Traditional publishing vs. self-publishing – Guest Post by Anna Mocikat
by Anca Antoci
Who is Anna Mocikat?
Anna Mocikat is the author of “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Tales of the Shadow City” series, and the “MUC” series.
She was born in Warsaw, Poland, but spent most of her life in Germany where she attended film school and worked as a screenwriter and a game writer for several years.
Her “MUC” novels have been nominated for the most prestigious awards for Fantasy and Science-Fiction in Germany.
In 2016 Anna Mocikat moved to the USA where she continued her writing career in English. If you’re curious about her past and current projects, don’t forget to visit her website!
Trad-pub vs. Self-pub
Many authors are torn when it comes to deciding what the best way of publishing is, the traditional way with an agent and/or publisher or as self-published indie author.
There are many different opinions about this.
Some believe only traditionally published authors are ‘real’ authors, and they frown upon the self-published indie authors, often calling them amateurs. This snobbish attitude, in many cases, comes from traditionally published authors, and even more, traditional publishers (I will come back to that later).
On the other side, some indie authors believe they are the underdog heroes and that traditional publishers are not needed anymore.
Speaking from experience
I have been in both worlds, trad-pub, and self-pub, and I would like to share my experiences and insights here.
I have been represented by one of the top German agencies and got a deal over three books with one of the major German publishing houses. After moving to the US, I started all over in the industry. Skipping the agent this time, I found my publishing home with a small publisher. Although I am still with them and happy, I am now about to self-publish my latest book.
Let’s start with traditional publishing.
The probably biggest advantage of traditional publishing is distribution. The publisher will bring your books into every bookstore
The publisher will take care of the complete book production, cover, editing, layout
The publisher will organize books signings and readings for you; their PR team will contact media and bloggers
If you manage to become successful, you might get famous
You give up control over your work to the publisher. They will decide about the cover, the marketing and everything else. Often they will require changes from you based on your editor’s opinion, or even worse, the opinion of so-called sensitivity-readers
You will get only a small percentage on royalties for every sold book (10% if you’re lucky, often less)
Everything takes forever. The traditional publishing industry moves with the speed of a snail. It’s not uncommon that it can take up to two years from signing the contract to publication—a timeframe in which an indie author can bring out 2-4 books, some even more. The reason for this delay is that most publishers plan ahead a year or more when setting the release dates for their titles. If you sign up with them, you will end up at the end of the queue. And often, the newcomers will get the worse publishing dates, whereas the top players get the ‘pole positions.’
All this is based on my experiences with the big German publisher.
Signing up with a smaller one, such as the American one I am with now, is a little bit different. They are giving me much more freedom; full creative freedom over my stories, and I even am allowed to bring in my own cover, designed by an artist I trust. Once you had to live with book covers not representing your story well, you know how important this freedom is…
The downside with a smaller publisher is that their distribution isn’t as wide-spread, which makes selling a lot of copies a difficult task. You also have to organize most of your marketing yourself.
Let’s look at self-pub now
You have full creative freedom over everything. Nobody will ever dictate what you can and can’t do. You choose your cover, layout, and voice artist to narrate your audiobook. Sensitivity readers are a nightmare you will never have to deal with.
You get much higher royalties for every sold book. Amazon, for example, gives self-pub authors up to 70% – which is huge!
You can publish as many books as you like at your own pace
Nobody else can screw things up but you. If you are with a publisher (especially a big one), many different people are working on your book. Some are passionate about it, and some are merely doing their job and don’t care that you put all your heart and years of hard work into your book. It’s enough if only one person in the chain has a bad day and screws something up, and it can have grave consequences for your career as a writer, while the person responsible simply goes home to have a good night’s sleep.
You have to do everything yourself. Hire an editor and cover designer, create your own marketing plan, launch your book, organize signings, and so on…Self-publishing is A LOT of work many people underestimate. It also is costly.
If you screw up, you can blame nobody else but you. And it’s easy to screw-up many things, especially for a first-time author. If the pros can make grave mistakes, so can you
Making your book a success is very difficult and costs a lot of energy
For some people, self-published authors still have the stigma of being not good enough to get published, which in my opinion is a very unfair prejudice
It’s my personal belief that the publishing world is changing for the better. We authors live in great times. Self-publishing isn’t at all what it used to be only ten years ago. Amazon and other companies give us fantastic possibilities for distribution worldwide. And the nasty stigma is getting smaller every year.
Of course, the traditional publishing industry is concerned about that since every successful indie author is a thorn in their side. Every book you buy from an indie author is money not spent on them. And that’s not all of it. Until recently, the traditional publishers had the ultimate power about who and what is going to get published and who not.
What many authors who are desperately trying to find an agent and publisher don’t realize is that the choices publishers make are not necessarily based on the quality of work. Very often, the decisions in the publishing industry have political reasons. This has changed to the worse over the last couple of years, and I highly doubt that it’s going to get better anytime soon.
Indie authors publish what they want, away from self-imposed censorship defined by political correctness and other factors.
Behind the scenes
All of these are reasons why traditional publishers keep up the narrative of the amateur indie writer in the first place. In Germany, they went even further. Lobbying the government they achieved that indie authors are not allowed to run ads on Amazon, only traditional publishers are.
This was disguised as protecting the industry from ‘evil’ Amazon, but in truth makes it much more difficult for indie authors to be successful than, for example, in the US, where indies have the same possibilities as the big players.
There’s another thing I want to point out about the big, traditional publishers. They separate strictly between the ‘elite,’ which are their best-selling authors and newcomers they want to push for prestige or political reasons, and the rest. The rest makes more than 90% of the authors published by them.
While the elites get stellar marketing budgets, the little ones get basically nothing. They are giving up their creative freedom and still have to run most of their marketing themselves.
As a conclusion
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to talk anyone out of trying to find a traditional publisher. If you’re lucky and you’re exactly what they’re looking for, you might end up being a bestselling author and millionaire. I wish that to every hard-working, talented author. But chances for that are very low, and most likely, you will sell your soul for being just one of the little guys.
And indies make a great living or even become best-selling authors.
Everything is possible! As long as you never give up on yourself.
I hope this helps some of you a little bit when it comes to deciding on going trad-pub or self-pub.
Thank you very much, Anca Antoci, for allowing me to post my guest post on your excellent blog!
P.S. Although I clearly see that being with a traditional publisher can have its benefits (after all, I am with a publisher, too!), I wouldn’t recommend having an agent.
Of course, there are some good ones out there, but many are elitist snobs who see themselves as the gatekeepers for quality and will charge you between 10-20% of your royalties for doing nothing but opening the gate.
It’s a myth they have created that it’s impossible to find a publisher without them. Don’t believe it!