It is said that everyone has a book inside them just waiting to get out, and thanks to advances in self-publishing, getting that book out is easier now than ever. Authors who have previously experienced slammed doors from the gatekeepers (agents, editors, publishers, etc.) are skirting around these middlemen by going indie. By doing this, they are experiencing a multitude of benefits. Authors who self-publish can:
– write about whatever they want instead of what a publisher deems marketable.
– own complete control over the book process from start to finish.
– keep up to 70% of their royalties instead of paying the majority of the book’s profits to the gatekeepers.
– can publish as fast or as slow as they want.
– aren’t under contract.
Of course there are plenty of downfalls to being a self-published author, as well. An author who goes indie is in charge of making sure their book is formatted properly, has an enticing cover and title, is professionally edited, and so on. As you can imagine, this process can be quite costly. Producing just one book can cost more than $1,000. On top of that, the majority of self-published authors, especially those just starting out, won’t make back that amount…often not even close. (Check out northcoaststories.com for an example of services for self-published authors.)
Then there’s the purpose of those gatekeepers — there are many self-published books that should be edited and rewritten several times, but are still being published. Don’t get me wrong, there are so many self-published books that are wonderful reads. But there are also many that are, well, NOT. These books are the ones with the bad covers, the odd titles, contain spelling and grammar mistakes, and could probably use a few cuts.
Plus, self-published authors must do all of their own marketing, which is something that’s completely unnatural for writers. Often this can look like “Buy my book!” in a series of Tweets.
Finally, there are those who just believe self-publishing is an insult to the written word, as author Laurie Gough wrote on The Huffington Post in a controversial article that has since been shared thousands of times by irate self-published authors.
So what if you go traditional? The reasons to find a publisher are solid. With the backing of these book professionals, you get the golden stamp of approval that your book is quality. While a few lemons still squeeze by, in general terms, a traditionally published book has a good storyline, is free (or mostly free) of errors, and is an enjoyable read for those in its demographic. A traditionally published author doesn’t have to deal with much more than writing the book, as a team of professionals will edit it, format it, and give it a gorgeous cover. These authors have a straight shot to book stores and libraries, and they also land some pretty awesome speaking gigs, depending on the awesomeness of their agent. They have a team of professionals who want their book to succeed, as they all have a vested interest in this book.
However, traditional authors are not free of some of the harder aspects of the book business — namely, marketing. Both traditional and self-published authors must market their own books, and it’s in their best interest to have a solid platform (mailing list, social media followers, etc.). For traditionally published authors, this is even more important. I’ve heard some publishers refusing to even talk to an author unless they have at least 50,000 fans on Facebook. That’s a hard number just to get in the door, especially for an author who is just trying to get discovered.
A traditionally published author may find they have less control over their books than they want. They may be on contract to write a certain number of books, or to slow down their publishing process. They may be told they can’t write a certain book because it’s in direct competition with one of the publisher’s other authors. They may be told the story needs to lean in a different direction to match the market, even if the author disagrees. They may not even be able to write what they want at all, just to be able to continue working with that publisher.
Finally, there’s the money thing. Sure, there might be an advance, but it’s usually small. Plus, selling enough books to make up that advance is no easy feat. Once the gatekeepers have been paid, there really isn’t much left over for the author.
So which is better? As a self-published author myself, I still lean in that direction. Sure, I’ve yet to hit the big time. However, I love the control I have over my own books, and I can still see the possibilities. If I go traditional, I might make more money. But I just can’t fathom giving up that control.
But maybe I’m wrong. Whether you publish indie or traditional, share your triumphs and gripes in the comments below.
Note: This post is also published at crissilangwell.com.
Crissi Langwell the author of 8 books, including “Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan” and “Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Full-Time Life to Make Room for Your Craft.” Check out all of Crissi’s books at crissilangwell.com/books.