As a new author, I continue to hold the hopes of success as hard as I try to resist the anxiety of failure. Beginning the journey, the definition of each has equal importance. Is a writer successful only if he/she makes millions of dollars followed by Hollywood blockbuster films? Is a writer a failure if he/she sells ten ebooks with ten five-star reviews? For most of us new authors, the answer is “no” to each. Technology of today allows us to see the realities up close of the variable paths to take during the writing journey, each with advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, I am going to review some pros and cons of publishing options; namely, traditional and self-publishing, from the perspective of the “not completely informed” new author.
All publishing for the new author obviously requires completion of the manuscript. Traditional publishers usually require submission by a literary agent. The literary agent requires the work to be completed and professionally edited before they consider representing the author. A query letter is usually sent that must be attention-getting enough to catch the interest of the agent.
So is traditional publishing a bad thing for a new author? Of course it isn’t. Like self-publishing, the burden of the written work lies with the author. Credible literary agencies make it clear they are paid via a percentage of the sales of the book. The multitudes of writer’s threads on the internet emphasize new authors to never pay someone to read your work. So really, if all goes well, a person can go from pen and paper (or computer, these days) straight into publication without spending a dime (in theory). Once accepted by an editor of a traditional publisher, then marketing and distribution of the book is out of the author’s hands, with contractual agreements regarding what the author is paid as a result of sales.
There’s criticism amongst the self-published community about traditional publishers. But if they are so bad, then why do we try it first? Well, it is cheaper than paying for everything, and money does have a loud voice. But how much cheaper is traditional publishing for the new author? Note my above sentence: Agents wanted completed, professionally edited manuscripts. Does anyone know any editors that do free work, unless your mother is an English teacher? From recent conversations with traditionally published new author friends of mine, they tend to remain silent when I ask how much did the editor charged them.
What about rights? I won’t pretend to be some expert on intellectual rights, but I do know that a publishing company is a business, and for a business to exist, it must function, and therefore, make sales. To have the burden of marketing, distribution, and sales on the publishing company instead of the author, traditional publishing doesn’t sound like a bad deal. But also as a company, they have to proceed on their terms. Horror stories are out there with new authors writing books sitting on traditional publisher’s desks for years before distribution. I hope that’s an urban legend.
Self-publishing is not a walk in the park, either. In this setting, still the author writes the book, and it’s preferable it either be in completion or close to completion before the process begins. The experience is opposite that of the traditional publisher; these companies beat your door down for business better than an insurance salesman. This time, the burden is upon the author to pay for publication; and for various editing/marketing services that can damage the pocketbook faster than I can on ebay. (Articles defining various self-publishing companies are out there, with at least one listed on my blog). I’ve always known I need an editor, so I use at least one or two, these companies do satisfactory service, and good book covers. So for the service itself, you get what you pay for, and I’ve had generally good service. I go with paperback plus kindle/ebook, but if your budget is for ebook, that appears to be an upcoming market, which I use extensively myself when reading the work of other authors.
The “taint” of the self-published author will stay with you and your book during your journey. Reviewers, buyers, writers’ groups, and bookstores will shun you for being what you are. Some writers’ threads have traditionally published authors saying nice statements like “some of the self-published authors actually can write.” I had one guy be so bold as to walk up to me and say, “So, you published your book because you had enough money, not because it was chosen.” (I suspect a case of car envy). It’s a stumble but not a downfall these days; especially in fiction because self-published authors are a big club. Move around these obstacles; it’s hard to change one’s mind once they’ve made it up. I’ve been given great advice to forget about them, and I pass it along.
On book blogs: so far, I like them. Reason: I continue to learn how to blog. That may sound ridiculous, but some are better at blogging than others. I joined and donated to a syndicated blog that offered my money back because of my useless blog. What, who turns away money? I took a deep breath, as I do with bad reviews and tried to learn instead of scoff. I’m still learning, but now my blog is syndicated; therefore, my posts reach more people than my direct followers. It takes time to grow an audience, so by actually doing what social network experts tell you to do works. Also, the self-published author lacks the advantage of marketing by a large company. What the new author is looking for is the credibility given to traditional published authors. To get that, one must promote. To promote, one must be cautious; yes, promote your work. Don’t promote only your work. It takes time, but that’s OK. Take your time to learn to do it well; obviously I’m still learning. Reviews help with promotion; but don’t expect some favorable reviews lead to the NY Times bestseller list. As a new author, you’re in a tough industry, so learn to work with it.
Last note on book blogs: I’ve learned something that I stubbornly learned in professional school. I was told that my most important resource was my classmates. With authors, our most important resource is other authors. By networking, interacting, reading, reviewing, tweeting, etc. there’s a universe of information out there helpful to the new author; one just has to take the time to look.