Traditional Publishing VS Self-Publishing

In the world of publishing there are but five kings that rule the industry. Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and  Macmillan and to the fledgling author these publishers are the keepers of the golden egg, or are they? For several years now Amazon has paved the way for any writer to become a published author. Granted this ability does not mean you will become the next Stephen King or JK Rowling, but it does give you a chance that many wouldn’t have been given.

Just like everything else there is a hierarchy to authors. At the top of course are the best sellers, the middle is filled with the “traditional” published authors, and unfortunately at the bottom is the self-published author or indi author. Now just because they are viewed to be the bottom of published authors doesn’t mean that they are not as successful as the traditionally published. Some that have self-published through services like KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and other self-publishing services have seen huge success and have even gone to become best sellers. Yet still traditional published authors have a habit of looking down their nose at the self-published author. Even if or perhaps especially if, he or she is making more money with their writing than they are.

So what does publishing with the big five do for you? Would you be better off publishing your work yourself? What challenges are there with getting published? What challenges are there with self-publishing? Strap in and lets explore these issues.

Lets start off with a question that is googled and asked the world over, how do you get one of the big publishers to look at your work. The short answer is, you don’t. About 99% of the time a publisher will only look at work that has been submitted by a literary agent. Which means if you don’t have an agent your out of luck. It is true that once in a while the big five will do a contest for a specific genre, but those are few and far between. A literary agent however is there to submit work for consideration, there main job is making sure your work is good enough to sell. It may be rough and the author may be new, but if the work is even remotely good most will try to sell it. Remember all agents and publishers are looking for the next best seller. Their all in the business to make money and a best seller will do just that.

On the flip side, say you don’t want to pay an agent. Better yet, say your only goal is to write a novel and have it in print. Then there is an easy solution, self-publishing. Now I use KDP as the example because that is what I use. Its easy to use and is backed by the power of Amazon which is the largest book seller in the world. Now for the down side, anyone and I do mean anyone can publish a book so long as it passes Amazon’s quality check. This means there are a lot of books published every single year and most of these wont sell past there launch week. This jumps right into the first question, what does publishing with the big five do for you? The answer, advertising.

If you are going to publish with the mind of having people other than your family buy your book then you are going to have to traverse the world of marketing and advertising alone. A large publisher spends a lot of money to advertise new books and books they think could be best sells. This comes from traditional advertising methods like emails, post cards, Facebook and twitter adds, and more. They have the money and the influence to get things going. They pay extra for the good spots at barns and noble. They design your book cover to match the latest trends. They do all this to sell your book and they are very good at doing it. They do all this and give you an advance on the work. This could be anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand or more. Then there’s the paperback rights, but I digress. Self-publishing doesn’t come with the professionally made book covers, the advertising, the brick and motor store, or most importantly the copy editing. All this is on the shoulders of the author.

By now your probably thinking “Why bother” but here is where self-publishing has the advantage. Royalties. The percent paid to the author when the book is sold after cost of manufacturing and percent paid to the publisher is called royalties and if you want larger percents you wont find it with traditional publishers. Ill give you an example, Amazon pays its authors up to 70% royalties for ebooks priced between .99 and up there are some exceptions and if you want to know more I urge you to look into KDP yourself. For traditional publishers they would never come close to that. Remember all that advertising, editing, and book covers they did for you. Turns out it wasn’t for free and they want paid.

As for the book cover there are plenty of options. The obvious one is you can go it alone. If you have some artistic skill and some Photoshop or even Microsoft word experience you can create a pretty good cover. You’ll need to find Royalty free stock photo’s or pay for the rights to your photos. The same is said for fonts. We don’t want to get sued now do we. Either way you can create a book cover for very little. If your thinking about making your own please check out Derek Murphy. He is a talented author who’s been in the business for a years and he offers free videos on YouTube on how to do all things self publishing related. You can also higher someone to do it. If you do its best to find someone with some graphic design experience. You are not looking for a wonderful piece of art, your looking for something that gets the readers to pick up the book. There are also a number of websites that offer ready made covers. This is a doable option and for only a couple hundred at max its certainly its worth the cost. Always remember a good cover can sell your book.

Marketing is the next thing you as a self published author must tackle. Although word of mouth is still the most powerful tool, you need to do more than just plop your book on amazon and wait. Facebook adds works although you need to know who your targeting, demographics are very important. It’s often recommended that you create a mailing list for emails. Running a blog is a great way to give your readers something for free and more often than not if they like your advice and writing style, they maybe inclined to check out your fiction.  Keeping a twitter account is a good idea, readers like to see what there favorite author is up to. The same is said for Facebook, adding a Facebook business page is a must. Your author website is also a must, it links all your social media pages together and gives you a place to plant your blog. I use WordPress because although my background is in IT my HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and PHP is very rusty. Also I like the ability to quickly write something up and WordPress’s mobile app is great for that. Beyond the digital there is a place for physical advertising. If a bookstore is willing to host a book signing and will allow a poster or cut out that’s something you’ll want to take advantage of. Many book stores like to celebrate local authors, the same is said for library’s.  Plucking up the courage is one hurdle you’ll have to get over before you ask and if it makes you feel better I still get stage fright when asking an owner I don’t know to let me put up and table and loiter for a few hours. It wont happen right away, but eventually you’ll get a bite. Schedule a day that works for you and the store owner and if possible on a weekend to get the most bang for your buck so to speak. Have plenty of books, a great pen, some advertising media (i.e. posters, sell sheets, cut outs.). Business cards is another method. I know for myself and many other authors we’d randomly leave business cards with our book cover on one side and website on the other in offices, bookstores (with permission.) and other areas were people are likely to stumble across them. Lastly another advertising media is postcards. I personally haven’t used them, but I know a lot who swear by them. Same idea as the business cards, only this time your using a service to mail them to peoples address’s. The plus side of postcards is most people (myself included.) love getting mail even junk mail. Although I am not sure how high the return rate is with physical advertising, its not traceable like digital advertising is, its still something you can do if your willing to put in the time and energy.

Last I want to touch on is copy editing. I personally dont have a professional copy editor. I have a few friends that I give copies to and they sift through the manuscript looking for spelling error, grammar issues, and plot problems. Now even with a professional (which can cost upwards of $2000.) all the issues wont be caught. If you need an example pick up any of the Harry Potter books. (Which you should anyways because their just plain fun.) My point is errors will happen even if you try your damnedest to make sure they don’t. If there are a handful of errors most readers will let that go. If there’s a spelling error on every page then maybe you should go over it again. You wont your book as close to perfect as possible, remembering that it wont be perfect. Yes you are most likely going to get an email message saying to the effect of “Your work is up readable, unprofessional, why oh why would you put out such garbage?” Take these messages with a grain of salt. As I have learned the hard way your going to get hate mail regardless because some people live to troll others.

In closing it doesn’t matter if you go for traditional publishing or try your hand at self-publishing. The point is if you love writing and story telling then you need to get out there and do it. You don’t want to look back in fifty years and say “I really wish I would have published my story.” or even worse wait forever to publish and find out you have a real talent. I say again, if you love writing then you owe it to yourself and future readers to publish your work one way or anther.

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