I’m in the process of giving my blog a spring clean, deleting old, out-of-date posts and generally tidying up, and I thought it would be fun to share this, my very first post!
I wrote this back in 2013, prior to self-publishing my first novel.
Have my opinions changed since then?
Take a look, and I’ll sum up at the end.
It’s decision time – which route will you take? Pursue a traditional publishing deal or go Indie?
I’m sorta hedging my bets just now, and trying for the hybrid route (bit of both), but on many grounds I’m leaning more and more towards the Indie route for a whole heap of reasons. Thought I’d share a bit of both experiences to better help you make up your own mind.
I am a traditionally published author. I have 2 non-fiction books, one hardback, one softback, in print, and they sell small numbers but steadily. I got an advance on each, and in addition to book store and internet sales, I buy them at author’s discounted rate and sell them myself, making a bit of profit.
The good things about being with a big publisher:
- Validation – my writing (and knowledge) are deemed worthwhile to be put out there in front of the public.
- The advance payment – not having to wait until the book is out there before seeing any income.
- I don’t have to do anything other than write the text, and provide suitable photographs for illustration.
- My work is professionally edited.
- My covers were designed and provided.
- An index is provided.
- The marketing department arrange review copies and send me nice little photographs of my reviews.
- A Christmas card each year, signed by my commissioning editor.
- I already know my knowledge is good enough, as is my writing. I’ve been writing features in magazines for years and I am an acknowledged expert in my field (dressage training).
- The advance. Oh yes, I got one for each book: £2000 to be precise. But that’s split into 3 parts: one third on signing the contract, one third on delivering an acceptable manuscript, and the last third on publication – minus what they paid someone to provide the index. Until they ‘earn out’, i.e. my publisher makes back the advance, I won’t be paid any more. At my earning rate of about £2 per book, that’s going to take a while. Book 1 has been out for 5 years, and is nearly there, Book 2 has been out 3 years now and will take about the same length of time, sigh. Buying them and selling them on nets me around £8 per book – much more like it, and it goes straight into my bank account.
- Writing the text is no problem. The photographs, on the other hand – nightmare! 50 high quality photographs per book, for which my publisher provided £500 towards costs. When you work with animals (remember that ‘never work with animals or children’ thing that actors talk about? Same applies to illustrative photography) you need to take around 50 snaps to find one usable one. Go on, do the math. That’s a lot of photos. Not only will it take numerous shoots, but just you try organising horses that are feeling co-operative, a photographer and sunny weather for that all-important quality, all on the same day. Fun – not.
- My editor was great – I was just a tad miffed that he decided to use my format for the next book he edited as well – which happened to be by someone famous and so with more selling power.
- I like my covers, but it would have been nice to have some say in them.
- If I’d known the cost of the index was coming out of my advance, I’d have tackled it myself.
- The marketing department? Outsourced and, in my opinion, hardly worth the effort. All they did was send out a few review copies and that was that. I have done all my own marketing – arranged signings (to which I take my own purchased copies to sell), written and sold magazine features to highlight them, put them on my website, and sold them to all my clients, and at venues where I give training clinics. This year I’m doing a leaflet drop at a trade show.
- The Christmas card is nice 🙂
I can’t give as much information on this route yet, as I’ve not yet published my first, but it’s due out on 29th July, so I’ve done plenty of research at this stage. I know I have lots more to learn and experience, but so far the positives have been:
- I can write what I like. That doesn’t mean I’m ignoring rules of good writing, or being reckless with my content, but I don’t have to fit myself into a publisher’s niche, or play the game of trying to write what they want, rather than what I want.
- I can be in complete control of my own costs. I have an excellent writer’s group I work with, and developmental editing is down to them – with payment in editing their work in return. Ditto to the proofreading as one of the group has trained in that sphere. I found my own cover designer, by approaching someone whose cover I really liked, and although I’ve paid for it, I’m in love with my cover (reveal coming very soon – July 2nd – exciting!)
- Writing is at my own pace – I’m used to writing to deadlines, but thought of doing it relentlessly gives me the collywobbles.
- Outsourcing anything I don’t want to learn myself, like formatting, is easy. You can outsource any bit you want with a little research; there are plenty but plenty of people out there willing and expert at doing what you don’t want to do.
- Marketing will be at my own pace too – I have plenty of experience with the two books I have out there, and although I realise that marketing fiction will not be the same, being my own marketing department will be best for my book as I’m going to be unfailingly enthusiastic about it!
- I get to keep a much bigger percentage of every sale, and it comes directly to me 🙂
- It’s been a long and steep learning curve, but now I’ve done it once, I won’t need to repeat.
- I’m putting money up front, in terms of cover design, formatting and some marketing, but it’s not a great amount to get a business of the ground – and this is a business.
- Time – Indie publishing eats it.
Not having a publisher behind me. Erm, what did my publisher do for me? Not much.
- No Christmas card – think I’ll live 😉
So there you have it – my thoughts on the great debate thus far.
I will fill you in later, once my book has gone live, and review how I feel about it then.
In the meanwhile, I have to admit to still hedging my bets – I have an Urban Fantasy out with an agent. But after my experience with the one I’m about to publish (which did the rounds of the then Big Six, for over a year but still didn’t sell), I reckon if this one doesn’t get snapped up pretty quickly, I’ll just go ahead and publish it myself. After all, I’ve learned the ropes now, so why not?
How about you? Have you made the decision, or are you prevaricating, like me?
How I feel about it now
Well, I’m still hybrid, and that works for me.
I have a third book coming out shortly with a traditional publisher, but this one was commissioned, and not proposed by me. As the subject matter is so specialised, I think a traditional publisher is really the only sensible route, as they can get it into the bookstores which stock such topics. It is also photo and diagram heavy, which would make indie publishing far more of a challenge.
In the interim, a few things have changed:
- My original publisher was bought out by a second company, which was subsequently also bought out. This third publishing house stocks my old titles, and handled reprinting of the first one, but it means that the new book is being published by a completely different publisher to the original.
- I have again been paid an advance (not a sure thing these days), but only £1500 compared to £2000 a title for each of the previous books, 15 years ago.
- I have had to write the cover copy myself, which will also be used on the book’s sale pages.
- I was expected to draw 110 diagrams (roughs, for a pro artist to smarten up), and provide 10 – 12 hi-resolution photos, including one to be used for the cover, with no financial contribution.
- I am expected to do the indexing myself. At least I won’t be paying for someone else to do it this time, but I will have to take time out to learn how to do it.
- This publisher only pays royalties once a year, and not 6-monthly like the previous two.
- I haven’t yet had the proofs back, so I can’t comment on the editing.
- This time I did get to have a say in choosing the cover pic.
- Marketing? I have already had information thrust my way about how I am supposed to use social media to build hype for the book, so I’m guessing I will once more be doing the heavy lifting.
- Once again, I didn’t enjoy the pressure of working to a deadline, although I can do it if I must.
- No Christmas card!
- I have now published 6 full-length works of fiction, and several shorts.
- For fiction, for all the reasons I gave in the original post above, I wouldn’t consider publishing any other way, unless a publisher was offering me a HUGE advance.
- My upfront costs have settled at paying for a great cover artist and paying for adverts.
- Keeping up with the latest in what works, marketing-wise, is always going to be a time-consuming challenge, but I’m in the swing of it now.
- As my catalogue grows, so does my readership fan-base, and I find I can charge more for my books than I did when I first started out, so income has grown.
- I love the indie publishing community – I have made some great friends across the globe, which is a bonus I never anticipated.
I believe I now have sufficient experience to dole out a bit of advice on both routes.
If you are writing non-fiction in a narrow subject field, I would still seek out a traditional publisher. You don’t need an agent for this type of work (why pay someone to do what you can do yourself?). Non-fiction publishers are always on the lookout for new books, and are perfectly open to the general public offering proposals, so provided you are an authority on the subject, and you can identify a gap in the market (both things that must be laid out in your detailed book proposal) then go for it.
For fiction, I would no longer even bother trying for a traditional deal. Even though it can be tough at first to get seen, as you build your catalogue, (and assuming you become fairly proficient at marketing tactics), your visibility will grow, and with it, your income. Long term, you will be in full control of your works, which need never go out of print, or end up being remaindered and pulped, as so many trad books are.
Even long-term fairly successful trad published authors are often no longer able to make a living from their writing alone. Many of the more savvy – and those that didn’t sign one of the horrendous IP-grabbing contracts that publishers offer these days – are decamping to the indie world, taking back control of their careers, and benefitting from their back catalogue that their publishers have long-since lost interest in.
I’m happy with my decision to stick with the hybrid model, for the reasons stated above. So, the real answer to the question ‘traditional or indie?’, is, like so many other things in life: it depends…