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Traditional Publisher Versus Self-Publishing

I'd like to hear from anyone with experience about the advantages of traditional publishing versus self-publishing.

I'm having a hard time seeing a compelling reason for a lesser-known author to work with a traditional publisher, rather than self-publish, within the current state of the industry. If I'm missing something critical, I'd love to hear what that is.

Thank you.

P.S. Here's a gratuitous picture of Half Dome in Summer, Yosemite because – why not throw it in?
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49 comments
 
As I've shared with you privately, +Pam Payne has had good success with self-publishing.
 
I've got no idea on the publishing stuff, but that is a great photo!
 
This should be a very interesting conversation and one which I am very interested reading about. Great shot to Mike as always!
 
don't know much about publishing but was helping a friend put together his book and found out that there's a heck of a lot of publishers out there who's hungry for your work.
I was also watching 20/20 tonight and saw this woman who wrote that sex book and its #1,2,3 on the bestsellers list. I guess sex sells, eh
 
THis is an amazing image!! I am there, I am experiencing the moment!! and it is WOW!!
 
+Mike Spinak this your image... I reacted to the image and then realized it was posted by you?
 
Mike, it really depends on what you want out of it. I've been both routes. My experience with traditional publishing is that the advance was low, royalties were lower, and my book is tied up now where I can't get the rights back. I also can't write a sequel to it or use the characters in another book unless I go through the same publisher. I will never submit to them again, so that book is just languishing. It also takes around two years from submission to publication, which in this digital age is way too long.

Self-publishing has earned me 1000 times what traditional publishing did--and more. I can put my books up almost as soon as I finish writing them. All I have to wait for is the editing process and cover art (and the cover is usually ready by the time the book is, thanks to my fantastic cover artist, +Ade Ratna ). As soon as the book goes up, it starts earning money. I have to wait 60 days from the end of the month to get that money, but I can see what I've earned and budget my spending based on what's coming in. With the traditional publisher, I have no idea how many books have sold, what my royalties will be (But so far they've been less than $20 for 6 months of sales, compared to thousands for the other books).

If I find a typo, I can fix it on my self-published books. If I don't like the description, I can change it. I can update the cover if I find a picture I like better. I can even add to the book if an idea strikes me and upload a new version. In short, with self-publishing I have CONTROL.

Some people think traditional publishing gives you more prestige, and maybe it does in some circles, but self-publishing is quickly gaining respect.

Now if you're hoping to win prestigious, major awards, you probably won't get them with self-publishing because there are still those who turn their noses up at self-published books. But my motivation was to earn a living from my writing, not to gain the respect of people I don't know and don't care about anyway. And I'm earning a living, so it's all good.

So the question is, what do want to gain from publishing your book?
 
One of my sisters is struggling to find a publisher. She's a radio-oncologist with some interesting stories on patient survival. I had a brief call with her yesterday, and it seems publishers want her to take all the financial risk. I have suggested self-publishing. We'll see where it goes...

LOVE the Half Dome pic. Thanks
 
+Mike Spinak: I've written two books. One was published by John Wiley. The second I published myself, so I've seen it from both sides. See http://rds.com/. Might be worth a phone call, cup of coffee, glass of beer, wine, etc.
 
Just be sure you don't mistake a vanity publisher for a traditional publisher. A real publisher NEVER makes you pay anything up front. Ever. They pay you, not the other way around. If they want money from you, run the other way.
 
I'm working on a few books myself. Through my research, what +Pam Payne says rings very true. I highly recommend checking out +Joe Konrath & his blog on self-publishing. He's a fiction author - and no, I can't say that I've ever read his books, but he's tremendously successful. He's got some fantastic advice, writes frequently of his experiences and shares a great amount of detail for writers of all levels.
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
 
My wife wrote two novels and found an agent the second time round who charged a fee to represent her. I don't know how long it will take before she's going to get published, or will she have to pay more to get published. Going to wait and watch.
 
Cyril, no real agent charges fees up front either. There are a lot of shysters out there. Chances are, if she paid a fee, nothing will ever even be submitted. She needs to find a real agent.
 
+Mike Spinak another part of the equation is distribution. Getting good distribution is a challenge in the current climate but is of course the key to sales. If you go the publisher route clarify their practice regarding remaindering to ensure books are not dumped at a fraction of the price a few months after publication. I have a great relationship with my publisher but being in Western Australia they will be little use for you.
 
That's a good point, Robert. And for me, another plus for self-publishing. My books will be available for as long as I want them to be. And I can put them in print, which I'm planning to do soon.
 
I suspect that the answers you got so far were not for publishing a photo book. Is that what you are planning to do ? Those require much more work and investment than a text paperback and tend not to sell too well.
 
Thank you, everyone, so far.

+Pam Payne What you've said is basically along the lines I've been thinking and the lines I've been reading. I'm not particularly interested in prestige (though it does seem like the stigma associated with self-publishing is fading, anyway).

+Doug Kaye I'll take a look.

+David Taylor I'll take a look at Joe Konrath

+Robert van Koesveld I'll keep the distribution and the remaindering in mind.

+QT Luong This will be for a number of different kinds of books in time, from photo instruction books, to philosophy books, to poetry books. Most will probably be well illustrated with photos, for obvious reasons.

The first book will be a picture book for children.
 
It's beautiful! Sorry, don't have any insight into the publishing thing other than I've heard it's best these days to do it yourself.
 
I saw a post s few minutes ago by +Bliss Morgan about her newly released book on Kindle. Andrea, I'd love to hear any insight and comments you may have on the subject of traditional versus self-publishing.
 
I'd don't have much insight into non-photo books, but I suspect that by self publishing you may make some actual money for a lot more work. Why not start with electronic, this seems the way to go these days for instructional material ?
 
eBooks are definitely the way to go, for certain kinds of books right now, it seems. The ability to self-publish on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) and even Apple iBooks, all for free, is incredibly liberating. They still take a percentage of your sales, but it is much less than what a traditional publisher would demand.
Like Joe Konrath says, "eBooks are forever" - so there is no concern that the publisher might (read: will) end printing runs, or closeout sale them.
Kindle is still one of (if not the) largest eBook readers out there, but unfortunately their ebooks are still monochromatic. I'm excited to see what I can do in Apple's iBooks Author program - because it seems like it might be an excellent authorship program for full color and interactive ebooks!
The problem that I see with most authors (traditional turned digital) is that they still charge the same fee for an ebook as they did/do for a hardcover/softcover. Why? There is little to no production cost and you're not having to include distribution fees/shipping in the overall cost.
Truth be told (and I imagine many photography lovers out there would agree), I still love holding a finely crafted large coffee table book in my hands. The small screen of an iPad can't compete with that. So you need to figure out ways to leverage the technology to make up for the loss in that column. Interactivity and embedded video do well with that. Plus, with iBooks Author, it looks like you can continue to offer 'micro-updates' to the book, so the content grows, even after publication.
 
With a (good) traditonal publisher you have editors, copyeditors, book designers, publicists, salespeople. Self-publishing, you have to do all that work or pay and manage all those people. Are you interested in being an author and a businessman, and are you going to be happy with the balance you have to strike to self-publish?

Dig up and read Charlie Stross' blog. He's all over this.
 
Hi, +QT Luong I will be starting with electronic. I also want to soon be able to offer print-on-demand.

I'm not sure the state of the e-book market is mature enough for selling e-book children's books. (I did see a little kid in a restaurant with an e-book on an iPad, a few weeks ago.)
 
I see a ton of young parents with iPads, and they are constantly handing them off to their kids. Many of them play games on them, but I also see a decent portion that are using them as e-readers. Personally, I haven't bought a physical/printed book in over 2 years, since I bought my iPad. I also subscribe to a few magazines - National Geographic for one.
 
The children's ebook market is actually starting to catch on. I bought my grandson a Kindle for Christmas because his teacher lets the kids bring them to school to read when they've finished their work.
 
Oh, one other thing. Traditional publishers take on the risk. Printing isn't anywhere near the biggest cost in book production (which is why ebooks don't retail for pennies), but doing a print run is an investment in inventory that might not sell. Print-on-demand makes it easy to do smaller runs.

But if you're self-publishing and you're printing, you're making the investment and assuming the risk. Even if you're not printing, you've invested money in creating and marketing your ebook. It's not like these things magically appear. I've got experience creating ebooks, and it's a lot of work to create one that's elegant and attractive.
 
+Pam Payne, the only device worthy of a book like this is an ipad 3. I doubt there's too many children running around with those.
 
+fiona munday +Cyril Gupta Harlan Ellison may be a jerk, but he's got a lot of maxims writers should learn from. The most important is:

"Money should always flow towards the writer."

If you're self-publishing, that's no longer true. In any relationship with a publisher or agent, though, the only money that might appropriately flow away from a writer might be legal fees to have your own lawyer review contracts.
 
Maybe not a lot of kids yet (+Tony Payne), but a TON of parents own them and kids get access to them by proxy:)
Furthermore, many schools are starting to give iPads to their students for classroom and home use.
 
As of January (2012), approximately 50 million iPads have been sold. That's a lot of potential eBook customers.
 
You can do POD through Createspace on Amazon for no cost to the writer other than a $29 one time fee for expanded distribution to foreign markets and the cost of one proof copy. You can hire people to do the formatting for you. If you decide to go that route, I can put you in touch with some very good formatters who charge reasonable prices.

I've been around the publishing business for twelve years and have never seen agents and publishing houses as greedy and cutthroat as they are right now. You would definitely need a good entertainment attorney to go over any contracts.
 
+Tony Payne You don't think so? I see kids with them fairly often, and I don't get out that much.
 
What's sad about the iPad, though, is that it's so very hard to find books in the iTunes store. Amazon has by far the best storefront, and the easiest to use. Amazon just needs to come out with an iPad competitor. The Kindle Fire is okay, just too small.
 
Hi, +Andrew Trembley,

In regard to getting editors, copy editors, book designers, publicists, and sales people with a traditional publisher, versus self-publishing:

I am fortunate to have free access to a good editor and a good copy editor. If I did not, those services could be easily hired, of course. The book designer could also be easily hired. I've found one whose work I appreciate, and whose prices are acceptable to me. As for paying and managing those people: unless I'm missing something, this doesn't really seem that onerous to me. People find and hire others for services - carpenters to re-do the kitchen, auto mechanics to fix the car, etc. - all the time. As for the publicists and sales people: from everything I've read, publishers are generally not putting them toward unknown authors of small editions any more; rather, they're apparently putting the onus upon the author to handle the marketing, sales, and publicity, themselves.

Meanwhile, if I hire people to handle the various book related services, myself, I then get to keep the majority of any profits on book sales, as opposed to a small percentage through traditional publishers. It seems to me that the cost of hiring these services myself is not anywhere as high as the cost of going through a traditional publisher, for even a modestly profitable book. If you think I'm missing something or deluded about this, please explain further.

As for Charlie Stross's Blog:

I took a look.

The first post I came across from him was a nattering complaint, handled poorly, on a subject which is old news to most everyone with a successful blog:
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/admin-note.html

The second post I came across was poorly written and poorly reasoned, unsupported and contrary to real world data, addled with hyperbole, and unconvincing:
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/understanding-amazons-strategy.html
(I do think that his discussion about DRM seemed perceptive and correct, but the rest just seemed fatally flawed.)

The third post had some good points about security (though all old-news), but his final conclusions were tendentious and shallow, and his attempts to tie in social networking to genocide were simply bizarre and paranoid:
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/03/not-an-april-fool-1.html

If you think he has better posts I should read, +Andrew Trembley, please feel welcome to give me the links. Otherwise, the first three chances I gave him were more than enough.
 
Charlie does ramble and take things to extreme conclusions (he's a science fiction writer, imagining the worst things people can do and turning that into a story is part of his job), but I don't see how he's contrary to real-world data in the case of his observations on Amazon.

And I'm not saying don't self publish, but I do think it's more work, expense and risk than you're assuming.

If you're interested in an inside view, 2 years ago Cory Doctorow started a project to self-publish his short story collection With A Little Help and blog the process for Publishers Weekly.

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/cory-doctorow/index.html

Cory is a successful midlist author. His self-publishing experience is neither that of a totally unknown author nor of a bestseller like J.A. Konrath. He does have BoingBoing, but he noted that having a wildly popular blog doesn't necessarily translate to actual sales.
 
Andrew, I'm not sure where you're getting the idea it costs a lot to self-publish. I've put 10 books up on Amazon and all the other ebook outlets at zero cost so far. I'm lucky enough to have friends who've walked me through the process and taught me to format and upload them myself, family who are talented enough to do book covers, and enough experience in the industry that my books had already been edited at some point or another, but beyond those things, there is no cost. I've made more money in 9 months of self-publishing than my husband and I combined made in two years of 70 hour weeks at our old job. I have a friend who tried for twenty years to get published through traditional means who has made a quarter million dollars this past year through self-publishing. Many other friends are making anywhere from $2000-$6000 a month on a regular basis. My lowest month since last September was $4500.

Granted, ours are novels, but still. What can it hurt to try? Mike could continue to look for an agent (an absolute must if you want to try traditional publishing with a picture book) while he gives self-publishing a try.
 
+Andrew Trembley I've been reading through Cory Doctorow's posts about self-publishing. They're certainly interesting, but I'm not entirely convinced they have much applicability to what I'm doing. In his own words, he's offering "super-premium limited editions". He's meeting with paper mills to select the finest papers; he's having special stamps engraved; he's uploading data to SD cards and affixing them to each copy; he's hand-wrapping each one in burlap with an acid-free liner paper, and so on. He's offering books at US $275 each. It does not seem to be the kind of endeavor I'm seeking to undertake. And while he is learning the hardships of what he's doing, I already know that I'd best stay away from that kind of project.

But I haven't yet finished the whole series of his posts, so we'll see whether they become more topical.
 
Cory published With a Little Help in a wide range of formats. Premium hardcover (where he made his greatest profit), print-on-demand (including stores with print-while-you-watch machines) and ebooks in Kindle and ePub format. He ensured his books were available through major retail channels and by direct sale from him.

Granted, it sounds like the premium edition wasn't just the most profitable and the largest outlay, it was also the most interesting and fun.

The only phase of publishing that Cory skips is the editing process. This is previously published material, he worked with the editors at the magazines and markets who originally published the stories.

I think Cory glosses over book design (it's been a while since I read the whole series). Since you're talking a children's picture book design is going to be much more intensive than a collection or novel, and is actually easier for print than for auto-reflowing ePub and Kindle.

I think you'll find the segments on what kind of activity affected his sales and what it took to get With a Little Help into libraries topical.
 
Oh, and that thing about publishers dropping DRM that Charlie Stross talked about? Macmillan just announced this morning that they are dropping DRM for all their Tor/Forge titles come July.

http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/04/24/torforge-to-go-drm-free-by-july-immediate-thoughts/

John Scalzi talks a bit about the impact, and does bring the question back to one of the reasons he still publishes with a traditional publisher: he has the support of their legal team to protect his copyrights and fight for him against serious incidents of piracy.
 
I want to come back to this thread and add a couple comments:

1) The Cory Doctorow series did become more on-topic toward what I needed to know, later on in the series. Indeed, there were a couple of points of critically valuable information which have altered how I will proceed. Thanks you again, +Andrew Trembley.

2) Konrath's blog is an absolute goldmine of valuable information about self-publishing ebooks - far better than anything I expected to find. I've spent dozens of hours reading it. Thank you again, +David Taylor.
 
Just glad I could help, +Mike Spinak. I know the genre is different, but I have also really enjoyed (and been well educated) by Joe Konrath's writings. You're very welcome!
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