Well, we all know who the Crossfit Team of publishing is. It's the self-publishers.
I'm a hybrid author. I have self-published work, books with small presses, and Big 5 three-book deal. Very early on in my career I had a self-publishing fanatic ambush me and demand to know why I was querying when I could publish the book in just a few months. I acknowledged this was a choice - I had an editor, cover artist, and format expert all lined up if I needed them - but this was an experiment. I wanted to see what venue was best for my books. Which offered the most bang for my proverbial buck.
Self-publishing is a wonderful thing with a very vocal fan base. They have to be vocal. Self-publishing is the Crossfit of publishing. To succeed you need to be focused, determined, mentally tough, and willing to give 110% every second of the working day. I have yet to meet a self-publishing success who doesn't fit that exact definition.
However, the number of people who can meet this exacting standards is a lot lower than the number of people who are self-publishing and there are days it makes me want to scream.
SELF-PUBLISHING IS NOT FOR EVERYONE
Okay? Before you pick a place to publish your work really evaluate how much you can give to self-publishing.
Can you write a book in under 6 months?
Can you spend 2-3 hours a day working on a book?
Can you spend at least four hours a week on promotion?
Do you have a good feel for the market?
Do you read widely in your genre and know what the genre expectations are?
Can you work with a professional editor and respond to their feedback without blowing a gasket?
Can you afford professional cover art or produce it yourself?
Can you maintain social media contacts and market yourself effectively?
Will you continue to write if you get a bad review?
Can you quickly adapt to a major plot issue and rewrite large sections of your manuscript when an editor points out a massive plot hole?
If you want to successfully self-publish you better be able to Yes! or I'm learning! to all of these.
The major reasons cited for self-publishing tend to be: control, profit, and speed. Self-publishing gurus will tell you about the glacial pace of big press publishing. They'll feed you horror stories about small presses that grab your manuscript and vanish. As a hybrid author I have the good fortune to work with all these avenues of publishing so let me break down the reality for you.
Self-publishing does offer the most control. There's no censor, for better or worse, and you get to set everything from the price of the book to where it is published. This is a great option for someone who can't imagine having to play nice with a group of people or getting lectured about reader expectations.
Small presses offer some control. You won't get to set the price of the book directly, but if you research your publisher in advance (and you better) than you'll know exactly what the prices are. Small presses change prices based on the market and not very often, so you should know what your book will sell for in advance. You'll get to offer suggestions on the cover art and, in most houses, work with the cover artist to make everything work.
Big presses offer less control because you're working as a team and the big house already has a set price for each line and a distinct style of art work. If you sell to Avon books you only need to look at their other titles to get an idea of what your cover will look like. Same for if you sell to anyone else. As for the book, a quick poll of authors with similar histories to my own shows that if you have a reason for a scene or element better than, "Because I said so!" you'll be able to keep your pet scene. Larger presses do expect you to conform a little more to genre expectations unless you're writing is so good you can redefine expectations. The stronger your writing, the more control you have,
Self-publishing offers royalties of up to 70% and a great chance to get paid right away. It sounds almost to good to be true, and for a vast majority of self-publishers that's exactly what it is: to good to be true. A quick Google search shows the last self-published success story of 2014 was reported in January 2014, more than a year ago, and talking with any self-published author you will find that sales are down. You can make a profit and a living self-publishing, especially if you sell one of the hot genres (romance and erotica), and if you hustle. Several authors have wonderful careers because they caught the self-publishing trend at the right time and built a significant fan base. They are the Crossfit people of publishing. For the majority of people, you make 70% of $0.00. The take home percentage of nothing is nothing and the odds are not in your favor here.
Remember that all costs with self-publishing are up front so there's a significant risk of not earning out the money you put into publishing. A lot of authors use this as an excuse to not invest in an editor or cover artist. Don't do that. If you want to self-publish take the risk and make sure your book looks polished and professional. If you can't afford to approach self-publishing as business you shouldn't self-publish.
Small presses offer anywhere between 15% and 40% royalties. They also provide editing, formatting, and cover art. If you find a strong small press they'll have a market reach and do some of your marketing for you. Flyers, banners, fellow press authors handing your bookmarks out at cons... these are small things you could arrange for yourself (and you will if you self-publish) but it's nice when someone else does the work.
Big presses have varying royalties and the chance of money in advance, it all depends on who you work with and how you choose to negotiate. Most authors can't disclose their royalty percentages, it's in the contract that they can't. However, the industry standard ranges from 15% to 30% sometimes higher depending on the author. Those numbers often change after a set number of books are sold. So an author who gets 15% until their advance earns out (maybe 15,000 sales) will bounce up to 25% thereafter. I've glanced at sample contracts and this is a complicated numbers mess. The good news is you can earn decent royalties and you're almost guaranteed sales. Almost. The big marketing machine can be good news, but nothing is perfect, too few sales and you won't sell your next book as easily.
Self-publishing, unfortunately, offers finish-and-publish-the-same-day speed which hurts self-publishing. The reason there is a bias against self-publishing is the number of people who write a rough draft, publish their book, and use reader feedback to edit their work. If you're doing self-publishing correctly (i.e. professionally) there's about a 6 months turn around between finishing a good draft of the book and publication. This accounts for time spent at the editors and can be parred down significantly. Authors who have good working relationships with editors can often secure a faster turn around speed. And, as with everything, the more books the author has written the faster they can turn out a clean copy that doesn't need to be rewritten. Writing times will vary by author. If you are brand new to writing and publishing budget two years to write, edit, and publish a book that can compete on the marketplace. If you're holding a polished manuscript, give yourself three months to edit, format, and build buzz about the release.
Small presses usually have a turn around time of six months between when a manuscript is turned in and the book hits the shelves. This includes multiple edits, sometimes with more than one editor, and back and forth with your cover artist. With luck you'll have advance copies to send to reviewers several weeks before the release. But, if someone else misses their deadline, you might find your book book hitting the shelves earlier than arranged. It happens.
Big presses have a reputation for glacial speeds and anachronistic responses. Three months to hear from an agent! Years on submission! Nine months to get a rejection! And I'm not saying that isn't true. I am saying it isn't the norm. For me the timeline went: sign with agent in August, book interest in September, official offer in October, announcement in November, and the book hits the shelves in April of this year. Not all presses and editors are that fast, but mine is. That's roughly an eight month turn around time. Not as fast as self-publishing, but not as prohibitively slow either.
In the interest of full disclosure and to keep this as unbiased as a hybrid author can be: I spent two years writing and editing the book, twelve months querying it, six months rewriting it, and did several editing passes with my agent before she took the book on submission.
SO WHICH PUBLISHING METHOD IS THE BEST?That depends on you, what you need, what you've written, and what you can bring to the table.
If answered YES! to all the self-publishing questions above in red you will probably have a great self-publishing career. It's not a bad choice for the right person. It's not a bad choice for certain books. I have one that will come out later this year that I'm self-publishing because it's a kooky Choose Your Own Adventure and it needs self-publishing to thrive.
Caveat: If you have queried your novel widely and been rejected consider not publishing the book. Hand it over to a writing group or professional editor and ask them to tell you why it's getting rejected. Listen to them. If the book needs editing: edit. If the book needs an overhaul: fix it. If the book is beyond your ability to fix: put it under the bed and write a new book.
It sounds horrible, but sometimes a novel just doesn't fly. Every author has dead books under their bed. Cry it out. Cuddle up under a blanket and watch your favorite TV show. Then let the story go and write something new. Maybe you'll find a way to fix the dead book, maybe you won't, but you won't put your name on something that isn't ready for publication.
If you have a niche book that doesn't have a worldwide appeal, or it's not the right length for a big press, and you think self-publishing is a little too intense for you, go find a good small press. Research them well and with luck you will find yourself at a loving, supportive press where your fellow authors cheer you on and the editors love the characters as much as you do.
Small press is the *best* option for someone who wants the control of self-publishing but can't afford up front costs or isn't sure how to find a good editor. The press does most of the heavy lifting for you and you still get a lot of control. I can't say enough good things about good small presses. That being said, there are bad small presses out there and things can go bad fast. Educate yourself before you sign anything. If you aren't sure, ASK! There are authors, agents, an editors all over the internet willing to offer free advice.
Don't pay for anything up front. If you're asked to pay then you're dealing with a vanity press or a scam artist, not a small press.
These are harder to get into. No lie, there's competition and you have to fit a certain set of qualifications for marketability, appeal, and writing skills. The big publishers have been around a long time and they know how to make money from selling books. But they aren't for everyone. Again, do your research. The Big Press marketing machine can be made to work in your favor. If you have a commercially viable book (meaning it has wide appeal and meets the genre standards for length and topic) it wouldn't hurt to give Big Press a try.
THE HYBRID OPTIONI'm obviously not convinced any of these methods is the Holy Grail of publishing. I don't have the drive to make self-publishing workable for me. It's more of my limitations and what I'm willing to put in than a limitation of the publishing form itself. I'm not willing to put cash into a venture up front, and to do self-publishing well you need to invest at time and usually money.
So I'm making a case for the Hybrid Authors. The ones who try it all and see what works. You know what? It's done real well for a lot of authors. You get expertise and contacts in all levels of publishing. You can build a wider fan base because you can offer a wider variety of books. You can do more of what you want because you don't see publishing as a brass ring to win, you see it as a tool.
For a hybrid author publication isn't the end goal. I never set out with a dream of being a published author or seeing my book on the shelf. I started with a story that I loved and wanted to share, and I found the best way to share that story with the widest audience possible. And I repeat that process for every book.
There will always be more books. There are always more stories to tell.
My book isn't my baby. It is not going to melt under your critical gaze and neither am I. My book isn't me compensating for failures elsewhere. I'm not writing so someone can stroke my ego and praise my genius. I'm a Leo, I already know I'm hot stuff and so fabulous that Beyoncé calls me up for advice (this is possibly a lie). My book isn't anything other than a story, and I'm a storyteller.
To tell a story well you must tell it the right way, at the right time, to the right person.
Being a hybrid lets me tell a story the right way.
You need to choose for yourself how to tell your stories well. Listen to advice. Research all the options. Think about. Make a list of pros and cons. And make sure you use some common sense. When you see a long article telling you about how horrible one form of publishing is and how great another is, and then the person recommends you buy their book for $3.99 so you can publish just like them... take it with a grain of salt.