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A War of Two Houses: Trad vs. Self-Pub

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I’ve had this conversation at length with my friend and author Matthew Quinn. Which is the route you should take with your first book? I was arguing heavily in favor for Self-Publishing. Matthew maintained a desire for a traditional route. We had a civil back and forth and it boiled down, I think, to these points.


Self-Publish: Getting your book out quickly

Traditional: Getting your book proper support.


Self-Publish: Only have yourself for marketing.

Traditional: Have to wait years going through rejection before getting a publisher.

What Concerns me most with Traditional Publishing is the time frame. While listening to Writing Excuses, Brandon Sanderson mentioned that it took him eight years to get his first book published. Six years of shopping it and two years before it was finally released. When I hear that I get very discouraged by that route. Nearly a decade to get someone to notice. By the time I’m ready to shop my book that would put me close to forty before it gets picked up.

However, I can’t deny the fact that it would be an amazing feat to have a Legacy Publisher pick up my book. As an author, I would feel legitimized. And I think that is a large part of why we would all want to be published through that route. Crossing that barrier means something. I honestly can’t see anyone saying they wouldn’t feel honored to be picked up by a Legacy Publisher. For goodness sake, Self-Publishings poster child, Amanda Hocking, switched. And her reason is very telling.

Amanda said, simply put, she didn’t want to have to worry about marketing herself anymore. Now I am aware that even first time, traditionally published authors don’t get much marketing support. But I can imagine they’d get more than you would with Self-Publishing.

There is also, I believe, more room for growing your name. With the glut of work being dropped onto the open market, the chances of becoming an Amanda Hocking are growing slim, daily.

With all that, however, there is something to be said for Self-Publishings ability to get your work out there in a timely manner. The digital age has removed that barrier of getting published. At this point and time, the only person you have to consult is yourself. I wouldn’t suggest it. But if we want to be frank, it is the lowest bar.

Obviously, to have an above average product, you’re going to have to invest in your manuscript to a point. That is for sure. Hire an editor, there are plenty of services online that you can look up. You’ll also want to hire someone to do your cover art. In addition, you will have to do some research on how to format an e-book and how to market yourself appropriately.

Which marketing is a big hurdle in and of itself. One that you will never really be able to get away from. The only person who will be peddling your book for you, at least at the beginning, will be yourself. And maybe some of you would/will enjoy the challenge. For me, that sounds like a drag. I want to be an author, not a businessman.

I’m purposefully staying away from the potential for making more money with Self-Publishing. While I agree, you can make a vast sum of money going through route, so far I’ve only seen a very small percentage of people making a living from it. So at this point it is not something we can hang our hat on.

Where does that leave me?

I’ll be honest. I vacillate on this subject daily. I have a very strong desire to get my work out for people to see it once it is done. As I’ve said in other places, I’m an entertainer. The faster I can get the entertainment in people’s hands, the better I feel. I want people to be passionate about the words I wrote. I want to see people get into debates on forums over the little noodley bits of the story. Just like I’ve done with my favorite books.

Martin, I’m looking at you.

But I’m also a person that likes the idea, would feel legit, of being picked up by a publisher. Would I make as much money? Probably not. In fact, more than likely not. There’s no guarantee I’d make money Self-Publishing either. I’d also have the joy of going to a book store and pointing to my row of books on the shelves and saying, “I did that.” And then moving a few copies to the front and signing them.

The best plan I’ve come up with is this: Finish the first draft of my book. Give it to my beta readers and get their feedback. Go through another round of edits and, depending on how that goes, probably give it to another set of beta readers. Once I feel it is strong enough, I’ll shop it for a year.

My hope is that I can get a good sense from editors on the strength of the story. Maybe receive some, “It’s good but not for us,” type of messages. If after a year I don’t have any kind of inkling that the book has a chance, then I’ll move to Self-Publishing. Because–as my wife rightly pointed out last night–with your first book you can go from Traditional to Self. Going the other way takes a miracle.

I’m making the right choice, right? Write.



  1. Subhakar Das says:

    The only difference that matters between self publishing and getting traditionally published, is that your writing is vetted by people who knows the business; in other words, there is a quality control in place, which is not the case with self-publishing.

    • I agree that self-publishing doesn’t stop a writer from putting up anything they’d like to. But I still believe that any author worth their salt should still have their work peer reviewed and revised before putting it online.

      Now, if only more writers were worth their salt…

  2. taureanw says:

    Great post!
    I’m interested in seeing if Traditional Publishing changes any because of the advent of Self-Publishing or if they continue down the same path.
    I tend to think that self-publishing might be a great way to get noticed by Trad Publishing & possibly shorten that normal Trad time span. Yet I could see the posibility of creating your own brand & never having to turn to the “old dogs”. Could be an interesting couple of years!

    • Thanks. And I agree with you. I think the landscape is changing fast. Which also makes me hesitant to jump into one camp or another. I want to hang back and see how this stuff will be playing out. There is a talk of an eBook Bubble. I’d hate to put out my book just at the crash and have nothing to show for it 🙂

  3. Thanks for the shout-out.

    Traditional publishing doesn’t just include the huge publishers that can make a writer known all over the planet if they put the effort into marketing them (but often don’t for new writers), but also the small presses.

    If you’re not getting anywhere with the more established publishers (in one of our conversations you called them the Big Six), a small press like Pyr would be worth a shot before you do the self-publishing thing.

    Small presses are good for niche products I think, and a hybrid between Harry Potter and H.P. Lovecraft as you described your “Weird” books does seem a bit niche-y.

    • It may be niche-y. Though as it goes through it’s probably more mainstream than my little catch phrase gives it credit. However, the book hasn’t gotten into the magic system or the really “Weird” things yet.

      But they are on the horizon *evil grin*.

  4. You’d be surprised how little support a new author gets at a Big 6 publisher. If you go through a smaller pub, you may find some support, but not anything more than you could find on your own and that way you don’t have to split royalties with someone who is doing a one-time service (no publishers consistently support new authors any more).

    Also, many agents are saying that indie publishing is the new query letter. Meaning that people who sell well indie are sure bets for traditional publishing (i.e. Amanda Hocking).

    I don’t see any benefit to doing it the old way. It’s like riding a horse when there’s cars zooming around.

    Let your audience validate your work by buying it and growing. It is a false validation to get a professional to say your work is good.

    • I suppose by support, I’m referring more toward getting books into stores. There is something, for me, that is appealing to being able to see my book nestled in a shelf among the other books. Perhaps it is vain. But it’s there.

      But like some others have said on Reddit. It is worth trying for legacy first. See what happens, and then move over to self-publishing if it doesn’t work out.

      • Who knows where indie publishing and bookstores will be in a year! B&N could go bottoms up. Probably not, but their print sales aren’t doing so hot. I really think indie first is the way to go. Just my 2 cents!

  5. Greg Baker says:

    I see no value in traditional publishing.

    If you’re material attracts enough readers then traditional publishers will notice and come to you. I would much rather be courted, than grovel before a publisher.

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