Author Chats - Traditional vs. Self-Publishing
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
At this point in my author walk, I have self-published one book, ‘What's the Commotion in the Ocean?: A Rhyming Story about Saving Our Oceans’ and one traditionally published book by Running Press Kids, ‘I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids.’ I have an additional children’s book, a tarot deck coming out this year in 2022, and five children's books coming out in 2023 that will be traditionally published. I get asked most by aspiring authors is, ‘What is the best route?’ They both have their pros and cons, which I will share about my journey.
Firstly, there are three things that are similar between self/indie publishing and traditional publishing. With both, the goal is to share a great story with the world; you will use professionals to strengthen and enhance the story, and no matter the route, you will always promote your work. I mistakenly stepped back regarding marketing when I had ‘I Affirm Me: The ABCs of Inspiration for Black Kids’ published traditionally. I thought there is a marketing team, and I have met with them to set up the plan, and surely they can handle it from here. This was a solid author life lesson for me. No matter who promotes your book, no one will do it like you. It’s your baby.
Creative Control - The design and quality of the product are entirely in your hands. You pick the illustrator and decide what the illustrations look like on each spread.
Speed to Market - The speed of you getting your book will depend on the completion of the manuscript, editing of the manuscript, finding an illustration, finalized illustrations, layout for the book, printer, or on-demand printing company, and marketing. All of these steps are on the author, and upfront financial cost to the author is a part of the indie/self-published route. Ultimately though, this is a much faster route to get the book out into the world.
Retain all rights - As the publisher of your book, you will retain 100% of the property rights to any uses of the manuscript. The author will be free to sell the book rights and benefit directly from these channels.
Prompt Payment - Payment is more instantaneous, all dependent on your choice of distribution channels.
Are you selling through a Print-on-demand company?
Are you selling wholesale to bookstores?
Are you selling signed copies from your own website?
Stays in Print - The author is in complete control of how long the book will be for sale or whether it will be a limited edition batch.
Access to experienced professionals - The publisher handles all the heavy lifting of turning your manuscript into a physical book. Editors, cover designers, formatters, and marketing help are provided publisher (and possibly the agent) as part of the contract. Publishing companies' marketing focuses on wholesale orders to booksellers rather than consumers. If your goal is to focus on your writing and want a publisher to handle the rest of it all, this may be the best route for you.
Formal Validation- Imposter syndrome is real. American author and MIT Professor Junot Diaz considered a career change during the 11 years it took to write his Pulitzer Prize-winning second book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Maya Angelou spoke on imposter syndrome: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. '” For some, being traditional published allows them to get out of their head. Historically, if you make it through the process of getting a literary agent and then a publisher, approval by these gatekeepers are usually validation that your work is good enough to be published. Even if the book doesn't go on to sell very well, at least somebody thought it is a worthwhile story. [Now, the publishing world is very white. Eighty-five percent of the people who acquire and edit books are of caucasian descent and take into account historical context (white supremacy, capitalism, colonization, and the patriarchy. If you want your book published, it helps to be white. Many authors, especially BIPOC authors, have turned to self-publishing to avoid the red tape and share their narrative without it being whitewashed.]
Visibility - Traditional publishers have doors wide open for an author’s work to experience nationwide (and often international) print retail distribution in bookstores and other outlets. This brings about the reach for your hard work giving more people access to what you have decided to share with the world.
Author Advance - No upfront costs to getting your book out into the world. Plus an advance against royalties. The author does not have to pay anyone to get a traditional publishing deal; if money is asked for, it is NOT a traditional book publishing deal. Remember that the advance is against royalties. If you, as the author, get an advance of $20,000, then as the author, you have to earn more than $20,000 out of your royalty rate on book sales before you get any more money. [I have had a few publishing deals in which I found the illustrator and had my project illustrated before signing with a publisher. This project has some upfront cost to me as the author.]
Collaboration: When an author traditionally self-publishes, complete creative control. When you sign a deal with a publisher, you get into bed with everyone assigned to your project. This means the publisher has the final say on the cover design, illustrations, manuscript, and how you are marketed as an author. It is essential to ensure that when you choose a home for your book, you understand how much say and creative input and control you will have while working with them.
READ CONTRACTS THOROUGHLY.
IF YOU ARE NOT PICKED UP BY A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER, SELF-PUBLISH ANYWAY.
THERE ARE NOW MANY VARIETIES OF TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING AND SELF-PUBLISHING, WITH EVOLVING MODELS AND DIVERSE CONTRACTS.
YOU WON’T FIND A UNIVERSAL, AGREED-UPON DEFINITION OF WHAT IT MEANS TO PUBLISH OR SELF-PUBLISH TRADITIONALLY.
IT’S NOT AN EITHER/OR PROPOSITION; YOU CAN DO BOTH. MANY SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS, INCLUDING MYSELF, DECIDE WHICH PATH IS BEST BASED ON OUR GOALS AND CAREER LEVEL.