In this series of posts on Advice to New Authors, I’ve talked about writing the 1st draft, about editing your work, how to increase the speed of your writing, how long it takes to publish a novel, and about ways in which you can learn your craft.
Today I’m going to talk about self-publishing versus traditional publishing
When I began to take my writing seriously, there was only one way to get published, and that was through being accepted by a literary agent. This agent would only take you on if she believed she could sell your work to a publisher. The publisher would in turn print your book, design the cover and market it through bookshops to the book-buying public.
The industry changed when the first popular e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle, was launched in late 2007
To meet the demand for easily available e-books, Amazon (and others such as Smashwords) made it easy and free for authors to upload their books online. Suddenly readers could buy self-published books directly from the online retailers without the need of a literary agent or publisher.
In May 2015, Amazon reported that it sells more self-published titles per day than it does traditionally published titles. In the last few years, large publishing houses have had a fall of revenue, while self-published books have seen an increase in sales. (See the complete May 2015 author earnings report here.) This shift is due to many factors, but it’s evident that these two ways of publishing now have an equally important role to play in the industry.
The May 2015 figures show self-published author earnings are significantly higher than those in the traditionally published sector
In November last year, I took part in an Author Conference hosted by The Bookseller magazine where both traditionally published authors and indie authors came together to talk about the publishing industry. I was shocked to learn of the decline in traditionally published author income, as opposed to the profits of the big publishing houses. Of course there are many reasons behind this decline in royalties, some of which are due to the changes the indie (self-published) sector has brought to the market. (We indies are called the industry disruptors). However, from that day, I am even more convinced that I made the correct decision in 2012 to self-publish. If you are interested to learn more about The Author Day, The Alliance of Independent Authors blog post on what was discussed during the day is here.
The distinction between traditional and self-published (indie) authors is blurring
Some traditionally published authors (if they are able) now self-publish some of their work, and on the other side indie authors sign up with traditional publishers to handle some parts of the process. Just a few weeks ago, (January 2016), a fellow indie author of historical thrillers was signed up by Blake Friedman to handle the subsidiary and foreign rights of her Roma Nova books. This seems to be quite a typical route to take if you are successful enough. To translate a novel is time and money-consuming and carries a higher risk, so it makes sense for the indie author to share the cost and profits of international rights.
When I was first planning to publish The English Heart on Amazon Kindle in 2012, I was told by people in the traditional industry that no literary agent ‘will ever touch me’ if I went ahead
Now I hear agents advising new authors ‘to have a go’ and ‘put the work out there and see what happens’. I wouldn’t really advise such a nonchalant approach to launching any book. Although difficult, and time and money-consuming, it is important to plan any book launch, self-published or not. I have made the mistake of rushing to market myself, but more about this in another post.
Finally, if you are in the throws of finishing a manuscript, or a novel, here is a brief summary on how the process of getting your book into the hands of readers goes in both ‘camps’.
- Write a manuscript.
- Edit the manuscript to as near perfect as you can get it. (With help from an editor if possible)
- Find an agent, who will hopefully find a publisher, who will invest money in the book by paying for an editor, layout and cover designers, and for marketing.
- Remember, all these up-front costs will be taken out of the earnings of the book, and the author will receive x % of the net income from the book. (The percentage depends on the contract your agent has negotiated on your behalf with the publisher, but it’s typically around 10%)
- The agent will only take an author on if they think they can make money out of them. Literary agents are experts in the field and have a good idea of what sells. They also have contacts with publishers in the correct genre.
- If you think you are not able to deal with the editing, layout, cover design and the marketing of your book, it’s wise to hold out for a traditional publishing deal. But be warned, it may take a while to find an agent and/or a publisher.
- If you sign with a traditional agent and publisher, you often have to sign away the rights to your work. This means you will lose some control of how the novel is presented to the readers. On the other hand, this will enable you to concentrate on your writing, even though as a traditionally published author you are also expected to do some marketing of your books, such as being active on Twitter/Facebook etc.
- Write another book as soon as you possibly can. The more books you have out in the marketplace, the more readers will find your work. Your publisher and agent will most probably insist on a deadline for a follow-up to your debut novel before you sign a publishing contract.
- Write a manuscript
- Edit the manuscript to as near perfect as you can get it.
- Engage an editor. You can self-edit, but beware, it’s not easy.
- Engage a proofreader. Again you can do this yourself with the above warnings.
- Engage a cover and layout designer. Forget the saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’. When you are selling your book online, or in a bookshop, it is the cover and the blurb on the back of the cover which sell it. So this step is really, really important. Of course you can design a cover yourself, but if you do, make sure you do some research into what books in your genre look like.
- Upload the book on your chosen platform (Amazon has 75% of the market but as with everything in the industry, this too is changing). Createspace (for sale on Amazon) and IngramSpark are the main players in the paperback publishing side. But there is no need to publish in paperback, if you don’t want to. A paperback does give some kudos to you as an author (there is something magical about holding a book you’ve written), and some readers prefer a physical book, but the income from a paperback is significantly lower than from an e-book.
- Amazon, and other online publishing platforms, take a percentage of the sales. The royalties the author is left with are 35% or 70% depending on the sale price, but you pay for all the other costs (editing, proofreading, cover and layout design) upfront.
- Market your book. Many authors consider this step to be the most difficult, and I will cover marketing in a separate post. All I’ll say now is that you can do a lot of the legwork of your book marketing while you are writing, working on the edits and the cover of the novel. You can build your online presence, or your author platform, or brand, whatever you like to call it. You can ‘tease’ a new readership about your forthcoming title by sharing parts of the book on platforms such as Wattpad, or on a blog, or by posting images on Pinterest, Instagram, or even running a Twitter and/or a Facebook campaign.
- Write another book as soon as you possibly can. The more books you have out in the marketplace, the more readers will find your work, and the more novels you will sell.
The more you write, the more successful you’ll be
You may have noticed in the lists above that whatever method of publication you chose, it is the writing that is the most important part of the process. Without a good manuscript (or several), you will not make it as an author. It’s as simple as that.
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