OK, Your book is finished at last! The manuscript has been edited by a pro (or at least expertly self-edited with the help of beta readers) and is the best it can possibly be. So what happens now?
You need to know how to publish a novel, and the very first step is to explore the different options available to an author. The video below does just that, from a point of view of a hybrid author. A hybrid author is someone who uses traditional publishing methods, but also self-publishes online.
There are, of course, pros and cons for each publishing method and Johanna Penn explains quite fully.
How To Publish A Novel – Traditional Or Indie?
Hello creatives – I’m Johanna pen from thecreativepen.com and today I’m talking about the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing, or being an independent author.
So first of all, what is traditional publishing, as we’re defining it here? Well, it’s the sort of time-honored approach of getting an agent and then that agent getting you a publishing deal. Then essentially a company, a publishing house, putting your book together.
You work with editors, cover designers and then they publish your book to all the online stores and physical stores, and retail, and all of that type of thing, so it’s basically working with a company who will take your book and put it out into the world.
Whereas being an independent author is essentially taking control of that process yourself and of course I have lots of videos on how to self publish. This is the book that you want to grab, if you’re interested in the technical details but for day today we are just talking about the pros and cons.
So let’s start with the big one. One of the biggest reasons that you would want a traditional publishing deal is the prestige, the kudos, the validation, the penguin on the spine or the Virago press or the Hay House. I completely get it. I’ve had these thoughts myself but it’s interesting, because sometimes the myth and the dream, it doesn’t necessarily connect to the reality.
This always comes back to your definition of success. If you want literary acclaim, if you want to win a literary prize, if you want a famous editor to pat you on the back and say you are a good writer, if you want a particular newspaper to report on you or magazine, and that really is what you consider the most important thing, then traditional publishing is certainly the way forwards.
However, I am thinking that at some point being in the author will be as cool as an indie filmmaker or an indie musician. Many of the independent sort of markets growing up. Indie beer but a small batch breweries, that type of thing. We are moving into an age of the artisan, where people do love to buy direct from the Creator, so I think and then talking about validation as well. For me, as an indie author very happy when the author validation comes from reviews.
So on the screen right now is an example of, you know, lots of readers loving a book and readers are fantastic for telling you what they think obviously. So validation can come in the form of reviews. It can also come in the form of money, in the bank accounts and at this point I make a multi six-figure income as a writer, so again how you define success is so important.
For these pros and cons, in your own mind, the next big thing that people often say ‘is distribution to physical bookstores’ as in physical books in a physical bookstore, preferably the one down the street so that your friends can see it.
When you walk into the airport, your book would be there, so first of all, yes, you can definitely get into bookstores as an indie author and I use Ingram spark particularly to get into bookstores so they can order it in.
But the reality with bookstore distribution at this point in history, I’m sure you’ve seen the various news about high street retail. If things are changing in terms of the retail environment, and if you sell your books online, so I sell ebooks, print books, and audio books online.
If you have a print book for sale online, as I do, then people can order that online and get the print book shipped to them often within 24 hours, even if that book doesn’t exist yet. Using print on demand, so yes it can be easier to get a book into distribution stores and retail stores through traditional publishing, but also it’s worth noting that most books go into a bookstore and then out within a month or months to six weeks.
So of course, if you walk into a bookstore this weekend and then the following weekend there are going to be new books on the tables, unless they are mega mega outbreaks in which case there would be lots of lots of those books. And they might be there for a while but most books go in and out of the bookstores quite quickly.
Then of course there’s working with an established team. If you do get a traditional publishing deal, you will be assigned an editor or an editorial team. Maybe different kinds of editors. You’ll be assigned cover designers, hopefully a publicist, for at least the month of launch.
You will have an established process to go through, so if you are insecure about it then that can go through it but of course, if you independently publish, many of us do, and there are lots of resources where you can find the process. To be honest, the process of publishing a book is not that complicated.
At this point in time the complication is the writing and the marketing, but yes, you will have an established team. You should also not have any upfront costs and this is very important, because if you are signing with a traditional publisher they should be paying you so you hopefully get an advance.
Of course we hear in the news about six-figure,seven-figure advances but most advances are on the lower end, so around $5,000 – $10,000 and most of them are quite small. Then you will hopefully, if you earn out that advance against royalties, you will then get royalty payments later.
Although many traditionally published authors will say that the advance is pretty much all they saw, and then of course I think related to the validation kudos aspect is the lottery ticket, that you could become the next JK Rowling, the next James Patterson, the next Stephen King, the next whoever your favorite author is. Lee Child, for example.
Although it’s interesting – when I went to thriller fest last year in 2017, Lee Child said, and he’s quoted in the New York Times as saying ‘you can’t have this career, anymore – the publishing industry has changed. Pretty much can’t have that kind of career that he has had.’
So that I thought that was very interesting, but yes, you will get paid and you don’t need to have an upfront budget if you are traditionally published. So what about the cons or the negative side of traditional publishing. Well, I have many traditionally published friends and the biggest issue that many of them have, and many reasons why authors do go indie, is creative control.
Once you sign a contract you’re basically licensing your rights to a company and they are not a charity. They’re a company. Publishers exist to make money, as they should, and basically you’re, you then are signing over control to that publisher.
So for example, if they want to change the book title, if they want to use a cover that’s not your choice if they want to and if you’re assigned an editor, and editor leaves the company and then they decide not to publish your book, these things are quite common you know.
So the the loss of control is a really big aspect. As soon as you sign a contract you’re basically losing control of what you’ve created. Now hopefully , positively everything will be wonderful and amazing, but what if it isn’t? So that creative control is a big issue. The other negative side is speed and this is actually what stopped me going for the traditional publishing reach back in the day, sort of 2007 – 2008 when I was looking at my publishing options.
This was even before the international Kindle. I still couldn’t couldn’t go forwards because of the speed. Basically it will take you and anywhere between six months, a year, two years, potentially more to get an agent, and then once the agent accepts, you it might take a year, it might take two years.
It takes many people a lot longer to get a publishing deal. If you want to wait that long, then awesome – go ahead, but I was determined to make his success of my writing life. I was not waiting around for someone to give me permission to put the book out there. Speed, especially if you’ve written a time-sensitive book, or you’re ready to promote ,or you have an audience, is important.
These are good reasons why you could control it yourself. Then of course royalty rates. So just money, the royalty rates for traditional publishing are between 7 and 25% and show the 25% is up on the higher end. Some publishing companies now are moving the e-book royalties up to 50 cents.
There’s some very good publishers out there who do that but the royalties are on that lower side generally. If you are traditionally published, your contract have a look – oftentimes it will be seven to ten percent. With independent publishing you get seventy percent, so you can sell a lot fewer books and still make more money.
Again, it’s a valid reason because my definition of success is making a living. That was something that was important to me. Another common issue is rights licensing. For example, if you sign a contract for Worlds English which means all English language in all territories, all countries, all over the world and on Mars when we get there, you’ve signed over to that publisher.
It’s very unlikely that that publisher is going to publish your book all over the world in English. When you’re independently published you can upload your book to the various platforms, and if you own world rights you can be for sale in all in 190 countries. At the moment I’ve sold books in 84 countries in the world, which is far more than most traditionally published authors.
Because most traditionally published sources will not be available in these countries. So there are lots of other things to watch out for in publishing contracts. I’m not an expert in contracts but I suggest you check out this book ‘Closing the Deal on your Terms’ by Christine Kathryn Rusch.
This is an excellent book. So if you are thinking of signing a publishing contract, or if you have and you want to check out the terms, then definitely get this book. Fianlly, to point out that, although you do hopefully get some marketing with a publishing deal, most authors are generally underwhelmed by the marketing that’s done for their book.
Again, if you get a massive advance, you’re gonna get massive publicity because they want to make that money back. If you get a advanced, you’re less likely to get much marketing publicity. So however you publish, and obviously as an independent author you have to do it yourself, but the point is that if you go traditional publishing you will still have to do book marketing.
It’s something we all have to learn and there are other videos on that. Okay, so let’s talk about the pros and cons of being an indie author or self-publishing. Now, I prefer the term indie author because I work with professionals. Professional editors, professional cover designers.
I have people help me with marketing. I have a business – this is not a hobby for me. I do love it but I also run a business, so this kind of attitude I think is very important if you’re going to be as successful as an author. Of course, you can learn all of these skills over time as I have. I actually have a master’s degree in theology, which is not that useful when it comes to practical things.
So all of this I’ve learned how to do myself over the years and of course, now I try and help you to do it too. As I’ve kind of alluded to that one, of the number one reasons people go indie is total creative control. Controlling the cover, the title, what you write because, of course, if you have a traditional publishing deal, they will often want particular types of books.
Or you’ll be guided to write in a particular genre, so if you want to basically write whatever you want to write, then independent is good. Of course, you can do both and this is an important point I should say up front. You can do traditional and indeed that is called hybrids.
Being a hybrid author, which a lot of authors do these day,s and is a fantastic idea. Total creative control very important and mainly because it means that your creative life is under your control. You are empowered. You can make whatever choices you want. You don’t need permission to put a book into a new market, or up on a new vendor, or do a particular giveaway, you can just do it.
You own the right and you have control. You also can get those higher royalty rates, as I mentioned. If you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 u.s. dollars, you can get the 70 percent royalty rates in most markets, so that is great. It does mean, as I say you, can make a living with selling a lot fewer books than an author who might make seven to ten percent royalty on that sale.
So if you have an audience already obviously, or if you’re writing a very niche book, going indie can really be a great idea. Many publishing houses need to make more money to cover that overheads, so they might not be interested. Whereas if you’re just doing it from your home office, as I am your, overheads will be a lot less.
You might be really happy making five grand for a book in the lifetime of a book, whereas another publisher might not see the investment opportunity there. Different types of books will see different types of publishing. Also you can sell wherever you want all over the world and you can do whatever rights you want.
For example, audiobooks. Now we can use a CX, we can get audiobooks out to all kinds of places, as well as ebooks, print books. You can do different editions. Basically, when you have control of that manuscripts, you can do all kinds of exciting stuff. Of course, you can use independent publishing or being an indie author to get noticed by traditional publishing.
If your goal is to get a traditional publishing deal, then it may be a good idea to establish yourself first as an indie. Build up an audience and then publishers will start to come to you. Many indie authors get approached by traditional publishers with certain deals and many of them have taken those deals.
Some famous indie authors include Andy weir with the Martian, who started out putting his book on his blog then put it up on Kindle. He got an audiobook deal and then it became a movie. Other books that started out that way include ‘The rabbit who wants to go to sleep’, a create-space print-on-demand book which got picked up.
Hugh Howey with another big book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, of course, started out self-published and went on to sell like 150 million copies, so if your goal is a traditional publishing then this can be a way to learn your craft. When you do this, you understand a lot more what publishers do and that can really help you become much more professional.
That’s certainly what I found. I have a lot more empathy with publishers now I am publisher. Albeit only of my own books but I certainly understand the challenges of book marketing and distribution, which I didn’t when I was just writing. I loved being an indie author obviously but there are downsides. There are cons and probably the biggest one coming circling back to the prestige, is many people still think there’s a stigma associated with self-publishing.
That’s partly why I prefer the term independent author and it’s true there are lots of terrible self-published books, but there are also lots of terrible traditional published books. I mean, look at some of these celebrity memoirs.
I mean, what are they doing? You know, you can be in charge of the quality aspects. You can make sure you put out the best quality book possible but certainly that validation may well be missing.
Another issue for many people is having to learn to do new things. So you do have to become a project manager as well as a writer. You have to kind of take off your writer hat and put on your project manager hat. You’ll publish a hat but again obviously I have books, there’s lots of books and courses, and everything on how to do this, so it’s not like you haven’t got any guidance.
This is a free ebook available on all the ebook platforms so you can check out. Obviously, all these videos are free, so you can learn these skills but you have to be motivated. You do have to then find an editor, find cover designers and again I have lists on my website at the creative pen at home forward slash editors or forward slash book cover design.
We all have resources that we share in the community but you do have to assemble your creative professionals over time and you do have to organize yourself and learn some new skills to get the book out there. If you want a quality product you also have to invest some money.
No business goes from zero to profit without putting something in, whether that’s time or money. So you know, if you need an editor you can barter for it, or you can pay for it. And of course, investing in your career as an author, editing cover design website, this type of thing these are all important. Publishers will be very happy if you have this type of thing, to a professionally edited manuscript, an author website and some of the basics of marketing are something that publishers will really want you to have.
However you publish, these are good things to do. As for print distribution, as I mentioned, you can do that through sites like Ingram Spark, where which means that the bookstores will have your book in their catalog and then they can order it in. But of course, they have to order it.