Monday, May 7, 2018

Which Path to Publishing?

This week we are tackling the question of which path to publication we would choose these days if we had just written our first novel. Terry Shames here, weighing in on this topic.

I’ve only been published for five years, so this was a choice I actually had to make at the time I finished my first novel. I got an agent for A Killing at Cotton Hill right on the cusp of the indie publishing revolution, so I could have gone that route. I considered it. I wrote out the pros and cons.


On the pro side, publishing your work independently means that you have total control over your product—you can decide if you want an e-book only, “e and tree,” print-on-demand, or a print run. Money is a big deciding factor in the choice. The “e” side can be very low-budget, while a print run can be really expensive. Whatever you decide, you get to choose when the book is published, what the cover will look like, and what the production values are.  If you decide you aren’t happy with the book, you can change anything from the cover to the title, to the text itself in a few minutes. And unlike traditional publishing, your book can be available forever. It has no shelf life.

A lot of people choose this way for reasons that work for them. When I was waiting (endlessly) for my agent to find a publishing home for my first book, I ran into a young woman who had just self-published her first book. She said she didn’t want to be bothered by finding an agent and waiting forever. She seemed quite confident in her ability to market. I don’t know how it worked out for her, but I know several authors who have had great success with publishing their own work. Like her, they were impatient with the long (and very possibly fruitless) search for an agent and publisher.

There were numerous reason why I chose not to go indie.  Some of them are no longer operational. The biggest reason at the time, and one that has changed significantly, was that self-published work got little respect. By now, there are a wide variety of authors who have independently-published books, and they run the gamut from really fine work to work that has been rushed to production and could have used a strong editorial hand. Just like traditionally published books! Another big drawback for me was that I knew publishing my own work meant learning a whole new set of skills. Instead, I wanted someone else to get the ISBN, design a cover, decide on the paper and printing, and do the necessary editing and formatting.

The biggest hurdle for me, though, was that I had always dreamed of being traditionally published, with an agent, an editor, and a tangible product that I could hold in my hand. So I was willing to hold out for that. In the end, it worked for me, but I know it doesn’t happen for everyone.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is promoting and marketing books. Although years ago, many publishers promoted their authors’ books, this has changed. Now, unless you are a really big seller, you have to do most of the promotion yourself regardless of whether you are traditionally or indie-published. It’s hard, time-consuming work, but everyone has to do it if they want their books to get an audience.

There is an additional reason that some people choose to publish independently that wasn’t a big factor years ago. Publishers used to be more loyal to their authors, and be willing to ride out a book that didn’t sell as well as they hoped. These days, the bottom line has a huge impact on authors. More than one author of highly popular books has been “orphaned” by a publisher because their numbers aren’t good enough. An independently-published author doesn’t have to worry about that.

Over the last several years independent publishing has become easier. There are all kinds of support mechanisms to make the process easier; everything from independent editors to cover designers to “small” publishers who will partner with authors for a much smaller cut than traditional publishers take.

The reasons I went with a traditional publisher are still mostly in effect. I am very happy with my agent, who supports me the way I had always dreamed an agent would. And I am happy with my publisher, Seventh Street Books—with the look and feel of the books they publish and the authors they publish. If I had a newly written book, I might be more impatient about finding an agent and a publisher, but I’d still try that route first.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Interesting thoughts on traditional versus indie publishing, Terry.

Terry said...

Thanks, Dieter. I know indie authors who are doing really well, and others who struggle--and the same with traditional. It's a hard question.