Sunday, June 24, 2018

Seven Pros and Cons of Trad vs Indie

The last of the light on the longest day of the year - on a hot and still summer evening.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. I feel pretty well positioned to compare and contrast the two methods (broadly – there are a lot of subsets and gray areas) of publishing books because I’m solidly hybrid. In 2016, my income was 40%/60% traditional/self-publishing; in 2017, it was the reverse proportion. So here’s a handy table to consider the pros and cons of the two approaches and I’ll discuss below.


Traditional
Self-Publishing
Money
Handled for you
Handle it all yourself
Cover Design
No control
Have to decide
Team
Lots of people invested
Build your own
Publication Schedule
No control
Much more control
Quality
Lots of help (theoretically)
On your own
Marketing
Crapshoot
Expensive
Validation
Built in
Active community










Money

The first and most obvious difference between traditional and self-publishing is that with the latter you have to front your own money. And believe me, to self-publish well, you must invest in it. Doing it on the cheap is possible, but it always shows. If nothing else, pay for editing.

But there are other aspects to the money that aren’t so obvious. With traditional publishing, the house does all the accounting and cuts you a check (or, more likely, direct deposit). Depending on their system, payments can range from monthly to annual. With self-publishing, most retailers pay monthly, but it’s up to you to track and verify the financials. On the plus side, you get a bigger cut (which helps counter-balance that investment) and you can see all the numbers. On the con side, keeping accurate track of the financials can take a lot of time. Basically you become your own accounting department.

Cover Design

Another obvious difference with self-publishing is that you “get” to choose your own cover. With traditional publishing there’s vanishingly small opportunity for input. Some authors love this aspect. Me, not so much. I’m better at it now, as I have a better idea of what I like, but I can’t afford the cover artists my publishers can. While sometimes I don’t like the trad covers they give me, there is something restful about not having to angst over that aspect.

Team

A considerable pro to traditional publishing is having a whole team of people invested in your book. This is really wonderful to have. From your agent to your editor to the production and marketing team to the librarians and booksellers, all of these people make a living by loving your books and selling them. That’s an amazing support network. With self-publishing, you can build your own team. That takes time so it can feel like being a lone ranger. Also, with many of the folks on your self-publishing team being essentially contract workers—paid by the job—there’s less long-term investment in the process.

Publication Schedule

For me this is one of the biggest drawbacks of traditional publishing: not being able to control my release schedule. I end up having to work around those dates. In some ways they provide external structure, but when it’s a terrible release date, that can be frustrating.

Quality

With self-publishing, the quality of the final product is entirely up to you. The people you hire, and how much you pay them, are critical to that quality. It used to be that traditional publishing came with a guarantee of quality. Theoretically only the best books made it through the filters to be pitched and bought, then professional editors worked on the books. With cutbacks in traditional publishing, I’m seeing a lot of editors only acquiring books and spending minimal time on giving content feedback. This is one of the biggest value-adds of traditional publishing, working with a career editor to make the story the very best it can be. Copy editing is pretty straightforward and you can hire people to make sure word choice, grammar and punctuation are correct. Finding an editor who can refine a story is priceless. I’ve been disappointed to see some editors at traditional houses punting on this aspect and to me it’s one of the biggest reasons to go indie. If my books aren’t being edited, I might as well pay an editor.
Marketing
Either way, you’re going to have to do your own promo. The question is how much. With traditional publishing, how much they put into marketing varies on dozens if not hundreds of factors. A lot depends on the publicist you draw. I’ve had books receive a lot of marketing and others receive practically nil. With self-publishing, you’ll find lots of people swearing by various ads—pretty much all of which you can do as a traditional author, too, if you’re so inclined—but how much you’re willing to do, and spend, is a personal choice.

Validation
There are active communities and networks that support self-publishing authors. Many readers will read only self-published books. Of course, many readers refuse to read self-published books. While this is changing over time, traditional publishing still has most of the cachet. Publishing a book with a house, especially one of the Big Five, brings a network of validation that can be amazing. (Though it’s not guaranteed.) The house might get Big Name Authors to blurb the book and give it buzz. There’s a more direct pipeline to review notices, awards nominations, bookstores, and venues like book festivals. With self-publishing this can feel like an uphill battle still.


Any questions? Thoughts? Stuff I missed???





4 comments:

  1. Props for a fair summary, Jeffe.

    I can't speak to the trad side of the house, but as the "prime contractor" for my books, I find it's gotten easier over the years to juggle all the pieces of a self-publishing career. I've found artists I like, editors I respect.

    The weakest link is still between my own ears. :)

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    Replies
    1. I agree, Nathan - once you find the good people, it gets a hell of a lot easier. And I hear you on being the weak link. Oy.

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  2. Since you have a foot firmly on each side you're in a great position to compare. Thanks for sharing the view!

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