So You Wrote A Book, What The Hell Do You Do Now? Part 4 - Traditional or Indie Publishing.
Updated: Feb 17
When I first started out, I actively searched for an agent. I received several rejection letters, but one letter spurred me to indie publish my books. And here I am. Several years later.
Starting out, though, I wanted to traditionally publish. I set up my author platform to allow me to do that. After a year or so, and while I was finishing up books 2 and 3 in my Damien Kaine series, I researched self publishing and decided that was my new path.
I write Crime Fiction and my style of that genre is probably going to be appealing to a limited group of agents. (My books are character driven with forensics and police procedure, not a romance, but there are relationships that my characters deal with, and yes there is sex. Shouldn't sex be in every book?)
After feedback from several beta readers, I jumped in with both feet. And I'm glad I did. I gave it over a year of searching for an agent. Some of you may want to try for a longer period. Some of you may get picked up right away.
I'm going to offer you some insight into both ways to go. You can then decide on your own.
When someone refers to traditional publishing, they are referring to seeking an agent and selling that book to a publisher. If you are lucky you will get an advance and a contract for the production of two or more books.
forAs an unpublished new author, your initial contract would not be for more than $10,000 to $20,000 (on the high side.) You would make no more money on those books until you earn out that advance. (Through sales of your book)
When you enter a contractual agreement with a traditional publisher, you will sign over your rights (all rights, eBook, movie, print, and anything else unless you can negotiate different terms.) Usually, the term is for a minimum of five years. I recently came across a small independent publishing house that required a twenty-year rights sign over. (I would not sign that contract.) I found that to be excessively high.
Once you enter your contract with the publisher, the book is no longer yours. They can dictate any changes they want you to make. Now, at the time of the contract signing, you can negotiate any and all terms in the contract, but I have no idea how hard that may actually be.
Your new publishing house will select your cover. You may have some input, but in the end they will go with what they want and that's why you signed with them in the first place. They do all this stuff for you. However, you will still be responsible for the marketing of your book. They will help you with some things, but the bulk of it will fall to you. Their marketing money is spent on the big time authors. Not you.
Which brings me to a small caveat to even getting signed by a publishing house as a new unknown author. You'd better have an online presence. If you have no online presence, forget about it. (I said that with my Brooklyn Italian accent.)
I have been reading some scary stories of new authors who have gone this route and years after their contract term of rights is up, they still don't have the rights back to their books. A lot of contracts will state something to the effect you will get your rights back when the book is out of print; eBooks never go out of print. You need to pay close attention to when you will get all your rights back, if you have to pay any money back because you never sold enough books to pay off your advance, and a lot of other stuff.
If you do land a contract, hire an attorney who specializes in contracts. Make sure you understand what you are signing. (This is so imperative in any contractual situation.)
I highly recommend you do some reading on this. Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn has a fantastic article on this very subject. Jane Friedman also has a post I recommend you read. These will give a different perspective on the argument of self vs. traditional publishing.
I may sound like I'm against traditional publishing, not at all. If an agent or publisher approached me today, I would listen to their offer. For me indie/self-publishing has been successful. And I enjoy having all the control.
What are the particulars concerning INDIE PUBLISHING
Right off the bat, going the Indie route is a super scary. You are responsible for everything. Building your author presence. Editing. Marketing. Covers. ISBNs. Copyright. The list is endless.
But the pros of Indie publishing:
1. Percentage of sales/royalty is much higher.
2. If there is a mistake/typo, you can correct it. With traditional, they will only make corrections on the next printing cycle.
3. You can make/design your own covers. You have absolute discretion. (So you can also fuck this part up pretty good too.)
4. You can set the price to meet the market demands. This, to me, is very important. I can set my price when I want for sales or specials.
5. I can sell on any retailer, even on my own website.
The point here, you are in control. It also means you are the only one to blame when shit goes wrong.
You are also responsible for branding. This will help tie your books together to you as the author and in whatever series they may be in.
When it comes to cover, oh boy. You can succeed or fail by a bad cover.
There are several websites for help on this. Jane Friedman, Joanna Penn, Derek Murphy, Joel Friedlander, and Frances Caballo. I refer to these guys a lot because they have some of the best information. As an author, if you aren't following these people on Twitter, or other social media, you need to.
The thing is, when you go traditional, you get a lot of benefits, a lot of help. But you give up your control. Over everything. You also still have to be diligent and work just as hard as if you self-published. You alone will drive the sales of your books regardless of which way you go.
I personally, don't trust people to do what is best for me. I think they will do what is best for them first. I like having control over my books and what I want them to convey. I like picking my covers and writing my blurbs. (I find that part of the writing process very easy.) I bought The Book Design Templates and now I also use Atticus for formatting, so I don't have to worry about that.
I have learned how to create my covers that sell using tips from the websites above. I had to learn the software to do it. Now it takes me minutes to create a print cover that used to take days.
Even though you have to go at it alone, you are never alone. Get into some Facebook groups like Wide for the Win or Alessandra Torre Inkers. Both will help you with your indie publishing route. Email me, I will be glad to help you with stuff.
To end this post, I want to share a few things about my success.
I published my first book in 2017. Since then I have 8 total books out. 5 in one series, 2 in another, and 1 standalone.
I use the First in Series Free marketing strategy, now. Prior to that, I had to find what works, and it took a few years. The first 3 years, I made next to nothing. These last 9 months, I have made in the high 5 figures.
Next year I will transition my business into an LLC from a DBA. I make enough money to do this full time. I write. I don't work anywhere else. I don't even make as much as some I know. As you build your back list, you start to make more money.
Don't advertise that first book. Write more books. When you get three or more out in one series or several standalone books, then advertise.
This is a long game. Whether you go trad or indie, it will take time. 4 years into this and I am just now finding my stride. You will to, whichever way you choose to go.
On my blog I have several posts about copyright, ISBNs, and other minutia about publishing on your own. Read them. Search the web and learn what to do and when.
My only word of caution....DO NOT PAY ANYONE TO DO THIS FOR YOU. Stay away from vanity presses. If you have to pay thousands to someone to do this, that is a mistake. Vanity presses will steal your money and do nothing for you. Please don't do this. Check out Writer Beware and Alli to research a company before you ever sign a contract.
If you choose to go the indie route, check out my latest post about where and how to publish your book on retailers.
Just don't be in a rush. Don't hit that publish button just yet. Read the other posts in this series first.
Trust your instincts.