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Traditional Publishing vs Indy, or Self Publishing

pmmg

Istar
So, seems the trend in many of our publishing threads as skewed towards self publishing. I am wondering if anyone is looking towards traditional publishing anymore? or has it all gone Indy.

Do you feel that the path towards traditional is too much of a hurdle, and do you think you lose anything by going your own way?
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
One thing I discovered very quickly about trad publishing is that it is slooooow.

Never mind writing the book, you gotta have an agent. That means writing letters, waiting for responses, a process that can take months if not years. And even if you find an agent, that person might well move on. Few people have the same agent over the course of their career. So there's that.

Then the agent has to be able to sell your book. Not sell it to actual readers, mind you, but sell the idea of it to a publisher. This process, too, can take years. And, as with the agent, publishing houses come and go, and you might find yourself back at square one.

Then the publisher has to actually get the thing published, which process alone can take a year or two or longer, depending on a whole range of factors not in your control. At which point, actually marketing the book and getting it into the hands of readers is ... up to you!

There are exceptions, of course. Some new authors get picked up right away. Their books are successful. They live happy and fulfilled lived. You did note the plural noun at the beginning of this paragraph, yes?

I took a look at all that, went partway down that road, then realized that as a new author in his early sixties (at the time), the long slow road was not for me, especially when it led more or less to the same destination as did self-publishing. I'm happy with my choice. I've written four novels, two novelettes, and four short stories. My work has been read by dozens. Maybe even hundreds! If I were trying to make a living off writing, I would be bitterly disappointed, of course. But, happily, that is not the only road to be taken.
 
Part of the reason the discussion skews that way is that there's probably a lot more people around who self-publish. Which means there's a lot more people to talk about that.

I think (as someone who is self-published) that it's a very viable alternative to traditional publishing, and that there's fewer and fewer reasons to publish with a traditional publisher.

Trad-publishing is slow as skip.knox said. For me that was one of the reasons to go the indie route. A careful guess indicacted that it would take at least 4 years before my novel would be published. 1 for hunting an agent, 1 for finding a publisher, and 2 to get the book out there. Instead, I just put it up and have published 2 more novels in lless time than that.

I also assumed my first few novels wouldn't be good enough to be picked up. Yes, that's a value decision and not a guarantee, but most of the traditionally published novels have better writing than my novel did. It's still good, but it's not that good.

Then there's a few other situations which advocate for self-publishing. You get paid more per novel. Yes, you can get an advance, but they tend to be small these days. The default seems to be $5000, which is still a lot more than I've made, but it's not a lot. And after that the amounts become tiny. There's a big difference between 25% and 70% of the ebook list price. The author is still expected to do most of the marketing for the book, but if you get paid more per novel then you can spend more per sale, which makes advertising more profitable for instance.

There's lack of control. No say in your cover, edits, price and so on. You can get lucky of course, but you can also be screwed over. As an example of a big publisher where this happens, Brandon Sanderson's second book, the first Mistborn book got a terrible cover. As a result, his sales were terrible. Which put him on a "death spiral". As in, bookstores tend to predict how many books they need to order based on how your last few books performed. Sell 10.000 copies of #1 then 8.000 copies of #2, and they will order #6.000 of number 3. This tends to become a self-fulfilling profecy, since those 6.000 will be harder to get and not everyone moves from 2 to 3 etc. The only reason he "escaped" was that his read-through was amazing. Those 8.000 readers of Mistborn 1 also wanted Mistborn 2, and with only 6.000 (or whatever) printed they were out of stock everywhere.

As an Indie you can also get it wrong (and you will). However, changing it is as simple as uploading a new file on Amazon. You can test stuff, you can play around with price, you can run promotions and so on. This control if you like it is great. Also, as an indie you don't need your book to make all its money the first few months it's out.

If you want a very pro view of indie publishing, check out Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog: Kristine Kathryn Rusch She's done both and is very negative about traditional publishing.
 
After speaking with my editor, I'm wavering back toward taking a shot at traditional publishing, mainly because my ultimate goal is hybrid. My editor seems convinced that having Eve recognized in a couple major Indie awards will make it harder for them to ignore me, LOL. But, I have a patience problem, to be blunt. Time keeps flying, and all the work necessary to aproach agents and pubs distracts from my writing, much in the same way as advertising does. Yikes! This new book is taking way more time to get done than I expected and shopping it will take more time... So, I am torn on how hard to push toward trad.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Demesndenoir makes a good point here. Down the one path, the time sink is agents and the publication process and promotion. Down the other, though, the time sink is formatting and reader relations and especially advertising. There's plenty of potential to spend all your days doing a thousand things besides writing.

You can also spend all your time writing, of course. But no one is going to find your books. The only good resolution to that tension is to get lucky and become noticed and known without having to invest a third of your life into marketing. And even then, the non-writing demands on your time are endless. It's complex enough that I think every writer has to find their own way, with the full knowledge that whatever balance one strikes is always liable to being overturned in a moment.

Are we cheering you up yet?
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Well, those were US viewpoints weren't they? The answer is that it depends.

Here in Sweden agents don't exist in the way they do in the US. You submit directly to the publisher, and you deal directly with them. It still takes time to get the book ready for publication, but the smaller publishers tend to be a bit quicker. You have to write in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or Finnish, English language manuscripts are not accepted.

You can self-publish if you really want to, but as Amazon don't have much of a footprint (if any) over here there is no easy way to get your self-published book noticed or sold. It isn't really a viable option.

Either way, the Scandinavian market isn't anything like as big as the English speaking one, so you don't make as much money no matter which route you go. Most authors over here don't earn enough to live by their writing alone.
 

pmmg

Istar
The answer is that it depends.

The answer is always, it depends...

I would imagine the Scandinavian reading public is much smaller than the English one. A few years ago, I would have been in the camp of traditional publishing as a type of proving ground. Such that, making it there was actually making it as opposed to self publishing which bypassed a lot of the gate-keepers, and early warning systems. But today...Well...why? I'd rather have more control over the whole thing. I am really just starting to look at publishing as something I will pursue, cause I am reaching the goal I set for myself before I would. Truth is, I am not sure I could make it in traditional publishing anyway, cause I don't likely share their values, and the rumors I hear wont favor that. But what-ev.... I like the idea of not signing away my stuff and owning it through the whole process.

But, I would have some small concern that I would lose the protection the big companies offer. If I am an unknown, it would be easy for another steal my work and I would never know.
 
I've seen book 3 in my series offered on a pirating site before I was done with the book. I was trying to get a copy, that would've saved me a lot of time to get it from a time traveler. Digital piracy is, in most cases, just the price of playing the game. I got over it fast.

Actual creative theft is very rare and in most cases pointless. If someone stole Eve of Snows, and called it Day of Snows, what would they have done with it? Sold it to HBO? That would've been nice because I could have sued the crap out of the thief who'd done all the work to get me an HBO deal, LMAO. If you put a book out there, the odds of creative theft are minuscule, to the point I'm not sure the book industry really offers additional protection outside of perhaps handling legal fees for a lawsuit, or a cease and desist order. And if you wouldn't notice the theft, would a publisher? It's not like they have people sitting around sifting through new books to make sure some idiot didn't rip off your book.

Back in my screenwriting days, people were always nervous of someone stealing their screenplay. One industry chap told me "don't worry, production companies would rather pay for your screenplay just to own the idea before they F it all up, without risking a lawsuit." And if someone steals something and is so unsuccessful you never hear about it, well... they are pitiful. The odds of theft are tiny, the odds of someone stealing it who actually has the pull to sell it where you couldn't? Really small.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
Both ways have big hurdles. I'd consider trad publishing but would need a good advance. With the common small sizes of advances, I always have the hope that I can do better myself.

Another concern is that because most fantasy readers wait until the series (and it's usually series) is finished to buy, and most publishers look at the sales and will ditch a writer if the sales are poor, there's a chance the series will never reach book three.

Also, I like to control the story world I create.

Offer me a seven-figure advance and we're talking.
 
A seven-figure advance is a good way to never get another advance... unless you're a politician. Then your books can underperform and lose money and nobody cares. They should be called campaign contributions, not book deals. But of course, with 7 figures, who the hell cares? heh heh. While a bidding war would be a lot of fun, it can also be a career killer.

Now for a walk on the serious side... I see trad as a long-term game to reach a broader audience.

I think the goal of an advance (outside of raking in as much cash as possible so I can swim in it like Scrooge McDuck) is one where you exceed the advance paid. It's once again a two-edged sword. A $5k advance gives the pub little incentive to help move your book, but a 100k advance puts a whole lot of pressure on your book to sell. Long term career, a person is probably better off earning a profit on a 5k advance than losing money (for the publisher) on a 100k advance. Big advances for first-timers and early-career folks are dangerous, but of course, who could resist? LOL. But at least in this era, if your trad career is killed by a big advance combined with a failure to launch, you can use the street cred in the indie market.

Man, someone on turned on my babble button this morning, heh heh.
 

pmmg

Istar
Crazy you would see a book you've not finished yet already being offered by a pirate.

I've heard the scam that some take a book from an unknown, change all the names and put it out as their own. I would be stunned to one day go see a movie and say "hey, thats my story!!!", and if such was to ever occur, I would hope I could prove it was mine. But that is also around the odds of getting struck by lightening. I write so slow, I would much prefer to have a series near complete before I put out a book 1. If it was to do well, I'd want to get the next one out while it was still hot and not leave everyone waiting. A 5K advance is great, but not enough to quite my day job....so, slowness is still built into the system.
 
Google alerts notified me of several pirating instance, but that was the most memorable... Somebody was asking about a pirate copy, and then there was a response pointing to a website to get Whispers of Ghosts about 6 months before release. I got a good chuckle out of it.

Yeah, having a series ready is a good idea. I'm too impatient for that.

The odds of that are less than lightning striking. I did talk to a screenwriter once who was wined and dined, even flown to H'Wood... he had everything but a contract to sign when "Drumline" was announced, which was way too similar to his screenplay. Boom! He was done. No contract. No calls answered, heh heh. There was no theft, it's just that too many people are writing a limited number of stories. In another instance, a small production company was racing against Robin Williams to get an RV comedy out... they lost. Boom. Done.

Now for the humorous truth... if someone stole your book and managed to get a movie made, you probably still wouldn't recognize it after all the BS in H'Wood, heh heh. With digital footprints, a lot more than names would have to be changed or it would be super simple to prove. Now, when the indie gold rush started I don't doubt some folks tried that technique and may have even succeeded just by pumping a hundred books out under their name. These days, I suspect the metadata that Amazon keeps might have trigges on such things if for no other reason than trying to catch KU cheats, heh heh.

Hitting publish on Amazon might be some of the best copyright proof/protection in history.

Crazy you would see a book you've not finished yet already being offered by a pirate.

I've heard the scam that some take a book from an unknown, change all the names and put it out as their own. I would be stunned to one day go see a movie and say "hey, thats my story!!!", and if such was to ever occur, I would hope I could prove it was mine. But that is also around the odds of getting struck by lightening. I write so slow, I would much prefer to have a series near complete before I put out a book 1. If it was to do well, I'd want to get the next one out while it was still hot and not leave everyone waiting. A 5K advance is great, but not enough to quite my day job....so, slowness is still built into the system.
 

pmmg

Istar
Hitting publish on Amazon might be some of the best copyright proof/protection in history.

Really, guess we'll have to see.

I do often see stuff hit the screen and go "Doh....that was my idea, only I was too slow" and then a sinking feeling like now if I use it people will think it less cool, cause they've already seen it. I need to type faster. I am too slow.
 
The world of screenwriting is rife with simultaneous creation much of which is due to writers grabbing ideas from headlines and whatnot, and then it is so formulaic, that it's tricky to do more than one version of a story. But as the say, ideas are worthless.

Really, guess we'll have to see.

I do often see stuff hit the screen and go "Doh....that was my idea, only I was too slow" and then a sinking feeling like now if I use it people will think it less cool, cause they've already seen it. I need to type faster. I am too slow.
 

pmmg

Istar
I don't feel it is simultaneous creation, its not like I found out studio A wanted to remake Tarzan, so I decided to jump in and make my own jungle man movie, only faster. I do feel its kind of like, there are only so many choices, and that when I started, the ground was undiscovered, but has become discovered since, so others are on their own coming up with similar ideas. A small part of me wonders if maybe it was seen in some way where I put it up for review and worked its way around till someone who could used it, and does not even know where it came from. But that too, I suspect is just just pride, and emotion that is hard to separate from. But I do really hate it when I see my ideas get used first by someone else :( And I am aware I have been too slow at producing it. But still, I think I am on such a different path with the current one, I doubt there is another like it. But maybe...

Anyway....been studying up on self publishing, cause I feel I am getting ready to jump in. Just wondering if any were still looking towards traditional publishing as their path. I think in the past the Traditional route had the effect is removing a lot of stuff that was just bad writing, and so it was a show of passage if you could get published that way. But it also served to prevent a lot of stuff from getting out as the best guess of others just proved wrong. After a bit of research, I do feel it more suits my personality to want to go it alone and have control. I dont think I will ever be able to quit my day job with writing, but maybe somewhere in the distance, it will come to pay for itself. Heck, writing is such a long process. I spend a year or more writing it, and someone reads it in just a few hours, and then on to the next. The length of times involved ought to make any wonder at the cost benefit of the whole thing, but... I want to finish it, not for money, but to have something to leave behind. Though, I would not mind lots of money ;)
 
Simultaneous is two people creating similar things at the same time with no idea they're working on similar projects... My dad and uncle way back when were in the process of patenting an automatic pinsetter for bowling, then Brunswick patented one, and then they found out a third company was also close, heh heh. So close!

And yeah, people tend to get that idea of ideas taken or. borrowed, but I suspect only in very rare instances are things stolen with success. I think the mentioned theft of books and release onto Amazon worked for a time, but got squished.

As for whether to go Indie? It's a tough row to hoe, but the control freak in me loves it.



I don't feel it is simultaneous creation, its not like I found out studio A wanted to remake Tarzan, so I decided to jump in and make my own jungle man movie, only faster. I do feel its kind of like, there are only so many choices, and that when I started, the ground was undiscovered, but has become discovered since, so others are on their own coming up with similar ideas. A small part of me wonders if maybe it was seen in some way where I put it up for review and worked its way around till someone who could used it, and does not even know where it came from. But that too, I suspect is just just pride, and emotion that is hard to separate from. But I do really hate it when I see my ideas get used first by someone else :( And I am aware I have been too slow at producing it. But still, I think I am on such a different path with the current one, I doubt there is another like it. But maybe...

Anyway....been studying up on self publishing, cause I feel I am getting ready to jump in. Just wondering if any were still looking towards traditional publishing as their path. I think in the past the Traditional route had the effect is removing a lot of stuff that was just bad writing, and so it was a show of passage if you could get published that way. But it also served to prevent a lot of stuff from getting out as the best guess of others just proved wrong. After a bit of research, I do feel it more suits my personality to want to go it alone and have control. I dont think I will ever be able to quit my day job with writing, but maybe somewhere in the distance, it will come to pay for itself. Heck, writing is such a long process. I spend a year or more writing it, and someone reads it in just a few hours, and then on to the next. The length of times involved ought to make any wonder at the cost benefit of the whole thing, but... I want to finish it, not for money, but to have something to leave behind. Though, I would not mind lots of money ;)
 

pmmg

Istar
Well...the alternative to avoiding the risk is worse, and I am eager to get in, but.....must write a bit more to get to where I want to be.

I had a distant uncle who successfully invested stuff you would know, but its all been pushed aside now as not really up to the standards we would want, and coincidentally, he killed himself by mistake in one of his inventions. We'll try not to repeat his legacy.
 
Theft happens. Go to any Indie publishing group and you'll find tales of writers finding their book on Amazon. Sometimes it's a direct copy, sometimes they changed the title or even the cover. Surprisingly, Amazon doesn't actually care. If you file a copyright infringement case with them over such an issue they usually demand proof, or even that you've started a lawsuit over it. They could implement all sorts of protection measures and they don't.

The thing is of course that while it sucks it doesn't actually matter. The writing and publishing part is the easy part. Getting people to buy the book is the hard work, and it often involves money. If you just put a book up on Amazon it will probably sink. Yes, there's always a unicorn who just put up a manuscript with a homemade cover and no professional edit and it somehow becomes a bestseller that gets a movie deal. But in general you'll launch to crickets unless you actually promote in some form or other. So they'll sell a few copies and then the Amazon algorithm will forget they exist.

As for a movie deal, I wouldn't count on one. Ever. Brandon Sanderson has been actively pursuing deals for years now. And while he's been close a few times, he hasn't gotten a deal yet. And he's probably more succesful than everyone on here will be put together. There's a handful of fantasy movies and shows made, and probably more fantasy novels published in a day than you can read in a year. Just from a maths point of view your novel being picked has about the same odds as winning the lotery. Not a reason not to play of course.

I think the two main reasons to go for traditional publishing is if you don't want to pay for everything and if you want to see your book in bookstores. Of course, I've heard stories that a lot of people publish traditionally still pay for an editor before submitting (for a debut novel), since the better the book is the higher your chances of succes are. But with a few exceptions the only real way to get into most bookstores is to be traditionally published.

Another concern is that because most fantasy readers wait until the series (and it's usually series) is finished to buy
This keeps being thrown around, but I'm not sure I believe it. Yes, there's some readers out there who will only read something once it's done. But there are plenty of examples where this is not the case. It certainly wasn't the case for the three largest fantasy series I can think; The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Stormlight Archive. They were (are) huge before they got even close to finishing. People want good books and complete stories. They don't necessarilly want complete series.

Of course it's easier to sell a complete series. People like social proof. If you've only published 1 book and it's the first in a series then they might be hesitant in picking it up because there's no proof you'll get to the next one. And if you've got 4 books in a series out then it's easier to advertise since with read-through you'll make more money per reader. But for indie authors 5 or 10 book series and even longer are the norm. And plenty of those sell a lot of books before the series is finished.

The magic number seems to be 3 or 4. That's the point where a lot of writers report getting traction with a series (though that's no guarantee of course).
 
Yeah, I think the key is theft vs successful theft, as Prince of Spires says. Cheats and scum exist everywhere, and in the case of Amazon, I think it's the KU page reads that feed the cheats.

Movie rights are relatively easy to sell compared to the movie actually getting made. And, it isn't easy to get movie rights sold. Relativity sucks, heh heh.
 

Ned Marcus

Inkling
This keeps being thrown around, but I'm not sure I believe it. Yes, there's some readers out there who will only read something once it's done. But there are plenty of examples where this is not the case. It certainly wasn't the case for the three largest fantasy series I can think; The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Stormlight Archive. They were (are) huge before they got even close to finishing. People want good books and complete stories. They don't necessarilly want complete series.

I don't mean every reader of fantasy, of course. Some people don't care about waiting until a series is finished. I'm one of them.

I've read several stories of trad authors having deals cancelled because the first two books didn't sell well enough. Whether sales would have increased on completion of their series, no one can know, but I've heard many people in online groups and forums say they won't buy until the series is finished.

Some readers contacted me, saying they'd start reading my books once the trilogy was finished. I was surprised when I first heard that. When I finished my first trilogy, sales increased noticeably. Several author friends have told me that they experienced exactly the same thing. I understand that this is not proof, but putting it all together makes me think it's very likely that a lot of people wait before buying.
 
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