An interesting perspective on publishing

I just had an email from Writer’s Digest which linked to this article.

The first “mistake” listed gave me a little pause. One of the major points which has always been in favour of following a traditional publishing path has been having a possibly large publisher lend their weight to the marketing effort of your novel. But. There’s this quote:

You need to act like an indie author — a determined one — if you want to make it in the world of publishing.

Truly said. If that’s the case, how is it different from being an indie author?

As a naïve, beginning author I had plenty of romantic notions about the publishing industry. I knew nothing of self-publishing beyond the utter disdain for vanity publishing and the two were pretty much synonymous.

Even when I started to learn more about publishing, I thought that an indie author has to do everything themselves, alone, without help. It explained why everyone seemed to be very down on self-publishing.

REAL publishers could do so many things!

  • They have editors, cover artists, layout designers, copywriters for blurbs, etc.;
  • They printed paperbacks;
  • They create ebooks;
  • They printed hardbacks(!);
  • They can arrange for audio books;
  • They give you a chunk of cash up front (advance on royalties);
  • They give you more cash for as long as your book sells (royalties);
  • They could market your book far and wide;
  • They can arrange for interviews;
  • They could get your book into the high-street book store chains;
  • They can make your book available to libraries;
  • They can get you on the lists for the major prizes;
  • They can get you on the major best-seller lists.

None of those things are false. They just don’t do them very much. Most of the time.

These days, your average new, or mid-list, author has to arrange most of their own marketing and interviews. The advances are notoriously poor and the royalties are around 10% (print, 25% nett for ebook). Most authors don’t get listed for prizes or positioned for best-seller lists, nor is there a guarantee of being well-positioned in book stores. With some of the newer contracts, there isn’t even the guarantee of a novel being printed, nor of an audio book release.

The indie author has a higher initial outlay in finding editors and the rest, but they are available. Ebooks have been the mainstay of the indie author and there is little barrier to many of the markets. Print-on-demand through IngramSpark, for example, allows for printing in paperback and hardback, and distribution to any book store or library. Audiobooks, podiobooks, or podcasts are all available to the indie author, in various outlets. All the marketing is up to the author, but, again, there are professionals available for hire. The major prizes are still mostly a closed, ahem, book, but the best-seller lists are beginning to open up.

What’s left?

Well. With the traditional publishers there’s still the advance, such as it is. If you are lucky, the back-channel marketing might be above average. It’s still easier to get into major book stores, libraries, prizes and lists. Your audiobooks, if you get them, are more likely to be read by Names. And you don’t have to worry about any of the other production issues. By and large. Kinda.

You balance that against control of the product and story-world, control of how you are marketed, and 35% to 80% (depending on format, distribution channel, etc.).

And the fact that the public, visible marketing is likely to be all down to you, no matter which path you choose.

It seems that there is very little to choose between the paths. So it comes down to personal choice. But it also means that if one path doesn’t work for you, there’s nothing to stop you going the other path, without any particular detriment.

There are other factors involved: contract clauses (rights grabs, broad non-compete definitions & reversion being the primary contenders), foreign sales & translation (in both paths), and others.

But… It’s late, I’m tired and I have to get up to write legal blurb in the morning.

Think on it.



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