Choosing Your Path

Happy Tuesday, Scribe’s followers. PJ Sharon here, sharing my thoughts on a topic near and dear to my heart—choosing your path. I love being the Captain of my own ship!

My fellow Scribe sister, Sugar, did a great post yesterday on reasons why one should consider pursuing a traditional publishing career. She had some excellent reasons for doing so. You can read about them here. For as many reasons as there are to seek a traditional publishing contract, there are just as many on the side of going Indie (the PC word for self-publishing).

But how does one know which path is right for them? How do you choose your path to publication?

First, let’s happily recognize that there are now many options open to writers for getting their stories into the hands of readers. Up until five or so years ago, that wasn’t the case. A writer had to jump through hoops and pound on a lot of doors, hoping to sneak out of the slush pile and onto the shelves through a series of death defying strokes of luck. If they grew weary of the chase (and the dozens of rejections), they could pay thousands of dollars to have someone publish their work for them and end up with nothing more than a trunk full of books. This soul-sucking practice, called “vanity publishing”, was more or less a scam to bilk writers who were desperate to see their work in print and couldn’t make the cut with traditional publishers for whatever reasons.

For some writers, the reason for rejection was as simple as having their books not “fit the market”. Traditional publishers were in that unique position of having thousands of “applicants” vying for the ten slots they might have available. They were the gate keepers who decided what books got published, where they were distributed, and what types of books readers were likely to buy based on what was currently selling on the market. Those parameters left a lot of amazing writers out in the cold with no way in.

Fast forward to the digital age of Amazon, e-readers, and the new world of publishing. Writers could now bypass the query-go-round, skip fighting for an agent, and jump into the fray with the hundreds of thousands of other writers making their books available to the masses. Yes, there is crap. Yes, there are still poorly edited books that shouldn’t see the light of day, and yes, the market is so saturated that it’s a wonder that anyone can sell more than a single copy of their book these days. But over the past few years, the quality of books being produced by Indie authors have steadily improved as they’ve learned to hire good editors, cover artists, and formatters to help them in producing a competitive product. And the avenues through which to sell those books continues to grow daily.

For those not interested in handling all of the fine details, there are a plethora of small press publishers cropping up to take those chores off the shoulders of the author.
But buyer beware. Anyone attempting to handle their career on their own without the advice of an agent or the backing of a reputable publisher, is in for a bumpy ride with lots of pot holes. I’ve had a few missteps, but have managed to avoid many of the big pitfalls myself by participating in yahoo group loops where Indies congregate and share information. They have been an invaluable resource in navigating the shark infested waters of the publishing world. Honestly, I haven’t seen that small press publishers do much more for authors than they could do for themselves, but if you are looking to get a foot in the traditional publisher’s doors, and don’t want all the responsibilities of creating your masterpiece, a small press might be a good first step.

As Sugar mentioned yesterday, many authors are NOT making buckets of money, whether they are DIY’ers or traditionally published, but there are also many in both camps who make a good living. There seems to be no tried and true way to guarantee success, and I’ve come to the conclusion that success in publishing requires dogged determination, perseverance, and a huge chunk of luck. Timing is everything and no one seems to know what will sell tomorrow or why some of the crap that comes along the pike sells like hotcakes. But one thing is for sure, the doors are open and it’s as good a time as it has ever been to be an author…no matter which path you choose.

If you’re still on the fence, I’ve created this short list of pros and cons that might help you decide.

Traditional Publishing
PROS: See Sugar’s post from yesterday. If you want the name recognition and backing of a reputable publishing house, a support team of editors, cover artists, and marketing professionals, and access to distribution and space on store shelves, this might be the route for you. It can take considerable time and effort to break in, but if you are lucky enough to be a top seller, your path will be paved in gold, the red carpet rolled out for you, and your tiara awaits! Kudos for making the big time!

CONS:  If you know that your story is a tough sell with a traditional publisher, you have a time sensitive topic that needs to be published NOW, or you aren’t willing/able to work to someone else’s deadlines and demands, this might not be a good fit for you. Also consider that negotiating contracts can be tricky and getting the attention of a good agent to help you navigate the process can be daunting. In addition, if you aren’t a top seller, don’t expect a second contract, and your dismissal may mean that it will be tougher to get contracted with another publishing house.

Small Press Publishers
PROS: Generally speaking, it’s somewhat easier to get in the door and you’ll have a faster turn-around time getting your product to market with digital first publishers. They will handle the editing, cover art and formatting for your book, and may even give you some tips for effective marketing…or not.

CONS: Depending on the sales of your e-books, you may never qualify for a print version of your book. And let’s face it, most of us still want to see our books in print and on store shelves. Royalty rates may be higher than larger houses but getting those royalty checks within a reasonable amount of time and having access to your sales numbers is hit or miss. It also seems that small press publishers do very little to help their authors with marketing, (please feel free to let me know if I’m mistaken), which for me would be one of the few incentives to move on over to traditional publishing. The other is the coveted ADVANCE, which you will likely NOT get from a small press publisher. Or if you do, it will be well…small. As it stands, it wouldn’t make sense for someone like me who has established myself in the Indie realm to jump on board with a small press. They really can’t offer me much that I’m not already doing for myself.

Indie Publishing
Love those 70% royalty rates! (Even at the 35% royalty rate for lower priced books, I can charge .99 cents and still make more per unit than trad authors whose books sell for $7.99). I can change my price point at any time, update my covers, or change my categories and descriptions on retailer sites, which is enormously helpful when running a sale or promoting my books. Love the control I have over every aspect of my product. Love setting my publication schedule and not worrying about meeting someone else’s deadlines. Love the real time sales numbers so I can easily keep track how my promotional efforts are working…or not. Love the flexibility and freedom!

Hate that I don’t have access to mass distribution of print books. Hate that I have upfront costs of a support team, ie: editors, cover artists, etc. and NO ADVANCE. Hate the stigma of being “self-published”, although this is slowly becoming less of an issue and I’m not one to be too concerned about what others think of me, anyway. Hate that I am solely and completely responsible for everything—including writing, producing, and marketing a high quality product that may or may not sell based on a market that is constantly changing.

Hybrid Authors
I have not wrapped my mind around how anyone can do this without being able to write full time. To have multiple projects, deadlines, and demands from more than one publisher as well as self-publishing would make me insane! Fast and prolific writers are doing it every day, and if you’re writing in more than one genre, this makes sense.

For me, the best of both worlds will be when authors and publishers can be on equal footing and work together to create great books and put a system in place to get them into the hands of readers; when authors are paid fairly for their work with contracts that reflect the best interests of BOTH parties, and when marketing becomes a joint effort that takes into account that a “target audience” doesn’t necessarily live in a box.

Then everyone will be happy and there will no longer be “sides” to the issue. Publishing will simply be publishing, and whichever path you choose, it will be the right one for you. You’ll gain the respect you deserve from peers and industry professionals, there will be rainbows and butterflies, and we will all live happily ever after.

What do you think?

17 thoughts on “Choosing Your Path”

  1. Hi PJ, I loved that you and Sugar shared your thoughts on each side. I don’t really believe there really is one right or wrong answer. Seldom does one size fit all. Both have pros and cons and it’s more of a matter of fitting your personality to the business model.

    1. i can see so many benefits to the “Hybrid model”, Jennifer. The multiple streams of income, the best of both world in terms of working with different industry professionals and gaining a wider following. I just can’t imagine juggling it all and still writing quality material. And since providing a consistently high quality product is the most important ingredient to any successful business, I’d hate to compromise quality for quantity. I see it work for others, but i’m not even sure how I could transition smoothly.

      Leia Shaw recently brought this up. She is an indie published author who is considering switching genres and considering trying the hybrid model by trying to sell a new contemporary to traditional publishers. Her concern, as is mine, is how long will I have to hold onto a a book that could be making me money NOW. The query process is an all consuming pursuit and there is no telling if and when you will land an agent or be able to sell your book to a traditional publisher. We all know that it can take months before we even hear anything back from anyone and there are no guarantees.

      I have PIECES OF LOVE, a contemporary YA romance that would probably fit market lines and is likely good enough to get picked up by a publisher. It’s also a genre that is still pretty hot. But do i want to trade in the freedom that I have as an indie author, spend the time it would take away from marketing my other books and writing the next one, to get bogged down in querying, synopsis writing, researching agents and editors again, contract negotiations, and suddenly being on the deadline hook for possibly multiple books. Which sounds awesome in theory, but you know how hard you have to work to keep all the balls in the air. Not sure i want to work that hard these days…but that’s just me.

  2. Paula, your writing is crisp and informative. Thanks for another great post. Your reference and support of Sugar’s post is professional and critical to your discussion. You probably have heard me yamma before about the work that must be done as an entrepreneur and you are one heck of an entrepreneur. Congratulations on your ambition and accomplishments.

  3. I like the hybrid model too. Granted, I’m coming at this from a different perspective, having already gotten an agent and a traditional contract. A year ago I made a decision to make a serious effort to try for traditional. I gave myself 6 months to either find an agent or a digital-first publisher. At the end of the 6 months, I planned to go indie (and would have happily done so). I prepared a few queries every week, and it ended up taking about 30 queries (some of which I’m still waiting on!) 3-1/2 months to find an awesome agent, and another 2 weeks to make the sale. Then it was hurry up and wait, first for the contract to arrive a few months later, then for my initial advance check to arrive, and it will have been a full two years from the time the sale was made until the book is published. Yes, that’s a long time. But, on the other hand, I don’t have to front any money for editing or cover art, or negotiate any contracts (I did have mine reviewed by an attorney). And best of all, not only do you get paid up front without busting your hump trying to sell books, if you sell a series you get paid for work you haven’t even done yet. It’s a great country! (And yes, I know I will have to market my own books, even as a traditionally published author)

    Now, I’ve got a romance that I’m planning on going indie with sometime next year, so we’ll see how that works for me.

    Just to play devil’s advocate with you, it seems to me that you’re in a really good position right now to take a chance on traditional, and here’s why. (1) You’ve got a marketable product for traditional publishing; (2) You don’t depend on your writing as your sole source of income, therefore you can afford to give this book a little time and think of it as an investment in your career. It’s like diversifying a stock portfolio–some things you buy for the long-term and some for the short; (3) The time and energy you would spend marketing a new indie book could be used to query agents/editors–in fact, it might actually take less time if you spread the queries out and just do a few every week; and (4) If you can’t find an agent or editor interested in your book, you’ve still got it and you can go indie with it any time. Not saying I think you should do this, but only that you shouldn’t rule traditional out.

    In the long run, of course every author has to make the decision for herself. But it’s not an all or nothing scenario. This is one of those rare situations where you can, in fact, have it both ways.

    1. Thank you, Suze, for that very helpful nudge of encouragement. I’ve been thinking the same thing for a while and kicking the idea around. I’ll have to give it some serious pondering:-)

  4. I think a lot of authors, even well established authors, are going hybrid now. I think hybrid is a great way to go if you have a fan base and want to publish more than a couple of books a year and have the funds to do it. I know for me, right now I am trying to traditionally publish, and I have a book under contract with a small publisher, but I have also created my own imprint to publish under if I don’t get traditionally published on my next book.
    I’ve had best selling authors tell me to take all the books I have on my backlist and self publish them to get them out there and get a fan base and to move forward with traditional for all my new stuff. I am not sure what I am going to do yet, but I think hybrid is the wave of the future for most prolific writers. For me, I write about 3 books a year, so Small Press or Self Pub may be the way for me to go.

    1. The sky seems to be the limit in terms of options, which is great, but it does make it challenging to figure out what exactly is the best fit for you as an individual. I hope it works out for you! Good luck whichever way you go:-)

  5. It is wonderful to have so many options. I like some of the elements of indie publishing, but it seems too overwhelming for me to undertake at this point (although I’ll never say never). I’d like to work with some publisher first just to get more experience with the entire process of going from manuscript to finished product (including some marketing help). But I applaud those who dive right in and do it all on their own. The ability to put work out faster is really appealing. Thanks for sharing these pros and cons.

    As others have said, there isn’t a right answer…only a “right for me” answer. I think figuring that out really depends on your ultimate goals (are you writing “to sell” or to tell the story you want to tell no matter how big or small its audience may be, etc.).

  6. Hi Jamie! Nice to see you here. There’s a fine line between giving in to fear and using common sense, LOL. What that means is that I hate to see someone NOT follow their dreams for fear of it being “too hard”, but at the same time, there is much to be said for knowing yourself well enough to know what you can handle and what’s right for you.

    I chose the indie path for several reasons. 1) Because I had three manuscripts completed and pretty well polished that A/E were rejecting basically because they “didn’t quite fit the market.” Yet they were stories near and dear to my heart, and I believed there was an audience for them. Granted, I didn’t pitch Heaven is for Heroes to more than a couple of editors, but I knew that story was time sensitive to be relevant and I didn’t want to wait two years or more to see it published. 2) I also recognized that being self-employed, I didn’t want to work “for” anyone else ever again. I’d love the opportunity to work “with” publishers, but that doesn’t feel like the model that is currently in place with traditional publishing houses. I do know that some authors get a say about editing requests and have some input on their covers, but generally speaking, the contracts are pretty clearly on the side of the publisher having ultimate control and making the lion’s share of the profits–a situation that doesn’t appeal to me at all. 3) I’ve spent most of my life “making money for other people.” With SP, the burden may be all on me, but so is the reward.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    1. As an aside, I do wish I’d had the opportunity to learn more about the publishing world by being traditionally published first. That would have saved me a lot on the learning curve:-)

    1. Great, Carole! Why did I think you were already published? I believe I’ve taken a workshop with you before, haven’t I? Not that being published is a pre-requisite to teaching awesome workshops, but I thought I remembered you having a few books traditionally published…no?

  7. Thanks for the break down. It helps to be able to look at all avenues that are open.

    A woman in our writing group is published through a moderately sized company and she got her following from that. But she has taken her backlist and indie published them. She claims with this back list, and it’s rather large, she brings in over $100000 a year. She quite the prolific writer so I can see it might be true. Wish we could all do that.

    1. There are many awesome success stories out there Donna. But for every one who is making a six figure income off the writing. there are dozens more who make very little. It seems to be a crap shoot. We just have to keep rolling the dice, I guess. Thanks for chiming in.

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