Monday, April 22, 2019

An Author's First Decision: Traditional vs Self-Publishing

I am just beginning my journey as an author...even though I started writing my first novel 10 years ago! What can I say, life got in the way. There was a job, a big move, and two kids between then and now. While I never stopped working on my book, I certainly set it aside while more pressing matters ate up my day-to-day.

Approximately a year ago, I gave myself a hard shake and got down to researching how to go about publishing my book. While I am not yet a published author, I am a pretty fantastic researcher (it's what I do for my 9 to 5). Here's a summary of the factors you need to consider before you make your first big publishing decision.

The first decision: Traditional publishing or self-publishing
You have a book and you want to see it in print, so what do you do? Well, that depends on you. Are you the type of person who can invest time into researching, planning, keeping records, managing your own workflow and the quality and timelines of other people's work? Then you may be interested in self-publishing. If you felt nauseated when you read that sentence, traditional publishing might be for you. 
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Self-Publishing:
You run the project. You oversee it all. You plan for it and you pay for it - upfront. 

There are a lot of decisions that need to be made. You will have to research your options in order to decide which path to pursue. Exclusively ebook, printed copies, or both? You'll need to hire professionals to help you along the way. Don't expect that you are going to have a successful book if you don't hire an editor. What about formatting? Are you going to research it all and get proficient enough to format your own book, or are you going to hire someone? Does your book require illustrations? If so, there are a lot of talented illustrators out there and you'll need to find the right person to represent your work. If you don't need an illustrator for the book itself, you'll still need someone to design a cover. This is not the time to DYI something in photoshop unless you're skilled in design and willing to look up copyright limitations on font (no joke, this is a thing: https://www.crowdspring.com/blog/font-law-licensing/

I see a lot of questions and comments that make it clear many people are working under the assumption that self-publishing means they do it all themselves. While an artistic professional editor with a flair for graphic design and a working knowledge of Chinese publishing options and book marketing and distribution may publish alone, most of us will need to hire professionals to help get a book in shape long before it ever gets printed (or released digitally). Professionals cost money. Hiring one requires well-thought out contracts, which include clear deliverables, cost ranges, and timelines. Sadly, the internet is full of tricky people who mascaraed as professionals, so each hire will require diligent research on your part.

If I'm making self-publishing sound overwhelming, that's because it is for me. While there are clear advantages - you will have more control over your book and you will get most if not all of the profits, self-publishing  requires intense and constant involvement. Self-publishing is a way of life above and beyond just authoring books. Some people love and thrive in this environment. I quickly decided it isn't for me.

Pros: Creative control and increased profit margin
Cons: Time and involvement, upfront costs, the number of roles you have to undertake or hire for is considerable, you have little to no expert advise 

Traditional Publishing: 
You have to get someone's attention. You will wait a lot. You will give up some creative control. 

The traditional publishing route puts the onus on experts to edit, format, and manage your project. The publisher already has identified printers. They have processes in place for book distribution. They will likely help you with the marketing. Getting your book to an interested publisher is not an easy feat, however.

Trying to publish via traditional publishing is harder than ever. It will almost always require going through a literary agent. However, you cannot simply hire an agent to represent you. You must lure an agent into your service by convincing them you are worth the investment. Agents get a lot of requests, and so they rightly turn down the vast majority of authors who reach out to them. 

What makes you appealing to an agent? Agents are looking for authors who will produce multiple high-selling books. If you are not expecting to write additional books, or better yet have already got a second book in the making, then self-publishing is probably a better option. An agent is going to help you market your self and your books, they are going to spend time helping you define your craft and build a compelling presence. They are not going to be willing to invest the time in doing this for a single book. 

Before you start researching agents (a post for another time), before you start writing up your query letter, before you write a synopsis, you must have the very best version of your book. Yes, the book will be edited. Yes, you will be making additional changes. BUT poor grammar, languishing plot lines, and uninspired characters will quickly turn agents away. Some authors may find that hiring an editor out-of-pocket before querying agents is worth the cost, because this is your one big shot to get the attention of a professional who can help you navigate the literary world.

Finally, it is definitely worth noting that traditional publishing can take a long, long time. You may not hear from an agent for 2 to 3 months. Then experience that same wait, or longer, to hear back from publishers after your agent sends it on. There are lag times and delays. Publishing your book through traditional routes means being patient.

Pros: simplified roles, expert assistance, some marketing assistance
Cons: lots of competition, lots of rejections, long wait times, shared profit (agents usually cost 15% of profits)
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I hope you found this post helpful. While I realize it can sound discouraging, because neither of these options allow for a simple solution, the truth is your book requires commitment. You need to believe in your book, and your belief needs to be galvanize you. 

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