By Susan Spann
How does an author choose between traditional and independent publishing? How do I know which option is right for me?
The “right” decision will meet your publishing goals and business needs.
As you may remember from my previous posts here at Writers in the Storm, the choice between publishing options is an individual decision which belongs to the author alone, and no single choice is right for every author or every work.
As with everything else in life, there are right ways and wrong ways to make the choice. This month, we’re taking a look at a few of the factors authors should use when choosing between traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid career paths.
Publishing Goals will differ from author to author. Only you can decide what constitutes “success” for your career – and although you don’t have to discuss your goals in public, you must be honest with yourself about them.
I have a 94 year-old client who self-published a book two years ago. This author lectures in Northern California, and audience members often ask to purchase a book of her poems and anecdotes. Her focus on poetry and short stories would be a hard-sell for many traditional publishers, despite her platform and audience. However, my client has the ability to market and sell her own books and didn’t want to wait on a traditional publishing schedule (which can run over a year from acceptance to books on the shelf). At her age, this is hardly surprising, though even much younger authors have valid reasons for wanting a different timeline.
Independent publishing met my client’s needs – and she has been delighted with her success.
If your goal is the New York Times bestseller list, self-publishing still won’t get you there as fast as a more traditional route. Exceptions do exist (in increasing numbers,) but books are still more likely to garner major reviews and shelf space at Barnes & Noble via traditional routes.
That said, writers with solid marketing skills and platforms often have significant success building careers as independently-published authors. Self-publishing is no longer a backwater or a resort for people who “couldn’t make it traditionally” – and for authors who want a larger royalty share, more control over edits, art, scheduling and marketing choices, self-publishing is definitely a viable way to go.
The question you must ask – and answer - is “what do I want for this work and my career?”
Business Decisions are also a critical part of an author’s choice. Publishing is an author’s business, and every author should treat it as one by learning about the publishing process. Once you understand what’s required to bring a book to the marketplace, you can evaluate which parts of that process you’re willing and able to perform – and which, if any, you prefer to delegate.
How much time do you have to devote to writing? To marketing? (Authors do both, regardless of publishing path.) Will that leave you enough time and energy to handle the business side?
Writing is art but publishing is a business. Authors who self-publish run the entire show themselves. Many hire professional help, such as editors, marketers, and attorneys. But those people cost money – another business decision the author must make.
Some authors love the technical side of the business. Others prefer to partner with agents and publishing houses – like-minded professionals who can handle tasks like typesetting, distribution and sales.
The choice is yours, but it’s one you can only make once you understand the business and how it functions.
Authors should make career decisions based upon facts, not emotion. Emotions play a role in establishing goals, but even the goals-list should focus on quantifiable factors and plans.
- Learn the business.
- Make an honest list of career goals.
- Evaluate your skills – not only what you can do, but also what you choose to do.
In short: make a business plan for your writing career.
When you’ve done so, you will begin to understand which publishing path is best for you.
Thanks so much for joining me here today. Have questions or comments? Please let me know! I love to hear from you.
And please join me next month, when we’ll look at platform, special skills, and a few reasons not to make a particular choice.
I look forward to seeing you here!
Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author who practices in Sacramento, California. The debut novel in her SHINOBI mystery series, in which a Japanese ninja and a Portuguese priest must save a teahouse entertainer accused of murder, will be published by Thomas Dunne in Spring 2013. Susan blogs about writing and publishing law at http://www.susanspann.com and tweets @SusanSpann.