Indie vs Traditional? Self or the Big House? Amazon or Penguin?
Do you have any idea which route, indie vs traditional, you want to go with your book?
To start, let’s define.
Traditional publishing is where you query agents. Get picked up by an agent who then tries to sell your book to a publishing house.
That publishing house will then front all the money for production of the book, to include an editor and publicity, and then get the book to market.
Indie publishing is where you find the editor, do the marketing and upload your work to the retailer of your choice (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc.)
No matter which direction you lean, serious questions need to be asked.
Traditional publishing offers a certain amount of street cred in the publishing world.
And wider distribution.
And access to more avenues – audio, film/TV, and international markets.
But even all that is changing.
In the romance genre, traditional houses are losing writers because those writers have found more lucrative success on their own.
So let’s talk about the difference between these two publishing styles and help you figure out which direction to go.
First, advances. How much is your work worth?
Sure, we’d all like to make millions and be famous authors who never have to work again, but that’s not likely.
More than 50,000 new books are uploaded to Amazon every month.
Agents receive upwards of 500 unsolicited manuscripts a week.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a career for yourself.
If you go the traditional route, a typical advance for a new writer is somewhere between $7-$10K, which is roughly a projection of two years of sales.
If you go indie, you’ll have to decided between exclusive to Amazon or going wide. But there won’t be an advance.
You’ll start making real money with advertising.
With several books out or rapid releasing on Amazon, you can help establish a pretty successful career.
Second, Payouts. Do you really need an agent?
If you go with an agent, he will get 15% of sales.
Then the publisher and editor will get the next roughly 50-70%.
And if you’re lucky you might average 20-25%.
If I went indie, Amazon gives me upwards of 65% of my sales.
Same is true with other retailers.
But there is a difference in what trad can offer.
I asked Literary Agent Kate Testerman of ktliterary why I need a agent.
Her overwhelming answer was foreign rights and contract negotiation.
She’s right. I can’t negotiate foreign rights.
But I can have an intellectual property attorney I trust review contract language for me.
Of course, these days I can sell books in some international markets on Amazon and other outlets without an agent.
And again, I can have an IP attorney check on that for me.
Master Agent Kristin Nelson runs an amazing blog, Pub Rants to help you figure out what an agent can do for you regardless of which way you originally decided to go.
Mark Dawson also discusses this on his blog and podcast.
Third, editors. Do you really need an editor?
Yes. Period. But do you need one contracted by an agent?
This is another aspect of the indie vs traditional debate.
There are numerous folks out there who can edit, proofread, copyedit, line edit and project manage your book for you.
I hired one and love her. To find a good editor, you can use Upwork or Reedsy
Mine keeps me on task and points out all sorts of interesting things and egregious errors in character development, plot lines and good old fashioned grammar.
There are a lot of pros to hiring an editor before you query agents.
Your work will be more polished and increase the likelihood of being picked up traditionally.
For an indie, there is no debate.
If you want to sell books, you need an editor.
However, if you do decide to hire an editor, make sure to do your research and get references.
The Editorial Freelancers Association is a wonderful reference.
Fourth, Retailers. Do you need a publisher?
If you want a wide distribution in physical bookstores, then yes you do need a publisher.
One thing traditional publishing can do for you that no amount of indie publishing can is give you national distribution in major bookstores.
That being said, in this day and age, Ingram Spark is helping solve that problem.
Including getting indie books in libraries that accept indie authors.
Fifth. Marketing. Do you need a publicist?
No, you don’t need a publicist.
Here’s the deal.
Traditional publishing houses are going to offer you the bare minimum in publicity and marketing and are going to require you to do the bulk of the work.
If you go indie, you’ll have to do all the marketing as well.
If you hire a publicist, I recommend hiring her for long enough to get your feet off the ground.
Let her help you establish your online presence and book you some signings or talks, but once you’re comfortable with those things, do it yourself.
Most marketing is done by the writer regardless of publishing style because that’s the way it is.
And it should be. The readers want to get to know you. Not your publicist.
Sixth, Timelines. How much time do you have?
How fast do you want to get to market?
Indies can publish whenever they’re ready.
Traditionals are on the hook for the publishers timeline, which can be upwards of a year.
If your book is ready to go — and by that, I mean you have written the absolute best book you can.
It has been professionally edited, proofed and formatted.
In your heart of hearts you know the book is ready.
Then, and only then would you ask yourself how much time do you have before you’ll pull your hair out if that book isn’t out on the market.
If you’re willing to wait, traditional publishing is about a year or two.
Amazon, in less time than it takes to read this blog post.
But for the sake of writers everywhere, please make sure it is a fabulous book that you love before posting it.
Seventh, Control. Who has it?
If you’d prefer to have someone else think about the business side of writing, then traditional publishing is for you.
If you like to have your hands in everything, then indie publishing is for you.
Traditional publishing contracts will more than likely have you relinquish all intellectual property associated with your novel and all formats. In other words, if you plan to do a series or tell spin-off stories of your characters, all that must go through your publisher first.
Indie authors can write whatever they want, whenever they want.
And put it in whatever format they want: ebook, audio, big print, small print.
But indie authors will front all the money to make that happen.
Traditional authors won’t.
The bottom line is that you, and only you, can make this decision for yourself.
There are many reasons to go either direction.
Make sure you educate yourself on exactly what it takes to be indie and exactly what it takes to go traditional.
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