Friday, October 8, 2021

Can Self- or Hybrid Publishing Land You on the Bestseller List?

My indie-released songwriter friends never understood why writers are so hung up about self-publishing. Or the more recent hybrid version, where a publishing house helps you create the book and you fund it. Musicians have long separated from the labels and ventured out on their own, releasing their own CDs and working with indie distributors.

Even today, writers are told that unless we get an agent and go the traditional route, we'll never be taken seriously. We'll never make it as a writer, whatever that means.

I've played both sides of the court. For years, I went the traditional route--agent, large publisher, small press, radio and TV marketing paid for by my publicity budget with the publisher, even book tours back in the day. I also have self-published twice, creating a professional book with hired help (typesetter, cover designer) and promotion.

Each experience had ups and downs. I worked with wonderful editors and publishers via the trad route, and some not so. I also greatly enjoyed the freedom and control of making my own decisions when I went out on my own.

Surprisingly, the books sold well when I took the self-pub route. Or maybe not so surprising.

Times have changed for writers. There are many more avenues to consider. Because advances are few, publicity budgets also, unless you're the pick of the litter for the publisher's list that season, most won't spend money or attention on a new writer. Several colleagues have disproven this, but many more have not. The onus is now on the writer to deliver manuscripts in pristine condition, already edited, although my agent and many others like to give it a final polish before submitting. Writers going trad also benefit from a platform, a solid marketing plan and social media presence. We become more than just good wordsmiths with good stories. We have to learn to sell our books as well as write them.

For this, writers get 7-1/2 percent of sales, which for a $14.00 trade size paperback amounts to about $1.13 per copy. We do the marketing work, we hire editors before submitting it. The publisher prints the book as orders come in (print on demand) in most cases, not wanting to carry inventory, or does a short run of less than 500 copies to see whether the book will sell. Agents take 15 percent of everything. This isn't to say that publishers earn huge amounts either--many books don't earn back their advances. It's a tricky industry.

But still, you have this story burning a hole in your heart. What should you do?

I ask writers to think about what they really want. Would you be satisfied with a beautifully produced book, something you can share and sell online and send your friends and family? Or do you want the harder route of getting a Big Five contract and all the inevitable rejections that pave the way to it.

Some try both. Writer Darcie Chan was rejected by over 100 literary agents and dozens of publishers, then went on to self-publish her debut novel and sell over 400,000 copies on Kindle. Read her story here.

Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer's Digest magazine and author of The Business of Being a Writer, produces a wonderful chart each year that shows all the options for writers hoping to get their books out to readers. Access it here.

Self-publishing is still a controversial topic. But as the industry takes one hit after another, it's an option many writers are considering--and succeeding with.

For more success stories about self-publishing also check out chapter 25 of my book, Your Book Starts Here.

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