16 October, 2012

Traditional or Self-Published?

Self-publishing used to be the preserve of those writers who were not good enough to get published in the traditional way. There were some exceptions, but most self-published books sold a few copies to loyal friends and family of the author, and the spare copies then filled the author's garage or attic for years to come.

Not anymore.

Self-publishing has become respectable. Many talented authors and amazing books have been self-published and it's no longer something to be sneered at. With the explosion in digital book sales, a self-published author doesn't have to stock up hundreds of hard copies of a work that might not sell. Free software means a book can be formatted and published online with little or no cost (though woe betide any author who wants to appear professional and hasn't bothered to get professional proofreading and cover design!).

This means there are tonnes of "published authors" out there. Some of whom are great, many of whom are not. Of those writers who aren't what we might loosely term "professional" standard, some know that they are not, others have been fooled by well-meaning friends into thinking that they are the next big thing. Not that I have a problem with any writers self-publishing - if they can sell a few books, make their family proud, enjoy themselves and feel as if they've achieved something, good for them. And you never know, you could self-publish and find that you are an amazing writer and a runaway success. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

However, this publishing phenomenon is having an odd effect. Namely, everybody now thinks it's easy to get published. In a way, they are right. Anybody could publish their own work and put it up for sale. But some of us still want to be published the traditional way, and that's still very hard indeed.

I would never say never when it comes to self-publishing. For my just-finished novel to be published traditionally it needs to not only be one of the one in 1000 books sent to agents each year that gets accepted, but then go on to be sold by that agent to a publisher.The odds are tiny. If I fail to get anywhere with this route, I may well try self-publishing.

I know that by self-publishing, I would learn a lot about formatting, selling and marketing. But I don't have a passion for those things. I want to spend my time writing and editing. I want somebody with no emotional investment in me, to believe in my book too. For an agent to be as excited about my book as I am and to sell it to a publisher, is what I dream of, not putting my own name on Amazon.
Image from:amazon.co.uk

I think traditionally published books are generally of a higher literary standard than most self-published books I've seen. But I am, of course, generalising horribly. I also know from experience that my writing improved ten times more from having a professional editor give me four pages of specific pointers, based on my writing, than I had learned from trial and error - or the advice of friends - across the course of an entire year. But there are good and bad books in both categories; this post isn't about better or worse, it's about the traditional and the new. Unless and until I am published by somebody other than myself, I feel as if I'll never quite be sure whether I am an enthusiastic amateur with a modicum of talent, or a writer able to hold her own on a bookshelf with established authors.

My novel is finished and in a few weeks I could either have it on Amazon for people to buy and potentially be making some money from it, or I could have it ready to sit in the slush pile on the desks of several agents, waiting for rejections to roll in. And unlikely as it seems, I know which one I'll be choosing...

Anybody else out there still holding to the old-fashioned dream of being traditionally published? Or do you relish the idea of having complete control of the whole process?


  1. If you can point to a self-published book that is doing quite well, might that not encourage an agent to look seriously at you next time? Might be an investment... (Ceve)

    1. Yes, if your books does well an agent would take you more seriously with your next book. Along with everybody else who'd done well. But that's rather missing the point about wanting to be traditionally published with this book!

      To do well in the eyes of the agent means selling thousands (you might be able to point to good reviews or something but with so many authors out there with friends and family buying their books, it's very easy to get good reviews!) which means a full time job marketing and selling your book. The market is already so saturated with crappy (and good) books, selling more than a handful is a job in itself, whereas you could be using that time writing and editing (i.e. becoming a better writer) and trying to sell short stories to prestigious magazines which I believe agents would think a lot more of than proving you're good at selling. Agents have already cottoned on to the fact that authors charge very little (or not at all) for their books so more people will buy them - so numbers actually don't mean all that much unless accompanied by impartial rave reviews which are unlikely to come your way unless you are very good - in which case you might as well try getting published traditionally first!

      Like I said, I wouldn't say never with self-publishing, but to me it is by far second best. At least if I do make it traditionally it'll make the "thanks" page of the book short. "Thanks to the two people who thought I might actually stand a chance of somebody else publishing this."

  2. I think how you do. I still have that dream of getting an agent. But I've only been writing for 2.5 years. And have only queried one story, which I realize was my starter/learning story.

    I have nothing against self publishing and would do it if I can't get anywhere with agents. My concern is probably due to a lack of confidence. I want an experienced agent and editor to tell me what I need to fix. So it can be the best it can be. And it's a lot more research. Like you said, formatting, cover design, 100% your own marketing. It's one more huge learning curve.

    And right now I'm not willing to pay for that editor on a self published book. Someday maybe, but not now.

    1. Yeah, my thoughts exactly! I don't like it when people dismiss self-publishers because there are a lot of good s-p writers out there. But I also don't like it when people go too far the other way too. The two processes are very different and you learn different things by doing them.

      Having a professional editor will make you a better writer quicker, in my opinion. BUT traditionally published authors can then become lazy and let editors do all the work with their later books - a luxury that s-p authors don't have and need to maintain high editing standards always.

      Looks like you've been writing for pretty much the same amount of time as me!

  3. I don't think a published author would stay published for long long if he or she left a lot of work for an editor to do! Maybe if they were a major, major best seller or celebrity author, but otherwise if your second book isn't up to the standard of your first it's almost as likely to be rejected as one from the slushpile.

    Maybe some publishers are more loyal to and patient with their authors once they've got them, but I know from my own experience that after having had several reasonably successful books published by an established house, when I submitted a different kind of novel it was rejected in a very short, 'It's just not for us' type of letter!

    1. So I won't become a terrible editor if I get published? That's good to know - I love editing!

      In a way I suppose it's encouraging that publishers are only taking on books which they know they can make a success of, even if it means rejecting authors they already know.

      But someone talented once wrote a post for this blog on the subject of writing across a wide range of genres, so I won't go into it now...

  4. I wish I knew who it was - maybe they could give me some tips!

  5. Despite being self-published, I'd love to be picked up by a trad publisher.

    1. Experiencing both would be pretty amazing and definitely help improve writing skills I think. I admire anybody who puts themselves through self-publishing. But I guess we'd all love the validation that comes from being selected by somebody else.

  6. Hi Chloe. I agree with so much of what you've said but I don't think I can wait to be 'discovered' at some distant point in time. I've got two novels that need a lot of work and one that I'm presently reading through in 'hard copy'.

    'TEN DAYS' is the romance story I'm almost ready to self-publish and now that I can see the interest from yourself and your followers I'll make a point of getting back to you on my progress ... or not. I accept what you said before about the publishers/agents attitude to 'number of days' titles etc, but since I'm not using an agent I'll take my chances.

    Although I'm also an artist I'm not foolish enough to believe I can produce sufficiently detailed artwork and typography to promote a book cover, so I've made enquiries and organised a professional photographer (with a background in graphics).

    In the last couple of days I will admit feeling under pressure, so I've also got a proof-reader sorted out so hopefully I'm not going to make a total hash of it.

    I hope you'll still keep in touch if I don't make it! LOL
    I like Martin's train of thought. Maybe once I've got the SP out of my system I'll just work even harder.

    1. That's the point - s-p gives you an immediacy. It's also great for people who (and I'm not suggesting you necessarily fit into this category!) love to write, are competent at writing, but in their heart of hearts know that they are never going to be quite at the level to get professionally published.

      I think the title doesn't matter so much if you've got a marketing strategy (or aren't too bothered how many you sell anyway). When I wrote that I was thinking about attracting an agent which isn't relevant to you!

      If s-p is something you want to do, you should do it - whether you're amazing, awful or indifferent!


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