Following NYT author, Susan Squires’ post about the logic behind herchoice (if you missed it, you can read it here) I thought our in-house attorney’s blog is a perfect compliment!
By Susan Spann
How does an author choose between traditional and independent publishing? How do I know which option is right for me?
The “right” decision will meet your publishing goals and business needs.
As you may remember from my previous posts here at Writers in the Storm, the choice between publishing options is an individual decision which belongs to the author alone, and no single choice is right for every author or every work.
As with everything else in life, there are right ways and wrong ways to make the choice. This month, we’re taking a look at a few of the factors authors should use when choosing between traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid career paths.
Publishing Goals will differ from author to author. Only you can decide what constitutes “success” for your career – and although you don’t have to discuss your goals in public, you must be honest with yourself about them.
I have a 94 year-old client who self-published a book two years ago. This author lectures in Northern California, and audience members often ask to purchase a book of her poems and anecdotes. Her focus on poetry and short stories would be a hard-sell for many traditional publishers, despite her platform and audience. However, my client has the ability to market and sell her own books and didn’t want to wait on a traditional publishing schedule (which can run over a year from acceptance to books on the shelf). At her age, this is hardly surprising, though even much younger authors have valid reasons for wanting a different timeline.
Independent publishing met my client’s needs – and she has been delighted with her success.
If your goal is the New York Times bestseller list, self-publishing still won’t get you there as fast as a more traditional route. Exceptions do exist (in increasing numbers,) but books are still more likely to garner major reviews and shelf space at Barnes & Noble via traditional routes.
That said, writers with solid marketing skills and platforms often have significant success building careers as independently-published authors. Self-publishing is no longer a backwater or a resort for people who “couldn’t make it traditionally” – and for authors who want a larger royalty share, more control over edits, art, scheduling and marketing choices, self-publishing is definitely a viable way to go.
The question you must ask – and answer – is “what do I want for this work and my career?”
Business Decisions are also a critical part of an author’s choice. Publishing is an author’s business, and every author should treat it as one by learning about the publishing process. Once you understand what’s required to bring a book to the marketplace, you can evaluate which parts of that process you’re willing and able to perform – and which, if any, you prefer to delegate.
How much time do you have to devote to writing? To marketing? (Authors do both, regardless of publishing path.) Will that leave you enough time and energy to handle the business side?
Writing is art but publishing is a business. Authors who self-publish run the entire show themselves. Many hire professional help, such as editors, marketers, and attorneys. But those people cost money – another business decision the author must make.
Some authors love the technical side of the business. Others prefer to partner with agents and publishing houses – like-minded professionals who can handle tasks like typesetting, distribution and sales.
The choice is yours, but it’s one you can only make once you understand the business and how it functions.
Authors should make career decisions based upon facts, not emotion. Emotions play a role in establishing goals, but even the goals-list should focus on quantifiable factors and plans.
- Learn the business.
- Make an honest list of career goals.
- Evaluate your skills – not only what you can do, but also what you choose to do.
In short: make a business plan for your writing career.
When you’ve done so, you will begin to understand which publishing path is best for you.
Thanks so much for joining me here today. Have questions or comments? Please let me know! I love to hear from you.
And please join me next month, when we’ll look at platform, special skills, and a few reasons not to make a particular choice.
I look forward to seeing you here!
Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author who practices in Sacramento, California. The debut novel in her SHINOBI mystery series, in which a Japanese ninja and a Portuguese priest must save a teahouse entertainer accused of murder, will be published by Thomas Dunne in Spring 2013. Susan blogs about writing and publishing law at http://www.susanspann.com and tweets @SusanSpann.
The business end of publishing seems to be the thing most writers try to gloss over. Are there are any resources, online or off that you would suggest to help learn the business end? I’ve been a reader of Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Rusch and few others for some time, all are useful resources but I’d like to expand my knowledge base. Thanks 🙂
Excellent question, Gene! (I have the same one. 🙂 )
This is a great question, actually, and you’ve already mentioned two very good resources. Part of the problem with recommending resources is that published books are often backward-looking (and thus hard to recommend in a time so marked by change) and web-based information can be somewhat scattered. I’d been considering a blog series on the business of publishing to complement the one I’ve been doing on publishing law. I’ll look into some resources to go with that and see whether I can get them posted on my blog and linked via twitter in the next couple of weeks. I’ll also include them at the end of my next WITS post.
Excellent answer and also good points about the availability or usefulness of resources. I look forward to your next post and am now subscribed to your site. Great advice in your first PubLaw post, wild how many legitimate looking scams are out there. Thanks for the time and effort you’re putting in to help the rest of us out!
The business end of publishing is why I chose to start out a small press. I have so much to learn from a business end, and right now, I don’t want to invest the start-up capital in editing and cover art. I want to publish a book or two with a small press, experience the marketing end, and learn from it. I’m hoping to self-publish the series I’m working on, but I may end up going the small press route with them. It all depends on how things shake out the next couple of years. And I second Gene’s question – any help with the business end would be great.
Thanks Stacy. I’m seeing a lot of authors making the choice you’ve made – starting at a small press (or otherwise in the traditional market) and then moving into the self-publishing market after gaining a little experience with the way the industry works. Some end up staying with traditional publishers. Others opt to move to a more independent publishing platform. Your desire to learn the business is definitely smart, and I’ll see what I can do about collecting some resource information.
I love your posts, Susan. They have been very helpful as I’m figuring out my own route. I have come to the conclusion that I want to be a hybrid author. What I mean is that my goals are different for the two genres I write. I want the MG and YA books to go traditional, if possible (I want the books in libraries; tweens/teens still don’t read e-books as much; etc.), but I’m interested in self-publishing the mysteries (e-book market is fine; I want book cover and editing control; etc.) I don’t think it’s all one-way-or-the-other anymore.
Thanks for the compliment, Julie, I’m glad I could share the information!
Your point about a hybrid career is important, and something a lot of authors can benefit from hearing – the choice doesn’t have to be all one way or all another! The beauty of modern publishing options is that authors can have hybrid careers that meet their goals and needs. One key for you will be making sure your traditional contracts don’t have limitations that limit or prohibit self-publishing. Attorney or agent review will be particularly important before you sign. Publishers will often work with an author who has your goals, but making sure everything is written properly is critical for authors in your position.
Thanks so much for the advice! (It’s these moments when I’m glad I used to be a paralegal and still have contacts in the legal world too.)
Julie, it seems like there is a lot to be said for being a hybrid author. I’m thinking of pursuing that direction as well.
I think we’re going to see a lot more hybridization as months and years go by. The form hybrid careers take will vary, probably widely, but as publishing changes I suspect the idea of combining traditional and self-publishing in some form will become increasingly the norm.
I think it’s also important to know yourself. Some people are just not cut out for the business aspects of self-publishing, while others can’t cope with not being in charge in traditional publishing.
This is so, so true. In fact, it’s the focus of next month’s post in this series. Perhaps the most important aspect of an author’s choice is the author’s personality and skill set. I shifted that to its own entry largely because there is so much emotion involved in the publishing choice – and so many expectations (both internal and external) that it’s important for authors to know their personalities and skill sets are vital aspects of a publishing career. Knowing how to look at those skills in relationship to publishing decisions can make the difference between success and failure.
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I think this post is spot-on…as much as it’s difficult to think of the “baby” that we’ve created as a product for business, this is the absolute truth. We must emotionally divorce ourselves from the product and think about the best business fit. Ella Quinn hit it spot on – we also need to know ourselves. For instance, I know that I am not good at business things…and I don’t want the responsibility of handling all the aspects of publishing…so, I already know that self-publishing is not the path for me. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks Lacey! I’m glad you know yourself and your goals well enough to make the right decision! It’s great to see authors thinking these issues through in advance. It’s never too early!
At this time, the hybrid path looks very appealing. I have just started sending out query letters. Ideally, I would like an agent, but I am open to other paths. Whatever path I choose, I will need to take responsiblity for my own education about the publishing industry.
The great news is, you don’t have to make a choice immediately or permanently. Choices may impact a given work’s future, or the future of a series, but as long as you make carefully considered decisions during the process, you’ll find roads opening rather than closing. Thanks so much for sharing your choice, and I hope you find an agent who will become a great business partner for your career!
Great post! I’m very grateful to those who are blogging on this subject including yourself and Dean Wesley Smith, who showed me there was another option to the drudgery of query letters and traditional publishing. With the way contracts are these days, I’ll probably stick with self-publishing at least for the short term. I have enough business knowledge as well as creative skills to do the work myself. When traditional publishers can offer me a good enough deal, then I’ll consider them. It would be nice eventually to be a hybrid.
It’s great to hear that you have a clear focus, Judy. One of the best parts of the new paradigm is that authors can support one another regardless of the path they choose, and can have the confidence to make decisions based on their own goals, skills and business needs rather than following a path just because someone else did (or said they should). I’m grateful to you and all the other commenters willing to add their voices to the positive discussion that’s rising to the forefront of the industry.
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Wow, Susan, we are totally on the same wavelength! Well said.
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Thanks Susan for a well-timed post. I was about to go the self-publishing route but being retired and disabled I cannot see myself taking on all the associated business tasks or foisting them on my wife/carer. I have concerns about the traditional route but hope that the solution is finding an agent first – with one of four novels in pipeline. I feel that an agent should be someone who can add experience and perspective if I find the right one.
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