A few weeks ago, I was talking with my best friend about self-publishing a book vs publishing a book with a publisher. My best friend has never worked with a publisher or tried to publish a book on her own, but she still had a lot of questions about both topics. It dawned on me that I didn't know a fair amount of the answers. I've only ever published with a publisher, so it got me thinking that it would be interesting to find out the answers and to compare self-publishing a book to publishing a book with a publisher.
I compiled a list of questions and asked three publishers, three authors who have published with publishers, and five self-published authors to answer my questions. Everyone was so sweet and responded. It was very interesting to see the different responses that I got.
I put everyone's answers together and ended up creating three blog posts. Yesterday I published one blog post with the answers from the authors who have published with a publisher. Today's blog post is all of the answers from the self-published authors, and tomorrow's blog post will be the answers from the publishers.
Please note that the opinions and statements listed in these posts are solely by the person and not a reflection of me or my blog.
I want to take a moment to thank the amazing Megan Michaels, the delightful Sue Lyndon, the knowledgeable Trent Evans, the wonderful Cara Bristol, and the brave Kristin for taking the time to answer my questions. This blog post wouldn't have happened without them! Let's get started!
What do you think the biggest difference is between working with a publisher vs. self-publishing a book?
Megan: You get to decide solely on your own: The cover, the title, date of release, and then I can buy ads and promote it whenever I want for the life of the book. And, on the flip side, you get to fail on your own. If a bad decision is made, it rests solely on you. For example, my most recent book I didn’t list myself as the author. I thought I had done that by listing my name, my cover, my biography, etc. So I didn’t list myself as a “contributor.” So it listed Trent Evans as Editor and no author. hehe. But Author Central fixed immediately and it was repaired within hours.
Sue: When you self-publish, you are the author and the publisher, not just the author. You’ll have to do all the work a publisher would’ve done, such as finding a good editor and book cover artist, managing your own promo, and making sure the book is formatted properly for upload on the various sites you plan to publish it.
Trent: Everything hinges upon your decisions (or lack thereof) when you indie publish. All the glory – and all the blame – will fall upon you, and you alone. Some people find that terrifying, while others find that empowering. :) For writers who want to “just write” traditional publishing may seem more attractive, but for those who indie publish but decide to farm out all the functions/tasks of publishing, they can still “just write”… and keep twice the royalties and 100% of the control.
Cara: The amount of control you have over the product. As an indie, you make all the decisions. You hire the editors and the cover artist, you decide how to market, where and when to release the book. You take on all the financial risk—but you stand to gain all the financial reward. The actual work involved in being an indie is not that much greater than working with a publisher.
Kristin: In self-publishing I control what happens. It’s as simple as that. I control the release date. I control the pricing. I get more of the royalties. I control the editing and cover design. I am in total control the entire time. There is no waiting or miscommunication. No deadlines.
If you publish with a publisher the only thing you need to worry about is writing the book and the rest is taken care of for you.
What's your least favorite part about self-publishing a book and why?
Megan: Deciding on my cover and watching the sales on the Dashboard. I agonize, AGONIZE over my cover--because I truly feel a cover makes or breaks a book. When I scroll through books on certain FB pages at break-neck speed, it is only the unique and stunning covers that make me stop. So I search for the unique and stunning.
And as much as I love the Dashboard where you can literally watch sales as they come in--it is sooooooo addicting and mood-affecting. So I have passed this task to the husband, The Book Crier, who has several spreadsheets now, and he will randomly yell out, “You’ve now sold___ books, and made ____ dollars!” LOL
Sue: The extra promo I have to do after the book is released. Most of the publishers I’ve worked with do a fair amount of promo for their authors, but when I self-publish it’s all on me, and that can be stressful.
Trent: Retailers do treat indie/self-publishers differently, in ways both obvious and subtle. An obvious way is how they allow publishers five main categories for their books, while allowing indies only two. A more subtle one is the increased scrutiny indie covers receive from reviewers. I have no hard data to back this up, but I’d be shocked if indie books aren’t slapped with the Adult tag (or outright blocked) far more often than trad pubbed titles are.
Cara: I wouldn’t call it my least favorite part, I would just call attention to a risk. As an indie, you don’t have a safety net. You and you alone make all the decisions, and you don’t have an experienced, knowledgeable overseer to say, hey, you’re messing up here. So you learn by making mistakes. However, publishers make mistakes too, and when you’re contracted with one and you realize a mistake is being made, you have no power to change it. As an indie, you can correct your missteps.
Kristin: You have to do all the work. Everything on your own.What's your favorite part about self-publishing a book and why?
Megan, I think that if I had to pick out a cover, it would be the toughest part of self-publishing for me too! You have to find the right cover that represents your story, but then like you said, you want to find one that really stands out and will catch readers attention.
Megan, I think that if I had to pick out a cover, it would be the toughest part of self-publishing for me too! You have to find the right cover that represents your story, but then like you said, you want to find one that really stands out and will catch readers attention.
Megan: I like being in charge of when a book gets published. I like and fear hitting the green "Publish" button--but there isn't a greater feeling in the world than hitting that button--you want to dance. And once I pick a cover, I am on a cloud for days. So I guess control, hitting publish and the cover are my favorite parts of self publishing.
Sue: Can I say hitting the publish button eis my favorite part, LOL? There’s just something highly satisfying about finally seeing my project finished and ready for publication.
Trent: The control. Shocker, I know☺ When you indie publish you do it on your schedule, with your cover, your product description, your – you get the idea. No waiting months for your book to be published. No editors saying “fix this, or it’s not being published.” No covers that make you cringe. No ridiculous contracts. No inscrutable statements for sales that happened 6-12 months ago. No quarterly payments, with reserve against return monies held back. Control. It’s worth even more than the money – though the money’s pretty good too☺
Cara: Before I started self-publishing, I thought reaping 100% instead of 50% of the royalties would be the best part. Now that I’ve been self-publishing for about eight months, I realize the benefit is in the control that I have over my own work and my ability to respond to market demands in a more timely fashion. I can better pace my releases to even out my income. Instead of highs and lows, it’s been steady.
LOL Sue! I think that your answer sounds perfect! At the same time, like Trent and Cara said, the total control over the entire process would be nice too.
What made you switch from working with a publisher to self-publishing your stories?
Megan: I wanted the experience of self publishing and the money involved. I was new enough that I figured I had nothing to lose. My original goal was to be a “hybrid”--self published and with a publisher.
Do you think that you'll ever work with a publisher again on one of your stories and why?
Megan: If the right situation arose, I may go back to a publisher. It’s difficult to say--I would miss the independence of self publishing. I don’t see myself going back anytime soon.
Self-published authors have gotten a bad reputation for their stories being poor quality with horrendous grammar mistakes in them. Do you think that there is any truth to that? Do you think that there is any way to fix it?
Megan: I had an editor before I even moved out of publishing. I knew that having an editor was imperative. Editing is as important as the cover, again it effects the sales.
Sue: I must say that I respectfully disagree with your statement that self-published authors have a bad reputation for their stories being poor quality with horrendous grammar mistakes. Most authors who self-publish, at least those I know, hire an editor or at least use a proofreader. You don’t have to use a publisher in order to produce a well-written and well-edited book.
Trent: Yep, there are some horrendous self-published books out there, no doubt. There are also some horrendous traditionally published books out there too. I think it’s a mistake to blame the mode of publication for a poor quality product though. Ultimately, no matter how a book is published, the blame for a shoddy product falls on the author’s shoulders. It’s the author’s responsibility to make sure they’re putting out a quality product, whether via indie pub or trad pub. There is no way to “fix” the larger problem of poor quality books, save one: the market. Crappy books – whether trad or indie – will sink like a stone into the ether of the interwebs, never to be seen again. The market is remarkably efficient at separating out the treasure from the trash, so writers (on both sides of the aisle) can better spend their time by writing more books and letting the market sort things out.☺
Cara: Of course there is some truth to it. Some authors rush to “print” with unedited manuscripts or who believe that self-editing is enough. Self-editing is NOT enough. Beta reading is not enough. Unless your best friend is a professional editor, having him/her “edit” your manuscript is insufficient. So poorly edited self-pubbed books exist. But I’ve seen publishers release poorly edited books too. And on the flip side, many indie authors started out with good publishing houses (like myself) and know the value of quality professional editing. As result, many indie publications are indistinguishable from those produced by publishing houses, and some are better.
Kristin: Yes, it’s true. It’s is because most indie authors don’t use an editor for whatever reasons. I can’t speak for everyone but it is super important. For big publishers and for some indie authors, they do exist and we must use them. There is no excuse not to.
Cara, that'd be me if I tried to self-publish. I'd get so excited and just want to have my book finished and up for sale, that I'd press the green publish button to early. :-/
What would be your biggest piece of advice to someone who is considering self-publishing one of their stories?
Megan: Make sure you hire the services of an excellent editor. Then find an excellent cover artist. In addition, make sure you have money saved up--the cost for these is up front. But once the book is published and you’ve recouped the costs, the profits begin. (except for ads you may take out).
Sue: Do your research and make a plan. There’s more to self-publishing than writing your story and slapping it up on Amazon. Your story should be edited and formatted correctly for each individual ebook store (i.e. the guidelines for Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc. are different), you’ll need some snazzy cover art, and you should figure out how much time you plan to spend promoting your book once it’s released. Then go for it! If you’re nervous about self-publishing a longer work, then start out with a short story or a novella.
Trent: Don’t let anyone – and I do mean anyone – tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t self-publish that book. I think every writer needs to first, before they do anything else, decide what it is they’re looking for from this book. Are they looking to express themselves, market be damned? Check off that bucket list item of publishing a book? Maximize sales and/or revenues? Once they’ve done that, then they can figure out how to match their expectations/goals with the most suitable mode of publication. Okay that was two pieces of advice. Sue me.
Cara: You can cut corners on many things, but editing and a professional cover aren’t one them. Hire a good editor and get a good cover artist. LISTEN to your editor! Self-publishing isn’t exorbitantly expensive, but it's going to cost you a little money. If you can’t afford to spend roughly $600 per book to produce it, then stick with a publishing house.
Kristin: Talk to Trent Evans. He has become a guru of sorts for Indie authors and he has detailed ways to help you every step of the way.
I like that advice Kristin! I've talked to Trent Evans before and he is so smart and able to explain everything in such perfect detail.
Who would you recommend self-publishing to an author in our genres (spanking, age play, medical play)?
Megan: Anyone can self publish--or can hire someone to help you self publish :)
Sue: I can’t think of a genre, or subgenre of spanking fiction, I wouldn’t recommend self-publishing too.
Trent: I may be misunderstanding your question, but I’ll take a stab at it. For fiction, I really can’t think of a specific genre or sub-genre where there is a distinct advantage in going with a traditional publisher. If there is one, I’d say literary fiction might be the lone genre where trad still has an advantage. Perhaps that readership wants that perceived curation conferred by the imprimatur of a trad publishing house? For the record, I’m actually not anti-traditional publishing. I think it can work for certain types of personalities and for certain projects. But increasingly, I’d say self/indie publishing should be the default (i.e. that trad publisher is going to have to present a compelling reason for me to go with them, rather than the other way around… )
Cara: I think the erotic romance/erotica genre overall lends itself to self-publishing. We’re in the age of ebooks. Self-publishing is easy and affordable (but don’t skimp on editing!).
Kristin: YES! Our genre is super super popular right now and if you aren’t with a publisher you can make a lot more money! These stories will sell! There is a huge fan base! You don’t have to worry about a publisher becoming too busy to market for you or help you, you don’t have to rely on anyone.
What made you want to self-publish your stories?
Megan: Many times there are restrictions that a publisher will put upon an author--because the goal is to make money--it’s everyone’s goal. But there are also times when you would like to venture into an area that a publisher isn’t comfortable with--as a self-published author you can venture into areas that a publisher may talk you out of or may tell you they have no interest in supporting.
Sue: I really enjoy writing short stories and there aren’t many publishers who will accept shorter word counts, so I decided to start self-publishing all my short stories from here on out. That’s not to say I won’t self-pub anything longer though, but this is how I got started. I’ve also wanted to experiment with Kindle Unlimited more, and I’m more able to do that while self-publishing.
Trent: I just didn’t want to have to get “permission” from anyone to publish my stuff. I’ve never once queried. Not once. I see zero use for an agent. The idea of waiting months and months to find out if a publisher has even so much as looked at my book, gives me the shivers. To each his own, I suppose, but why? Why in God’s name do writers put themselves through that anymore? ::: shrug ::: This one sure doesn’t☺
Cara: I felt that the benefits I received from my publisher did not merit giving away half the proceeds. It was a financial move for me.
Oh Sue! I hope that you self-publish longer stories! I LOVE your Sue Mercury stories, but just as the story is really starting to get good, it ends! Gosh, I love those Risteria males and their mating urges! <3
How do you cope with not having an editor to go over your story and check for plot holes or grammar mistakes?
Megan: I do. My editor checks for all these areas.
Sue: I have a lovely editor friend who reads my stories and gives helpful advice, and then another writer friend who proofs my final copy before I hit publish.
Trent: The short answer is, you don’t. Everyone should have at least one other set of eyes on their work. Whether that be an editor, a team of beta readers, a trusted first reader who holds your feet to fire, or simply an eagle-eyed friend good for spotting those sneaky little homonym errors, everyone should, IMHO, have their work edited in some form or fashion. However, that’s just my opinion, and it’s no more valid than a writer who believes it’s possible to put out good work without editing (whether that be self-editing or an outside editor). All that really matters, in the end, is the final product – not how it came to be said final product☺
Cara: I do have an editor go over my stories. No professional author who cares about his/her work would ever release a manuscript that was not professionally edited. I use two editors—one for content issues like plot holes, and another for the copy editing (grammar, punctuation). I would NEVER publish a book that I did not have edited first.
Kristin: Find an editor.
Instead of using the traditional publisher, you pay Trent to be your editor to help you through the self-publishing process. How does that differ from using a traditional publisher?
Megan: Although Trent is an editor and assists me with publishing, the responsibility of when the book is finished, what date it is published, content, and cover are all up to me. He may assist me with these decisions, but most of the time I get told “Trust your instincts” or “I think you’re making a good plan.” The decision is ultimately mine and he doesn’t sway me unless I’m walking into quicksand or alligators :)
We also discuss trends, prices, what works in advertising and what doesn’t, and when it is best to run ads and how to coordinate ads with certain time periods in the life of a book. People who self publish tend to bounce ideas off of each other and openly discuss places to advertise.
Trent sounds like a great person to work with to help with self-publishing a book!
The thing that comes to mind with self-publishing stories is that the author gets to keep the majority of the profits. Whereas, working with a publisher the author only gets to keep a certain percentage of the profits. Do you think that this sways many authors to self-publish their stories? Yes or no and why?
Megan: Definitely. We all enjoy writing, but let’s be honest we are all in this for the money. The goal is to do this for a living--not in the middle of the night after working a full day at work. So to make this dream a reality, we need to have a steady income that sustains us and/or a family. Giving up 40% to 50% is a LOT of money especially over a seven year period or more.
Sue: There are many reasons authors decide to self-publish their stories, and yes, not having to split the profits with a publisher is certainly one big reason. Twenty years ago self-publishing on a digital platform wasn’t really an option for writers. You had to play the game and submit to traditional publishers until you got a story accepted, and unfortunately even then you couldn’t expect huge royalties. With self-publishing, authors have more freedom to publish the genres they want without having to hear a publisher say something like “Oh sorry, stories about time traveling elves just aren’t popular now and I’m afraid we can’t publish your book.”
Trent: Of course, this depends upon the author, but yes, I believe the attraction of the money does draw many who might not otherwise take the leap. It’s certainly a big factor in trad authors dipping their toes in the indie waters. Every writer has to decide for themselves if the value proposition of trad publishing pencils out for them. Does the work the author saves for themselves by going with a trad publisher make sense for the big royalty cut they will incur? This works in reverse too. Is the additional work required when going the indie route offset satisfactorily by the increase in royalties? The answers to these questions will vary by author, and even by project.
Cara: Oh, definitely, this is why most authors go indie. When you do the work yourself and you see how little work is actually involved in publishing, it doesn’t make financial sense to give away half your proceeds to have a publisher do those things for you.
Kristin: It totally depends on you and your situation. That isn’t a quick yes or no answer. It depends highly on what genre you write. If you write horror/thriller and have questionable content most publishers will turn their heads but if you choose to self publish it then it could become a best seller and you could make money on your own. If you are a writer who only wants to write and doesn’t want to have to think about who to choose to edit or worrying about creating your own cover with license fees then work with a publisher and take a “pay cut”.
Publishing a book with a publisher, the author gets access to a publisher's ARC readers which will give the author the first couple reviews for their book. Additionally, a publisher offers more outlets to market the book such as newsletters, their website, etc. Do you think that this effects a self-published book sales at all?
Megan: I think if you are brand new you need to be with a publisher, like most of us have done. It’s good to have the support and to develop a fan base. After that, I’m not sure it adds that much. My fanbase has doubled with every book since I started self-publishing. It may be coincidental --I don’t know. Most publishers have one person who gives an ARC review--most of us have at least one if not more readers that we rely on for a review to “kickstart” us--again fans are usually faithful in that regard.
Sue: Reviews from ARC readers are certainly valuable, and so is the extra promo a publisher can do for a writer through newsletters, their website, and other media outlets. However, many writers are able to fill the role of a publisher in this regard even better than most publishers. Lots of self-published writers have street teams (a great way to get early reviews and help spread the work about your books), send out their own newsletters, and maintain a social media presence while successfully promoting their books. I suppose in many cases, if an author isn’t practiced at marketing, they might sell more books through a publisher than if they went it alone, so each writer has to decide how much marketing they are willing to do on their own and whether or not self-publishing is right for them.
Trent: I know indie authors whose ARC operations are absolute machines, operations that put any traditional publisher’s ARC program to shame. Indies can set up their own ARC teams, their own newsletters, their own websites – and in many cases do it better than what a publisher would do for them. Yes, all of these things can affect sales of any book, indie or traditional, but it’s important for writers to realize that they do have options now. The only thing a traditional publisher can do that an indie can’t do for themselves, is offer them an advance.
Cara: Some publishers ARC readers do provide some reviews. But other publishers are not that successful with reviews. And you can get reviews on your own. What’s also interesting here is that in your list of outlets you mentioned only two: newsletters and the website. And, in fact, that’s generally all you get. Very few authors get more marketing than this. Occasionally, a publisher will take out some paid ads for an author who is already making them money. I think the publisher’s newsletter and website does give an initial boost to a new release, and can be very beneficial to new authors.. But the newsletter is often a one-shot deal, and once the next group of new releases comes out and your book falls off the home page into obscurity, the website benefit goes away. Every author, indie or traditionally published, should have their own newsletter and their own website, and should work HARD to attract subscribers and followers.
Kristin: An indie author can still giveaway ARC copies and get advance reviews for their book. A publisher doesn’t control that at all. An indie author can also market their book anyway they want to. The only difference is the author has to pay for the marketing. When you self publish there are more rules but they do the marketing for you and all the author authors they work with.
Would you ever not recommend someone to self-publish their story instead of work with a publisher? Yes or no and why?
Megan: As stated above, I would recommend a brand new author work with a publisher, unless they know of a great editor that can help them maneuver the waters of authorland. It helped to have support in the beginning and to start a fanbase. I never saw myself self publishing, EVER. I just think the trend is moving toward authors self-publishing.
Sue: No, I would never recommend someone not self-publish, but I would gently nudge them to do their research so they know exactly what they’re getting into, especially if they are new writer, before they start the process.
Trent: Certainly. Sometimes, a project makes more sense with a traditional publisher. I would still recommend a literary fiction writer go trad over indie. Anyone who places great value on industry awards, should go trad rather than indie. Again, it would depend upon the writer and the project. It doesn’t have to be a binary thing anymore. Trad and indie are simply modes of publication that may or may not be available to a particular author or project. It’s all about being aware of your options and going after the best one!
Cara: Actually, I think most newbies could benefit from working with a publisher first—especially if the publisher offers quality editing and covers. When you start out, it is hard to generate a readership base. If you’ve chosen the right publisher for your work, the publisher’s following can really help you.
That makes sense that new authors would probably do best to work with a publisher to begin with, but afterword it would be easier for the author to venture out on their own if they wanted to.
On average, what is the general time frame from submitting the story to finding out it'll be published, to getting the first set of edits to finishing the edits, to getting the book copy read and the contract signed, to having the book up for sale on Amazon?
Megan: Well, there is no contract. I purchase a service. So I pay him a certain amount per word. I submit my book to Trent for editing, and we openly discuss how many words it is, how much time he thinks it will take to process the book and when I am thinking of publishing. Usually I allow eight weeks from the date of submission to the date of publishing. Sometimes it has been six weeks and sometimes it has been eight. Once we have set up a “drop dead” date of publishing, he sends me a statement on how much it will cost for him to beta read, line edit, copy edit, format and to assist me in publishing.
Sue: Oh gosh…this has been different with each publisher I’ve worked with. I’ve had a submission to publication period take as long as eight months, and others as short as one month.
Trent: So, the length of time depends on the length of the book. For a full length, say 85K or so, I usually take 1-2 weeks to edit, 1-2 days for formatting, then I can upload everywhere in 2-4 hrs. I'm rarely organized enough to get a cover ready beforehand though, so I plan on about 3-4 weeks all told once the draft is complete. If I utilize beta readers, it's at least 4 weeks. If I forego beta readers, it's closer to 3 weeks all told.
Cara: This varies depending on the publisher, whether you’re brand new or have been published with them before, how good the editing is that the publisher provides, and how much editing your work requires. With Loose Id, it took me about a month to get a contract on my first book (but they had contacted me and asked me to submit something). After the contract was signed, it took about five months to get a published book. Once I was with them, it would take two weeks to one month to get a contract and then four months to get a book published. I do know publishers who take a LOT longer to act and some that are quicker.
I would like to say thank you all again for participating in this blog post! I loved all of your answers!
Tomorrow I'll be sharing the publishers answers to my questions!
Have a great day everyone!