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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Self-pub v. traditional: What gives you the better chance for success?

A little background here. I was roaming on Twitter, and I ran across a random Tweet about the self-pub Spartacus himself, JA Konrath (if you self-pub and ever question that decision, read his blog). An agent said that she disagrees with Konrath's contention that self-pub gives most writers, especially new ones, the best chance for success. I responded, but was willing to just agree to disagree.

Then I ran across a response to her from some twit agent (name withheld, for now) who said: "Self-pub can work. So can digging random holes in the hopes of finding pirate gold. It's *possible." Ha, I see what you did there.

I replied, "Just out of curiosity, how is that any different from attempting to go the traditional publishing route?"

Seems like a pretty simple question, no?

Strangely enough, I got no response, although he did find time to respond to a fan's question about a sequel to his book about love robots.

With that in mind, let's go over the chances of achieving some degree of success via self-pub and traditional. I'm going on the assumption that a writer is reasonably talented and knows how to put out a good product.

If you want to self-pub, you:
  • Write and edit your book
  • Have someone design a cover to your specs, or do it yourself
  • Upload book
  • Promote from time to time
  • Make some money (maybe a little, maybe more than a little)
  • Write next book while still making money off of your previous ones in perpetuity, because you kept all of your rights.
  • Repeat above steps, and compound your sales with each book

That's not a guess. that's how self-pub works.

Now, let's review your chances of success in traditional:

  • Write and edit your book
  • Comb through Writer's Market and other sites to figure out who you want to submit to first
  • Research each agent's submission guidelines (because they're all different, and they can vary a lot)
  • Craft a query letter specifically to that agent's taste
  • Same for your synopsis and possibly an author bio.
  • Buy envelopes/stamps/paper/ink and bundle them.
  • Submit to agents (or maybe only one agent, as some want "exclusivity", meaning they want you to promise to submit only to them for a period ranging from weeks to months)
  • Wait. For weeks or months.*
  • Best case scenario is that you get accepted on the first try (you really won't).**
  • Work with agent to do more edits, keeping in mind that a lot of them are no more qualified to do edits than your friends are. I'll assume a smooth process here, too (it really won't be).
  • Wait for agent to sell book to publishing house. I'll assume you sell your book to the first one (you really won't).
  • Sign away all of your rights.
  • Hopefully a $5,000-$10,000 advance (the typical advance is the same it was in the 1970's). Save that, because you won't see another dime until you earn it back.
  • More edits.
  • A lot of back and forth in between your sale and the book being published 2-3 years later.
  • Promote
  • Unless you catch lightning in a bottle, a few months' stint in bookstores before being remaindered, in which case you might be dropped.
  • Stop making money.
  • Repeat.
Also, everything in red is stuff that you're doing instead of writing your next book.

So, the next time you hear an agent say that a writer stands a better chance of success with traditional, think about it. If you define success as being a rich and famous bestseller with the book that everyone's reading, then you probably stand a better chance with traditional. That chance is just north of 0%.

But if you define success as being paid to do something you love for a living, self-pub gives you far greater access and both short- and long-term earning potential.


*I pursued traditional publishing for about a week before I came to my senses and went self-pub. I queried four agencies. Last month, I received a rejection ... fifteen months after I'd sent the query. Unless they sign you, agencies will not respect you.

**I've read a bunch of agent blogs in the past, and here are some reasons you'll get rejected that have nothing to do with the quality of your work: your query wasn't structured exactly right; they just signed someone with a similar work; the market is saturated; they feel it's too niche/not niche enough; they're not accepting queries at this time (though they never updated their Submissions page); the author bio was uninteresting; or, I'm not joking, they were just in a bad mood when they read a query.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the best posts I've read about the subject of self-publishing. As I've written down in my blog a few weeks a go, it's the traditional laws of demand and supply that should dictate who is successful or not and not publishing companies. It is rarely true that publishers will enthusiastically give a first time author a chance. Unless you have personal contacts, it is going to be extremely hard even if you're Charles Dickens. Well Done for the great post as a fellow horror writer, I hope you keep the horror flowing.