Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Indie versus trad: grudge match

Ladies and gentlemen and everyone under the sun, tonight we have quite a show for you. Indie versus traditional publishing! Fighters take your corners. Whiffle bats out. And ... go!

Except it isn't really that simple, is it?

There are lots of reasons authors choose to self-publish, get an agent and go the traditional route, or build a career that is a hybrid of both of those. Moreover, most authors are only too happy to share how they did it. Here's the kicker: you can listen to every single one of those fervent devotees to their publishing path describe how you ought to do things, and they are always wrong.

Your path is your path. Your path will never be whatever worked for somebody else.

A while back, a speaker came to talk to my local writing group. She was a fierce advocate of self-publishing and had a few negative things to say about traditional publishing. At that time, I had just signed my debut three-book contract with a publisher, and as she spoke, I had this horrible sinking feeling. Had I done the wrong thing? Had I already tanked my career before I even really started it?

Well, honestly... maybe. 

Looking back, I'm not sure I should have gone with that first offer. I'm not entirely sure I should have published that book at all. But of course I didn't know back then what would happen. All I knew was that people had told me how to do this writer thing, and I was following the steps.

Let me be clear: there are no steps. You are on your own. We all are.

For me, the decision of what to send to my agent and what to self-publish is still murky. I haven't figured it out by a long shot, and income probabilities don't make any of this clearer.

Last year, I received royalties for the two books that were published and distributed by a fairly large publisher. They were in book stores, printed in paperback, submitted to the fancy review sites, etc. They sold okay, I guess. The third book in the series, I self-published. It had no fanfare, zero buzz, and uninspiring sales. When I filed my taxes this for the year, I was a little startled to see that I had made more on that self-published book than I had for royalties of the other two books combined.

So I don't even know anymore. The waters of this whole pool of indecision have gotten awfully muddy. Some days I decide I will self-publish the book I'm working on. Some days I think maybe it's good enough to send to my agent. Some days I just hope I finish the thing.

I'm sorry I don't have solid wisdom on this topic, but the takeaway might be this: No one can tell you what to do. The decision is entirely yours. And I believe in you.


  1. One of my least favorite things about self-publishing authors is that particular speech, where they trash trad publishing and anyone "fool enough to do it." I get the rancor and bitterness - and sometimes it's not terrible advice - but it can be really damaging and hurtful. When I say this, people respond with something along the lines of "Yeah, well, plenty of trad authors slam self-publishing." Which is true, but we ALSO recognize that this is asshole behavior. Same goes the other way.

  2. So true! Your way will not be the same as someone else's way, guaranteed!