Conventional Publishing vs. Self Publishing: Some Questions


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Thread: Conventional Publishing vs. Self Publishing: Some Questions

  1. #1

    Conventional Publishing vs. Self Publishing: Some Questions

    My experiences with conventional publishing have been pretty mixed. If you want a top tier publisher, you will need an agent. An agent can take a couple of months to decide whether s/he wants to represent your book. If you donít get a bite until the third agent, thatís already half a year. Then the agent submits to the publisher, and those top ranked publishers frown on simultaneous submissions, so each potential publisher takes a couple of months, so by the time you get a yes answer, youíve probably spent a year. Now comes production! Another year! Then they publish the book. The contract will probably say that you get 10% of all monies accruing to the publisher. I donít know how many times I have seen first time writers faint dead away when they get the first royalty check. Your publisher doesnít sell your books at the retail price; the publisher sells wholesale to the distributor. So 10% of all monies accruing to the publisher means 10% of wholesale, not retail. Is your name Joanna Rowling? George Martin? You might make some money. Otherwise, donít quit your day job.

    In the end, the only advantage I see to conventional publishing is that they can give you distribution and advertising that you can never even remotely approach on your own.

    Now, self publishingÖ letís take something common, like kindle. No agent necessary, so you just saved a year. Someone kindles your book for maybe $50, it takes them a week, so you save that year in production and you slap it up there on amazon, and you make 100% of retail, or close to it after amazon takes their share. Sounds great, butÖ you donít have the marketing resources that a conventional publisher has. If you want to sell anything, you will have to study up on marketing and turn it into a full-time job. You will have to start a website, pay for enhanced amazon presence, maybe give the book a facebook page and keep it active on a daily basis. And youíre still not even close to what a conventional publisher can do in terms of marketing.

    SoÖ I am wondering. If you self-publish, are you stuck there, or would a conventional publisher be interested in taking over your book if they thought it had merit? Would any kind of internet presence whatsoever be enough for a conventional publisher to regard your book as taboo and never touch it with a ten-foot pole? Does anyone know of any titles that started out as self-published work and got picked up by a top tier conventional publishing house?

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Johnson View Post
    My experiences with conventional publishing have been pretty mixed. If you want a top tier publisher, you will need an agent. An agent can take a couple of months to decide whether s/he wants to represent your book. If you donít get a bite until the third agent, thatís already half a year. Then the agent submits to the publisher, and those top ranked publishers frown on simultaneous submissions, so each potential publisher takes a couple of months, so by the time you get a yes answer, youíve probably spent a year. Now comes production! Another year! Then they publish the book. The contract will probably say that you get 10% of all monies accruing to the publisher. I donít know how many times I have seen first time writers faint dead away when they get the first royalty check. Your publisher doesnít sell your books at the retail price; the publisher sells wholesale to the distributor. So 10% of all monies accruing to the publisher means 10% of wholesale, not retail. Is your name Joanna Rowling? George Martin? You might make some money. Otherwise, donít quit your day job.
    Which is why they pay an advance with authors. You then don't get paid again until you've earned that royalty back, but if you're with a Big 5 publisher, their advances are worth the gamble.

    Now, self-publishingÖ letís take something common, like kindle. No agent necessary, so you just saved a year. Someone kindles your book for maybe $50,
    Self-publishing costs a lot more than this. You still have editing costs (or you do if you want to sell work), a proof, cover art, etc.

    so you save that year in production and you slap it up there on Amazon,
    The only production time you save is with how you're the only author, not waiting in line like you would at a publishing house. You'll still have editing, proofing, cover art decision, formats, proof checking, sending out ARCS, looking at a marketing plan. All that taes time. Or it should.

    You will have to start a website,
    Yes, but so would a trade author.

    pay for enhanced amazon presence
    I haven't, although some do.

    maybe give the book a facebook page and keep it active on a daily basis.
    Not really necessary. Best just to have social presence on FB and work promo into that, also get an FB author page, look at a group for your readers, join other groups and just be social.

    And youíre still not even close to what a conventional publisher can do in terms of marketing.
    But even as trade published, you're expected to promo, so you still have to be savvy no matter your choice here.

    SoÖ I am wondering. If you self-publish, are you stuck there,
    I was trade published for seven years, then went self-pub. Many in my genre are hybrids: going between the two: they work both sides.

    or would a conventional publisher be interested in taking over your book if they thought it had merit? Would any kind of internet presence whatsoever be enough for a conventional publisher to regard your book as taboo and never touch it with a ten-foot pole? Does anyone know of any titles that started out as self-published work and got picked up by a top tier conventional publishing house?
    If you're self-pub first, you would have to have phenomenal sales to have the same novel taken on by a publisher once it's self-pubbed, and I mean huge sales. It does happen, but rarely.

    In all honesty, I wouldn't rush anything, whether you self-pub or trade. Take time with what you're doing. Trade publishing teaches you patience; rush-publishing via Amazon teaches you why.

    I'd definitely go trade route first. You're a new author, and you're right that trade publishers know the market and that they have an established readership. Then once you have an established readership and you've experienced just what it takes to get a novel not only published but published well, then I'd look at self-pub and what it can do for you.
    "You don't wanna ride the bus like this,"

    Mike Posner.



  3. #3
    I agree with everything Aquilo said. I self-publish, I publish with small publishers, and I've published with Big Five. There are pros and cons to all routes, but for all of them you should be looking at doing promo yourself, you should focus on producing the best work you reasonably can, and you shouldn't rush.

    (Also, 10% of wholesale is a weird royalty - a lot of small publishers DO offer royalties on net, but they tend to offer 30-50%. And large publishers will often offer only 6-8%, but it's of cover price, not wholesale. I'm not sure where the 10% of wholesale idea is coming from)

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Johnson View Post
    My experiences with conventional publishing have been pretty mixed. If you want a top tier publisher, you will need an agent. An agent can take a couple of months to decide whether s/he wants to represent your book. If you donít get a bite until the third agent, thatís already half a year. Then the agent submits to the publisher, and those top ranked publishers frown on simultaneous submissions, so each potential publisher takes a couple of months, so by the time you get a yes answer, youíve probably spent a year. Now comes production! Another year! Then they publish the book. The contract will probably say that you get 10% of all monies accruing to the publisher. I donít know how many times I have seen first time writers faint dead away when they get the first royalty check. Your publisher doesnít sell your books at the retail price; the publisher sells wholesale to the distributor. So 10% of all monies accruing to the publisher means 10% of wholesale, not retail. Is your name Joanna Rowling? George Martin? You might make some money. Otherwise, donít quit your day job.

    In the end, the only advantage I see to conventional publishing is that they can give you distribution and advertising that you can never even remotely approach on your own.

    Now, self publishingÖ letís take something common, like kindle. No agent necessary, so you just saved a year. Someone kindles your book for maybe $50, it takes them a week, so you save that year in production and you slap it up there on amazon, and you make 100% of retail, or close to it after amazon takes their share. Sounds great, butÖ you donít have the marketing resources that a conventional publisher has. If you want to sell anything, you will have to study up on marketing and turn it into a full-time job. You will have to start a website, pay for enhanced amazon presence, maybe give the book a facebook page and keep it active on a daily basis. And youíre still not even close to what a conventional publisher can do in terms of marketing.

    SoÖ I am wondering. If you self-publish, are you stuck there, or would a conventional publisher be interested in taking over your book if they thought it had merit? Would any kind of internet presence whatsoever be enough for a conventional publisher to regard your book as taboo and never touch it with a ten-foot pole? Does anyone know of any titles that started out as self-published work and got picked up by a top tier conventional publishing house?
    You raise some great questions that I myself have been wanting to ask and you give some insight into what making it as an author is about.

    You might look at the pay rate percentage-wise with a big name publisher as being unfair but like you said, you'll be receiving exposure and support that you could never generate on your own inside a box like Amazon or Kindle. Beyond that great benefit of a big name publisher you get much more in the way of opportunity simply because you are on a higher list. Doors open for you business-wise that self-publishing could never open.

    I would much rather have a big name publisher than do it myself, think of all the time you'll save and the readers lists you'll be on.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Johnson View Post
    In the end, the only advantage I see to conventional publishing is that they can give you distribution and advertising that you can never even remotely approach on your own.
    That seems to me to be...a pretty big deal.

    I really don't know that this is necessarily something that can be evaluated well on a binary, is it? Surely it's totally about the writer?

    If you're the sort of person who prioritizes having control over every step of the process, and possesses the time and energy and skills (and possibly the personality) to sell, then of course self-publishing is a great idea. You keep way more of the sales - you can do whatever you like creatively. Brilliant!

    On the other hand, if you're the sort of writer who prioritizes maximizing the amount of time available to actually write, and, in return, is willing to work with traditional publishers and compromise when required, then self-publishing is probably pointless, isn't it?

    I am the latter for sure: It has taken me months to create a website and I'm still not happy with it, mainly because I just really don't enjoy that sort of thing much. I hate writing bios. I hate writing blurbs. I hate writing anything that isn't part of the actual story. Also I'm fairly private, I find it awkward to go around telling people about my work when they don't ask.

    Somebody like me, at this point anyway, would be really lousy at self-publishing.

    I think the idea of pursuing traditional publishing while still cutting teeth and then, perhaps, switching to self-publishing once you have established yourself somewhat seems like a pretty good balance. Becoming a self-published author when you already have a loyal following accrued would probably negate a lot of the really difficult parts about self-publishing - i.e actually getting anybody to pay for your books - and increase your control and profitability.

    I sort of despair, though, when neophytes use self-publishing as a kind of magic wand to becoming 'a writer'. It's an exercise in delusion to pretend just because you can upload a file to Amazon and click your way through means anything. And it's screwing up the industry.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    ďRemember this: Dumbo didnít need the feather; the magic was in him. Ē

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  6. #6
    I agree with most of the remarks about ďneophytes,Ē but I doubt if I can qualify. Iíve published 10 or 11 works of non-fiction (depending on whether a substantially revised second edition by a different publisher counts as a separate work). Iíve worked with two small publishers, one mid-range house, and I self-published one title. I donít worry about editing too much because two of my publishers have hired me as an independent copy editor for other books, so Iím pretty good at it. Only once have I ever been offered an advance, and the rest of the deal sounded so shady that I backed off.

    So why do I even ask? All my life, Iíve wanted to master the novel. It was the reason I started writing in the first place. Iíve finished three of them, and I admit they werenít that great. The closest I ever got to fiction was a stage play produced with pretty snazzy production values in Los Angeles. Now Iíve got a novel that is definitely my best attempt so far. Iím 67 years old and I want to get it right this time, while I still have the chance. The problem is that itís a four-part high fantasy series. If I have to wait on the high-tier houses, I may not live long enough to finish it. With any luck, if they take Volume 1, they will ask for right of first refusal on the others, which will save me the lengthy sojourn with slush readers and take me straight to an editor who can make decisions.

    Luckyscars is right when he says that the conventional publisherís ability for marketing is actually a really big deal, though Aquilo is also right when he says that you still have to do it yourself. A publisher who shall remain nameless set me up with a radio interview re: a book wherein I went to Russia and hung out with some traditional folk healers and wrote about their pre-Christian world view as well as their methods. I called the radio for my interview. As soon as the country music started and the showís sponsor announced itself as ďBilliards and Barstools,Ē I knew I was in trouble. The host just wanted to find someone he could savage with an endless stream of redneck witticisms. And the PR folks with the publisher never bothered to check. So you really do have to take the reins into your own hands.

    Ultimately, Luckyscars hits my issue right on the head when he says itís a matter of personal temperament. Iím an introvert. I hate the internet. The idea of spending my days romping from one social media site to the next while chattering away in outrageously extroverted fashion about my wonderful, beautiful, marvelous book is anathema to me.

    So it is good to hear Aquilo say that some self-published works have been taken up by conventional publishers, albeit extremely rarely. I had been worried that self-publishing (especially electronic) might turn the book into poison for conventional houses. Good to know there are options. Now all I have to do is figure out which ones I want to take.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Johnson View Post
    A publisher who shall remain nameless set me up with a radio interview re: a book wherein I went to Russia and hung out with some traditional folk healers and wrote about their pre-Christian world view as well as their methods. I called the radio for my interview. As soon as the country music started and the show’s sponsor announced itself as “Billiards and Barstools,” I knew I was in trouble. The host just wanted to find someone he could savage with an endless stream of redneck witticisms. And the PR folks with the publisher never bothered to check. So you really do have to take the reins into your own hands.
    I feel like maybe this isn't a great example, though. It's an interesting one, but I feel with something like a radio interview you're probably hardly ever going to get an easy ride, and so what? The old saw of 'all publicity is good publicity' is kind of true in that regard. Being 'savaged by witticisms' shouldn't be a negative on a writer's career, assuming you responded somewhat appropriately. I mean how many celebrities get willingly 'savaged' by shows like Saturday Night Live? A ton, and yet they still mostly all survive unscathed or in many cases benefit. I think that's less an example of the publishing's PR people screwing up and more an example of an introvert not enjoying something. Which is totally okay, by the way. I don't think I'd like to be interviewed either.

    So it is good to hear Aquilo say that some self-published works have been taken up by conventional publishers, albeit extremely rarely. I had been worried that self-publishing (especially electronic) might turn the book into poison for conventional houses. Good to know there are options. Now all I have to do is figure out which ones I want to take.
    I think it may become more common in future. I dunno, though. I think a big problem forh publishers picking up self-published books is they lose out on that 'discovery' factor. Every publisher dreams of discovering the next JK Rowling, Stephen King, etc. A lot of that is because of the money, but I think there's probably also a certain amount of ego there. They want to feel like they are a part of the Cinderella process.

    There's also the more rational reality that if your book has already been selling for X months/years picking it up now is going to mean less sales, even if only fractionally, and unfortunately we don't live in a world with a perceived shortage in talent.

    There's also the potential minefield of the publisher being able to see the novel's impact up front. If I am a big name publisher considering a self-published book I already am able to see the raw facts on its performance. I can read the reviews, see the sales rank, etc. Unless it sells exceptionally well, like off-the-charts well, that sales data is probably not going to be terribly impressive by my standards, and I may not feel that my resources or interest level would be sufficient to improve those numbers sufficiently. So the decision therefore becomes based on fact than faith and sometimes facts aren't on our side. I wouldn't personally consider a book I was going to self-publish as having much hope of being picked up. Which is another reason I don't do it.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    ďRemember this: Dumbo didnít need the feather; the magic was in him. Ē

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  8. #8
    I read an article a few years ago about how big publishers were stepping away from picking up self-published success stories. One reason was that a lot of sales had already been made, so there wasn't that much of a market left, and the other reason was that there's not necessarily a direct connection between getting a lot of sales at $1.99 or whatever the self-publisher is charging and getting a lot of sales at $9.99 or whatever the publisher wants to charge.

    I think where self-publishing success is most useful is for the NEXT book. If Book A does well at self-publishing, use that as a selling point for Book B with publishers. (my agent says "well" means at least 5K sales, but that's still really low and she wouldn't usually mention self-pubbed sales less than 10K).

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    I think where self-publishing success is most useful is for the NEXT book. If Book A does well at self-publishing, use that as a selling point for Book B with publishers. (my agent says "well" means at least 5K sales, but that's still really low and she wouldn't usually mention self-pubbed sales less than 10K).
    I don't really get the logic with this - If Book A does well, why would you not then self-publish Book B? I get the argument that a publisher could turn moderate success into stardom, but I'm not sure if anybody other than a huge publisher could really increase market penetration and suddenly you aren't keeping the same level of profit. Surely self-publishing a succession of increasingly successful books would be better?
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    ďRemember this: Dumbo didnít need the feather; the magic was in him. Ē

    Hidden Content

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  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I don't really get the logic with this - If Book A does well, why would you not then self-publish Book B? I get the argument that a publisher could turn moderate success into stardom, but I'm not sure if anybody other than a huge publisher could really increase market penetration and suddenly you aren't keeping the same level of profit. Surely self-publishing a succession of increasingly successful books would be better?

    Big publishers cherry pick the top Indie sellers right off the monthly newsletter (Amazon sends out a newsletter that talks up the top Indies). But to get to that top spot takes an immense amount of work, and usually keeps you from getting a lotta writing done. So writers are always looking for that chance to let a publisher deal with all that nasty work so they can focus on the writing. Also, it's a good career move.

    Indie publishing=gig economy.
    Penguin Putnam=full time gig [theoretically anyhow].



    But Indie publishing is not something that should be considered lightly. To make money as an Indie you have got to be the quintessential man/woman. You have to be good at writing, cover design, blurbs, web design, marketing, editing, and be a shameless self-promoter. You also have to have thicker skin than a shark, and bounce back after a flop...because no matter how good you are, you will have books that flop like a fish.

    But being an Indie is like walking a tightrope without a safety net.
    (conversely, classic publishing is a deluge of rejections with brief moments of sunshine.)

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