Whether to take the indie route or to pursue a traditional publishing contract is a decision that all new writers have to address. While self-publishing was once seen as a way forward for those whose work was not of sufficient quality to find favour in a publishing house, this is certainly no longer the case. Many good writers have found success via self-publishing, and there are many things to recommend it. I’m not writing this to debunk publishers as a load of hocum – there are pros and cons to each.
The first myth to expose is the ‘publishers take care of everything’ idea. They don’t. Unless you are a household name (and Michael Connelly doesn’t read this blog) then marketing is still largely the writer’s responsibility, even if you are being published traditionally. A lot of people don’t know that. So therefore it makes little difference whether you publish your book or someone else does – you’re probably going to be the one who has to tell people about it.
Publishing contracts do not mean you are going to be rich. J.K. Rowling had written three Harry Potter books before anyone paid any attention, and they had been around for some while. A space on a shelf in Waterstone’s does not a millionaire make. It takes hard work and consistency before sales start to go up, and you have to provide plenty of product for consumers to enjoy. Also, if you just want to make money, go and work for a bank. Words are still art, whatever E.L. James says.
If you publish traditionally, there is a possibility that you will earn less. Some publishers pay writers a tiny royalty. Don’t get excited about advances either – advances are not free money. That £12,000 advance is twelve grand that you owe the publisher. If your book doesn’t sell, then you still owe the publisher. Self-publishing royalties are higher because there are no middle men with bills to pay.
However, if you are going to self-publish, then you need to be able to critique your own work. You need to be able to spot what’s good, what isn’t, which bits need to be cut, etc. The other side of the coin is that no one can make you compromise on your work with unecessary re-writes.
E-books still need front covers. So as an indie publisher, you will have to provide a good quality front cover. A blank page with My Book by A Person, will not cut it. If you cannot source original graphics, and format them appropriately, then you will need to pay for a front cover. The plus side is that these are not that expensive.
It seems that I come down on the side of indie publishing. The main issue that I have with publishing houses is that they have to publish what will sell, for their own survival. This often means that they publish yet another vampire porn-fest, over a valid cultural work which would have sold less copies. It’s a shame.
Marketing books takes work, but it’s not as scary as you think. Also, as you publish more and more books or stories, they will begin to advertise themselves. Never do anything artistic for the money. And remember that it takes a long time to be an over night success.