Weekly Musing: Choose Your Own Adventure

Before I began writing, I had never heard of self-publishing or indie publishing. I had heard of e-books but just thought it referred to print books that had been scanned to work on an e-reader. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned this isn’t true. There are so many more ways for a book to be published. The options available for writers are numerous thus allowing a writer to carve out their own path. But is it too wide open? Which one do I aspire to tackle?

Traditional publishing – This refers to submitting your manuscript to the BIG five publishing houses: HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster . Getting a manuscript accepted by one of these is a dream of many a writer. In theory it means you’ll get shelf space in major book retailers, professional cover design and editing, bigger advances, book reviews in mainstream avenues, and better marketing, just to name a few advantages. In other words, bigger and better exposure to more readers.

But competition is tough. Unless your book has broad appeal, or is so extraordinarily well-written they’d be fools to pass it up, then a writer has a much more difficult time getting noticed. Also, you may have little input on cover design, pricing is set, your royalty rate is lower than in other avenues, and it takes longer for a book to come out.

Indie or small market publishing – If you don’t want to try your luck at a big publishing house, you’ve been rejected despite positive feedback, or your book is a bit more experimental, another option is to submit to smaller publishing houses. Admittedly I’m not as well-versed in who the players are since I’m not at that point in my writing career but from what I’ve read, smaller publishing presses are more willingly to take chances with books that are different. You’ll get more individual attention and support rather than the take-a-number mentality I get the impression sometimes happens at a big publishing house. The working relationship will be closer, something that personally appeals to me.

On the downside, smaller presses mean you’re at a huge disadvantage to getting your book onto a large retail bookseller’s shelf. However, independent book stores will be more likely to stock your book, perhaps in larger quantities than a major store would. Marketing support and advances will probably be smaller. Again, pricing is already set but you may get a bigger chunk of the profits than through a big publisher. Also, there are more scams associated with smaller presses run by people in it just to make a buck for themselves rather than as a partnership with the authors. A great resource for writers at all levels is Writers Beware Blog as it lists scams to be aware of.

Self-publishing/Author-Publisher – This is the type of publishing that has gotten a lot of press and debate the past few years. Self-publishing, or author-publisher as I recently read it being referred to in the February 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest , allows complete freedom and creative control for the author. You control the content, what the cover can look like either by doing it yourself or enlisting the services of a professional cover designer, when you want to release it, and even for how much. You get to keep more of the profits since you’re posting it up on a site like Amazon or Smashwords even if you charge significantly less.
The downsides, though, are that because it is so quick and easy to do, a lot of unpolished works pop up online. This has giving the impression to some that all self-published works aren’t up to snuff. Also, you have to pony up the cost of a professional editor and cover designer because unless you are just that proficient in both areas, you should probably have professionals looking at your work and designing your cover. It’s too easy to spot a do-it-yourself job and readers will comment on it in their reviews.

Hybrid author – Personally, the more I learn about publishing options, the more I’m leaning toward becoming what is known as a hybrid author: one who is published both traditionally as well as self-published. It makes sense. If you want to get your work out to as many people as possible, then an author needs a variety of revenue streams. Sounds terribly boring and business-like but if you want to make money as an author, then it only makes sense to get your fingers in as many pies as possible. Another author advantage is being able to self-publish works deemed experimental or risky. Also, some established authors are starting to make available novellas to fill in the gaps between traditional releases tapping into the rather unfortunate instant gratification culture.

The options are overwhelming to think about to a new writer. Since I’m not at the point to start sending out manuscripts, I try not to think about it too much. When I do, it seems to weight too heavily on my writing. I start looking at every piece as a business rather than just writing for the joy of it. I need to write bad pieces or stories which are experimental but when thoughts turn to wanting an actual writing career, I tend to look at those works as wastes of time. They’re not, though. They’re valuable writing time spent doing something I love. There will be a time and a place for me to go and get paid.