Vicki's Book News and Articles

Author Publishing–Traditional or Independent?

Written by Vicki Hinze

On July 12, 2011


The debate hasn’t just started on this subject and it’s far from over. We hear of traditional success stories and independent publishing success stories. In either forum, at this time, we hear many more stories from authors who are struggling.

About five years ago, I wrote a post about my belief that mid-list wasn’t dead, it was morphing. That the new mid-list would be in ebook format and that only when an author reached a certain sales level would that author be put into print.

Just as the world wasn’t ready to receive my “romantic fantasy” (now a genre tagged as paranormal romance) in the early 1980s, it wasn’t ready to receive that mid-list prediction. But just as a the paranormal genre birthed and thrived so too, I believe, will mid-list novels in ebook format.

That isn’t to say that there won’t be some serious bestsellers by authors who elect ebook and shun traditional publishing. There are already and will continue to be more of them. But I still believe publishers will move to ebook for mid-list and only major bestsellers in fiction will be out in print. Another couple years maybe…

I also believe the pressure is on our traditional publishers. One question I hear repeatedly is: “How can traditional publishers stay relevant?”

It’s a fair question and honestly asked. Publishers find themselves in a new world now. One where authors can and are publishing without them. The reasons why vary. Some authors write niche books–ones that appeal to a limited but dedicated audience. This lack of volume makes these book less appealing to traditional publishers, and the authors want to write them anyway and do it then publish themselves.

Some authors have written to the genre/market dictates and haven’t gotten publisher support or pushes to elevate their book’s standing in the market, so they opt out and publish themselves. Some are weary of the submit and reject process–whether it is to a publisher or an agent (or committee of agents at the agency)–revising the book to the point the work has become a work-by-committee and the author no longer recognizes it as the book s/he wanted to write anymore. And for still other writers, they’ve done the math on their specific book sales and determined that publishing traditionally is costing them serious money so they opt out and publish themselves.

There are some authors who feel to be taken seriously they must traditionally publish. However, when those same authors talk to other authors who are independently publishing and discover that they’re out-earning the traditionally published authors who are at the same level in their writing career, they hop off that ladder rung or pause and rethink their position. Some go, some stay with traditional publishing.

Traditional publishers can do things for authors that independent publishers can’t do for themselves. At one time, many things. But as the market changes, that list is dwindling. How much or how successfully it will dwindle, whether or not the list will disappear, is another topic of debate.

Where once authors found an immense stigmatism attached to independent publishing, they’re now using adverbs like “liberating” to describe the writing experience. Some do however resent the time required to market what they publish. Some authors just want to write their books.

I fall into the “I just want to write my books” category. However, let me assure you that it doesn’t matter if you’re traditionally or independently published, you’re not going to just write your books and sell. You might hire someone to handle the other aspects for you, but in either forum, you have obligations and responsibilities and seldom do few of them come with the tag, “Optional.”

These days, traditional or independent publishing is a personal choice. You know there are advantages and disadvantages to either selection, and that regardless of your choice, you are going to have to engage in some level of promotional activities.

If you hate deadlines, don’t care if you are paid an advance (that actually pays in advance of publication) or are weary of the submission process and rewriting of your books, you might do the math and determine independent publishing is for you–or not.

The bottom line at this point is traditional publishing is driven by bottom lines as they’re interpreted by said publishers. Editors don’t have the luxury of buying books they love, they buy books they love AND they can sell. That’s fiscally responsible and wise. Independent publishers bring a lot of different and personal-to-the-author priorities to the table. They weigh the bottom line and add those personal priorities and decide accordingly.

A guess on how publishers stay relevant is content but also execution. If they develop killer marketing and promotion forces that drive sales and if they create an environment that is author-friendly and fiscally friendly, then they will. If they cross-media market, that’s a big perk–one too time-consumptive for an author to do, unless s/he hires a firm who does that specifically. There are ways, IMHO, for publishers to stay relevant. But it’s not going to be in the ways they’ve relevant previously, and they’re aware that authors look at the matter through different eyes. They now have options.

I suspect that many major sellers will elect to opt out of traditional publishing eventually. Some have already, finding in cost-benefit analysis that it behooves them to subcontract editing, cover artists and other production aspects, as well as marketing/promotion.

Now understand that these opinions are predicated on professional level work being done in both traditional and independent forums. Does this mean I believe traditional publishing is doomed?

Of course not. Publishers can be nimble and flexible and creative. Traditional books will be with us for many reasons. But I do expect it to change. It must. Just as independent publishing has and will continue to change.

It’s the nature of all business to change. Stagnant industries die. It’s that simple, and complex.

When you get down to the bottom line, what you find is the answer is in the author’s bottom line. Whether to publish traditionally or independently is a matter of choice. And the reasons for making the choice you, the author, make are as varied as the books authors write. Key is to study your market, study your path, so that you’re making informed choices based on reasonable expectations. This isn’t the place for off-the-cuff decisions. Know what you’re getting into and what is required. Understand that publishing a book is and always has been a craps-shoot. Some books have all the push there is to be had and still tank. Some get zero push and soar. The readers choose.

And that–the readers choosing–is the one constant in all of publishing, traditional or independent.

Vicki Hinze
ⓒ 2011



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