I was unexpectedly laid off last year, in February. It was two months before I was working again. I spent a significant amount of that time writing and studying the writing world as it exists today. As I took note of the things many agents look for in signing new clients for traditional publishing, I noticed that they were almost identical to the things needed to be successful in self-publishing. It used to be that there was an amateur stigma to self-publishing, that people wouldn't do it unless they failed in the traditional market. Some people still think that way, but some people also think it's a good idea to go to college and rack up more student loan debt than a yearly salary for a college graduate. Sure, I went to college, but I graduated with $500 in debt. No scholarships or grants. I finished after everyone else my age, but many people who finished before me...aren't really finished yet and won't be for a long time.
Today, self-published writers are constantly on best-seller lists. Self-published writers have the opportunity to make a living with their work in a way that traditionally published ones don't. When you buy a book online, you might look at the cover, might look at the book description, the reviews, the author's other works. When was the last time your book purchase was influenced by who published it? Nobody cares about that today. The other things are what matter.
So I looked at the advantages and disadvantages of both paths. These are my opinions - I'm sure there will be counterarguments.
In today's traditional market, writers are expected to cultivate and maintain their audiences. They are expected to do most of their own marketing, to seek out new readers and interact with them. Agents and publishers value an author's platform as much as anything else. This wasn't always the case.
The same thing is true for self-published writers, only completely.
In traditional publishing, once your manuscript is set - revised, edited, etc. - that is where your control ends. You don't get input on the cover. You don't always even get input on the title. You don't get to decide on the book description, the price, or where it is sold. The thing you worked so hard on is taken out of your hands. You may also forfeit some of your rights to the publishing house.
Self-published writers have total control. They make all the decisions, from the front cover image to the back cover copy to the inside layout to the print size. The downside is that these are new skills, separate from writing, which may take time to develop. The upside is that once the skills are developed, they can be used for all future projects. I designed the layout of Weston. It took me a long time. But when Joe is released in paperback in February of next year, I will use the same layout design. It's turn-key. Also, a traditionally published book is priced once and can only have one book description. Self-publishers can actually follow the market - put out different book descriptions and change prices to see which ones result in the most sales.
In traditional publishing, it will take time to get an agent. It will take time for the agent to find a publisher. And it will take a long time for the publisher to actually release the book. The upside is that there are advances. The downside is that often the writers will never see anything more than the advance because the book doesn't sell well. Think about this - when a book goes on a shelf in a bookstore, if it doesn't sell within, say, the first six months, that's the end of it. No more copies will be ordered, and it will slowly or quickly disappear. In an online store, however, a book could go years without finding an audience and then suddenly find one because there is no overheard cost of storing the book. The cost is paid at the time of purchase, deducted from the writer's royalty.
Self-publishers can release whenever they are ready. It used to be that a self-published writer had to have a print run which could cost thousands of dollars, then be responsible for selling them. Today, ebooks have eliminated that mess, and what's more, Amazon will sell your paperback book without a print run. They will print a copy whenever one is purchased - zero upfront cost to the writer.
If you are a singer, today you don't need to be in the 1% that get record deals. You need to be in the 99% with internet access.
Here is where traditional publishing edges out self. Self-publishers, if they want to be successful, have to know the market. Traditional publishers know it - they drive it. They have the knowledge that independents do not. That doesn't mean that independents can't acquire this knowledge, but it's more of an uphill battle. Traditionally published writers have people in their corners. But again, this is not an indefinite situation. They too must produce new content to stay relevant.
I personally love the freedom of self-publishing. It's a sole proprietorship just like any other. It's more work than traditional, but I like being in control. I like making the decisions. I like learning the marketing. I like the idea of searching out people who enjoy what I write and the opportunity to make connections with those people.
I'm not saying I will never try traditional publishing. But for now I'm on this road, and the weather is nice, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me.
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