The Great Debate: Traditional vs. Indie (Self) Publishing

I’ve been back in the writing world for three years and seven months being part of a local writers’ group that meets monthly and has critique groups that I have participated in, and an annual writers’ conference. I’ve also attended two writers’ luncheons, put together my own little group of writers who meet weekly, and in the past two years have been involved in an online writers’ group as well as being involved in a critique group for the past two years that meets every other week. I have also been reading books on the writing craft.

During the past two years, I have been researching and exploring the publishing possibilities, and I have found, as the title of this post suggests, that there is a Great Debate among writers: to publish traditionally or indie (self) publishing.

I have found that many older people are quite adamant about traditional publishing but when asked why can’t really give me a satisfactory answer. I have also found that many writers who have already published books seem adamant about starting with a traditional published. However, I have also heard some of these already published writers talking about their desire to switch to indie publishing. (For the sake of simplicity in the rest of this blog post, I will only refer to traditional and “indie” publishing because, though “indie” and “self” publishing are quite similar, “indie” publishing is publishing completely on your own and most of these writers are determined to put out their best writing, whereas “self” publishing includes the writers who just want to put out their writing as quickly as possible and don’t spend enough time on edits, as well as those who publish through vanity publishers (these are publishers who allow you to keep all of your rights and maintain all decision making, but you pay them a fee to help you publish and do some marketing). “Indie” writers/publishers have a better reputation than “self” published writers.

I have found it quite confusing to speak with published writers about the publishing options because they stand firm in telling me that I should seek an agent and go the traditional publishing route first. But, when I ask why, they offer no real good, solid reasons.

I even know of a writer who insists on the traditional route, but after trying that route for a few years, and even gaining an agent, is preparing to self publish the book through a small publisher, which is what the agent found for this writer. To which my question is: will this writer still have to pay the agent for this?

Okay, so here’s what I have learned about traditional publishing: the first step is to acquire an agent who will most likely have you make lots of changes, and, possibly, rewrite your entire manuscript. Then the agent will help you find a possible publisher, who may require you to make more changes and, possibly, rewrite your entire manuscript yet again, and even change it for a different target audience, and then, that publisher may or may not actually publish your manuscript. The entire process can take two to four years for your manuscript to get published, maybe even longer, if ever. If you are blessed enough to get the manuscript published, first of all, it may not be the story you originally intended in the first place. Secondly, your agent and the publisher get a cut of your sales, and you will be extremely blessed to receive even 10% of your sales. Also, you will be required to do as much of your own marketing as possible, which used to be the traditional publisher’s job. Finally, if your first book is part of a series, depending on the sales of the first book, the rest of the series may never get published, and if it does, traditional publishers stop publishing and remove your book from the market after just four years.

Now, here’s what I’ve learned about indie publishing. Yes, you must do ALL of the work yourself. You write the manuscript, AND, if you’re devoted and committed to doing the absolute best work you can do, you will have it critiqued; you will make appropriate changes based on those critiques; you will self-edit and do several rewrites; you will hire a professional editor to give you feedback and then rewrite yet again; you will have beta readers (if you don’t know what beta readers are, read this post), then you may make changes again. Then you will finally publish it through an indie publishing venue like Amazon’s “Create Space” or “Book Baby” or one of the other indie publishing outlets. While you are still working on your manuscript, you may want to begin to think about building a group of followers who would be interested in reading your writing. A good way to do this is to start a blog and share things about your writing and about yourself, as well as becoming active in other social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, etc. When your book is published, it’s a good idea to do a Book Launch (next Monday’s post will be about Book Launches). You will also want to put the information out on your social media, do book signings and/or speaking engagements. Get creative about how and where you can promote your book, but don’t over-saturate your social media or you will turn people off because they will think the only reason you’re on social media is to promote yourself and your writing. Your readers want you to be real and to care about them.

Another thing I want to share with you here is some interesting information one of my writing friends recently shared with me on this subject:

One of my other writing friends has also been researching these options and questioning other writers about their opinions. She shared with me that she recently spoke with some writers who have had books published through traditional publishers and tell newbie writers that they should go the traditional publishing route. She began to ask them: “How did you find an agent or publisher?” She said that most of them said that they found their agent or publisher through a friend. What she realized is that all of these already published writers are telling newbie writers to go the traditional publishing route, but they aren’t offering to introduce you to an agent or publisher. They don’t even tell you that they found their agent or publisher through a friend unless you specifically ask that question. Her thought is “so these already published writers are telling all of us newbies to go the traditional route while they are trying the indie route, like they want us to try the traditional route while they flood the indie market with their works.”

I apologize for such a lengthy post, but I hope you have found it informative and that it gives you something to think about and consider in your own writing journey. If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer or point you to where you can find the answer.

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