Friday, March 2, 2018

Traditional Publishing: School of Hard Knocks?

Author Stephanie Bond, who has sold 2 million books and one of whose titles has been adapted for a Hallmark movie, credits her success as an indie author to the hard knocks education she got in traditional publishing. As I read her interview on Indie Reader I found myself nodding at the parallels with my own publishing experience.

While I haven't sold 2 million books, I too started out in traditional publishing (Dorchester Publishing, Montlake Romance) and I can verify the prevalence of those hard knocks. Here are a few, from my experience alone:

1. Publisher goes out of business, chaotically, over a period of years. Your titles with them, including option books (and scheduled-to-be released books, as some of my co-authors learned) are tied up, sometimes for years. My indie venture never goes out of business unless I want it to, my books are never tied up, and they never go out of print.

2. Bond, in the interview mentioned, also stated that "digital publishing in general is simply a better fit for my hybrid books that are part mystery, part relationship; traditional publishers never knew how to categorize my books or where they should be shelved in brick and mortar stores." When my option book finally emerged from the ashes of Dorchester, I had this same problem with my own part romance, part mystery, noir-ish title. The agent said she loved the story but couldn't settle on a genre, so she decided not to send it out to publishers. That book became my first indie title.

3. Authors generally have zero control of their intellectual properties once they sign that traditional publishing contract: not over covers, editing, pricing, release schedule, making changes, and myriad other things. As an indie I can alter anything at will, and the changes go live in hours or a day at most.

4. I was told to stick to one genre and build up a readership there before branching into side alleys. But I don't write that way: I write what I'm moved to write when I'm moved. I've written romance, historical, literary, memoir, and am currently dabbling in mystery. I write and publish short stories and novellas, standalone and in series, as well as novels. I'm all over the map. Indie publishing allows me to write and publish the way I want to rather than some way that's prescribed for me. I don't wear prescriptions well.

5. Making money through trad pubbing is extremely difficult once that advance has been paid. I made more money through my indie books last year than in all the years since I was first pubbed in 2008 -- all of them combined.

6. If you happen to earn out your advance and royalties start trickling in, you have to wait 6 months or longer to see that money, depending on your publisher's payment schedule. If you're agented, like I am for the traditionally published book, you have to wait longer yet for those pennies -- minus the agent's commission -- with all sorts of attendant issues that I won't get into. I get paid in 2 months for my indie titles. 2 months. With one aggregator that I use to get my books on Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo etc., those royalties are in my bank account two days after the payment goes through. If I opt to use a service like Payoneer, the payment goes into my account immediately. IMHO, that's hard to beat.

The traditional publishing experience isn't all negative. Amazon's Montlake Romance acquired my first title, Cafe au Lait, in 2013, 5 years after its first publication, propelling it to the UK Kindle Top 100 list several times during dedicated promotions over subsequent years and generating significant royalties (finally). I doubt I could have done that on my own; an indie author simply does not have the promotional clout of Amazon's mega-machine. Conversely, indie publishing is not a walk in the park: it is a hell of a lot of work, and if often takes time for returns to start coming in: it was three years before I began to see regular royalties, and another year before I saw significant royalties. 

I don't regret my hard knocks in the school of traditional publishing: they smashed my rose-colored perspective on publishing forever, and equipped me with something that money can't buy: invaluable experience. To the hybrid authors out there: How would you compare your traditional vs. your indie publishing experience? I'm aware that everyone's mileage differs.

Liane Spicer


Linda Thorne said...

You've said this before in different words about how hard it is to make money with traditional publishers. I know several authors who started out with a good publisher and then went to some sort of self publishing. It may be on the rise for good reason.

Liane Spicer said...

I've probably said it several times, Linda. Mid-range and entry level authors made very little--scandalously little--with traditional publishers, and I think it's worse now than when I started out more than 10 years ago.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I like this post Liane. It sums up quite a bit of the traditional publishing woes. The biggest traditional publishing woe for me was getting a publisher to publish it in the first place. But all traditional publishers are not equal. Some require you to do 100% of your promotion, just as you would do with your Indie titles. Some (Amazon Montlake is one) promote their titles heavily.

Liane Spicer said...

I hear you, Jewel. Getting a publisher is the first major hurdle. And Montlake is indeed not typical, as it has the might of the Amazon marketing mega-machine behind it.

Maggie King said...

I'm likely headed down the indy path.

Liane Spicer said...

All the best on your journey, Maggie!