Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Difference Between Indie and Traditional Publishing

The first question I get, 90% of the time when talking to authors who know about my new publishing deal is, "Which is better, indie or traditional?"

Obviously, my experience in traditional publishing is limited, so perhaps my opinion will change in a few months, or years. Certainly my opinion about self-publishing changed in the years I was pursuing traditional.

Plus, the real answer is going to be subjective. I know some indie authors out there who wouldn't take a traditional deal if it was thrown at them. I know some traditional authors who are turning to indie (or back to indie, as the case may be).

What I'm trying to get at is, take this with a grain of salt. It's just my opinion. For now.


1. Speed

I doubt any self-pubber (or, frankly, half the traditionally published community) would disagree with this one. A self-publishing author can turn on a dime. They choose how quickly and how often they publish, with no restrictions but their own processes. I know plenty of authors churning out four books a year, or more. And they're happy doing it that way. By comparison, traditional publishing is a tortoise (though I will note that this appears to be changing).

2. Control**

The reality is, you get to mold a project to be exactly what you want it to be**, on your own timeframe. If you're ready to push "publish", there's no-one getting in your way. If you have a book that doesn't fit cleanly into a genre category, no one cares. If you're challenging the status quo, drifting outside of genre "guidelines", or just plain giving the finger to the world, no one can stop you. In fact, more power to you.

** Disclaimer: I firmly believe (and always have), that we don't always know what's best for our own stories. Sometimes we're just too close to see what they need to gleam. There is an argument that the absolute control offered in self-publishing might not always serve your best commercial interests - but it will be creatively satisfying.

3. Acclaim

While this won't always apply, the truth is that if your book is successful, you'll be the one getting all the kudos. Not that that wouldn't happen anyway, but there is a difference in the perception, I think, when a self pubbed author "makes it".


1. Professional Help

I can't get away from the fact that with the help of my editor, I was able to write a better book. And since I was working on the same book, it was even more clear to me. I was applauded by many reviewers for writing a page-turner, etc, when I self-pubbed. Yet my editor was able to clearly and concisely, help me peel back layers and develop characters and heighten tension in 25% fewer words. This is a big plus for any writer, but for a YA author, it's critical.

2. Networks and Teams

I put these together, because they are effectively one and the same - my publisher knows people. My publisher employs people. There are a lot of people working on my book, being drawn into marketing my book, generally raising the profile of my book. These are people I would never have met, nor had the chance to engage with meaningfully as a self-published author. And they work in the background. Half the time I'm not even aware of them until it's "their turn" for something prominent in the process. This is incredibly encouraging, as well as challenging (in the good way). I have to be on my game, because there's a bunch of people putting their time, effort, and even their names to my work.

3. Money

Yeesh, I hate talking about this stuff. But let's face it, an un-established, debut, self-pubbed author is usually paying money to get their book publishable, then earning -- generally -- very little until they have at least three books out. Conversely, a traditional publisher pays you for the right to do all the work you would have had to do yourself, and usually with better results.**

**Yes, of course I've heard the horror stories. But my experience, and that of the traditionally published authors I know, is that a publisher really does know what they're doing. And their people work hard to make your book awesome.


1. Lots of closed doors

It's funny, you know, I haven't heard many indie authors talk about this part, and I'm really not sure why. But this was absolutely the single most frustrating aspect to self-publishing to me.

Here's the knock-down, drag-out truth: Most reputable, creditable reviewers, bloggers, and book-touters aren't even marginally interested in hearing from a self-published author. You can talk about professional designs and being edited until you're blue in the face. They just say no, for no other reason than that the book isn't being backed by a publisher.

In fact, in my experience, unless your book has already broken out (in which case, you don't really needs these kinds of contacts anyway), most online reviewers won't even respond to an email. Their review policies include "No longer accepting self-published submissions", or something along those lines.
2. Money**
I still hate talking about this, so... every penny you earn is yours, but for most self-published authors those pennies run in the hundreds, not the thousands. And for many of them, they don't even get that far.
It's hard out there folks. I was well above average in my earnings, and I barely earned enough in six months to pay back what we'd put into publishing it and take us out to dinner to celebrate.
Don't be swayed by people like Colleen Hoover, or other big names you've heard who hit bestseller lists before they went traditional. There are literally millions of books self-published every year. You can count on one body the number that become bestsellers in the same timeframe.

**Disclaimer: So, yeah, if you do buck the trend and become successful as a self-pubber, you'll make money WAY faster than you will traditionally. But walk into it with eyes wide open. Did you know that the AVERAGE (i.e. not the lesser mortals) self-publisher sells between 50-100 copies of their book in the first year? Consider that when you're investing in your own future, if you know what I mean.
1. You aren't in on every conversation.
That's it in a nutshell, really. Perhaps it's the lack of control. Perhaps it's just impossible on a practical level. But the truth is, I don't know EVERYTHING that's going on with my book right now. And that's actually okay. But after being self-published and at the center of everything, and knowing even the slightest detail, it's hard to sit back and say "Okay, I trust you." I'm used to being hands on now, and I need to shake it off. I don't want to be that irritating person in the office who's forever walking in and saying "So have you done that thing I asked you about fifteen minutes ago, yet?" 
2. You're a small fish in a big pond.
Again, not necessarily a bad things, but definitely something to consider. As a self-publisher you are king of your own domain. You get to make ALL the decisions. You get to choose the timing. You get to be at the center of everything. When you're an asset to a traditional publisher, you're (or at least "I" was) well treated, valued and consulted. But in the end, they paid for the rights and they can do what they want. Ask questions before you get involved. Make sure you know what you're in for.**
**I would just like to publically acknowledge that not only has my publisher not been pushy or inconsiderate, they've actually changed their plans to suit what I want for the book. So I have no complains in the small-fish-big-pond scenario. I'm just recognizing the differences.
I think that's all the highlights. If you have any questions, just ask 'em!
Your Turn: Anything I didn't cover that you're wondering about?


  1. This is a great post! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I found the amount of "input" and being in the loop varied between publishers. It's a matter of adjusting and asking questions.