Thursday, January 2, 2014

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: An Honest Experience

I have been debating whether or not to actually make this post. Is it too honest? Am I putting too much out there for the blogosphere to judge? Am I going to look a few Jonny Depps short of a Burton film?

Who cares! Here I go.

First, a little background. My first novel, Lunula, was picked up by Malachite Quills Publishing in 2012. They later broke into subsidiaries, and Lunula is actually now published by Caliburn Books, but it's the same place, and I speak to the same people if I need anything or if they need something from me.

After I wrote Lunula's sequel, Inito, I decided to take the plunge and try self-publishing. I'm reckless and curious like that, so I just kind of went for it.

Knowing that, you could see how I might be in a position to compare the two for you. I'm sure this has happened to loads of authors, but most of the advice I have read from them sounds a lot like this: "Do what you feel is right. Do what is best for you. Only you can know what makes you most comfortable."

It's so dreadfully diplomatic.

So I'm going to give you my very honest experience with both of these. Then you can decide which one you think is most appealing for you, or which might give you the best chance of success.

Traditionally Published
When I was picked up by Malachite Quills, I was absolutely ecstatic! No matter where I go or what I do, they will remain the reason I allowed myself to become a writer. You know how we writers are with needing affirmation; we're impossible to be around if we haven't been patted on the head and told we are indeed good at what we do. So knowing that they not only thought my work was worth reading, but worth staking some money on meant the world to me. And I owe them big time for making me an official author.

I have already documented some of my experience with this: How I Got Published, What Happens After the Publisher Acceptance Letter, Working With an Illustrator, and Publisher Contract).

But, putting myself on the therapist couch, how did it make me feel?

 I'll start off by saying that my correspondence with them has been awesome. I have one person in particular that I report to, and he's very friendly, professional, and willing to help. Two Shrute bucks for that.

One thing that disheartened me with this process is how much I still had to do on my own, even though I wasn't self-publishing. They took care of all things formatting, from the cover to the ebook and print versions of the book. But I did all the marketing. I was a complete novice about marketing, and started off pretty crappy, floundering around and gasping for air in a world I didn't recognize. I don't know what MQ does behind the scenes, but, putting my honesty hat on here, I didn't feel like they did any marketing whatsoever. And that discouraged me.

I also only get a very marginal cut of sales, as is common with being an author. If they make, say $1 after Amazon takes fees, I get a few cents. That's IF they're making a whole dollar per book, which I'm not even sure they are. That, combined with my newb marketing skills, made for a bummed out writer.

Ending on a high note, they give me some credibility. Like I said earlier, they were willing to take a chance on me, and felt my book would make them money. Having a publisher back you up is huge! I know we writers and indie authors like to say it doesn't really matter, but I think it does. The world of authorship is shifting, but that doesn't change the fact that if a book survived the fires of query letters and rejections, and landed some street cred, it feels legitimizing. And I didn't realize what a difference that would make until...


So okay, there I was as a new author, and I finished up my second novel. I sent it along to MQ right away, and then had a night where I sat down and thought, "Hmmmm. I wonder. I wonder if I can try doing this on my own. Will it make a difference?" And my curiosity got the better of me, and I bought a self-publishing book, and it got me all fired up, and then I had to send an awkward email to my publisher whom I still like very much, telling them I was going momentarily wacko and wanting to try doing things on my own.

So. How did it go?

It was a lot of work! I don't say that to be whiny, because it was worth every hour, but between the cover, and editing, formatting, and marketing, it was a full-time job for a while there. And I was still in school full-time with 3 toddlers to care for. *Pulls on collar* I quickly realized that some authors might have the required amount of time to devote to self-publishing properly, but I simply wasn't one of them! Not at this point in my life with so much going on. I had no clue how much went into getting a book published! Even though I had read about it and researched every angle, I was still surprised.

Upside? I really am making more money.

Downside? Surprisingly, doors were closed to me. There are some reviewers who won't review your book if you aren't published. Awards I can't apply for. I felt like I lost some credibility, and if that will affect my sales remains to be seen, but whether I like it or not, and whether or not it is fair, there were still some closed doors.

Think about this: I plan to write a Historical Fiction at some point, and I can self-publish again if I want. But if I did decide to use a traditional publisher, my resume is now going to look like this: "I was published by Malachite Quills, and then decided to self-publish my second." They may very well think, "Why did she self-publish? Does she not work well with publishers? Did her publishers not like her? Did her writing not sell and they refused her second book?" It doesn't look that great, and it might hinder me from getting a publisher in that market. Heck, for all I know, Malachite Quills might be mad at me, too!

All that aside, self-publishing has a certain satisfying reward about it that you can't get any other way. I am in complete control of every aspect of my book, and that is fabulous! When Lunula was released, I had no idea when it would be out until a week before the release. Marketing nightmare! (Not that I even realized that at the time, idjit that I was) And I didn't get a copy of the cover until that week, too, so making flyers or really doing anything without a picture was hard. With Inito, I had the cover done weeks in advance. I got to run it by you, my readers, to see what you thought. That kind of control may very well be worth the aggravation and any hits I might take in status.

My Conclusion

So which is better? I'll start off by saying that you should feel free to draw any conclusions you feel are right. Different things are more important to different authors. In my experience, the money is more substantial with self-publishing.

But that's not important to me. Money isn't on my list of worthy lifelong goals, but becoming as accomplished as an author as I can be? That's the one that is important to me. And if I want to branch out, write in different fields with other publishers, or go for the really big publisher fish, then I might have to shift my game plan around. I'm also incredibly busy. And I mean, who isn't, right? But self-publishing has taken away time from my kids, and I'm not willing to sacrifice that, even for my writing. Far better to focus on writing and marketing the books I have, and then try to find publishers willing to sponsor me and help me get my books out there.

So that's my conclusion. I actually preferred having a publisher. I might be a minority--I don't really know to tell you the truth. But that is my very honest experience! I hope it was helpful, insightful, or at the very least, a little diverting.

Do you have any experiences to share with publishing? I want to hear them!

1 comment:

  1. I haven't published either way (yet), but am looking at being hybrid-published. My WIP (children's fantasy) is one I'm definitely looking to get traditionally published, but I have a few projects that will be self-pubbed.

    It's great to read such an honest story of the experience of both - thank you! I find that this topic tends to be quite polarised, so it's nice to see some middle-road thinking.

    As you mentioned, and a few writers have said to me, it depends so much on what you want out of your writing.

    Great post!