publisher) then okay, but the career of any writer who uses a subsidy publisher where they pay to have the book published (Dorrance, iUniverse, Trafford, AuthorHouse, XLibris, etc.) is doomed with many who have come to me for consulting telling horror stories of losing their life savings, their homes, etc. Subsidy Publishing is the absolute kiss of death and so many writers fall prey to subsidy publishers that promise the moon and end up with boxes of books in the basement they can never sell since libraries and most bookstores won’t touch them. This is unfortunate since aspiring authors can use a combination of Create Space and Ingram Spark to publish a book with very minimal cost and this traditional self-publishing method is a badge of honor and libraries and bookstores will be interested in purchasing and stocking the book.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?
Mark: There seems to be confusion as to what this term means but as long as it doesn’t include subsidy publishing, I’m all for it.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?
Mark: I encourage writers to try the traditional publishing route by using query letters and book proposals and a good strategy for landing a literary agent or publisher and if that doesn’t work, then use traditional self-publishing. The advantages of traditional publishing include the publisher paying for all aspects of the publishing process, editing, layout, cover, etc. without the writer putting up a cent but most importantly traditional publishing includes distribution (my new book has Simon&Schuster distribution) which traditional self-publishing lacks since the author must do the distribution. One disadvantage these days for a first time author is that unlike ten years ago, many traditional publishers will not do much toward promotion and thus the author is expected to do the major part of the work.
Kaye: How much does the non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), that you must do yourself vary between the different models?
Mark: You are talking about completely different subjects here. With marketing and promotion, regardless of the method of publishing, an author has to understand that he or she must be the guiding force behind book publicity. With illustrations and book covers, etc. traditional publishers will handle this task while the author of any traditional self-published book is responsible for handling these matters and there are several outstanding consultants who can help with this tasks. Again, writers should stay away from subsidy publishers many of whom produce inferior books that cause problems right away with the authors’ reputation.
Kaye: Do you recommend traditional publishing for today’s aspiring authors, and why or why not?
Mark: Absolutely but writers must proceed with a well-developed strategy such as the “10-Step Method” outlined in “How to Become a Published Author.” There are no shortcuts possible here and most writers don’t want to put in the hard work necessary to secure a literary agent so their chances of securing a publisher are optimized.
I want to thank Mark for sharing his thoughts with us. Also, I’m excited to be reviewing his latest book. Be sure and catch my review of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much on November 25, right here on Writing to be Read. To learn more about Mark Shaw or his books visit his website.
Don’t miss next Monday’s post and my interview with independently published YA author, Jordan Elizabeth, and get her thoughts on today’s publishing industry on Writing to be Read.
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