For many years, the notion of a writer self-publishing their works was considered taboo, a scourge, a shameful act that automatically rendered the work as trash.
In those pre-Internet days, so called “vanity presses” emerged as a paper mill (yes, on paper) for writers who could not get a traditional publisher to commit to publishing their books.
Actually, “vanity presses” was a good name for those types of publishing houses. Writers had to pay a lot of money up-front and although they may have been promised distribution and publicity, the books often ended up in the writer’s basement or closet.
Photo: Gerhard Gellinger
And yes, a lot of those books are pretty badly written too. No legitimate book reviewer would even consider glancing at it if it came from a vanity press.
The books did make nice holiday gifts for family and friends though.
Now of course that has changed thanks (perhaps) to technology. There are still traditional vanity presses (what an oxymoron!) around, but more writers are publishing online with legitimate brands like amazon.com, and some writers are actually doing very well by it.
After the invention and surprising popularity of e-books, it is incredibly easy to publish online, and also in other formats like print and audio.
The thing is: the writer is really responsible for all facets of not only writing, editing, designing, and publishing, but also for the publicity and marketing of their books.
A lot of work!
I have published with traditional publishing houses and I have self-published as well. Both have positives and negatives.
In my experience I found the following to be true:
Traditional Publishing Houses:
–Traditional publishing houses take a long time to get the work out into the world: usually eight months to a year, sometimes more.
–Traditional publishing houses control the cover and overall book design, the pub date (when it will be out), who gets to review it, which book stores will take it, and how much other publicity and marketing they will do on it–which could be great and less work for the writer overall.
–Traditional publishers never charge the writer for the manuscript. If the book is accepted, an advance against royalties and editing by competent editors and copyeditors are part of the deal.
–Traditional publishers may send the writer out on a book tour, but again it depends on how much marketing they will budget for.
–Traditional publishers may or may not offer the book in different formats: paperback, e-book, audio. Also, they may want the film and translation rights so it’s a good idea to have an agent or entertainment lawyer check out the contract first.
–Unless the book is a best seller, traditional publishers will most likely let the book slowly die and then will remainder the book. The writer often ends up buying it at cost, and there it goes into the basement or closet for holiday presents.
–As I mentioned earlier, you, the writer, will act as the publisher which means you do the writing, editing, designing and marketing. However, you can hire outside people to do all those things for you as well which can be quite expensive.
–Once ready, your book will come out much quicker. Sometimes in a matter of days!
–Publishing itself is relatively easy, and if you go with platforms like amzon.com’s direct publishing options, you can publish your work for free (there are stipulations, so do your research).
–Royalties are far better with self-publishing. You can get all the royalties if you have a website and an online store (you will need to pay for “shopping cart” applications like E-Junkie or Shopify where customers buy directly from you). With amazon.com, royalties are better than traditional publishers, but you have to wait a few months and yes, amazon takes a small percentage.
–Getting reviews and publicity is very hard to do for self-published books unless you are social media savvy. The best option is to approach online book bloggers and via “blog tours” in which your book is reviewed by several bloggers. You will also need Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets to get the word out in a very crowded and competitive space.
–Book stores and libraries generally will not take hard copies of self-published books no matter how successful they are. They will also not sponsor live reading events for you.
–Your book never goes out of print. You can re-launch the book several times which is a good idea since sales may be slow initially.
It’s not easy in both publishing worlds because there are so many, many books (good and bad) that are being published. At least the stigma of self-publishing has lessened, and sometimes a traditional house will pick up a self-published book (very much like winning the lottery!).
But self-publishing is a great and liberating option if your book has been rejected or you are tired of the silence from agents and publishers who ignore or have abandoned your books.
Or you simply relish control, immediate sales, and the challenges of getting your book noticed and appreciated.
Whatever you decide, I recommend researching the traditional houses and the many self-publishing options before submitting your manuscript to either.
For example, study the books you love and that resemble the sort of story you have written. How did those authors publish their works?
Photo: engin akyurt
Reading reviews can also be helpful. Go to amazon.com, Goodreads (a website for readers’ reviews), Kirkus (short critiques) and also follow The New York Times best-selling lists and read their reviews too for more insights into the publishing world and the latest books making their marks.
There are also many articles written about going indie—or not. One of the best is by Jane Friedman who wrote a great blog post and provided a handy chart between the two publishing worlds: https://www.janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/
While you’re there, explore her other great and very helpful posts for writers too.
“Our visions begin with our desires.”—Audre Lorde, American Poet, Writer, Activist.
P.S. Need help and inspiration in writing GREAT fiction?
Find both in my writing guidebook: THE FICTION PRESCRIPTION: HOW TO WRITE AND IMPROVE YOUR FICTION LIKE THE GREAT LITERARY MASTERS.
NEW! Now in paperback: https://amzn.to/2WwRXgE
Sign up for my weekly blog posts on writing great fiction at: irenezabytko.com You will also receive my free book: 100 LITERARY CLICHES TO AVOID, SCORN AND DELETE (VOLUME 1) and my report: “The 7 Deadly Sins of Rookie Fiction Writers.”
And you’ll also receive the WRITING WISDOM DAILY DIGITAL CALENDAR with great quotes by great writers is now coming to you every day in your email inbox (check your spam files if you are not receiving them).
Catch my new and public blog posts and AN AMERICAN WRITER IN UKRAINE BLOG SERIES at www.irenezabytko.com and irenezabytko.wordpress