Monday, September 17, 2012

Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing---Where Do You Stand?

First of all, let me say I am so humbled by the amazing response I've received over the weekend.  All Fall Down has only been available on Kindle since Friday and I've had so many people tweet and Facebook about it.  Thank you all for helping me spread the word.

Over the last month or two I've been involved in discussions with other authors about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.  Since I'm an author with six traditionally published books and two self-published, I feel like I've seen both sides of the fence.  People ask me which one I liked better---traditional or self, and I find that question hard to answer because there are good (and not-so-good) to both.  To me, it's sort of like asking which parenting style you like best.  There's no perfect way to be a parent and as such, there's no parenting style that will work for each child.  Just like there is no perfect way to publish a book, there is no perfect publishing style that will work for everyone.

There is an interesting article in the Huffington Post this morning about whether traditional publishing is becoming the new vanity press---just a way for authors to validate their worth as an author.  (You can read the article here)  I agree with the article in that new avenues are opening up to authors.  The advent of the e-reader has enlarged the book market by leaps and bound.  (It's funny, I consider myself a fairly prolific reader, but when I got my Kindle, I noticed I read a lot more books because it was so convenient.  I was carrying around a library in my purse and if I finished one book during carpool, I could start another one right away.)  But this new avenue of e-readers has also brought a set of unique problems as well.  Pricing becomes an issue and brick and mortar bookstores are taking large hits.  Authors seems to be caught in the middle of it all, no matter which avenue they choose for publication.

The one common thing for both self-published authors and traditionally published authors is that you have to have a quality product to start with.  I have heard authors complain that they uploaded their dusty manuscript to Kindle and were surprised they hardly got any sales.  When I went to their Amazon page and downloaded a sample, I could see why.  The cover looked like my fourth-grader did it and there were at least eighteen grammar and spelling errors in the first two pages. People don't want to pay for something that looks like a first draft.  It seems obvious to me that self-published authors wear a lot of hats---they do cover design (or hopefully hire it out), editing (content and line), and are the marketing team for the book when it's out.  Yet some authors don't want to do that work, they just want to collect a paycheck and seem stunned when it doesn't happen.  Which brings me to the reason why I still like traditional publishers.

No matter what anyone says, traditional publishers have their place.  When I was an editor at a traditional publishing house I saw the slush pile grow by the hundreds each week and as we went through, it was easy to tell which authors had done the work and honed their craft, and which authors needed polish and guidance.  While it's true, that good authors don't make it through the slush pile because of budget restraints, I think a large percentage of rejections were just that---rejections of manuscripts that needed a lot of work, but there were the few which were more like veiled pleas to the author that has talent to go back and try again because the elements were there.  Traditional publishers can still be a gatekeeper of sorts when we are spending hard-earned money and want a quality product.

Not to say that self-publishing doesn't have wonderful writers and great gems to read.  There are, and I know because I've read them.  But sometimes it can be hard to wade through the mounds of not-so-great self-published books to get to the good stuff.  It can feel like an online slush pile at times.  However, when you do find the good stuff, it is worth the effort.  I always try to pass along the ones I find as well, to save others the trouble.

Traditional publishing has great things about it.  I loved having a marketing person to get me on TV and set up book tours and signings.  When I self-published I was the one calling my contacts to get me on the radio and into bookstores for signings.  I had to set up my own book tours and while it wasn't hard, it was time-consuming.  If you are thinking of self-publishing, be prepared for that.  Traditional publishing made it easy for people to find me because there were large book displays of my book and store employees had read it and promoted it.  With self-publishing, I've been lucky to get into some of the same stores that loved my traditionally published stuff.  With traditional publishing, I had content editors, line editors, and typesetting people to make me look good.  With self-publishing I've had to get that all done myself by hiring it out or climbing a steep learning curve.  It's been an eye-opener for me, and I've learned a lot.

There are some great things about self-publishing, too.  I don't have to wait two or three years for my book to be released---I can release it when it's ready.  With my terrorism subject matter, time is an issue because it's relevant to what we face in our world, so I love that aspect.  With self-publishing, I also get to choose my titles and keep them.  I love that because I usually get attached to the title while I'm working on it.  I love being able to have say in my covers and what they look like.  I also love owning all my rights and retaining a majority of my royalties.  But is self-publishing hard work?  You bet.  For me, though, the returns have been worth it.

So to sum up, I am glad to have choices.  I have enjoyed my traditional publishing experience and I have enjoyed my self-publishing experience.  To me, the more avenues there are for getting books out there, the better, because, as I said at the beginning, there is no one perfect way to publish.  However, there seems to be paths opening up now to help every writer find what works for them.  And as someone who's done it both ways now, that makes me grateful.

Where do you stand?  Do you read self-published books?  Does that matter to you as a reader in the end?  As a writer, does a traditional publisher validate you as an author?  Would you consider self-publishing?


Abel Keogh said...

You're overlooking one big reason why many authors turn Indie: Crappy publishing contracts. Yes, traditional publishers take some (but not all) of the busy work off the authors hands but many offer crappy contracts in exchange. Bad contracts was the MAIN reason I moved from traditional to Indie realm. It's not worth all the benefits of going traditional if you have to sell your soul.

Melanie Goldmund said...

Do I read self-published books? Only if I know the author, or if the writer comes highly recommended by somebody I trust. Although to tell the truth, I've only bought a small handful of things for my Kindle app, so I'm not sure my opinion really counts.

Does a traditional publisher validate me as an author? Well, if I ever finished a manuscript, submitted it, and was accepted by a traditional publisher, I'd feel validated as an author, yes. But I've also read one or two self-published books that have validated the author in my mind, too. For me, it's not traditional vs self-published, it's about the finished product and whether it hits the mark in my opinion.

Would I consider self-publishing? At this point in time, I think I'd only do it if I had a ready-made fan base. I wouldn't want to go out there without a single supporter. So far, my plan for doing this involves selling some short stories to help build up my web presence.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Abel, it's true, contract issues are a sticky thing. I think that there are things publishers are willing to compromise on, but for some authors, having the control is what's best for them. Publishers are first and foremost a business and out to make money. You know as well as I do that they sink money into an author and want to see a return on their investment. I don't think it's evil or crappy necessarily, I think it depends on what you're looking for as an author and what you feel is "selling your soul."

For me, I enjoy owning all my rights and retaining a majority of my royalties. But I do think there are points that can be discussed with a publisher if you choose to go traditional.

Melanie, I agree, it is all about whether the product hits the mark. Even traditionally published books can be a disappointment, so it doesn't matter to me where it comes from, just if it is well-written.

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

I think that both Traditional publishing and Indie publishing have their places in this world. There are authors in both realms where that type of publishing is perfect for them.

I have read some amazingly good Indie books and then I have read some aweful Indie books. Which has honestly turned me off a little toward the self publishing industry. Just because you can doesn't allways mean you should.

I think people forget that this is an artistic industry. Not everyone who studies art or music or dance becomes a professional. The same should be a standard in the writing world as well. The publishing companies are there to uphold a standard and if you don't pass that standard you probably should either find another hobby or go back to the manuscript and learn how to make it better.

If you have what it takes and can produce a good book then by all means put it out there; after it's edited and has been critiqued by at least a few people. But if its something you wrote in middle school and hasn't seen the light of day for 20 years, revise it, edit it, ask some people what they think of it and don't get offended?

As for me? I am going Traditional. I don't have the money or time and support to go Indie. And it's not what I want to do. At least not right now. When I have a fan base and want to put something out there that my pub doesnt want? Sure. But, I am totaly happy with my publisher. I am comfortable with my contract and with the terms. I'm working with amazing people and they are doing amazing things.

Am I vain to want a traditional imprint on my book? Maybe a little, it's been a dream for almost 30 years. Mostly it's because I want the things a traditional publisher offers.

Abel Keogh said...

Publishers are first and foremost a business and out to make money.

So are most authors.

Jordan McCollum said...

I think about self-publishing all the time. It's apparently my favorite way to procrastinate actually

I've seen a lot of people saying the same thing as Michelle about poor Indie books turning them off Indie publishing, but oddly enough I don't see anyone saying the same thing about poor traditionally published books (and there are those, too!). I agree, too, that if you want it to be more than a hobby you should work on your craft and your manuscript until they gleam, but I hesitate to prohibit people who really want to from throwing something I would consider inferior up on Amazon. There are lots and lots of readers out there who are a lot less picky than we are, and if there's an audience out there for them, great.

+1 to Abel. I almost gave up before I began pursuing traditional publishing because of a fear of terrible contracts. However, I decided I should at least give it a shot before I give up. I do want that validation. An advance check wouldn't hurt either ;) .

If it doesn't work out, self-publishing will still be there.

Jordan McCollum said...

*actually finishing my manuscript.... or blog comments, LOL.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Abel, that's exactly why I'm saying I'm grateful there are so many roads opening up to authors now where they can actually make money if they do go indie. I think in the past it was quite limited.

Michelle, I'm so happy for you and your contract. You worked long and hard for that.

Jordan, I agree on the poorly traditionally published books. Some that were really hyped and I was excited to read were just bad. The door definitely swings both ways on that front. And I also liked your statement that if traditional didn't work out for you, self would always be there. Isn't that great that we can say that and know it's a viable option?

Konstanz Silverbow said...

I was so happy to see this post! I just blogged about this exact same thing.

Here is the link:

I firmly stand with neither side. :)

Konstanz Silverbow

Debra Erfert said...

I guess there isn't anything that I can add to this, except that I agree.

I just got through reading a series of indie romance books that I thought would be good, but they were about as well written as the covers were produced. That is to say, the book covers had that amateurish quality to them that should've clued me in before ever downloading them to my Kindle. Not that the stories weren't sweet enough, that wasn't it. I've pulled up some old manuscripts from my files this past week, and read a couple of my very first short stories. I can't believe how many structural errors I made, and how often I head-hopped, like every paragraph. Terrible! This reminded me how far I've come in these nine years. I think there are so many people self-publishing their old stories because it is so available, but we can't see the quality of those works until we've purchased them--and then it's too late. This makes me very skeptical of buying indie-publised books even if I know the author--which I did (in an internet setting).

I do feel validated now that I've signed two book contracts. When someone asks me in a social setting what I do for a living, instead of saying “a stay at home mom” (my last child got married last year) I can tell them, with my head held high, that I'm a novelist! You'd be surprised how many people tell me that they've always wanted to write a book, or that they started one in the past. Amazing.

That said...yes, I would consider self-publishing, but not before that manuscript is polished until it gleams and I've exhausted all other traditional avenues first. I still have hopes of a national market with real books and book stores signings. With hard work, I intend to get there.

Angie said...

I just wish there wasn't so much contention on the issue. What does it matter how someone else chooses to get their book out there? We each have to decide what is right for us and not criticize anyone else for their decisions.

Jon Spell said...

I don't really have a comment on one vs. the other as long as it's available on Amazon, works for me. =)

Julie, are you excited that Castle and H50 premieres are just a week away?!?!?

Emily Gray Clawson said...

I think everything that has been said is totally valid. Contract issues is the main reason that I'm considering going Indie right now, but I admit that I'm worried about the stigma as well as the lack of "validation".

I think Julie's comparisons to parenting styles is so apt in this case. For some of my books, traditional publishing will be perfect, for others (those with a super niche market) self-publishing will work fine. I guess the trick for me is trying to find a happy place where I'm not considering self-publishing just because I'm discouraged with the traditional market, but because that is really and truly the best thing for my book.

Thinking, thinking, thinking . . .

Unknown said...

I almost never know who publishes the books I read. Its just not all that important to me. I look at who the author is, what the book is about, is it on kindle, and if I'm still undecided I look at any reviews that are available. I have an exrtremely limited book budget, so I am not as likely to read an author I'm not familiar with, no matter who their publisher is.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

Thanks for stating it so well. I think that your parenting analogy was spot on. I've enjoyed being traditionally published and working with my publisher, but I have several ideas in mind that I think would work better going the indie route. I don't think there is a right or a wrong answer.