Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: Determining My Publishing Path
As I inch closer to the cliff edge to publishing, I am finding myself at a crossroads.
Do I find a literary agent, and begin that slower, but supported journey? Do I take the plunge and submit directly to a publisher, the slowest option, and likely the most risky? Or, do I go the self-publishing route, where the path is shorter to publication, but I manage the entire process with little to no experience in publishing a book?
This is the decision on whether to take the traditional versus self-publishing route. Traditional includes literary agent and publisher. With self-publishing, I’m all on my own. There are pros and cons to each.
If I self-publish the book will be in the hands of readers sooner. The profits for each book are greater.
The question bugging me is this: Will I feel like a legitimate author if self-publish? Will my readers see me as a legitimate writer? That’s not to diminish the incredible works of those who have taken that route. Hell, no! Writing a book is hard. Editing it is harder. Not having a publisher’s editor telling you to cut the leg and fingers off your baby? Well, that sounds divine. But…
If I go the self-publishing route, I have to scrub it down to the best it can absolutely be, create the cover, decide if I want to print on demand or do offset printing (and navigate that world!), source the ISBN number, determine the BISG’s (Book Industry Study Group numbers, which determine where a bookseller or library display the book), format the book for upload (including book size, style, etc), not to mention launch and market the book when it’s finally published. That’s just the big stuff. And of course, there’s the initial financial outlay. I’ve just discovered, too, that if I self-publish, I need to set up a publishing company, and that doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
The upside is that I keep control of every step, and my profit margins are higher per book. I can put my blogging expertise to work with marketing and focus on the next book, one that’s already brewing. But most importantly, the book is out in the world sooner for readers to enjoy.
Then there’s the traditional route.
In going through a literary agent, I can put my manuscript in the hands of someone who knows the business. Someone who can help refine my manuscript as thoroughly as possible, before it goes to a publisher. An agent who can submit my manuscript to multiple publishers, something an author going directly to the publisher cannot do. A professional to navigate the contract, author rights, and financial structure of the business. Then there is the more obvious bonus: someone who may have a relationship with the publishers already. And last, by going with a literary agent, I can avoid getting lost amongst the publisher’s towering slush piles, as some publishers only take manuscripts from literary agents.
It’s a competitive world. Using a literary agent gives me multiple advantages.
The downside is the financial one. It’s one more person to pay a commission to. And it’s not a slight commission either. It’s usually 15% of all publishing rights, for as long as the book is in circulation. That includes print, e-book, film and audiobook rights. Plus, foreign rights sales and translations, and usually the commission goes up on those.
Then there is the process. It may be longer, since I need to find the right literary agent, they review, find a publisher, they review… and around and around we go.
By going directly to a publisher, I can skip the literary agent step. That’s at least 15% I don’t have to pay someone else.
But as an author, I can only submit to one publisher at a time. Finding the right publisher, submitting the manuscript, then waiting weeks, maybe months, for a response, takes time. If they aren’t interested, then it’s starting all over again.
What if the book is one that multiple publishers are interested in? (It’s good to dream, right?!) Submitting directly to a publisher, I wouldn’t know. It’s a ‘get an offer, take it or leave it’ kind of deal. Even then, the manuscript may go into a slush pile, never to be seen again.
I am also on my own with navigating negotiations and contracts. That’s scary. Although I am a member of the Australian Author Society, which helps navigate that process, it’s still nerve-wracking. This is an unknown world to me.
Thinking of the Long Game:
I need to think long term. This is my career I’m talking about. It may be worth going through a literary agent. Plus, the literary agent would be in my corner, fighting for me, for my book.
If I go the traditional route, I know the distribution will be greater. I won’t have to do all the marketing (which is great, because marketing is not a strength for me, although I’m not afraid to do it). I will have professionals to guide me (which is also great, because I’m lime green in this writing world).
But then a friend (who self-publishes) turned my world on end. We talked about control of publishing and profit per book, which I don’t care as much about as the creative process, but I know my husband cares a lot about it (and he’s the one who manages that end of the business). But the thing that made me really sit up straight had to do with where people buy books today. That had me seriously thinking about the path.
So which way am I leaning?
I am eager to have this book out and into the world. I’m like every other author who wants to see their book in print. I’m impatient. I know that. I’m aware of that.
Yet, I know this is a process. A slow one. It’s taken me over a year to write ‘Camino Wandering’ and my first book (‘Beneath the Surface’), is still in draft form. I am in awe of authors who can churn these suckers out in six months or fewer. But, let’s be honest, those authors are the ones who write to a formula. I’m still trying to find my writing legs.
At first, I was thinking of going down the literary agent path. I researched, found a list of ten literary agents I wanted to pitch to, and decided that was the best path for this book. I told myself, I will be patient.
But the more I researched, the more I realised that my Camino Wandering book differs from my other fiction. I already have a built-in audience with the Camino pilgrim community. I already know how to create a cover, thanks to my expertise as a blogger. And, I already know marketing (although I’m not a superstar there, to be honest). But, knowledge is power and, with more research, I devised a solid marketing plan, which would be something I’d need to do myself, even if I went the traditional path. Not surprising was, with more research, I discovered most Camino books are self-published, or published by faith-based publishers (not that that would happen with mine).
Then I determined, in looking at the long game, self-publishing is the best path for this book. It’s the right path for this book. There’s always the chance that, even if I self-publish, a traditional publisher may pick up the book. That isn’t uncommon if a book gets a lot of media.
But for now, the headphones will go back on to listen to my book, to ensure it sounds natural and clear. Next steps are too hard to contemplate while people are dealing with emotional disasters and blisters (see “what I’m working on”).