Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 11, 2013

Why I Choose a Digital Publisher Instead of Self-Publishing

WITS is happy to welcome Cynthia D'Alba. And psst, she has a giveaway . 🙂

Cynthia D’Alba

Cynthia D’Alba

Hi all! Cynthia D’Alba here. Today we’re going to talk about going with a publisher, be it digital first (such as Samhain Publishing) or NYC publisher (like St. Martin’s Press, Harlequin, Penguin, etc) versus Indie Publishing (do-it-yourself, aka self-publishing). I have one short story, Texas Two Step: The Prequel, that I indie published. The rest of my work is with various publishers (Samhain, Running Press, and Cleis.)

If you are relatively new to writing and the publishing world (like the last 2 or 3 years), you might not be aware of how much and how fast this world is changing. I’ve watched the world of “self-publishing” transform from a looked-down-upon sneer to “indie publishing” where writers of all levels of experience, from newbie to established, are exploring the new publishing frontier. Before digital became popular, authors who wanted to self-publish were usually bamboozled by unethical “publishers” who took their money and produced poorly edited, cheap paperbacks. (I realize this is a broad generalization but bear with me.)

With the digital revolution, authors were given direct access to the reader via online stores such as Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Nobles, etc. Writers could hire the most professional editors, the best cover artists, format the book themselves or hire that done, and publish their work to these online stores ready to be purchased by the reader. No driving around with books in the trunk of the car to sell.

I confess that I don’t blink at buying a book at $3.99 or less. Click. Bought. It’s that simple. I probably buy MORE books digitally than I ever bought in print. Those of us in this writing world hear fabulous stories of wealth and riches to be made via indie publishing. Authors report six-figure incomes without a hitch. So the question Laura Drake posed to me was … Why are you using a publisher when you could do all this yourself and make mega bucks? (Okay, she didn’t say megabucks but she did ask the first part of the question!) And it’s a good question!

Today, I read an article in Publisher Weekly that we may be seeing print no longer being the norm even for the big publishers. The pressure on the author and the publisher to get books out faster is changing how our industry works. Every major NYC publisher now has a digital only or digital first line. In fact, I’ll go further and say that when I first started, digital publishing was thought of as second rate at best.

So if readers are demanding faster turnaround for books and willing to the pay the author directly, why did I decide to go with a digital first publisher and not just indie publish my work?

  1. Editing. With my publisher I had an experienced editor to work with. Now there are excellent freelance editors out there. You’ll see ads all over the place. I’m sure some of them are better than others, but how would I know? I was a relative newbie author. If I got a hack job from an editor, I don’t believe I would have known it. So the key was research. Lots and lots of research. Talk to other indie authors. Review editor websites. Read the books these editors had worked on. And while I’m researching who is a good editor, I have to also be researching what one pays a good editor. This is going to take time. Unfortunately, some indie authors use a good friend, or a relative, or another inexperienced author to “edit” the work and then pops it up for sale. Then the mistakes begin to surface … misspelled words, missing words, incomplete sentences, story holes, story plotlines unresolved, etc.

Bottom line is, I wanted to write, not spend time researching editors. And while I was new, I wasn’t so wet-behind-the-ears to believe my writing didn’t need much editing!TexasTango72web

  1. Talented Cover Artists – With my publishing company (Samhain Publishing) I am fortunate enough to have major input into the design of my cover. In fact, the last two (TEXAS TANGO and TEXAS FANDANGO) used a picture I sent them. So the cover department has been receptive even when I didn’t know what I wanted. Somehow my cover artists have been able to take my rambling on the cover art form and pull together exactly my vision, even when my vision wasn’t clear in my own head.

Again, there are independent cover artists for hire. Plus some authors are doing their own covers for their indie published work. Just as with an editor, who do I hire? What do I pay? What if I had a friend who can do it for free or cheap?

I think if I knew what I wanted on the cover, this is the smallest hurdle (for me) when thinking about indie publishing. I’ve seen some fabulous covers produced by freelance artists. But having Samhain's art department behind me on my first book was liberating.

  1. Built-In Readership – As a newbie author, readers had never heard of me. Of course I could do lots of advertising, blogging, searching for readers online, participating on forums, etc. To do all the work to get my name out there for the readers “to discover” would be time consuming and possibly expensive. Going with an established publisher gave me a base of readers. Now, these readers may or may not like my book but at least it gave me a good starting point to build a readership.
  1. Distribution – With indie publishing, I would be responsible for getting my digital book on all the sites, i.e., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance ebooks … shoot, I don’t even KNOW where I need to put my books. With a publisher, they took care of that for me. They got my book all the places it needed to be to be found by readers. In addition, my book is available in print in the Ingram catalog, meaning bookstores COULD stock it if they wanted and the books are available to order for book signings. With indie publishing, getting your book into print and into the Ingram catalog is pretty much impossible.
  2. Foreign Copies – Even though I haven’t sold enough to get picked up by a foreign publisher for my books, a book has to be with a US publisher to even have a chance to be picked up for foreign sales. One very well known author who had a best selling indie-published book, sold it to a NYC house based on that fact alone. She was getting interest from foreign publishers but without a US publisher, the foreign publishers wouldn’t move forward. She got a US publisher and the book is now an international best seller. So if you want the option for foreign sales, you have to be with a publisher.
  1. Marketing – Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t take advantage of most of the marketing services Samhain offers me, they do get my book to reviewers, a task that would be another time suck for me to do myself. I am positive there are marketing services Samhain has that I don’t use but that’s my error. I know that my publisher will send Samhain labeled promo items (pens, mouse pads, etc) if I requested. Again, I just haven’t. Still, it is a benefit offered.
  1. Conference signings – Conferences (RWA, RT, etc.) are becoming much more friendly to indie authors. However, to participate in a signing as an indie author, I would have to front the expense of printing the books and getting them to the conference and that’s IF the conference allows indie authors to sign. There are changes coming down the pipeline. New and exciting innovations to allow for signing digital books may produce a positive change for book signings in the future.

In a nutshell, I choose to go with a digital first publisher rather than an indie publisher because I wanted to share the post-writing workload. I didn’t want to spend my time researching editors, cover artists, distribution channels, book reviewers, reader locations, etc. I enjoy the marketing (i.e., blogs, chats, Facebook, Twitter, etc) but beyond that, I like having a team behind me.

And I like that I provide employment for others.

There’s nothing wrong with indie publishing and in all likelihood, I’ll do more in the future. But I’ll have an established reader base then and maybe not such an uphill struggle with sales.

About Cynthia & fun stuff ...

Maybe you’re curious about Cynthia D’Alba. Here’s a little more about me: I was born and raised in a small Arkansas town. After being gone for a number of years, I’m thrilled to be making my home back in Arkansas living in a vine-covered cottage on the banks of an eight-thousand acre lake. I started writing on a challenge from my husband in 2006 and discovered having imaginary sex with lots of hunky men was fun.

My first book, Texas Two Step, released in 2012 to outstanding reviews, was a Samhain Publishing best seller. The second book in the Texas Montgomery Mavericks series, Texas Tango, released November 5, 2013, again from Samhain Publishing. In February, 2014, Texas Fandango, a Novella in the Texas Montgomery Series will be released by Samhain Publishing. I am currently at work on book 3 of the Texas Montgomery Mavericks series (Texas Twist).

I love love love to hear from readers and there are lots of ways to find me. Online, you can find me most days at my website or my group blog.

Follow me at Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Goodreads or Pinterest.

or email me at cynthia@cynthiadalba.com

To send me snail mail, write to: Cynthia D’Alba, PO Box 2116, Hot Springs, AR 71914

Now some fun stuff! 🙂

In the spirit of Christmas sneaking up on us, I’ll pick among the comments for someone to take home a western-themed ornament. Here’s just a sample…

Christmas Ornaments

Plus, I'm doing a TEXAS TANGO Jewelry-Themed Rafflecopter Giveaway. Since we are on a WordPress.com blog, the widget can’t be embedded. BUT if you click HERE, you’ll be magically transported to my Facebook page and a back-up Rafflecopter widget.  Also check out my personal blog for other places you can enter! Here’s the loot you can win…


AND I have swag for the asking! But when it’s gone, it’s gone. Pens, jar openers, postcards, bookmarks, trading cards…just go by my contact page and send me a note.

Tour FreebiesThanks for coming by! Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win one of the Christmas ornaments!

42 comments on “Why I Choose a Digital Publisher Instead of Self-Publishing”

  1. Hi Cynthia! I agree with your approach and did something similar when I published my historical fiction book, Hometown Heroines. It's great having a team behind me to arrange for deals with B&N (HH was a "Featured" book for 4 days last month) and to ensure any corrections to formatting are handled fast and efficiently. Thanks for clearly stating the case for having a publisher and also for self-publishing. I can see both sides, too. Happy writing!

    1. HI Betty! Thanks so much for coming and leaving a comment. I'm glad you feel I did present both sides of the issue. Both sides definitely have their positive aspects.

  2. Hello Cynthia - thank you for sharing your experience and reasons for going with an established publisher. After hearing both sides of the story on a regular basis, I still prefer the agent/publisher route as well.. As you mentioned, it makes a difference when sharing the workload.

    1. Hi Vicky. There are definitely pros to going indie published...the greatest being the ability to take the greatest portion of the sales price. But you do ever it.

  3. Cynthia, nice recap of our options as writers. I understand the route you chose and the very good reasons; however, getting a lit agent to represent you is the biggest hurdle--the guardians of the gates to traditional publishing. If your work does not hit them as a potential commercial success, you will never be allowed through. What was your experience on this score?

    1. I have queried three or four agents. Lackluster queries, I admit. But I am unagented at this point. I did not need an agent for Samhain Publishing. I like agents and I realize that for certain projects I would need an agent but at this time, I'm content.

  4. Hi Cynthia, thanks for sharing this. First I have to actually have a manuscript in top notch form before seriously making a decision, but most of these points had crossed my mind - so, really cool to have your input.

    Love the cover of Texas Tango (and the names of all the books in that series)!

    1. Thank you Amy. The biggest error I see with writers early in their careers (myself included) is jumping the gun...sending materials that are not ready or indie publishing something that isn't professionally edited or a storyline that needs more development. I jumped the gun with my first submission - cringe!

      Thanks for the compliments on the covers. Samhain has been great to work with on those.

  5. Hi Cynthia,

    Great post! Like you, I'm traditionally published by multiple NY publishers, and also like you, I love the "team" feel of it and how it allows me more writing time because I don't have to coordinate the cover art and editorial services on my own. I'm beginning to question if the benefits outweigh the negatives, though, because what good is so much more writing time if it's so tough to make a living at traditional pubbing, given low royalty rates, reserves against returns, biannual and/or quarterly royalty payments, and inaccurate sales numbers? But I have decided to give myself one more solid year of devotion to writing for traditional pubs for many of the reasons you've outlined in this post, then revisit my long term plan again next year. Thanks for all the food for thought!

    1. Yes, I agree with difficult to make a living with traditional publishing. One of the reasons I like being with Samhain is the monthly royalty payments. Every six months is ridiculous, IMHO. And to be told by a NYC publisher that digital sales are paid based on a formula instead of actual sales because they don't know or can't get actual digital sales is an outright lie. And really? Even with my digital sales reports, there isn't really any way to know if they are correct.

      Maybe the ideal situation is a foot in both worlds.

  6. Thank you Cynthia. This was a timely and encouraging post. I'm a first time writer, whose friends & fellow writers seemed to all be going self-published. For various reasons, I felt that I needed more support and was lucky to find a small e-publisher interested in taking my first novel. It's due out next month, and after the experience of having a team beside me, I was feeling that was the way forward, for me. Thanks for adding more reassuring reasons to go that route.

    1. I find writing to be hard work, and I mean the actual activity of writing. I'm not including the marketing and social promo that seems like is required. When I think about adding indie publishing to my plate, my head swims...I become overwhelmed.

      However, like I said, I'm probably in the same boat as Melissa above. I'll probably be revisiting indie publishing.

      Thanks for coming by and leaving a message. Good luck

  7. Thanks for your insights. I think genre has something to do with what kinds of small press publishers or online-only publishers are available. This too may factor into a writer's decisions. I have a fantasy book self-published because I haven't found good small press options in this genre, and I'll be self-publishing the next one also. I hire professional artists for the covers and have the books edited.

    On the other hand, I'm also writing a romantic suspense novel under another name. I plan to approach publishers like Samhain for that one, because I would like the support a publisher can give me. I've noticed the Romance genre is ahead of others in using the new technologies and working with authors in this new publishing industry. I hope other genres soon follow.

    1. I think romance does lead the world on trying new things. Romance hit digital and got acceptance long before other genres. I'm actually chatting (private chat) with a friend right now on the subject of indie publishing! 🙂

      Thanks for coming by and best of luck with the books!

  8. I am a relatively newcomer to Cynthia and I'm so thankful I've found her. With every new interview, post, or tweet that I read from our about her I like her more and more.

  9. This is an interesting post, and everyone has to choose their own route. I would caution against the assumption that you will get all of these things with every digital publisher. From personal experience I can say you won't. The editing and marketing effort varies wildly. My experience was no better than a critique, and it was the final push I needed to choose to go indie. Yes, researching your editor and cover artist takes time, but you should be doing all of that before you choose a publisher to query as well. Read their books for editorial quality. Look at all of their covers. If possible, contact their authors (most are receptive to this) and ask about their experience. I get that indie isn't for everyone, but two digital publishers are alike. I will say, the independent editorial, cover, and marketing advice I've been given have been far and above anything I learned from my first publisher.

    1. Great, super advice! I was well aware of Samhain and had read many of their books. They were my #1 digital publisher target so I was thrilled.

      And wow, are you right about know your publisher! I've seen some books from "publishers" that were barely edited, horrible and embarrassing covers, etc. So yeah...digital publishers can run the range from excellent to OMG! hideous.

      And no publishing route is right for everyone.

  10. Cynthia, You have some very valid points and I've heard good things about Samhain. My one concern is do they pressure you to have mega books out in a year? Health issues may keep me from having more than one or two a year depending on the length. I thought for this reason, going Indie might be a better choice. Yet I'd have a huge learning curve on the media end, bookcovers etc. Any advice?

    1. I have had NO pressure from Samhain on the production issue. In fact, there are only so many publishing slots per year and I'd like to have more! I know one of there more "famous" author has other publishers for that reason...She can produce more books per year than they can put into their publishing slot. So one or two per year would certainly be fine. I wish my editor WOULD bug me more! 🙂

  11. Thank you so much for all the great information on traditional publishing. I am trying to go that route as I have an amazing book (Princess of the Light). Thank you for shedding some light on the publishing industry. I tried to get some swag on your contact page but it said it wasn't there. 🙁 Good luck with all your writing and I will definitely read your Texas Tango! 🙂

    1. Hi Mrs. N. Send me a note at cynthia at cynthiadalba.com about the freebies. Links get broken at time. I'll need your name and mailing address and tell me what you want!

      Thanks for coming by and leaving a message

  12. Hi Cynthia! Thank you for information that is definitely a keeper. Although I have always been a writer in my heart, I am new to this ever-changing process. Thank you again for sharing your experiences.

  13. I agree with you, Cynthia. You make some great points. I have an agent and I'm traditionally published, but I'd really like to do both. I experimented with one of my reverted rights books to see what self-publishing is like, and so far I don't care for it much. It's a lot of work, and though I realize I need to self-promote my books no matter how I'm published, I'd rather not do the book formatting and uploading and distributing and paying for a good editor. Editors are expensive for good reason (they work hard for their money), but I simply don't have the financial resources to afford to hire one. Therefore, I'm still in a wait-and-see mode.

    1. Thanks Karen. There's a vanity issue of seeing a book with my name on it in a bricks-and-mortar store that I still want! But really? The $ isn't necessarily any better than with my digital house. Honestly, I get overwhelmed when I think about formatting, uploading, distributing, etc etc etc. Sigh.

  14. I do think digital publishers are the best of both worlds in many ways. I, too, want those edits. 🙂 While I know at least two of my novels will be submitted to digital presses only, I do have one I want to put out on my own. For me, it's the marketing that seems overwhelming. 🙂

    1. Yes, Robyn. I have been surprised (and at times overwhelmed) at the amount of marketing I'm doing...not to mention the expense. I was pretty naive coming into this writing world. It's so much more than I expected. Truly, I saw me writing and getting published but beyond that? Nope. No idea.

      Maybe it's like having kids. If you really knew the pain of pregnancy and labor and delivery and then all the work that children entail, some might not go down that road! HAHA

  15. This is a great post. As a new, unpublished (but very enthusiastic) author it came just at the right time to make me stop, think, slow down and consider what I want from publishing my work. Thanks.

    1. Thank you. I don't want to discourage you BUT don't always go for the lowest hanging fruit. Sometimes reaching out and up can produce some sweeter tasting rewards.

  16. Thank you for a very well-written comparison of the types of publishing venues. I have one book published by a small digital-only publisher and because there was really no help for the author with "marketing" it pretty much fell on its face. I'd love to find a publisher that had the backing and know-how to sell my books, though they aren't romance.

    1. I'll be honest and say that most new and unestablished authors DON'T get much in the way of marketing help from their publishers. I know I said this in one of my earlier replies but the marketing aspect has consumed much more of my time that I anticipated.

  17. You've said good points Cynthia! I've read a lot of discussions about which way to go. And I think it's a case to case basis. Others have to consider money, time and inclination. But it's good to know that you chose what you believe you can do. 🙂

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