There is so much we can talk about with regard to the rise of self-publishing in the past ten years. The invention of the eReader and the rise of Amazon are just a few examples of this.
For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be a published author. For me, that meant a traditional publishing deal. Not what I would have called it at the time. Having a book I’ve written sitting on a bookshelf in our local independent bookshop or in our library would mean I had made it as a writer.
But what I have learnt over the past few years is that the publishing industry I wanted to be published through has changed.
The Publishing Industry of the Past
For many years, the only way to get published was to go through an editor at a publishing house with either the help of an agent or not. This meant that until you found an agent and/or publisher who liked your book, you would be in limbo. Constantly waiting for the phone to ring or the email notification to ping whilst the gatekeepers of the industry held your fate in your hands.
Once they’d decided that your book was for them, the process of signing the deal to seeing your books on the shelves in stores can take a very long time. Sometimes nearly two and a half years. During the process, some authors can feel that they have lost their creative control. This may not be the case for every author or every book. Once you’ve signed that contract, you may only have a small input in the look and marketing of your book.
Of course, when you do sign up with a traditional publisher, we all know that we’ll be made for life, rolling in cash, allowing us to give up our day jobs and become full-time writers. I hate to be the one to break it to you but royalties on traditionally published books are quite low, especially on your first few novels. Anything from 7% to 25% with these varying depending on the format of the book sold. The royalty payments also come in six monthly statements that can be hard to read and understand making it hard to forecast your cash flow for the year.
Now don’t get me wrong, the picture I have painted may seem quite bleak to get to the heady heights of being a published author, but there were and still are many benefits from being traditionally published.
Benefits of Traditional Publishing
Having an experienced team working to make sure your novel is the best it can be is one of the biggest benefits. Editors, cover designers, formatters, and marketers will all be working on your words to polish and publish them to the highest standard. One thing you may want to consider about marketing is that this team is working towards getting the booksellers to want to buy your book, rather than consumers. That falls to you as an author far more these days.
Getting your books into bookshops is also easier. Publishing’s primary focus is to get your books into these stores, this is how they make their money. They send their sales reps round to bookseller, making it easy for the stores to buy the books. The sellers then pay a month later minus the returns as many books only stay in stores for a month unless they are perennial sellers.
The financial implications of publishing have nothing to do with you either. The publishers take on all financial responsibilities when you sign the contract, they may pay you an advance at this time, which is set against your royalties. This means that until you have achieved that amount of royalty payments from sales of your book, you won’t get any more payments till then. Many authors are now taking lower or no advance and higher royalty payments as they find that works better for them.
When self-publishing a book, you, the author, have to manage every aspect of not only creating the content but tweaking it, polishing it, designing the cover, marketing it and ultimately selling it. You need to become a so-called ‘expert’ in all areas of the publishing industry rather than just the wordsmith.
You will also take on the whole financial side of publishing, marketing and distributing your finished piece, which can vary widely depending on how you want the finished piece to look.
Self-publishing has had its own fair share of negative responses from both the industry and authors themselves. Many feel it has allowed anyone the opportunity to publish a book, no matter what the quality of either the writing or the final product. This has led to an influx of poor quality books into the market which many authors feel has had an impact on the industry as a whole.
In an article on Forbes in 2012, David Vinjamuri shares his opinions on how this aspect of self-publishing affects his love for reading. Whilst interviewing established authors on their views of the new face of self publishing, Sue Grafton, 32-time bestselling author was quoted as saying, “To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. … Self-publishing is a shortcut and I don’t believe in shortcuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall”
Has this opinion changed in recent years?
Many self-published authors use different terminology to describe what they do. They feel that this term is coupled with the lower quality self-published books that are still deluging the market today.
An indie author is a term that bestselling author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn uses to describe herself for this very reason. In an article on her site, The Creative Penn talks about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing and indie authors. Joanna feels that the term self-publishing infers to publishing books as a hobby, certainly not what she does. Having carved out a six-figure income from being an independent author of both fiction and nonfiction books. The difference is that she uses top freelancing professionals to create her high-quality products. Plus she sees her writing as a business.
Another term currently floating around the publishing industry which many best-selling authors are tagged with is a hybrid author.
With the industry changing, many authors are now choosing how to publish their books on a book by book basis. This gives them the flexibility to earn the most money or reach the right market. This format is empowering authors to make the best decisions. They choose the best route for each of their projects. Ultimately it allows the author the power to achieve their own destiny on the terms they want to. CJ Lyons and Hugh Howey have been published by traditional publishers alongside self-publishing other works too.
Authors also choose to self-publish as a way into the industry. An online friend, Rachael Lucas self-published her first novel, Sealed with a Kiss in 2013, It went on to sell 60,000 copies in its first six weeks. Due to its popularity, the book was then snapped up by Pan Macmillian. She has subsequently published another two books and a novella through them.
This isn’t a one-off. Many self-published writers go on to sign traditional deals after their initial book flies off the shelves. It can be seen as a sort of right of passage. Plus it gives the traditional publishers an insight into the reach these authors already have, making the deal a less risky bet.
I hope this has given you a better insight into the publishing world…