A lot of fuss and hoopla have been kicked up in the publishing world when it comes to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. We’ve heard the pros and cons about both camps. I think that if we mesh together the pros and cons, then we can see that the two actually have some things in common.
Naysan Naraqui, a manager at Rockable Press and fan of self-publishing stated that the pros and cons of self-publishing are the following:
- The Time Factor
- Setting Your Own Agenda
- Building Your Brand
- Reaching Your Audience
- Making Money
- Quality Control
You can read his post here. Now, see below for my comments on his list.
The Time Factor
I agree that a self-publisher or indie author can publish their work much faster than a traditional author can. Writing queries, waiting for an agent to represent you, getting a publisher on board already takes a long time. Then once you’ve cleared those hurdles, then you have to go through the publishing process. The entire process can take at least one year (if you’re lucky).
A self-publisher is taking care of the entire publishing process and decides whether they will complete all of the steps (professional editing, professional cover design and marketing plan) or skip and go straight to publishing. If the author decides to complete the steps, then it will also take time before they will actually be able to publish their work.
Setting Your Own Agenda
If you go with a traditional publisher, then you will need to confine yourself to their timeline and meet their deadlines. You may also have to make changes to your writing style and compromise on the layout and cover design.
On the other hand, as a self-publisher who sets their own schedule discipline can be their friend and enemy. It’s tempting to find distractions during the day. The television is blaring in the background, the radio is on, the park looks inviting, the carpet needs to be vacuumed, the flowers should be watered…. You see where I’m going with this, right? However, if they decide to use developmental editing services or receive input from a cover designer, then they may find out that the editor or cover designer’s own ideas fit the vision of their book better. It can be difficult to let go of our ideas and take a fresh neutral look at our work, but sometimes compromises need to be made to obtain a polished work product.
Building Your Brand
One huge reason to go with a traditional publisher is that they have history and already know the business. We tend to believe that the traditional houses have the knowledge of how to market a book and a top notch team that will rocket books onto the best seller’s list (or at least find a fan base). The author can write while the publisher works on building their brand. Our bubbles have burst – traditional publishing houses may have the resources, but not all traditional authors are being provided with a team of talented publicists. It’s coming to light that many have to market their own books and build their own platform.
The self-publisher has to switch their brain from writing to marketing on a daily basis, which isn’t easy. Most self-publishers cringe at the thought of having to market their own books. They have to contact book stores and reading groups, become active on websites like Goodreads or TheReadingRoom. If that wasn’t enough, a self-publisher has to find ways to get (hopefully unpaid) reviews and get the message out by being active on social media networks, such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. A successful marketing plan involves knowing your target audience and being able to be well…sociable – pretty tough for authors that feel more comfortable sitting behind the computer typing away or enjoy the feel of the pen as it touches paper.
Reaching Your Audience
I think that this actually ties in to building your brand.
A traditional publisher has access to premium bookstore shelves and the international market. Half of the work to making money has already been taken care of. Also, if they’ve provided an advance to the author, then they’ll work harder to recoup that money. But, although some of the work will be completed by the publisher more of the marketing tasks are being handed over to the author. Can’t get the word out about your book or get people interested? Then making money is a non-issue. Also, traditional publishers have overhead. They not only have to pay the author, but also everyone else that has been and will be involved in producing, publishing and marketing the book. The author’s royalty may be smaller than we think.
Depending on how the self-publisher markets their book, they will either keep most or all of the profit on their book sales. However, in order to make money you have to reach the public and with thousands of new books appearing daily on the market, it’s easier to get drowned out by the masses instead of being found by the thousands.
The traditional publisher will want to make sure that the finished product is high quality so that they will make money, especially if an advance was provided. They have professional editors, cover designers and marketing departments to help ensure a polished end product.
The self-publisher has all of the control. If they outsource editing and cover design, then they can listen to the editor and designer’s advice or give full control to these professionals. But, it must be said that the self-publisher has to find an editor that understands the genre, is good at their work, and can work within the confines of the self-publisher’s budget. The same goes for the cover design artist. He or she will have to understand the story line, listen to the author’s ideas and then make an awesome cover that will catch the reader’s eye. The most important aspect is that the self-publisher makes the final decisions; there are no compromises that have to be made.
Alison Baverstock, a former publisher, has looked at self-publishing from a different angle. She wrote a post for The Guardian outlining 10 ways the self-publishing industry has changed the industry. In short, here are the topics that she focused on in her article*:
- Self-publishers are more knowledgeable nowadays about the publishing industry;
- Publishers and Agents don’t always know what the public should be reading;
- Copy editors are being highly sought after by self-publishers;
- More people are self-publishing for personal use (e.g., family cookbooks);
- Marketing and building relationships with readers is becoming the author’s task taking power away from the publishers;
- The role of the agent is changing. They are no longer the “only” gatekeepers to getting published;
- Various services are popping up every day to help writers on their journey to becoming published.
- Self-publishing isn’t just about making money;
- Vanity publishing is no longer seen as the last resort for bad writers;
- Self-publishing brings confidence and a sense of achievement.
But, I think that I like S.L. Scott’s article the best. She had written that both modes of publishing were equally rewarding and challenging. She has also listed what she believes to be the pros and cons of both avenues. Feel free to take a look at her article.
After reading countless articles on this issue, I’ll tell you what my opinion is:
- The traditional publishing industry definitely needs to reinvent itself and find a new way to service established and emerging writers. Offering contracts will not be enough to entice authors in the coming future;
- Industry professionals and readers are starting to take notice of self-published works – the imaginary wall between self-published and traditional publishing is disappearing;
- The myth that all traditionally published authors don’t have to market their own works while self-published authors do is evaporating;
- The time is coming when self-publishing will not be seen as a last resort for untalented writers;
- Non-Independent bookstores, magazines, newspapers and writing organizations will start reviewing and accepting self-published works and authors as qualified members.
- More traditional authors, especially those that are already accomplished, will think about self-publishing their works or becoming a hybrid author.
Self-publishers have been like little fish swimming around sharks in the big fishbowl. The main reason for a battle between the two camps, in my opinion, is the threat that these little fish have imposed on the big six publishers. What do I mean? The self-publisher can set the price of their book – free, .99¢, $2.99 or more. I can’t see how the big six will be able to compete with these prices in the longrun; not with their overhead. Instead of ensuing a battle and postponing the inevitable, maybe we should refocus our efforts and energy on innovating the publishing industry and writing books!
What do you think? Should the battle continue or can we agree that both camps not only have their pros and cons, but that the publishing industry will alter dramatically over the next few years?
*I summarized the topics based on my own understanding of the article.