Last Saturday was my first writing conference: well worth every cent. A great portion of the afternoon was spent on comparing and contrasting self-publishing versus traditional publishing. While much of the information wasn’t new to me – such as the possibility of surrendering creative control of your work to a publisher – a few tidbits did stand out, pushing me more towards the side of staying indie than actively pursuing a traditional publishing contract.
This doesn’t mean I’m dropping the idea of querying altogether. Reading my query letter to an agent – by far the most nerve-wracking part of the day – gave me that smidgeon of confidence I needed to submit it to other agents looking to represent my genre. The one I met with that day leans more toward traditional Young Adult (that is, characters who are still in high school or early college) than characters closer to thirty, which is the demographic my characters are in.
She also said my subject matter was “a little dark” (no surprise there), but it definitely appealed to her on a personal level. She told me my plot idea was “strong,” and even if her agency wasn’t looking for it, it is definitely a marketable concept. Wow! That’s definitely something I’ve never heard before, since my ideas tend to be difficult to categorize. I may not have gotten an offer for my entire manuscript, but that’s perfectly fine. I wasn’t expecting one, and just being told my idea was solid and marketable is my idea of a successful meeting.
That being said, here are some facts I learned about traditional publishing that are pushing me more towards staying indie:
The pay is not that great. The advance payment may be good, but an author selling his or her book for, say, $25 at Barnes & Noble will only make about $2 off it in royalties…and they may not even see that royalty for months after the purchase. Granted, this could all balance out if the book is a hit and thousands, if not millions, of people are buying copies. Compare that with the 70% royalty cut indies make, but they only sell a handful of books per month. It goes without saying that, to be a writer, you cannot be in it for the money alone. But as someone who does hope to write full-time, this is something to consider.
Really, there are two major requirements for being successful as an independent author: good writing and marketing savvy. You ARE a business owner if you choose to self-publish books, and it was good for me to hear that the bare minimal requirements of having a “media presence” are things I’m doing already: maintaining a website, blogging regularly, and being active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus).
The common denominator for indies and traditional authors alike is that success (however you define it) takes time. An online platform is non-negotiable for both, if you want your books to be read. The success rate for traditional authors is sped up due to connections agents have that indies have to find on their own, but if time is the only major difference in successful book sales, I’m fine being patient and working that much harder on my own. I’m far too possessive of my creative powers to ever give them up. So if one day I am offered a traditional publishing contract, I will refuse to sign it if I am prohibited from self-publishing. An agent should be considered a business partner, and both he/she and the author have the readers’ interests at heart.
The good news is, publishers who are ONLY looking for debut authors are becoming archaic and outdated. Just like employers who refuse to hire people with tattoos will eventually realize that everyone and their grandmother is inked these days, agents and publishers will catch on that aspiring writers are turning to self-publishing at increased rates because anyone can learn how to do it. So when it comes to choosing future clients, there will be very little choice but to partner with authors wishing to become hybrids.
The hardest part of owning this type of business is having very little control of outside factors: what will readers want? What if Amazon crashes one day? How will I be able to stand out when there are so many platforms out there?
The bottom line is to just keep educating myself about the growing markets. And most importantly, to keep writing.