Traditional, Hybrid, or Self-Publishing - What's Right For You?
I've found over the past year, the most common question I'm asked is the best route for an author to take to see their book in print?
In truth, there isn't a definitive answer. there are pros and cons to every route. I will tell you my preference at the end. My choice won't necessarily be right for you. There is much to consider.
I am only going on my experiences, so am happy for others to share theirs too. The more we share, the more useful it will be for everyone. I'm happy to add further blog posts with interviews from those in the industry, whether they be literary agents, publishers, booksellers, or self-publishing companies. The opinions and experiences across the board are highly likely to help everyone. The only time I'll edit or prevent a comment is if it breaks the law or is offensive. As such, please refrain from using this as an excuse to name and shame (or even as an excuse to plug your own business).
There's one thing you will notice, I won't be mentioning names. There are good reasons for this. Firstly, I know the people I intend to work with going forward, but I don't know everyone in the world, so I wouldn't want to influence your decision making. I'll be happy to share some recommendations if you contact me privately. Secondly, I'm sick to the back teeth of misspelt, threatening emails. I, genuinely, am not affected by them, but they waste a lot of energy and time.
It's why the most important lesson is to do your research. Good companies will interact with you long before you're a customer. They'll also manage expectations with honesty, outline what work they'll do, and talk you through the downsides. Bad companies won't. They'll sanitise everything, promise the world, and then fail to deliver.
Remember, you are the customer making a very important decision (even with traditional publishers). If the answers are vague or avoiding the question altogether, it should be a huge red flag. It always comes back to doing your research.
The publishing world is a scary place, littered with companies playing on the fact new authors, and more experienced ones, can be overawed. Most of us have grown up thinking we need a traditional publishing contract. I'd certainly consider one if offered, but I'd need to know they were aligned with my thoughts. After all, this is my career. We now have more options than ever before to find the best route to market. It gives us, as customers, a lot more opportunities.
There's only one constant. It takes a lot of effort and hard work with the odds stacked against you. Don't be disheartened, because the writing community is a great support group always willing to help.
Let's look at the three primary routes to seeing your book in print. (Thanks to the wonderful people at www.wetransfer.com, I am testing an extra route, but that's a story for another time).
History has made this the Holy Grail for authors, but there are downsides too.
The history is flawed. Dickens, Conan Doyle, and many others were first published in newspapers and magazines (the internet and social media of their time). It took them building a following before a publisher would speak to them about their novels or short stories.
It's hardly surprising. Traditional publishing houses are businesses trying to make a profit. Almost every business is risk averse, so taking a punt on a new author is rare. It happens and could happen to you. Do remember, companies and careers live and die on making the right choice. The pressure that causes isn't something most of us would want to face. It's why I have a lot of respect for literary agents and traditional publishers. However a decision makes you feel, they are only making a business choice so they can eat next week too.
There are several things to consider. A traditional publisher always claims to be the best route to physical bookshops. On a medium to large scale, this is probably true in most cases. Even with Amazon statistics show it's a huge benefit. www.kindlepreneur.com recently conducted research showing almost all the best-selling books in every category were either traditionally published or enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. It is worth bearing in mind.
For increasing sales, and potentially receiving an advance, the traditional route is still a clear winner. However, there are downsides.
Firstly, the moment you sign with a traditional publisher you will probably lose all control of your book. There are exceptions, but I am trying to give a general overview. The publisher will control deadlines, edits, cover design, pricing, etc. For some, it's perfect. For others, not so much.
Secondly, the publisher only has a limited marketing budget to put behind each book. If you think you'll avoid the middle of the night social media frenzy, you're wrong. I've seen posts from some of the best-selling, and most well known, authors such as Patricia Cornwell, Peter James, and Jeffrey Archer plugging their latest books already this week. They know the job isn't over just because they have a publishing contract. There's still a lot of work to do.
Thirdly, and even I find myself arguing both sides of this one, is money. If you're looking to make a profit (I'd say minimum wage, but that's a high bar) from your books, this aspect is crucial. If not, the other options may be better for you. On average, a traditionally published author will receive about 8% of the sale price of each book. This sounds very low compared to how much Amazon pays out to self-published authors, for example.
However, traditional publishers may get you higher sales, leading to higher income. The decision rests on how many sales you genuinely believe you'll make. Only you can answer, but be realistic in the thought process.
Traditional publishing isn't going away. It will adapt to a fluid marketplace. The key, if you have the opportunity to go down this route, is finding the right publishing house for you. Research, as always, is crucial. The traditional publishing houses need us as much as we need them. Fairness in agreements could well define the future of publishing.
As a concept, this should have been the future of publishing. A route to market with shared risk held so much promise.
Sadly, it has proved to be a breeding ground for destroying authors' dreams. It is failing and, because of the huge growth in self-publishing companies, doesn't seem to have a future. Even if all you want is to see your work in print, you're better off, financially, investing in software to layout your book and to design the cover. Amazon offers a free print-on-demand service which is the death knell for hybrid publishers. There are many self-publishing companies who offer a much better service than hybrid publishers at a far lower cost.
You'll never make your investment back with a hybrid publisher, as they don't offer a particularly high royalty rate. The cost of author copies can be inflated too. They take your money at the start and then take a cut of each sale. It's the best of both worlds for them, but not for an author. From my experience, the level of customer service is somewhere below that of industries we all regularly complain about.
I can't see a future for hybrid publishing. Traditional publishers and self-publishing have closed the gap in the market. At least it might take a few of the charlatans out of the industry when it does finally collapse.
This is where the hybrid concept is actually working. It's very easy to self-publish a book. Amazon and IngramSpark, amongst others, make it super simple. There are many other alternatives too.
The main advantage of self-publishing is you have full control. As mentioned in the introduction, there are many companies offering help with every aspect of self-publishing. It takes time and research, but it's not that difficult to find one you work well with that fits your budget. I'm using a freelancer for digital marketing of the "Stray Army" brand, another freelancer for editing and proofreading, and a self-publishing company for everything else other than internal layout and cover design. I have software for those parts. I do still need help from the experts from time to time and I've found them all to be very accommodating.
As a self-published author, you will get higher royalties per copy, but the marketing effort is all-consuming. It takes a huge amount of work and plenty of luck to make the breakthrough as a self-published author. Patience is the key. the more work you do, the higher you chances of success. I have a very good friend in the writing community, Lee Hall (https://leehallwriter.com/books/), who has had the patience and, several years after publication, his books are selling better than ever. He's worked hard and is now seeing the benefits. It's a lesson well worth remembering.
There's one part of the self-publishing process I didn't understand and couldn't find a coherent answer to when I started out. It led to me making a dreadful decision at the start of my journey. I didn't understand how the tax withholding worked on Amazon. As it happens, it's incredibly easy. Even the interview only takes 30 seconds online. Not being able to find the advice I needed cost me a lot of money. I promise it's a simple process and nothing to be afraid of.
I have become an advocate of self-publishing as it gives me freedom. I'm also quite good at certain aspects, so can't see the point of paying others to do what I can do myself. I am aware it isn't for everyone.
I would also take the traditional publishing route with the right publisher, but am very aware they need to make a living too, so have sensible expectations on the financial side.
The one route I'd advise against is the hybrid publisher. There are better ways to lose a fortune, but if you're determined to throw your money away, you could always buy Twitter!
We live in a changing publishing world. Research is key to every decision we make. Whatever choices you make, I wish you all the success in the world. After all, if someone buys your book, they might buy mine too.
Please feel free to add your experiences and knowledge in the comments section. it will help everyone.
One final thing, and it's very important. I mentioned at the start how supportive the writing community is. I'd like to thank Patricia Cornwell who epitomises this. I sent her a message asking if it was OK to mention her in this blog as a best-selling and experienced author. She sent me back a lovely message proving she's also a wonderful person. There are many like her and I've been fortunate enough to make a lot of new friends over the past couple of years. There's always someone there to offer advice, or even pick you up when you fall. The biggest advantage of being an author is you're never alone.
A Different Dog Walk
I was fortunate last week to be able to volunteer to walk some of the dogs at our local rescue shelter. I won't give the whole story, as I'm writing a piece for the local newspaper on it. It was emotional, but also a huge amount of fun. The dogs were great, and the other volunteers even better. The shelter is part-funded by the local authority, with the rest coming from donations to an expat run charity (who also provide the dog walking volunteers). If you'd like to make a donation, please visit their facebook page which has full details (https://www.facebook.com/codafbgroup1).
Don't forget you can join the "Stray Army" by buying books, merchandise, or downloads. We've got a lot of surprises coming your way over the next few weeks too.
MaxS and the Stray Army