How Self-Publishing Has Changed Authors

As a literary agent, not a day goes by when I don’t encounter the changes in thinking from authors caused by the expansion and availability of self-publishing.

It’s understandable, because there are over twice as many books self-published every year in the United States than are published by traditional publishers.

Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone according to RR Bowker.  Two-thirds are self-published.

According to the United Nations cultural arm UNESCO, well over two million new books are published annually by traditional publishers worldwide.

The Federation of European Publishers reports on the status of book publishing across the continent. They show revenues and traditional publisher title output are generally flat over the last five years, but the number of titles available in print has grown from 8.5 million in 2011 to 22 million in 2015. Digital printing and self-publishing bring more titles to market and keep more in print longer.

However, those 22 million titles generated slightly less revenue in 2015 than the 8.5 million titles did in 2011. Not revenue per title, but total industry revenue.

No wonder book publishing is a challenge for everyone.

Self-publishing has become ubiquitous and is here to stay, but has also created the impression traditional publishing has changed far more dramatically than it actually has.

If you are self-publishing and desire someday to be published by a traditional publisher, you need to change your thinking depending on your intention.

And learn a new language.

How has self-publishing altered the thinking and professional language of authors?  There are five primary areas (and probably more if I think about it).

  • Control – traditional publishing has always been more of a collegial collaboration between publisher and author. Give and take. Negotiation. Honestly, some authors simply should never be traditionally published because of this. They view control as a non-negotiable and will not relinquish it.
  • Timing – You get an idea, write it and publish it as a self-published author. When I tell an author it will take 15-18 months or longer to get a book published traditionally, the stunned silence says it all.
  • Quality of Manuscript – there is no such thing as a finished manuscript. Even if it is edited by three Nobel laureates and chiseled on stone tablets, the manuscript isn’t finished until the publisher says it is. And now you know why some authors self-publish!
  • Length of Manuscript – There is an optimum length of a traditionally published commercial product based on the type of book. Self-published authors write the length they want. A 6,000-word memoir is a thirty-two page free pamphlet, not a commercial book. A 375,000-word novel is generally not commercially viable as a 1,200-page book selling for fifty dollars. If an author cannot tell me how many words are in their manuscript, only it is 200 manuscript pages, they have been completely influenced by self-publishing thinking. Self-publishing is by pages because your costs are a function of the number of pages.
  • Cover Design – The dead giveaway you are a self-published author is you have a final cover, approved by friends and family and ready for print. Covers at a traditional publisher involve input from a dozen people or more who develop covers as part of their profession. Leave your cover at home when talking to a traditional publisher.

So, when I get a proposal from an author telling me they have a 275 page, finished manuscript, need it published in less than six months, and the cover is already done, I know I am about to disappoint them significantly with my reply.

Sweeping generalities can be tricky, but compared to most self-publishing models, traditional publishing is still a slow, methodical, careful and deliberate way to publish, involving many moving parts with creative input from a wide variety of professional people accountable for the long-term financial health of the publisher.

So, if you desire to self-publish and also be traditionally published, be very careful about control, timing, manuscript quality, length and cover design to make sure you use appropriate publisher-language. For self-publishing, the author is in control of everything, which some find very comforting.

Then you learn the hard truth of all book publishing, no matter the path you take:

Half of all published books don’t sell particularly well, but you never know which half.

33 Responses to How Self-Publishing Has Changed Authors

  1. James Scott Bell January 24, 2017 at 6:39 am #

    Dan, I would add one other “primary area,” which may be most attractive of all, and that is the royalty split. Self-publishing authors, especially those who have had success in the traditional world, like the idea of getting 70% of the return.

    I’d add one more: retention of rights.

    • Dan Balow January 24, 2017 at 7:37 am #

      Good points.

      I’d include the rights issue under control, but I intentionally left out the financial piece because it has so many variables based on a contract. Whoever takes the larger financial risk makes a greater piece of the pie.

      I also left out things like distribution, marketing/sales, copyright protection, not to mention just about everything else which differs in a typical contract.

      For sure, some authors are better off self-publishing, but for those who view self-publishing as a starting point and traditional publishing as their next step, the differences can be rather jarring.

    • Michelle January 24, 2017 at 7:43 am #

      Good points, James. And I would like to add one. Content. You can write the story you want to write and don’t have scenes cut by editors because bookstore patrons over 60 will complain to the manager and your book might be taken off the shelves.

  2. Bob Graham January 24, 2017 at 7:29 am #

    Dan, you forgot to mention distribution channels, marketing, and publicity, or has the publisher’s role been diminished here also? Maybe I’m wrong, but these seem that be the best reasons to use a publishing house, not editing and cover design. I’ll be listening!

    • Dan Balow January 24, 2017 at 7:38 am #

      Your response and mine crossed in the atmosphere somewhere over eastern Montana.

  3. Jon Guenther January 24, 2017 at 8:38 am #

    This subject is always a tough piece, as seems so many authors are really passionate coming down on it one way or the other, Dan. But I like the spin here: self-pub as path to traditional and the differences along the way. I’ve been all over the road on this and still trying to find my way.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and informed candor.

  4. Melissa Henderson January 24, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    I have listened to authors list the pros and cons of self-publishing. After hearing and reading their experiences, I am more confused than ever. Thank you for this information. I appreciate the wisdom.

  5. Mark Wyatt January 24, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    As an owner of a small self-publishing company (for authors who can’t , or don’t want to, donthe layout, design, and distribution), your points are good and you are not wrong. However, I believe the biggest attraction to self publishing is simply that the agent/publishing house world is so hard to crack. Even with a really good book, if you don’t have a substantial audience or platform already, those agents and/or houses are unlikely to even glance at your manuscript, much less take a gamble on you. Not to mention that even if you do get published, there will not be any marketing or publicity to speak of unless you are already a bestseller. Point being, even for authors who don’t have vanity or control issues, self publishing is a viable and valid way to become a published author, simply because it is doable.

    • PR Huckans January 24, 2017 at 9:49 pm #

      This is exactly my dilemma. I spent my entire career being successful but keeping out of the spotlight. Now that I’ve changed gears and would like to share my success and thoughts, I have no platform or instant reader base. There is no reason that a publisher would look twice at my work, but with self publishing I can at least share to a regretfully small audience.

    • Nancy Kimball January 24, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

      Mark, this was me. I had the “chops” for traditional but wouldn’t give up writing historical in an “unpopular” time period and was repeatedly asked to write something else. Eventually I came to understand I was writing to a niche market underserved by trad and it helped my discoverability.

  6. Carol Ashby January 24, 2017 at 10:23 am #

    I was only considering the traditional route when I started writing novels in 2013, but I was totally ignorant of the business aspect of being a novelist, including the signing away of rights so we couldn’t use my works freely for missions. For that reason, I’ve embarked on the self-publishing route with one book in market and the second aiming at an April release. I’ve learned a lot on the way.

    I’ve discovered the biggest transition in my thinking is that I’ve developed an entrepreneurial mindset. Business licenses, gross-receipts tax numbers, business personal property declarations, more complex income tax filings…all things I never dreamed I’d have to deal with, but I’ve embraced the necessity. Anything and everything to do with marketing rests on my shoulders, and I’m on the constant lookout for a better way. Maybe that would make me a better client in trad publishing circles, but it also might make me a pain if I kept questioning the business decisions that I would have made differently.

    “Perfecting” the manuscript to make it a professional product is the fun part of the process for someone who loves getting the tiniest detail right. There’s not a section in my books that hasn’t been edited at least 8 times by me before going to a professional. For people who don’t have a “perfectionist” gene and the willingness to embrace all the business-related details, I’d recommend against self-publishing if they want to be proud of the final result. The contributions of many minds can make a good product great and a rough road smoother, but you have only your own knowledge and skill to rely on when you’re publishing on your own.

  7. Sheri Dean Parmelee January 24, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Dan, thank you so much for sharing your insight into the world of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. “Slow and steady wins the race,” or so they say.

  8. Angela Breidenbach January 24, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    Sometimes it’s just about the money. Sometimes it’s about the message not fitting the traditional houses. Sometimes it’s about the concept being great, but traditional publishing houses have a brand and the traditional author must fit that brand 99% of the time. The other 1% is what everyone wants to be, but 99% aren’t.

    For self-publishing, it’s wise to follow great podcasts and join groups of other authors who have had success. Doing it with no input is where failure lurks. I do both traditional and indie (the new catch-phrase for self-publishing). I do it because I have stories that don’t fit the brand of the traditional houses, yet they fit my brand.

    The next question is do I make any money? Yes, yes I do. In both. Yes, I’ve earned more with my indie books because (and here comes the “control” word) I control the variety of formats and streams where my books are available. So if there is a possible vehicle to produce and deliver a certain book, that’s what I do. I don’t worry if one stream is small because another makes up for it. But I don’t block the small stream either.

    My top selling indie book is a book that was accepted by a traditional publisher and then that line closed before it released. I did get my rights back. That was my first foray into the indie world. That book has now sold in 6 different vehicles (formats) from ebook, to a 2-author collection, a 6-author collection, paperback, to audio—and paid my bills for well over a year—1 story/6 vehicles (or streams of income) to deliver to the audience.

    However, I have another book that hasn’t blossomed while several others have hit Amazon’s #1 in their categories for months at a time and paid well, layering my income. I have traditional books that are collections, too. Those have hit ECPA best seller lists each time. The key is to get educated in all of the publishing industry and understand how it works and how you can build your business and brand in it. I meet too many people who want to have a best-selling book, but haven’t taken the time to learn how to make that happen. My constant mantra is: If you want to publish a book or books, you must realize this is your new business and get educated in that business. Then write more books. A store with one product on the shelf is a tough one to draw customers into.

    It’s the same with many start-up companies. They have an idea, and some have taken the time to get educated on how to use that idea in business. They have mentors, classes, supporters, systems in place. Some haven’t. Location matters. Price matters. Quality of the product matters. Customer service matters. Partnerships, suppliers, contracts with other businesses…it all matters. If you’re not good in business, it makes it really hard to be an indie author because you have to know about ROI (return on investment), accounting, marketing, design, content creation, customer service, presentation, etc. Yes, you can farm those out. But if you don’t know enough about the various elements of your business, you can’t make smart decisions and will lose money.

    Another thing to think about, that is often missed, is the way those streams of income affect you. Sales seem to be the only number that traditional publishers can see and quantify right now. Truly, that’s a limit factor we as authors have to recognize. But in indie publishing, it’s not always sales where the author makes the most money. If you’re using Amazon’s KDP Select, most authors make the bulk of their money in borrowed reads. This concept is highly lucrative.

    Example: In one year, one vehicle, my first indie romance book sold over 25,000 copies. I quit counting after that. BUT, that’s not where the income came from. I can’t even tell you how many millions of page reads it has had. At .005 cents per page, the math is phenomenal. Other books I’ve done have had great success on page reads also. I’m just using this one as an example. How do we help the traditional houses see that kind of success? I don’t know. The limit for traditional houses is that they need to be able to “go wide” for retail stores. So they can’t be exclusive to get the page reads. That would mean retailers wouldn’t want to carry the book, right? Hmm. And, it’s important to realize that all books move up and down in the ratings. Amazon doesn’t send a ratings report. They just have a weird graph. So if you don’t capture your screen shot, well, you can’t always prove it happened. But you can download your sales/pages read reports each month. They just don’t say that you were #1 in 4 categories for 5 months and then held at #4 for another several.

    So, when making a decision, you have to do your homework and make decisions along the way to provide income, protect your business, and grow it. For some people it’s one or the other. For me, I like the wisdom of having seven streams of income. I try to create as many of those seven streams per book as is possible and then I also try to create related streams of income from that book.

    Learn about the publishers you want to pitch. Do you fit their brand? If so, submit and see where that goes. If not, consider starting your own business. But please, get into the groups like ALLI and listen to some excellent writing podcasts and attend writing workshops and read craft books and learn marketing…and then self-publish. But not before you talk to a lot of people who have forged the way ahead so that you can avoid the potholes others have tripped in. Some of those are deep sink holes. And some are simply a wake up call that you need to learn a little more. But why trip when someone else has the map around them?
    Love both indie and traditional. Choose what’s best for your business, but remember to be kind, courteous, and supportive of those deciding for their businesses. One is not “better” than the other. They are simply vehicles to your business goals. What is your business goal?

    • Carol Ashby January 24, 2017 at 11:51 am #

      Thank you SO much for posting this! I haven’t done KDP Select because I didn’t want the exclusivity restriction that I thought might hinder what we want to do with the books for missions. I should look into it again, but I wonder if the new author finds it as profitable (in proportion to total sales) as an industry heavy-hitter like you. Discoverability drives everything.

      • Angela Breidenbach January 24, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

        What a compliment, thank you, Carol Ashby! But here’s a great work-around many indies have found. You can exclusively publish your ebook on KDP Select, but then individually publish in paperback on CreateSpace, IngramSpark, and any other paperback or audio place you’d like. In fact, using your Kindle book to create the audiobook is a wonderful opportunity because then it goes into iTunes. Today I also heard that there’s been a ruling that Audible/iTunes partnership must be expanded into other competitors. So that audiobook may be even more accessible around the world than an ebook would. Consider researching those options and I think you’ll have a little more opportunity. But, it’s ALWAYS about getting the education and doing the work to make the book sell. And that is hard work, but possible.

        • Carol Ashby January 24, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

          You made an intriguing statement. The optimum layout for an ebook and a paperback are different, so I have different interior designs for each and make separate files, not just Amazon conversions to the other format. When you say “using your Kindle book to create the audiobook,” are you talking something that’s simple text-to-speech enabled or having a human read it to make a suitable file to upload as a unique Audible or other audiobook product?

          Your international comment is also intriguing. There are 13 unique international Amazon sites listing my Kindle book and all but 2 sell the paperback as well. (I care because I’ve had visitors to my Roman history author site from 28 countries.) I’ll have to look into whether they all sell Audible.

  9. Beverly Brooks January 24, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

    Thank you for the information in case (Lord willing) I am granted that opportunity of traditional publishing … I hope to be a very good client.

    Meantime back to the keyboard!

  10. Bruce Blizard January 24, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

    My decision to self publish was based entirely on the timing issue. I was 63 when I completed my first manuscript. I’m about to publish No. 3 at the age of 66. Self-publishing was the quickest way to get my books into print.

    Control has not been an issue. I hired an excellent editor and followed her recommendations to the letter. I voluntarily relinquished “control” of each because I trust her judgement and because she had a keen eye for what works and what does not work. My first book was revised three times over several months with her help.

    Self-publishing only works if the author is willing to go through the same (or similar) steps that an author goes though with a traditional publisher. It is costly and time consuming, but necessary if the finished product is going to be worth your readers’ time and money.

    • Carol Ashby January 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

      Every thing you say about time and effort to make something worthwhile for the reader is SO true, Bruce! I want my readers to finish one book eager for the next in the series because I’ve done the very best I can.

  11. Linda K. Rodante January 24, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    “Sweeping generalities can be tricky,” and you just made a lot of them about Indie published books.

  12. Randy Ingermanson January 24, 2017 at 4:06 pm #

    I was traditionally published first and then switched to indie authoring. From my point of view, it’s hard to understand why an author would want to go the other direction. What would an indie author gain (in the current climate) by going traditional?

    Marketing? Nope. The great bulk of the marketing for books is done by the authors, whether they are traditionally published or they’re indie. But there’s little incentive for an author to market a trad-pubbed book, because marketing a book won’t actually earn the author more money unless the book earns out its advance. And it’s well-known that most books don’t earn out their advances. Of course, some books do, and in that case, it makes sense for an author to market the book. But even in that case, the author is paying for the lion’s share of the marketing but reaping only a small fraction of the rewards, so it still feels inequitable. I speak from experience here. Some of my books have earned out and others have not.

    Cover design? Nope. Many trad-pubbed authors can tell you a horror story or two about a bad cover that was forced on them. An indie author who puts in a reasonable amount of effort and a few hundred bucks can get a good cover that sells copies. We have all seen bad indie covers, of course. But we have all seen bad trad-pubbed covers too. In the indie case, it’s the author’s choice. In the trad case, it’s not.

    Editing? Nope. There are plenty of excellent editors serving the indie market at a fair price. It’s true that many indie authors don’t get good editing. Again, that’s their choice. It’s also a painful fact that many trad-pubbed authors don’t get good editing either. But in this case, it’s not their choice. My own worst experience with editing was with a trad-publisher. As an indie author, I’ve found editing to be my biggest expense. I pay it happily, because it pays off. But I get to choose the editor for my project. I’m not stuck with one that a publisher thinks I should have. That’s huge.

    Publicity? Nope. Most trad-pubbed books don’t get any publicity. Neither do most indie books. A book can do well with no publicity.

    Advances? This is a consideration for some trad-pubbed authors. I personally know several who get good enough advances that they can live off them. But the great majority of trad-pubbed authors can’t live off their advances, so they have to rely on support elsewhere–a day job or a working spouse or an inheritance or whatever. For these authors, the advance is much less of an incentive. Many authors do better financially by going indie. I have a day job and write as I can. For me, the advance was always a tiny fraction of my day job income. Since going indie, I’ve found that my annual income has increased quite a bit. And I’m happier because I can publish on my schedule, not the publisher’s.

    Validation? Yup, getting trad-pubbed is definitely validation. I know a few indies who want to get trad-pubbed solely because it would be validation. Every author wants proof that somebody somewhere thought they were good. Getting trad-pubbed gives you validation in a way that indie-authoring never can. That’s all fine. My own thinking is that the biggest validation comes from winning awards. And after winning a bunch of awards, it struck me that validation is nice, but a little goes a long way. You can’t eat validation or use it to pay down the mortgage. If you need to be trad-pubbed in order to feel validated, then go do it with my blessing. But if you’re hoping to grow the bank balance, then it’s just a fact that many many authors do better by taking the indie way.

    That’s rather sad. Trad-published authors ought to be earning way more money than indies. But plenty of formerly trad-pubbed authors have seen a sharp rise in their incomes by going indie. I certainly did, and I’ll bet other authors who read this post could say the same.

    • Tamara Leigh January 25, 2017 at 6:54 am #

      Well said, Randy!

    • Sara January 25, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

      Randy wins the internet. Well said! ???

      • Randy Ingermanson January 25, 2017 at 5:39 pm #

        Thanks, Sara, I don’t know if I’ve won anything, but I do think there’s an unexamined assumption in the blog post above that is causing needless confusion–the assumption that indie authors WANT to be traditionally published.

        The remarkable fact is that many indie authors just don’t want to go trad. They’re doing better where they’re at. Many indies earn tens of thousands of dollars per year. A goodly number earn more than $100k. And elite indies earn more than a million per year.

        This was unexpected by everybody. When indie authoring became an option several years ago, it was often confused with so-called “self-publishing” which was really just vanity publishing. And vanity publishing is widely agreed to be a terrible option.

        But the indie way is wildly different from vanity publishing. The reason that the term “self-publishing” is not used much anymore is that it conflates indie authoring with vanity publishing. And that makes it a useless term.

        When a term causes confusion, it should be eliminated. When people use a confusing term, it’s an indicator that they’re confused themselves (or they’re intentionally being confusing or they’re just not up to date or they have some other reason.)

  13. Heather Day Gilbert January 24, 2017 at 5:33 pm #

    I agree with Randy and would add that many indies (Christian indies in particular) are receiving the outside validation of awards or starred reviews in publications like Publisher’s Weekly, the Historical Novel Sociery, and RT Book Reviews. How that could happen if their covers/edits are as sub-par as you make them sound, I don’t know. Please tell me you are reading some of the current Christian indie novels, Dan? Because there were a lot of blanket statements in your post that don’t match up with the indie books I have been reading.

    Also, some indies have gone tradpub and some tradpub have gone indie, so being indie first is far from prohibitive. Being indie first is far from prohibitive in a publishing climate where CBA fiction lines are closing left and right. As an indie, you build an audience, build a brand, and learn how to market your books directly to your readers. Amazon Waterfall imprint recognizes the success of Christian indies and comes alongside them with massive marketing power. I really think this is the way Christian publishers should view indies (whose sales numbers are often higher than tradpub due to their price pulsing). There is an attrition rate in the indie world (just like with CBA authors), but the ones who put quality first during every step of the publication process will stand out in the long run.

  14. Paul Corrigan January 24, 2017 at 10:38 pm #

    Kia ora:

    I’m a New Zealander. I went Indie because of my experiences with publishers in New Zealand and an agent in the United Kingdom.

    The publishers were remote. They sent the manuscript of my first novel back after someone had read it. The second publisher included a sheet of manuscript assessors and the hint that I should get someone to look at it.

    Some of those assessors were already published, even award-winning, Kiwi authors.

    I went to my local library and got out the novels of some of them. After many hours reading through them I concluded that I wouldn’t want them anywhere near my manuscript.

    I should say that I’ve read little New Zealand fiction. I’ve tried. But I don’t connect with the stories, is the guts of it. I don’t feel they’re written for someone like me but for people who have been to and through the universities.

    The one book of Kiwi fiction I did read – about 12 years ago – was written by a former bank executive who had been turned down by eight New Zealand publishers (and New Zealand branches of multinational publishers).

    Yet he had a cracker of a yarn. He had the means to self-publish, and before CreateSpace came along.

    Cutting a longish story short. In 2013 I found myself writing another novel, and without any plotting, planning, preparation. It took a week short of six months. A year later, after some editing and rewriting, I sent the first three chapters to an agent in London. I’d read a novel by one of their writers.

    They don’t reply, and six or eight weeks later you get an anonymous, automated reply.

    Well, fine. It seems to me that the established, traditional publishers like you to be reminded that they are waaaay more important than you to even be bothered with the normal courtesies.

    A friend whose books I’d edited said one day: ‘Why don’t you do what I did? Go CreateSpace.’ It has worked for him

    So that’s what I did. This is what I like: I DO have control. I should explain, too, that I have a newspaper background. I’ve been a reporter and for many years a sub-editor. What North Americans knows as a copy editor.

    So I think I can string a moderate sentence together occasionally.

    I got a school-leaver doing an art course to draw the cover for me. I liked it, and I’ve sold copies simply on the strength of it. I paid her.

    I should have got it edited but at the time I was unemployed and couldn’t afford it.

    I went to my local library to offer my novel to them. The buyer looked down her nose and made comments about ‘vanity publishing’ and how they were usually poorly written, not edited, spelling not corrected, and so on and so on and so on.

    I told her I agreed with her. Then I said: ‘Now, I can take you around your shelves right now and pull out at least half-a-dozen novels written by top American and British writers and published by leading British and American publishers and I’ll show you spelling mistakes, unedited sentences, and poor grammar.’

    She declined but here is my point: just because a book is trad-published doesn’t guarantee its quality.

    The novel is regularly lent out by the library. People get in touch with me to tell me how much they enjoyed reading it.

    Because it is available via Amazon and Kindle it sells in markets beyond New Zealand. Facebook enables people to get in touch with me. People I’ve never heard of.

    Last week I offered my latest novel (it was the one I wrote in 2002-04) to the library. This time the reply was to the effect: ‘Dear Paul. Thanks. Three copies. Invoice in the usual manner.’

    I don’t particularly care whether I make a lot of money from writing. I’ve done something I said when I was 14 that I’d do.

    Another thing: As a New Zealander I like to write in New Zealand English, using spellings, grammar, and vernacular common in this country.

    I’ve heard of trad-authors in my country being told that if they want their books to be sold and read in the United States then they have to adapt spellings and grammar to American usages.

    My response: Bugger that! (I should say, too, that in New Zealand ‘bugger’ is not ‘swearing’) This was a form of cultural imperialism up which with I would not put.

    We who are not American have read American usages for decades. I don’t see why I can’t write and be read in mine.

    I asked a published Kiwi author a few years ago about what could help me get my novel (the one I wrote in 2002-4) published. He asked how many words it was. Just over 134,000 words, I said. ‘It should be no more than 100,000,’ he said, ‘Preferably 75,000 words.’

    I asked why. ‘No-one reads novels that are more than 100,000 words.’

    Mine, in order of publication, are 118,000 and 138,000 (yeah, I rewrote that one and included material to make it less ‘blokey’).

    No-one – not even Americans, Canadians, as well as Kiwis – has complained to me about their length. People have written to tell me how they read a book in two days. I tend to look askance at any kind of rule about word length. If 75,000 words tell a story, fine. If it takes 150,000, fine.

    My Canadian-born countrywoman, Eleanor Catton, pretty much broke all the word-length rules with The Luminaries.

    There is still a condescension among trad-publishing and writing people about us self-published writers.

    Here’s one, by a Laurie Gough, and in the Huffington Post, earlier this month:
    ‘As a published author people often ask me why I don’t self-publish.’

    She was cited as an author, a journalist, and a travel-writer. Which she might be. But I can tell you many in the NZ Indie Authors, a Facebook group, enjoyed seeing the dangling modifier in her very first sentence.

    Cheers …

    – Paul

  15. Nancy Kimball January 24, 2017 at 11:00 pm #

    Dan, thanks for the post. I respect it is a balanced view. But as Randy and JSB and others have suggested, Indie authors that want to go reverse hybrid are extremely rare outliers. The two I know of only entertain it for the options it would give their print books. And I think eventually even that will work itself out I hope so the door already opening there with extended distribution and Lightning Source will get wider and even that won’t be as attractive.

    It seems to me that once an Indie has done the work and begins getting their 70% of retail price they are able to set themselves at will and see their sales data in real time why would they want to go to 10% of the net sale quarterly or annually with no access to sales data to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts?

    As for validation, there is nothing as validating as 5 star reader reviews and letters from readers how they were positively affected by your work. At least for me. And it wasn’t possible until I gave up pursuing trad and went Indie.

    I was one of Amy Harmon’s first fans. You probably don’t know her. That’s okay. I remember on social media when she was agonizing over accepting a traditional publication contract and ultimately decided to remain Indie. As has Dan Walsh.
    So while you make excellent points here I think the assumption Indies want to go reverse hybrid is unsubstantiated by the empirical data available to most of us. Of the nearly 900 indies and hybrids in the online author group I am active in, 99% give or take 2% margin of error, would never sign on to receive so much less cash in hand for their work only to get less control of the process and finished product.

    For several of my buddies who did sign with Waterfall, (waiving to my girl Nicole Deese) it made sense for them because they were contracting with Amazon’s imprint itself, not a publisher middle man between them and Amazon. They got the massive marketing power of the ‘Zon in exchange for working within a traditional model. But the rest of us are scratching our heads at why authors would want to go reverse hybrid once they find their stride as an Indie.

    By the time they’ve grown a following with sales and review numbers that would even interest a traditional publisher, they’ve figured out already they didn’t need one.

  16. Laura Bennet January 25, 2017 at 7:01 am #

    Thank you for the informational and insightful post. I do appreciate your viewpoint and can understand how you would come to those conclusions as an agent. I’m stunned at the amount of work agents and publishers receive that reveals ignorance (or disregard) of the publishing industry and submission guidelines set forth. However, it seems that your post sounds as if you consider that all self published authors are ignorant or disregarding of publishing standards which I don’t believe to be true. I work hard as an author to learn both the writing craft and the industry. I believe there are benefits to both traditional and Indie publishing. And self-published books can be professionally presented with a great deal of consideration and work. I seek out both traditional and Indie publishing options for each book depending on the situation and how I feel God leading. And while publishing is a business, let’s not forget that as Christians our goal is usually to touch hearts and minister to people so it isn’t only about sales. I’m thrilled for the few dozen folks who have been touched and/or changed (their words, not my assumption) by my books even if money isn’t rolling in. I still believe we can wisely and effectively use both methods depending on the project and God’s direction. I have to agree with many of the comments above, but I thank you for giving us some helpful guidelines to consider.

  17. Dan Balow January 25, 2017 at 10:32 am #

    I would never use the word ignorant about authors because it doesn’t apply. My point was to show how author-thinking has been affected by the self-publish world and there are some significant changes required if they would like to work with a traditional publisher.

    I agree with your view of Christian publishing. I wouldn’t be in it if it were just about money. But even the most ministry-minded publisher must make money in order to keep publishing.

  18. Brennan McPherson January 27, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    I know I’m late to the party, and I’m not sure what value I can contribute, but I found this post interesting on a number of levels. Based on my experience with trade-pubbing, I agree with many of Randy’s points above. But that’s the trouble–everyone’s situation is completely different. Each contract is unique. If you are entrepreneurial, and know how to market your work, you have to weigh the benefits and risks of self-vs.-traditional publishing with each project–unless you get amazing contracts . . . always.

    If a publisher put into their contract that they’d invest a significant amount into marketing my next release, I wouldn’t be tempted to self-pub. As it is, I’m conflicted, because either way I have to invest in marketing, and with nearly 5 x higher royalties per book as a self-published author, I can much more easily make a positive ROI on strategic marketing investments.

    But then you start talking about distribution, and publicity, and . . . well, let’s just say it’s not so simple as “SELF PUBBING ROOLZ DE INTERWEBZ ALL YOU TRADE-PUBBED CHUMPS ARE NEWBZ.” Because it’s not true. Traditional Publishing offers some real benefits that self publishing can’t touch.

    People going into self-publishing thinking it’s going to be easy have a big surprise waiting in the shadows. If you actually want to successfully sell a decent number of copies, either being self-published or traditionally published, the road is difficult. I’ve heard before (not sure if it’s verifiable) that the average TRADITIONALLY published book sells 500 copies in its lifetime.

    My publisher is great. They offer good terms and wonderful editing/book design/distribution/support. Even still, it’s a hard road.

    Interestingly enough, I’m one of those traditionally published authors who didn’t leave the cover design idea at home when talking to the publisher. And guess what? They loved it, and they used it. Go ahead and take a look at it (Cain: The Story of the First Murder and the Birth of an Unstoppable Evil). Even though I would guess the majority of the time what was said in the post above is true about cover design, maybe you shouldn’t always leave it at home.

    But. . . as always, it was a great post. Thanks for all you do, Dan!

  19. Kristen Steele January 27, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    Going from self-published to traditionally published is a big change and might not even be the best route. It can be difficult to relinquish control and ownership of your work.

    • Carol Vorvain February 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

      Truth #1:
      Unless you are already famous, the Big 5 don’t help authors with the marketing. They simply don’t have the cash for it. So, authors, self-published or not, still need to befriend the marketing beast. If they successfully learn how to market themselves, their books will sell. Simple.

      Truth #2:
      Many indie authors make more money than traditional published authors. Why? Because once they are self-published, when it comes to marketing and distributing their books, they only count on themselves. They start learning how and where to promote their books and they succeed. And they have so much help. Take Writers Boon, for example. is perhaps the most comprehensive platform for indie authors. It offers guidance, a calendar of live training and publishing events, features experts, DIY software tools, courses, books, webinars, some at discount prices, all well-organized in 250+ topics on both publishing and marketing.

      As an indie author, if you ever have doubts that you can do it, remember this Chinese proverb: “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

  20. Kingdom Publishers January 9, 2018 at 4:45 am #

    It was a great informational post. I would like to add my views on Christian Self Publishing.

    When most people think about self publishing, their hearts are filled with fear. This is an uncertain terrain for many aspiring Christian writers. They do not know which platform to use, which agent or publisher to use, and a lot more. We endeavor to put down some steps that one can use to make it as a self published Christian Writer.

    There are many other aspects that you should consider when you are staring off into self publishing. Not all Christian publishers may share your vision, and this could result in a frustrating process, and a bad result in the long run. The message of your book will not get to the people in the proper manner, and your vision will be diluted.

    Get in touch with us for getting your Christian books published. Read our blog on Steps towards Self Publishing here :

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