Thursday, June 14

Indie vs. Traditional Publishing, Which Should You Choose?

In today's business world writers have more choice than ever but sometimes that makes life harder rather than easier. Today writers can choose whether to self publish or submit their work to a traditional publisher. Sometimes the right choice is to self publish and sometimes it isn't, so how do you decide?

In her weekly article on the business of writing, Kris Rusch talks about this choice.

Indie publishing: Hurry up and wait

With indie publishing you write your stories, get them out to the world, and then wait for the book to be downloaded, read, reviewed and, ultimately, earn money so you can continue to write (and eat!).

The thing is, with indie publishing, it can be a long wait. Kris writes:
Sometimes you don’t even have your first sale for weeks, maybe months. The cash doesn’t roll. You panic. You stop your current project and do “promotion,” contacting all the book bloggers you know. You annoy your followers on Twitter by mentioning your book’s title every other Tweet. You look at the real-time sales numbers (or lack of them) over and over again.

You’re waiting for the book to “catch on,” for “lightning to strike,” for “miracles to happen.”

And if you’re smart, you’re also writing your next book. More on that a little later.

But really, what you’re waiting for is time to pass. Five sales per month over 120 months will make you quite a bit of money. Only it won’t seem that way at first.

The indie writer, particularly the indie writer with very few books published, has to be patient. The readership—and the income—will grow exponentially if the writer continues to produce work. One day, the indie writer will wake up and realize she’s making $1,000 per month on a single title, and that amount spread out over a year is more than she would have gotten as an advance for a first novel. (Most first novel advances in all genres are under $10,000.)

The thing is, if she earns $12,000 one year, nothing will stop her from earning the same or possibly more the next year, and the next, and the next.

The indie author must be patient, but if she’s a good storyteller (and her book has a decent cover and is copy edited, and if she keeps writing and publishing new material), she’ll make a living wage over time. In fact, over time, she’ll sell as many or more copies of that book than she would as a first-time novelist who is traditionally published.

The key phrase, though, is over time. Years, in fact.

Traditional Publishing: Wait and hurry up

With a traditionally published book you can wait for years while you query agents and/or editors but if your book is accepted it could have the benefit of the kind of support it would be next to impossible to generate yourself. Interviews for instance, and book reviews. I've been collecting the names of book review blogs that accept queries from independent authors and, let me tell you, there aren't a lot of them.

Kris' Advice:

Only you can know what kind of writer you are, what you want, and what you can live with.

And, of course, all publishing is not equal. Traditional publishing has long-term contracts. Indie publishing has agreements with distributors that can be canceled with the click of a mouse.

All publishing isn’t the same within one publishing house. One fantasy series writer might make millions on his series; another (with the same cover artist, editor, and sales department) might make thousands on her series.

All publishing isn’t even equal inside one writer’s career. I have books that sell really well and books I can’t give away. I’m the same writer. But readers have different reactions to different books.

So the key is to give readers what they want. What do they want? Good stories. And the readers will differ as to which of your stories are “good.” So give the readers a lot of stories to choose from.

That’s what traditional publishers do. That’s why they release a new set of books every month. Because they’re giving the readers a choice all the time. You have to do that too, no matter how you publish the books.

What you decide to do, how you decide to make your books available to readers, is truly your decision. If you go traditional, make sure you have an IP attorney vet your contract so you know what you’re signing. Be prepared to wait before seeing your book on the shelf.

If you go indie, spend some money to get that book in fighting shape before launching it at those bookstores. And be prepared to wait before seeing sales of your book.

Neither decision is right or wrong. It’s only right for you.
I agree 100%. These days the choice between publishing independently and publishing traditionally is made on a project by project basis. The days of having to commit to one way of doing things is, happily, behind us. Hopefully something Kris said makes it easier to choose whether to go indie with it.

Keep writing!

Related Reading:
- 5 Points To Ponder Before You Self Publish

Photo Credit: Mysteries and My Musings


  1. This is a subject I'm wrestling with right now. I even plan to write a post on it eventually - the desire for control(indie) versus independent validation(traditional). And I think that writers in general will struggle with this for years to come as the market changes. I don't know what it'll change into, but it's gonna be a wild ride.

  2. Agreed! Who would have thought this was where the world of publishing would be in 2012? Even two years ago I don't think I could have predicted it.

    Whatever you decide to do, best of luck!


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