Traditional Versus Self-Publishing
by Tanya Karen Gough
So you’ve written your masterpiece. Getting it out into the world isn’t nearly as straightforward as it used to be; it’s a dark forest full of dangers and twisting paths that might lead you astray, and there are many things to consider. So before you decide which route you’re going to take – that well known traditional highway or the short cut through that bramble-filled back road to self-publishing – here are some pros and cons to think about, from one Little Red Riding Hood who made her way through the forest and (so far) lived to tell the tale
Finding an Agent:
Having an agent means you’re not alone: you’ve got someone to help sell your book on your behalf. Some agents will work with you to improve your manuscript, and they’re experts in presenting your work in the best possible light to ensure a sale. And having someone else to worry about selling your book means you have more time to write, which is what you really want to be doing, isn’t it?
Finding an agent in today’s market is extremely difficult. The traditional publishing industry contracted heavily during the recession, and a lot of agents went out of business. The ones who survived are much less likely to take a chance on anything other than clear blockbusters. There are still agents willing to mentor new writers, but they’re increasingly difficult to find. Querying agents takes time: you have to research them, adhere to individual query guidelines, and then wait (sometimes for months) to hear back. Also, querying agents can take a long time, from months to years, and once you find one, there’s still no guarantee the agent will be able to sell your work.
Think you want to try to find an agent? Get on Twitter and find agents who answer #askagent questions. Some agents, such as Pam van Hylckama (@BookaliciousPam) and Eric Ruben (@RubenAgency) do frequent #tenqueries events where they tweet out their responses to ten random queries in their mailbox and tell you whether or not they’re interested. It’s a great way to see what sort of manuscripts they’re looking for.
Finding a Publishing House:
Pros: Again, you’re not alone. When you sell your work to a major publisher, you get access to editors, cover designers, marketing professionals, and other people who specialize in getting your book out there. Publishing Houses have access to distribution channels still not available to most self-published authors, such as shelf space in bookstores, direct marketing to teachers and libraries, and extensive access to review channels, such as major newspapers, magazines, and high traffic blogs. Also, most publishing houses still pay advances, though the average amount has shrunk considerably.
Cons: Although some publishing companies do allow direct queries, most of the major houses still won’t even look at your work unless you have an agent. And even that’s no guarantee they’ll look at you. Working with a publishing house takes time – lots and lots of time. In most cases, you can expect it to take a year or more to get your book to market through a major publisher, not including the time it took to find your agent in the first place, or for your agent to sell your book to the publisher. You’ll also lose some creative control, especially when you are new.
Not all publishing houses are created equal. Even with an agent, there are no guarantees you’ll land a contract or one of the incredibly shrinking advances with a big house. Bear in mind your book might end up at a much smaller publishing house with fewer resources instead. And even if you land a big house, you probably won’t get tons of marketing assistance, so you should expect to do a lot of your own flogging, regardless.
On paper, self-publishing makes a lot of sense. You retain creative control, set your own prices, and get to market much, much faster. Why spend months, or more likely, years, querying agents and publishing houses when you can go straight to market? When (read if) you make it big, you’ll enjoy larger royalties, control the way your book is marketed, and make your own decisions about where to advertise and how. The technology is getting easier by the day, and there are tons of services out there more than willing to take your money to help you promote your work.
Self-publishing is haaaard. It really is. There are so many things you need to know before you start. Do you need an editor? (Yes, you do.) Should I design my own cover or pay someone to do it for me? (Depends on your skill set.) How do I format my manuscript for print versus for digital? (Yes, they’re different, and it’s finicky work.) And then there are the costs for that editor, that graphic designer, for advertising. All of those items have to be paid for ahead of time, and you’ll need to sell a lot of books just to make your money back.
No problem, you say, I’ll just do what Amanda Hocking did and get the book bloggers to review my book. Sorry, there are thousands of writers, just like you, who are trying the same thing, so book bloggers are no longer all that accessible. Ok, you think, I’ll give my book away for free on Amazon and generate buzz and sales that way. Well, sure, but Amazon has changed their algorithms, so the rules that let books like Fifty Shade of Grey dominate the charts for months no longer exist, and now it’s much harder to rank on Amazon with a free book, unless you can hit the top ten.
Want to self-publish? Be realistic. Most self-published authors only sell a few hundred copies of their book in their lifetime. Figure out what you’re going to have to pay for, and make a budget. Stick to it. Be aware that it will take time to get the word out about your book. Sure, you’ve heard stories about people breaking out almost overnight, but keep in mind that most of these people have actually been at it for a while. Amanda Hocking wrote a lot of books and spent many late nights fostering relationships with her readers and reviewers before her sales started to spike. Make a plan. Stick with it. Expect to spend a lot of time getting the word out. Expect it to take time for people to realize how brilliant your work really is.
Read Tanya’s companion piece, “How I Ended Up Self-Publishing My Book” to learn more about the choices she made along the way. You’ll find a list of available links on the Emma & the Elementals blog [Link: http://emmaseries.blogspot.com/2013/07/tanya-on-tour-guest-posts-on.html]
Genre - Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure
Rating – G (ages 10+)