Indie and Traditional Publishing – Neither are for Everybody

on September 24, 2019 Lucy Leave a reply

This is the 4th post in a series I’m doing on recovering from burnout, or you know…maybe avoiding all together.

While current wisdom is that the strongest careers are hybrid careers, meaning an author who is published both with traditional publishers and either indie published, or has books out with a small press, not all of those options work for every author.

And while that wisdom may hold true for a lot of authors, I can give you numerous examples of authors who have happily and successfully pursued only one of those avenues of publication.

Pursuing a career path that goes against either your artistic leanings and/or your basic personality is going to drain your energy.  Following advice from our mentors is important, but so is filtering that advice through what we know of ourselves.

While I have suggested indie or small press publishing to many authors I have mentored, I’ll be honest (and have been with them) that my preference for myself has always been traditional publishing.  Why?

Because I don’t enjoy all the fiddly bits involved with self-publishing and while I like small presses, the fact so many have closed their doors and left authors orphaned with books out of print is a real concern for me.  That’s  not to say that traditional publishers aren’t setting their authors adrift.  They are.  And getting rights back is easier than it has ever been with a lot of publishers, because they refuse to go back to print and they are not doing much to keep sales up on their digital backlist.

Other authors might rejoice when they get rights back.  I don’t.  I know that I have to deal with all those fiddly bits of bringing the books out again.  Yuck.  I love a beautiful cover, I don’t love all the back and forth discussion that has to happen to get there.  I love a well edited book, I don’t love having to oversee my own copyedits and substantive edits as the case may be.  I love seeing my books for sale in all the major outlets, I don’t love dealing with finicky services like Smashwords to make sure they get there, or having to spend time going to the other publishing sites putting new titles up.

I’m not whining.  I’m not even complaining.  I’m just telling you why I’m not as keen on self-publishing as a lot of my friends.  Do I self-publish?  Yes.  For myself and for my readers.  I owe us both every chance to keep my books available, but I would rather be writing.

Of course, there are lots of positives to self publishing: creative control, faster publication from finished manuscript, author controls book price, sales and directed advertising, etc.

Just as there is a good side to traditional publishing: publishers designs the cover and have inhouse copywriters who create marketable back cover blurbs for the books, there is usually some promotional support, both substantive and copywrite editors are part of the traditional publishing package, established sales outlets, etc.

However, traditional publishing has it’s own pitfalls as well.  For the writer who wants final say over her covers, back cover blurbs, and yes, even content, traditional publishing can be a nightmare of unmet expectations.  Publishers design covers they think will sell books, not necessarily covers that fit an author’s artistic vision, or even match the content of the book.

If anyone has seen the original cover for The Real Deal, they’ll know what I’m talking about.  I loved that cover!  But I knew it looked more like women’s fiction than romance and that it had very little to do with the actual story of the book.  The fact is, sales on that book were kind of pitiful, and some of that?  Is definitely down to cover.  Over which I had zero control.

I mentioned in an earlier post in this series how difficult I found it to gut a book for my traditional publishers, obviously not an issue for indie publishing, but can still be a potential problem with a small press.  I have also mentioned that I’m self-publishing some books this year that my publishers lost interest in, but readers haven’t.

Neither did I.  So, I wrote the books.  I love have the freedom to do that and know I can make those books available to the readers who have asked over and over again for them.  Even if it means dealing with the enormous amount of behind the scenes work required to bring a quality book to market.

Of course some authors have more creative control with their traditional publishers than others, even in the same publishing house and imprint.  Not all sales are equal.  Not all authors are equal in standing with the publishers.  That is reality.  And if you go the traditional publishing route, you need to learn to accept and thrive in the environment of that truth.

There is also the reality that it can take years longer to publish with a traditional publisher than striking out on your own, or seeking a reputable small press (but that is still a much narrower gateway to publication that indie publishing, which at present has no gateway at all).  It took  me nine years of writing, learning and revising, while submitting, before I sold my first book to Harlequin Presents.

I haven’t talked much about small presses.  Mostly because so many have closed their doors and I no longer have personal experience with any of the small presses left.  I know that the lag to publication is often as long as with traditional publishers and that small presses provide the editing that is often so lacking in an indie published title.  They don’t usually pay an advance, or if they do, it is quite small.  They allow for a little more creative freedom, but I have to be honest, my experience on covers and content was pretty much the same as with my traditional New York/London publishers.  Some amazing and some frustrating.

So, what does all this mean?  It means that you need to look at the roads before you and decide which one(s) you are going to travel on.  Both may look equally appealing, only you know which one you’re supposed to take, which one is going to feed your soul and not suffocate it.

It means that maybe, if you count the cost and recognize that no path to publication is easy or without its drawbacks, you won’t be blindsided by that reality.

It means that if you have a solid self-publishing career, but have always dreamed about publishing with New York while maintaining full creative control, you can revise that dream.  Just like a good book.  What those revisions look like, are up to you.

It means that if you have rights back on books you’ve been thinking about self-publishing, but you realize that all the work doing so is making it impossible to write your new books, you maybe put those reissues off until you have a break in your writing schedule and do it then.  Trying to do it simultaneously isn’t something I recommend for anyone as I learned my lesson.  But you aren’t me and maybe that kind of split in your focus works for you.

It means that you decide what you want from your writing career.  Tangible goals that take into account how certain elements of publication are going to impact your creativity.

It means that if you are burned out and not writing at all, maybe taking a step back and figuring out what part of being published was most draining for you and seeking a path that does not include that, could be the key to unlocking your creativity again.

It means you do you and ignore the gainsayers and the trolls and even the well meant advice that doesn’t fit.

Hugs and happy writing,


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