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Some Thougths on Traditional vs Independent Publishing

Things are not quite the same since the advent of the ebook. (A Printing Press © 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki)

I never wanted to self-publish, and I likely never would have if I had not been challenged to do so. As a result, my opinion of self-publishing has become much more favorable, and I’ve posted lots of benefits about this method of publishing.

But does that mean I am against traditional publishing? No. I still work in the traditional field, and I’d still be interested in hearing a traditional offer.

However, I no longer look down on independent authors. How could I? Not only am I now counted among their ranks, but even traditional publishers seek indies and occasionally make offers to them once they prove their work is marketable. Self-publishing can be a valid entry into publishing; either you enjoy a career as an indie author or you sign a book deal. (Of course, there’s always the chance that neither of those options will pan out.)

On this blog, I have shared candidly what I have learned in my independent journey. I have given opinions on pricing and shared sales numbers, things that may seem a bit bold. But I did this in the spirit of letting people have a real view of how it works. I am not going to lie: there are definite benefits to being independent. You are in complete control of every aspect of the book. You set the price. You can even make changes midstream. You can earn more money per book because you have no publisher to take a cut of your profits.

And on this blog, I wanted to clear up certain misconceptions about what an independent author can do. Even though I had a file corruption error when uploading my ebook to BN, indie authors are completely capable of producing a professional ebook that rivals a traditional publisher’s. In addition, you can have the exact same distribution of ebooks, and you can sell them at a lower price, if you so choose. And indies can produce professional ebooks and paperbacks, especially if they hire professional artists, designers, and proofers to help.

But now I’m going to turn the tables on myself and offer some opinions on what traditional publishers seem to do better:

  • Physical paperback distribution: There’s no question about it. Traditional publishers are far and away superior at physical book distribution. They can place your book in chain bookstores, independent bookstores, Target, Walmart, airports, grocery stores, gas stations, you name it. Lots of people still buy books at physical locations and not online.
  • Online paperback distribution at good prices: While indies do have the option of expanded distribution to all online book retailers that traditional houses do, in my opinion, trad pubs still have the advantage here. And that advantage comes in price. They can produce books more cheaply, and therefore, they can offer larger discounts. (For example, if I were to open expanded distribution on Charlotte Collins, I would have to raise the price in order to account for the new retailer’s cut. If I raised the price by $3, I would actually make half as much money per book at other retailers as I do now using only Amazon.com and my personal store with the price at $9.99.)
  • In-house services: While an indie can certainly hire artists, editors, and formatters, traditional publishers offer one-stop shopping.
  • International sales: Other than Canada or the UK, indies can’t sell as easily overseas in foreign language markets.
  • Audiobooks: Again, indies can make them, but until there is a good method for doing so in a professional, cost effective manner, trads win here too.

Here are a few aspects that I am still debating:

  • Traditional publishers do your accounting for you. I see this as both a negative and a positive. I mean, who wants to pour over spreadsheets when they could be writing? But this also means that you have less understanding of a vital aspect of the book business: the numbers.
  • Validation: For many writers, this is a biggie. People with the healthiest of egos suddenly become completely uncertain when it comes to their writing. They think they need someone official to tell them their book is worthy. But do publishers really have a better handle on what will sell? I’ve ready countless articles in which publishers admit that, even for them, it’s a crapshoot. Readers are the ultimate point of validation. My own experience backs this up. Yes, I enjoyed having a publisher tell me my book was well-written, but they also said it would not sell. And while I’m not breaking any sales records, thanks to all the wonderful Janeites out there, Charlotte Collins has sold beyond my wildest hopes. 

So what should you take away from this breakdown? Well, here’s how I see it. There are advantages to both methods of publication, and they are both valid forms of bringing your book to market as long as you tackle each option as if it were a business. (More on the business aspects of publishing to come.) The most important thing is to get as much information as you can when deciding which route to pursue.

2 thoughts on “Some Thougths on Traditional vs Independent Publishing

  1. Yup, I’m commenting on my own post.

    Upon further research, it seems that I can, in fact, open distribution in a cost-effective manner and not actually lose money or charge too high a price. Awesome! I want my book to be affordable and available.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Traditional versus independent publishing. I am closing in on the completion (as in ready to publish or submit) of my first novel and I have been going back and forth over this issue for the better part of a year now. Originally I intended to shop my book around to agents and publishers so that I could join the ranks of the traditionally published, and I would use independent publishing as a way to get out my “lesser” works.

    I do book reviews on my site and most of the books I review are written by independent author/publishers, and while I don’t know exactly how much fiscal success they are having, some of them seem to be making a decent go of it. I like the idea of more control, and more of a return, but I barely have time to write, so the idea of launching an effective marketing campaign seems terrifying to me.

    So what does all of this mean? Nothing, as of yet, but I appreciate your real world examples and your concise answer to the question of which way to go.

    Thank you.

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