First off, he does have some good points. The agenting process can be time consuming and often agonizing. One of my author friends sent her first now-self-published book to over one hundred agents and received roughly the same response: it’s great, but not for us. However, she is now, hopefully, a soon-to-be hybrid author, as she found a literary agent and was willing to do the edits for that agent before said agent accepted. She is still self-publishing, and she probably will continue doing so because she has found a little bit of success with it. He is also right that the agent then has to find a publisher, and I know not all agents update their authors on which houses they’ve sent the book to, most likely because they’re busy with other clients’ manuscripts, so their clients are left in the dark, something I can’t accept. In fact, I know one girl who wrote an amazing-seeming book, has been with her agent for several years, and that book hasn’t found a home. I often wonder why she doesn’t drop kick that agent and seek out a new one, or have the agent help her self-publish it. He also has a point that once said publisher is found, more edits will be done, almost undoing the edits the agent had you do. And then it can take some time for your book to come out, even after everything is finished. You also may not receive any promotion (other than reviews, like Kirkus), and being published with a traditional publisher doesn’t guarantee a shelf in a bookstore. Your book also has a certain time period in which to sell, and if it doesn’t sell all its books, it’s removed from shelves (however, with the advent of the e-book and online bookstores, authors removed from shelves still have time to build a fan base, so this point is, well, pointless).
One point I didn’t find in the article (it could have been mentioned) is that advances for first-time authors can be pitifully low, not to mention that royalties are pitiful as well (about 12% without an agent, down to 2% with an agent).
You do have full control with self-publishing, but at the end of the day, it’s not for every writer. It certainly isn’t for me, even if I am a little bit marketing-minded. Business-minded, I am not. Writing is an art, publishing is a business. They are two completely different monsters.
At the same time, the one thing I firmly disagree with about this article is that this writer implies that ALL authors should self-publish and never go the traditional route again.
- You have to invest your own money into the process, and there is no guarantee you will make double on what you spent, even if you have an infinite shelf life. Even though you can make the process affordable to you, some people still have to tighten their budgets, and so many may not be able to afford self-publishing for quite a while (so they might as well go through the querying process because all that is FREE for them). Plus, unless an editor who charges cheaply has quite a few testimonials, mentions books they have edited (and these books have GOOD reviews), your only other option is to hire one who charges over 1,000 dollars, because these are more often than not some elite editors. Once I really began to research self-publishing, I realized that it wasn’t something I’d be able to afford, because I don’t have any connections who’d edit, format, and do cover art free for me. Some self-published authors are lucky enough to have connections who can make the process free, but most don’t.
- The authors who sell really well, who become bestsellers, are the exceptional ones, just as the ones in the traditional process. I look at the rankings of many a self-published novel, and MOST are not in the bestseller ranking. Very few make it to that ranking, for whatever reason, so many of those authors who sunk their money into the process may never make double of what they spent. Again, they have an infinite shelf-life, but I’ve followed a few self-published books that have been out for two years, and their rankings still aren’t that great–pitiful, in fact. They must be marketing well–otherwise, I wouldn’t have found them. Some books simply are not meant to be self-published. Some of these books would have found more success with a traditional house. For example, NA (new adult) books have found quite a lot of success with self-publishing compared to other genres. One author I know writes NA, and for some reason, her NA books are more successful than her genre books! I prefer her genre books over her NA ones. I don’t know why this is, as she has hired someone to do PR, but, again, some books just do better in a house than without one.
- Small presses. Why are people glossing over small presses? Because small presses are, well, small, they are able to devote their time into book publicity, and it is either free or MUCH cheaper than self-publishing (with some houses, you might have to devote a little bit of cash, but this is to keep those houses from going under, as many small presses who come to inception don’t last long because they can’t afford to pay back their editors and what not). My publishing house actually helps with publicity. I help with it as well, just to double the efforts. All authors should delight in marketing their books, even if it’s small, whether or not they’re getting great publicity from their publishers–John Green certainly does, and he is MASSIVELY popular because of it. There are small presses who can also get your book into bookstores (Spencer Hill Press and Entangled Publishing come into mind, and you don’t need an agent). To me, small presses are much better than self-publishing, because you don’t have long wait times to hear back from one, it’s often free, and well, there are a bunch of other benefits I could list hear. I heard back from my publisher in just a few days. Though they’re new, my experience with them has been stellar, and they are continually revising their model–and their authors are allowed to help with this. I have also had an active part in every process of my book, so I was not kept in the dark. I also had the final say in the cover (though I had help in deciding which design would be best because I am too close to my book to know what type of cover would market my book well).
- Being in bookstores and libraries. It isn’t true that you have to be a bestseller, or you’ll be axed from the shelves. I read primarily YA, and I have seen many, many books that are still on the shelves whose authors are not bestsellers (paperback books, mind you). All you have to do is sell out within their time frame, and the bookstore will order your book again. Now being traditionally published doesn’t guarantee a spot on the shelf, but if you do make it to the shelves, that is publicity in itself, as many people do wander the shelves seeking their next book to read. You’ll also likely get into libraries, which is another form of publicity. Most self-published books don’t even have a chance of being on shelves (they can get into their independent bookstores, but they’re not a chain). This doesn’t mean those self-published books won’t become bestsellers, but, again, simply being on a shelf, with a great cover, to boot, can add to the publicity.
I am going to end this on a positive note for the sake of this author, as I am writing this article to argue against his. Check out his book, Iona Portal. Great cover art, and it seems interesting. This is a guy who knows what he’s doing.
To balance out this article, I am going to write one on the positives of self-publishing, arguing against an article who says you should never do it (it’s a really horrendous article, completely biased, and has god-awful points. This guy’s article at least has some valid points).
4 thoughts on “The Usual Banter Against the Traditional Publishing Route”
Good point. If you can separate out the good from the bad, small presses are a great option. I wouldn’t be self-publishing if I couldn’t afford a good editor to do conceptual-to-line edits AND afford to lose that money if the book tanks (knock on wood). I’d much rather go with a small press than release something half-baked. 🙂
Yeah, and that’s the problem, too. You’re going to have to do more than one edit on a book, from conception, to copy edit, to proofread, so you’re shelling out A LOT of money.