The “Pub” Crawl: Traditional vs. Self-Publishing #UtopYA

If you didn’t already know, I am a HUGE SUPPORTER of Indie authors! But that wasn’t always the case. Not long ago (2 years) I was only purchasing books that were recommended by family or friends. I wasn’t a book blogger and had no part in the literary community like I do now, so the books were probably published by one of the “big dogs.” Now I am happy to say that I purchase books by both traditional and self-published authors, but I really do put my all into supporting Indie authors. Someday, when I finish writing my first book, I know darn well I’ll be seeking support, and I know that I have loads of people in my corner when that time comes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t purchase traditionally published books because I most certainly do. Anyone that has seen the list of books I own can attest to my unbiased book purchasing habits! 😉

Let’s hear from some authors about their experiences with traditional vs. self-publishing, shall we?

I want to take a moment to thank all three of these authors for sharing their experience and knowledge with us here today. Each one has a different perspective to offer on this topic and I hope everyone enjoys what they have to share with us.

Calling all readers, bloggers, and authors!

Let’s continue this conversation in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts, concerns, and questions after reading through this fine material.

Grab your favorite “pub crawl” beverage and let’s do this!

K.A. Last, author of Immagica and The Tate Chronicles

When Toni asked me to write about my experience with self-publishing, I had no idea where to start. I don’t think I even know how to explain my journey, because it’s one that is constantly changing and evolving.

Some people have asked me, how have I become successful? Well, that depends on how you measure your success. If you take into consideration book sales, and the amount of money I’ve made over the past year and half, I haven’t been very successful at all. But if you look at what I’ve learnt, the people I’ve met, and the friends I’ve made, then my success is unmeasurable.

You can’t go into self-publishing expecting to become the next Amanda Hocking, Abbi Glines, or Colleen Hoover. Although it would be nice. Self-publishing involves a lot of hard work, and you have to be prepared to do everything, or if you can’t, pay someone (from your own pocket) to do it for you.

For me, self-publishing is more about my love for writing, and getting my stories into the hands of readers. Every time someone tells me how much they loved one of my books, it makes it all worth it.

There’s one main thing I’ve learnt along my journey that I’d like to point out:

• If you can’t do something, and do it well, then don’t do it.

I’m referring to important things like cover design, and editing. Your cover needs to sell your book. It has to be professional. Then, once you’ve got people’s attention, the content needs to be polished. If I was asked to give one piece of advice to anyone thinking about self-publishing, it would be to hire a professional cover designer, and a professional editor.

Below are some blog posts I’ve written in the past about self-publishing. I hope you find them helpful.

Marketing: http://www.kalastbooks.com.au/2012/11/how-to-market-your-book-creating-your.html

First impressions: http://www.kalastbooks.com.au/2012/12/the-power-of-first-impressions-and.html

eBook formatting: http://www.kalastbooks.com.au/2013/01/ebook-formatting-what-ive-learnt.html

Paperback or eBook: http://www.kalastbooks.com.au/2013/08/what-comes-first-paperback-or-ebook.html

Book signings: http://aussieownedandread.com/page/2/?s=self-publishing

The Indie checklist: http://aussieownedandread.com/?s=self-publishing

Judging a book by its cover: http://aussieownedandread.com/page/2/?s=cover+design

KAAUthor

K. A. Last was born in Subiaco, Western Australia, and moved to Sydney with her parents and older brother when she was eight. Artistic and creative by nature, she studied Graphic Design and graduated with an Advanced Diploma. After marrying her high school sweetheart, she concentrated on her career before settling into family life. Blessed with a vivid imagination, she began writing to let off creative steam, and fell in love with it. She now resides in a peaceful leafy suburb north of Sydney with her husband, their two children, and a rabbit named Twitch.

Kim’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

Katie Hayoz, author of Untethered

Self-publishing is awesome. You keep all your rights, all your money, you make all the creative decisions and you are IN CONTROL. That is awesome. So is the Indie community itself; Indie authors are generous with their time and knowledge and are an extremely supportive group. I’m proud to be a part of that.

But while it may be awesome, self-publishing isn’t easy. There are a lot of good Indie authors out there doing well for themselves. But there are lot more good authors whose books are dying in the virtual marketplace – not because they aren’t great books, but because in order to get traction on sales you need to find a readership. And in order to find a readership you need to know how to market your book. And in order to market your book you need skills that aren’t necessarily the same as the skills you need to write your book.

You get the picture.

A year ago when I self-published Untethered, I went into it believing that as long as I had a well written, nicely presented novel, it would sell. The writing was worthy. The editing was professional. The cover was cool. When I pressed the PUBLISH button and popped open the champagne, I sat back with a smile and waited for the sales to start pouring in.

Um, yeah.

I back-peddled and started haphazard marketing. I spread myself thin on social media and took out random ads in odd places. I bought books on how to make a killing on Amazon. I discovered self-publishing requires both business sense and a spot of luck. It requires work and dedication. And it’s not for everyone.

There are certain personalities that succeed at self-publishing better than others; I struggle with it. I’m unorganized, have an allergic reaction to anything involving outlines or plans, and keep poor track of my sales or any effects of my marketing. My creativity does not seem to extend to promotional ideas or intriguing tweets or funny Facebook posts. I confuse Watt pad with What’s App and don’t know how to use either. I am not your ideal self-publishing candidate.

And yet my experience trying the traditional route hasn’t exactly been fantastic. When my agent took me on, she was sure publishers were going to jump on Untethered. But they didn’t. And they took their sweet time deciding they weren’t interested. I spent a year of my life biting my nails every time I opened my inbox, hoping for a deal.

No such luck.

We all know that traditional publishing is slow compared to self-publishing. And that authors have significantly less control. Plus, instead of making maybe 70% on your e-books, you make more like 10%. But — and this is the big BUT for any author who is having a hard time finding her footing in the Indie world – those publishers know how to get your book to readers.

That can be worth everything.

The only thing with traditional publishers is… you are at the mercy of traditional publishers. They take you on, not vice-versa.

A couple weeks ago, my agent sent a manuscript of mine out to several publishing houses. Right now, I’m waiting. My stomach feels like it’s eating itself. I can’t seem to concentrate on writing my other books like I should. I’ve been through this before and I know what the outcome is likely to be: I’m likely to be back in the self-publishing arena again.

If that’s the case, will I be disappointed? Yes and no. Yes, because I don’t want to be rejected. And because I don’t have the cash to plonk into another book right now. No, because this time I’d know more about what I’m doing. It still may not translate into tons of sales. But it would mean my novel could be read and that it wouldn’t be sitting dormant on my USB key.

In the end, how I get published isn’t as important to me as being published.

The best part is putting my work out there and finding people who love it. It’s what makes being an author – Indie or Traditional — awesome.

Katie Hayoz

Katie grew up in Racine, Wisconsin where she acquired an irreversible nasal twang and an addiction for books with a slightly dark edge. She now lives in Geneva, Switzerland with her husband, two daughters, and a very fuzzy cat. She has been an avid reader of YA fiction for years. While she has a penchant for the paranormal, she devours a range of books — along with popcorn and black licorice. She consumes all three in large quantities. Luckily, the books don’t stay on her hips.

Katie’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Rhiannon Frater, author of… well, the list is quite extensive, so let’s just say a WHOLE LOT of awesome stuff! 😉

I am a hybrid author. What does that mean? It means I am both self-published and traditionally published. A lot of people thought I would no longer self-publish once I was picked up by a major publishing house, assuming that I had finally hit the comfort of the big time. The reality is that it’s in my best interests to self-publish and sell my work to major publishers for multiple reasons.

My Publishing History

I originally self-published starting in 2005 with the As The World Dies trilogy (The First Days, Fighting to Survive, Siege) online serial. Later in 2008, due to fan demand, I released the entire serial in three large volumes. The trilogy garnered a lot of rave reviews, praise from readers, and several awards. All three books were picked up by Tor in 2010 and were reissued starting in 2011. Immediately people anticipated that all my self-published books would be reissued through the big publishing houses. I thought perhaps this would happen, too, but I wanted to learn how the traditional side worked first. I knew the process would be a lot different from self-publishing.

It wasn’t until recently that I decided to have some more of my novels reissued by a publishing house. Permuted Press has just published the Pretty When She Dies trilogy and The Midnight Spell. Furthermore, two of my forthcoming novels are being released through publishing houses: Dead Spots by Tor and The Mesmerized by Permuted Press. Both books are new works of fiction written specifically for publication through those houses.

Some people have taken this as a sign that I’m starting to shift all my works to publishing houses, but this isn’t the case. Though I have had some previous self-published books move on to traditional publishing, I don’t necessarily want or aspire to have all my books reissued.

So why am I still a hybrid?

Let me explain…

A Regular Monthly Income Offers Stability

Publishing houses usually pay quarterly and have 90 net days to pay. This means long time periods of not seeing a “regular” check. I’m a full-time writer at this time, so having a more regular income offers some security. Most of the online distributors for self-published books pay monthly. It’s nice to have regular income coming in that I can track, so I can anticipate future income.

Every once and a while I’ll have a big royalty check come in from a publisher that I wasn’t expecting. Those are awesome, but it’s the regular increments that allow me peace of mind.

Sometimes Publishing Houses Don’t Want What I’m Writing

A lot of people believe that if you write a great story a publishing house will snap it up. It’s a common belief that a publishing house won’t turn down a story if it’s well-written, and that they only turn down the shoddy stuff. This isn’t actually the case. Both my agent and editor at Tor have told me that plenty of really great stories aren’t published for a variety of reasons. Most often it is because there is no market for that particular type of story, or it is too similar thematically to a book that is already being/has been published.

A few years ago, my agent and I loved a premise and the synopsis for a novel and excitedly pitched it to my editor at Tor. The story was deemed too similar to another book already coming out by the publisher. Both stories are about a city surrounded by zombies and how the city is trying to wipe them out by getting creative. In only that way were the two stories similar, but it was deemed close enough. I was disappointed, but my agent encouraged me to write the book anyway. She’s interested in growing my career with Tor, but also understands that as a full-time writer I need to consider all my options. As she has told me a few times, “I’ve sold your self-published stuff before.”

My scifi/horror novel The Last Bastion of the Living is my bestselling self-published novel to date and has received a lot of recognition. It was declared the Best Zombie Novel of The Last Decade by B & N Book Blog and has landed on many “best of” lists. The sales of the book have been a big part of my income since release. The book was good, it just didn’t fit what my publisher was looking for. Instead, they picked the idea for Dead Spots, which will come out in February 2015.

I Like Creative Control

One of the things that is very difficult about being published through a publisher is that you lose total control over your book. The cover, editing, and marketing of the book end up out of your hands.
Depending on your editor, you could end up with a light editorial letter that will make you change only a few things and tidy up the language, or a complete overhaul of the book that eliminates characters and plotlines. So far I’ve been very lucky to work with good editors with both my self-published and traditionally published novels, but I have heard horror stories about the Big Five Publishers.

Covers are always a sticky subject with writers. I’ve known a few writers who hated the covers of their traditionally published books. The editor and sales team are the ones who have final say over a cover. Not the author. Again, I’ve been lucky to be able to offer feedback on my Tor covers, but the final decision is not mine. Permuted Press loved my original self-published covers and are using the same cover artist, Claudia McKinney of Phat Puppy Art, to do the cover of The Mesmerized.

When it comes to my self-published books, I have total control over my covers. If a book isn’t moving copies, I may seriously consider a cover change. I like having the option to do that.

When I self-publish, I have control over how my books are marketed. It can be expensive at times to buy ads, book blog tours, and set up appearances, but again I have final say. If I want to put a book for free or reduce its price to pump up its visibility and get more sales, I can do that. I don’t have any say in the pricing or marketing of traditionally published books. Whatever the marketing team decides to do, is what will happen. I have zero say.

As for promotion, I arrange and pay my way to book signings. I take care of my own appearances at conventions, workshops, and book festivals whether supporting my self-published books or my traditionally published books.

Of course, being traditionally published means my books might end up on your local bookstore shelf, while my self-published books are more likely not to. It’s hard to beat the exposure of being in a bookstore.

My Fans Have More To Read From Me

The huge difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is how often I have a book release. If I was completely dependent on Tor as my publisher, there would have been a serious gap between the release of Siege (the final book in the As The World Dies Trilogy) and Dead Spots. It’ll be almost three years between books when Dead Spots hits bookshelves.

Because I also self-publish, my readers have a lot more of my books to read. Even the books that have now been reissued by Permuted Press originally hit the shelves during the long gaps between the As The World Dies trilogy books.

Since I now have a solid publishing team in place, I can do a fairly quick turn around on my novels. I can have an idea for a book in January and have it published within six months (or even less).
With a traditional publisher, I pitch the idea, wait for the contract, write the book, wait for revisions, revise, wait for approval on the submissions, then have the long wait to publications. I pitched Dead Spots in 2011. I wrote it in 2012. I revised it in 2013. It will be published in 2015. This is a major reason I continue to self-publish. My readers don’t have to wait so long between books.

Being a Hybrid Author Suits My Goals

Like most writers, I want to be a full-time writer. I’ve done it now for three years and hope to continue to do so. That means I must have a variety of income sources that can pay the bills and fund future books and promotional appearances. For now being a hybrid writer is the best way for me to go.
What’s wonderful about this time period in publishing is that writers now have choices, and I’ve made mine.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, including the As the World Dies zombie trilogy (Tor), as well as independent works such as The Last Bastion of the Living (declared the #1 Zombie Release of 2012 by Explorations Fantasy Blog and the #1 Zombie Novel of the Decade by B&N Book Blog), and other horror novels. In 2014, her newest horror novel, The Mesmerized, will be released by Permuted Press. Dead Spots will be published in 2015 by Tor. She was born and raised a Texan and presently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and furry children (a.k.a pets). She loves scary movies, sci-fi and horror shows, playing video games, cooking, dyeing her hair weird colors, and shopping for Betsey Johnson purses and shoes.

Rhiannon’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads

Thank you, thank you, and thank you again, all three of you brilliant authors, for taking the time to share this invaluable information about the world of publishing!

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Wife, mother, blogger, author, gamer, and a lover of the culinary arts. Toni lives in Michigan with her husband and four children. If she's not writing or curled up with a book, you'll most likely find her playing with her kids, baking cupcakes, or killing zombies.
  • I just posted this on my FB page earlier today. For me Indie is about the freedom. Doing it all yourself is very difficult but I have met some many wonderful people (like you Toni) in the industry whom I don’t think I would have met otherwise. I’m not saying I would turn an offer down by any means – first I’d have to bother with queries – but I can’t imagine giving up on being Indie in some capacity.

    • I agree, Michele. I know it’s hard work, but I’m sure I will be going the self-pub direction when I finish my book.

  • K. A. Last

    Thanks so much for having me, Toni. It’s people like you who make it easier to
    self-publish. Your support is immeasurable, and you are totally awesome 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Kim! It’s people like you that make me feel confident enough in myself to follow my dreams! <3

  • Samantha Saboviec

    As you know, Toni, my debut self-pub novel is coming out tomorrow. *bites nails* Even though it was a scary, scary thought months ago when I made the decision, I feel like it’s the right one. It seems as though I might not be happy in traditional publishing because of lack of control and slowness of the industry, although it’s hard to say from the outside looking in. I haven’t given up the idea of becoming a hybrid author, but I believe that self-pubbing my first novel was the best decision for me.

    I, fortunately, am very good at planning and I have the heart of an entrepreneur. I’ve done everything I can do to make my baby ready; the only part I’m not confident in is the marketing. I have little experience in it, so I’m learning as I go.

    • I’m so excited for you, Samantha. Happy release day (in just a matter of minutes)! As you know, I am happy to help you in any way I can with getting your debut novel out there.

      I think I’ll be good with the self-pub avenue, as I’ve spent the better part of my working life in sales and customer service. I think it’s prepared me for this adventure. 🙂

  • Great guest posts and stories, Toni. Thanks!

  • Michelle

    This such a great post! I have a feeling I’ll probably try to go indie when I do publish. I know I’ll still submit queries (because you never know) but I like the idea of having control over my own time and my own stories. I would like the more rigid structure of the traditional publisher (I kind of need someone to call me and remind me I should be writing) but it’s hard to get to that point and then have nearly all of the control taken away. Thanks for sharing Toni!

  • Sarah Lyons Fleming

    I love being self-published! I do have an agent. She contacted me after UTEOTW was out, and I signed with her after changing the contract to ensure that I could publish whatever I wanted unless/until she found something that was attractive to us both. I know a lot of writers and knew how books can languish at a literary agency, even if the agent loves it.

    I didn’t want to wait for someone at the Big 6 to decide to take a chance on another zombie story (because that’s how they see it–Another *yawn* zombie story). 🙂 I wanted the readers to decide whether or not they wanted to read it. I love that I get to decide where the story goes and when to release it. There are a lot of good things about publishing contracts (editors, proofreaders, publicity–although from what I hear publicity isn’t always a given these days), but there are also drawbacks.

    I think as long as the author is happy, that’s great!
    And Toni, you are a champion of indie authors. Your reviews are thoughtful and well-written (which is why you need to write those books that we’re all waiting to promote!).Thank you so much for all you do! I voted for MBA, and I really, really hope you win!

    • I agree that many publishers don’t want to see yet another zombie story, no matter how unique and wonderful it might be. I love your series to death, as you are well aware. I hate to think that I might not have gotten the chance to read it had you not self-published.

      Thank you SO MUCH for your kind words, Sarah. I’m completely blown away! Your appreciation of what I do makes it so very worth the time I put into it. I love reading and it makes me so happy that I am able to help promote amazing authors, such as you, doing something I enjoy so much. And yes, I will get my book written in the process! Thank you for your support. It means everything to me. <3

      • Sarah Lyons Fleming

        I meant every word! <3

  • Katie Hayoz

    Thanks so much,Toni, for letting me share my two cents on your blog (which is going to win, by the way, because it is freaking fabulous). Your support has made a huge impact on my confidence as a writer and I’ve read and met all sorts of great authors thanks to MBA. Next year we are going to sell our books at UtopYA together, right? 😉

    • Sarah Lyons Fleming

      **peeps out from under her rock**
      I wanna go! Will y’all talk to me? I may have my 1st of a new series NA zombie book done by then. 😉

      • Hell yes! The three of us can get a table together, Sarah!! Now I’m really excited about next year. 🙂

        • Sarah Lyons Fleming

          Yay!

          • Katie Hayoz

            Ack! That would be awesome! Just finished reading “So Long, Lollipops” and it totally confirms that your writing rocks, Sarah. (But I already knew that.)

          • Sarah Lyons Fleming

            It would be so much fun! And thank you, Katie! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I totally <3 Peter.

    • I’m so happy any time I can get you on my blog, Katie! Thank you for the support as well. We are definitely going to be selling our books at UtopYA together next year! 🙂

  • I love reading about indie experiences. My debut will be coming out on June 15th and then I get to go to UtopYA for the first time and celebrate with a bunch of new friends. Can it get any better? I think not! Well, my gorgeous cover released on Thursday and I’m getting tons of positive comments on it. That was pretty awesome.

    I think I’m doing things right although my brain is tired of learning new things! Like Samantha, I’m not secure with the marketing. Blogs like your’s, Toni, are a great help. I am blown away by the giving nature of the indie world. I like it here. 🙂

  • Great POV’s on this – Loved reading all of these – can’t wait to meet all the indies again.

  • Thanks for the great post 🙂 I bounced over here from Oh, the Books! and it’s one of the best posts I’ve read all day. As a newly published indie author it’s so valuable to be able to read the experiences of other authors and to have the links to different posts and resources.

    I particularly appreciate that, though there’s a similar process to being an indie author, each of your featured authors had different experiences and trajectories so there’s a great perspective to gain from each one 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Annie. I wish you tons of luck with your writing career. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.