There are many decisions a writer must make before getting their novel into the hands of eager readers, but one of the most daunting steps is answering this question: Which form of publishing is right for me?
Both traditional publishing and independent publishing have their appeals. Depending on your goals and preferences for the writing and publishing processes, each avenue can provide different opportunities. As an author who has published ten novels with my traditional publisher and seven novels on my own, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and learning about the benefits of each path. I want to share some of my own considerations and learnings in order to (hopefully!) help some fellow authors decide which path is right for them.
To find out which choice is best for you, read on for a more in depth look at each avenue of publishing.
You should consider traditional publishing if…
- You want your main focus to be the writing process. When you’re with a traditional publisher, you have a team of professionals behind you, striving to make your book a success. You will be assigned an editor, marketer, publicist, cover designer, and more. This takes a great deal of the workload off the shoulders of the writer, giving them more time to focus on the creative aspect of their career.
- You want to be paid before your book is released. With traditional publishing, authors can negotiate an advance, meaning they will receive a portion of their payment upon signing their contract. These advances do not have to be repaid to publishers if a book does not earn out, as it is guaranteed money. The best part? If your book sales increase with every book you publish, so can your advances.
- You’re willing to wait years for the book to be published. The entire traditional publishing process — from querying agents to signing a contract with a publisher — could take years, if it happens at all. Most authors receive many rejection letters before finally obtaining an agent, so if traditional publishing is the route you want to take, make sure you begin the process with realistic expectations.
- You want to see your books in print. Traditional publishers have built-in relationships with booksellers, which will aide in getting physical copies of your books on bookstore shelves. If seeing your book in a bookstore is a dream of yours, traditional publishing can help with that.
- You like the idea of traveling to promote your book. It’s always exciting to be able to travel and meet your readers. Many publishing contracts outline what is expected of an author, and book tours may be one of those expectations. Book tours are almost always paid for by the publisher and are a great perk if you love to travel and enjoy being able to come face-to-face with those who enjoy your work.
- You want access to traditional awards and media. As a traditionally published author, you will be assigned a publicity team with built-in connections and a thorough knowledge of the industry. Your publicists are there to help spread the word, schedule media interviews, and drum up overall publicity which will, in turn, give your book a better chance of being considered for literary awards. While there are many opportunities to receive awards for indie authors, the bonus to being traditionally published is that you aren’t seeking out these opportunities yourself or paying someone to seek them out for you. It’s all part of the perks of being traditionally published.
When I was in talks with Atria Books to sell my first two novels, I had almost completed my third novel, Hopeless. Because I had started the book as an independent author, I chose to stay that course with it. I had already marketed the book, shared quotes, and promoted the cover, so it was important to me that I retain that control. Since then, I’ve went on to publish four more independent novels while also with Atria Books. I do this because I love the freedom independent publishing gives me, the monthly royalties, and the ability to experience both avenues of publishing. Keep reading to see whether independent publishing could be right for you.
You should consider self-publishing if…
- You like having control over all aspects of your career. Without the contracts, deadlines, and support teams that come with traditional publishing, independent authors have more control over their career. They can choose or create their own cover, hire their own editing team, build a marketing plan, and arrange their own book tours, like those held on Indie Author Day in October. Publishers almost always have final say on decisions about your book, so if you like the flexibility of not being tied to a contract that controls most of these decisions, indie publishing may be the best fit for you.
- If you want to be completely in charge of your own creative vision. Traditional publishing generally takes much longer than independent publishing, which means there could be times a traditional publisher announces a book title, blurb, and cover before the author has even completed the book. If you are the type of writer who doesn’t like being locked into a specific idea or vision for your book early on, you may prefer indie publishing so that you have the freedom to change course.
- If you don’t work well under pressure or deadlines. There is more freedom with independent publishing because you aren’t locked into a contract and you aren’t having to write to meet a deadline. As soon as you complete your novel and prepare it for publishing, it is ready to be loaded onto the platform(s) of your choice and can be in the hands of your readers in a matter of hours. With this kind of flexibility, you will be able to write when you want and as often as you want. You might even want to take time off from writing, which a contract may not give you the option to do.
- You want to maximize your royalty rates. Most traditional publishers pay an advance, and that advance is paid back with a percentage of each book sale. For example, if you were to receive a $20,000 advance at a typical 25% ebook royalty rate on an ebook priced at $7.99, you would have to sell 10,050 books before you would begin earning royalty checks. The standard royalty rate is much higher with independent publishing at 70% (though rates can vary across different retailers and book prices). For an indie-published $7.99 book, you would earn $20,000 after only 3,577 sales and continue making money on each sale beyond that—if you sold 10,000 books, you would make over $55,000 in revenue.
- You want to own all your book rights. Again, contracts vary, but most stipulate that the publisher owns the print, ebook, foreign, and audiobook rights to your book, as well as the right of first refusal, which is the stipulation that the next book written by the author outside of the current contract must be presented to the publisher first, before other avenues of publishing can be explored. This not only ties up all rights to the book, sometimes for the lifetime of that book, but can also restrict your options on your next book. As an independent author, you own all rights and sub rights to your novel, and can make decisions on each novel as you see fit.
- You like having a lot of flexibility. As an indie author, you aren’t always tied to a deadline. You also aren’t locked into a certain book and synopsis if you decide to stop mid-story and go in a different direction, or with a different book entirely. On the other hand, most traditional publishers schedule releases so far in advance that it may not be an option to change your mind. And if you do decide you no longer want to write the book you owe them, you are required to return the full advance payment you received upon contract signing. So self-publishing offers more flexibility throughout the process.
The best way to decide which avenue sounds like a better fit is to heavily research each option. Speak with other authors about why they chose the avenue they did. Visit websites for established authors and read their bios and past interviews. This industry changes drastically from year to year, so it’s important for authors to be aware of those changes. For me, having both books with a publisher and books that I control is the best way for me to continue to learn about the market and fully understand which market is right for each book I release.
What do you think are the benefits of traditional and independent publishing? Share your own thoughts and experiences with a comment below.
Want to share this post? Here are some ready-made tweets:
Click to tweet: Deciding between indie and traditional publishing? Check out this in-depth look at both paths from bestselling indie and trad author @ColleenHoover #pubtip #publishing https://bit.ly/2D8Jtn8
Click to tweet: Author @ColleenHoover has written both independently and traditionally published bestsellers. Read her advice on how to decide which path is right for you https://bit.ly/2D8Jtn8