Each year in the U.S. more titles are published indie/self-pub than by all traditional publishers combined.
Some authors publish only indie or traditional, but some entrepreneurial folks are known as “hybrid” and use whatever model works best for the situation at the moment. Many clients of the Steve Laube Agency are hybrid authors and it works just fine.
There are some things you do for an indie book you won’t do for traditional publishers. Knowing when to switch your thinking and approach is important. If you cannot switch your approach to accommodate traditional publishers, you will attempt to exert control over things that you can’t control and it will not be a fulfilling experience for you.
A hybrid author is similar to a person who is self-employed but also holds a job with a “traditional” company.
A self-employed person would split their time being self-driven, decision-making, buck-stops-here, trail-blazing, everything depends on them and a person who knows how to be a team player.
If you are indie-published and eventually seek to be a hybrid author, here are some things you need to change when working with a traditional book publishing.
“The manuscript is finished” – the publisher will be thankful for this and tell you. Then they will gather their editorial staff and have you make so many changes that you wonder if they really understood that you gave them a “finished manuscript.” No manuscript is ever truly finished. (evil laugh)
“I have a final cover already designed” – You might have some ideas, but hold them lightly in your hand. If you tell the publisher you have a cover already done for the book, they will politely thank you and maybe even agree to take a look, but publishers are thinking more about what their retail customers are thinking, not what the author likes. Covers need to be fluid and adaptable for the marketplace.
“It’s a 200-page book” – For indie publishing, page count is important because the price you pay for printing is based on the number of pages. Publishers might turn it into a 150 or 300-page book depending on how they see the content, interior structure and desired retail price. Use word-counts instead when communicating length.
“I will send out a press release as part of the marketing” – Take a deep breath and have a nice conversation with the publisher to determine what they will do to promote your book and what you should do. It won’t all fall on you. Think as a team player.
“I would like this to release next month” – There will be no initial response from the publisher, but behind the scenes, the agent or acquisitions editor will be questioned by a person in management to find out who gave the impression to the author that the 12-24 month timeframe needed to publish a book effectively was no longer in effect. After that happens, you will get a call from someone apologizing for not making it clearer that traditional publishers are a little different than the indie process. Publishing a book well is more than getting it printed and placed at an online retailer.
“The price is $12.99” – You can’t dictate retail prices to a publisher. Well, I suppose you can, but it is a waste of your time. So many factors go into pricing that you can save yourself some work by just forgetting about it and let the publisher do their job.
“I’d like to give away the eBook for free” – Umm…no. Publisher will want to recoup the money they paid you. Accountants don’t consider “units” as currency and besides, they can’t pay bills with units. So, while a publisher will want to use special eBook pricing for promotion once in a while, they will set the highest reasonable price they can for your book so they can earn back their investment.
“I gave away 50,000 copies of my previous book as a free download” – see above answer. This is not as positive as you think it is. Free is OK if it leads to increased paid sales. If not, you just gave away the store for no reason at all. Traditional publishers do not like to give things away for no reason.
“This is my book” – yes it is, but you just entered into a partnership and in exchange for someone else taking financial risk, you need to move to a cooperative state of mind.
Self-publishing is singles tennis. Everything depends on you.
Traditional publishing is doubles tennis. You succeed when you and your teammate succeed.
When you maintain that balance…game, set, match.
I love tennis, and I especially love watching doubles. I was blessed to go to the U.S. Open for the first time and was there to watch Querrey and Johnson beat the Bryan brothers. There is an excitement in doubles, and I hope to experience the excitement of traditional publishing one day.
You should add that those are all benefits. I write. Why would I want to be concerned with selling and marketing, too? I have sold and marketed a couple of businesses and it’s very time consuming. I like knowing how to market, but I would rather spend my time reading and writing and leave those other tasks to the professionals. Yes, I’d like to be consulted on cover art, interior, art, and editorial matters, but the rest can be left to people who actually enjoy it.
I enjoyed the way you highlighted some of the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. The partnership an author enters into in a traditional publishing relationship needs to be considered and talked out with the writer, the agent and the publisher, in terms of contract, etc. For example, I would like to have some input on my cover design, though I know I won’t have the final word. You effectively bring up the reality that, as writers, we need to work alongside the publishers, and remember that they ARE taking a risk on us. Hopefully with that in mind, we can be open to the suggestions/directions they offer.
I think I might add one more thing, though I can’ at the moment think of a ‘quote’ to go with it.
Schedule means different things under the circumstances; as an Indie, you set your own, and can demand as high a pace as you please (or you can take a few months to think about where the characters are going).
As a Trad, you’re a link on a schedule chain, and you will be expected to conform to the time demands of a larger entity.
Not an easy one to balance.
This came into my inbox and the wry humor got my attention:
Would it help that I am distantly related to Winston Churchill and to one of the members of Scott’s expedition to the pole, that my wife’s great something or other worked with a Mr G Fawkes to light up the life of the dourest of British institutions, that Nelson Mandela once looked in my direction, that I have stood 10 feet from the Queen, that Jackie Stewart walked in front of me and that my surname shares space in Google with people who are really great at finding people.
Seriously, I saw somewhere that you specialize in non-fiction or are in the market for the same?
Dan, I might have laughed at this post more if I hadn’t heard (either directly or between the lines) some of these sentiments from those who are into self-publishing. As a hybrid author (hard to think of myself in those terms) I recognize the truth in everything you’ve said, and the points just highlight some of the highs and lows (royalties aside) of traditional vs. self-publishing. Thanks so much for sharing.
Dan, great post that shows the pluses and minuses of traditional vs. self-publishing. Thanks for sharing.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Dan, When I consult on a dissertation for a client, I try to find every thing, regardless of how seemingly insignificant, that might cause one of the people who must approve that dissertation to reject it, and I suggest how to fix it. The writing might be technically correct, interesting, and even entertaining, but if it isn’t formal enough, doesn’t meet the criteria of APA, doesn’t comply with the university’s standards, or violates the personal preferences of anyone on that particular committee, it won’t be approved. From personal experience and several years of consulting for many clients, I have a pretty good idea what will fly and what won’t. I prepare scholars to “market” their dissertations to the approval committees. Doing that for others should help me eagerly accept that kind of marketing input from agents and publishers’ editors–it should, but it hasn’t always. Your list is wise advice for hybrid authors switching gears, but I’m thinking it is for anyone publishing traditionally. Thanks!
This is an interesting blog post, Dan. I do realize that you are only exposed to indie authors who contact you, who might be unhappy with their indie publishing experience or who, for various reasons, now want to go with a traditional publisher.
I would add, though, that this post doesn’t match up with the majority of indies I know. This conversation seems more fitting for a newer author, unpublished or indie-published too early and fairly new to the publishing industry. These topics are things many indie authors understand very well and know how to work to their advantage.
One way of looking at this post is that it shows all the ways an author loses control of their book. Of course, if you’re with a good publisher, that might not be a bad thing–if they’re hiring good editors and designers and actually doing some marketing for you.
But more and more, we’re hearing from a multitude of trad authors who are leaving for indie waters–some who are award-nominated/award-winning authors–that there isn’t a whole lot of marketing a publisher does for you anymore, unless you’re one of their biggest authors. Many of these indies say the marketing they do as an indie author is the same amount they did as a trad-pubbed author.
I think that’s an incredible sign of the way that the industry has drastically changed in such a short period of time in that self-publishing has become a more popular method of publishing than the traditional method. It’s not just that it makes more sense for a lot of authors, but it’s also that it opens the door to many more authors to get their books published.