Saturday 8 September 2012

I Think I Want to be Traditionally Published

If you're at all interested in writing and publishing - I expect most of you are, since you're reading a writing blog. Not that you're not very welcome otherwise - you are surely aware of the rise of self-publishing, and the biggest decision writers now face: self-publish, or get traditionally published?

Until pretty recently, traditional publishing was very much the thing. Self-publishing was fairly rare, and perceived as desperate measures by writers who'd failed to attract a publisher. I remember telling a friend about my ambition to become an author: he helpfully mentioned self-publishing and POD, which at that point I knew very little about. I was offended, and coldly told him that I hoped I would be able to get 'actually published'.

But now the self-publishing revolution has happened, and publishing your own work is fast becoming ever easier, and ever less stigmatised. Vive le revolution (or not)! And I've been working for some time now with he assumption that  that is what I will do.

The reasons to do it sound pretty compelling. You don't give up the lion's share of the profits to a publisher and there's no agent to collect ten percent of what remains. You don't give up control of your work: editing, title, cover, timescale. And you will never be rejected. Even the statistics comparing the measly pittance made by the average self-published author to the advance given by a typical publisher are easy to discount: the majority of the authors making practically nothing are the authors who would have made nothing from traditional publishing because they would never have been published at all.


There are a lot of buts.

But I don't know if my book's any good. Now, a lot of people will be scornful of the idea of needing someone else's say-so to feel your work is worth publishing. They have a point: I don't have a great deal of self-confidence. It's a character flaw, and one which I should probably be trying to improve, rather than indulging. And of course if you're professional and diligent about publishing your own stuff, you will have had it edited and read by others.

But still, I'm a new author with no track record, and what I publish now will be out there, under my name, for ever. I don't want to publish rubbish, and I can't, physically can't, be impartial about what I write. If someone who knows what they're talking about, and whose livelihood depends on only accepting books that will be successful, accepts my book, that's a pretty solid endorsement that I am, after all, ready to start publishing my work.

But I don't know how to do it myself. Yes, there are plenty of guides and blogs on the subject out there. But they all say different things. Some, for instance, warn new writers away from self-publishing, and others virtually insist that traditional publishing is a massive no-no if your new to the game. There's very little that they do agree on. And if they do, it's vague, subjective, and broad.

And some seem focussed entirely on writing for profit, counting success purely in dollars and scorning the idea of trying to write the best book you can, or wanting to be read as as well as to be paid. They give what is probably good advice, but it's not advice about what I want to do.

A publisher knows what steps a book needs to go through. They know how they are all done. They either have contacts or in-house staff to get all of them done. I've never published anything, I don't know what to expect, and although I've been trying my best I still only have a vague idea how to go about doing it. To be published, at least the first time, would not only get the job done properly on that occasion, but having seen the process I hope I would then have some concrete, first-hand knowledge if I wanted to self-publish in the future.

But I don't think I have the money to self-publish. It's going to be more expensive than I had realised. With POD you don't need to finance an offset print run, and the setup costs sound pretty reasonable. For instance, £500 seems to be the absolute lower limit for editing, and I would be cautious about hiring someone who charged so much less than what seems to be the average. It looks like I'll be lucky not to have to lay out much more than £1000 for editing alone. There's cover design, and I'm now hearing that things like internal layout design and non-free fonts are highly recommended. And that's before you start on any costs of marketing - although traditional publishing doesn't absolve you from promoting your book. Figures of £5000 and higher are bandied about as typical self-publishing costs.

If I self-publish, I will do it properly and professionally, and produce a book that isn't the worse for not having a publisher's logo on the spine. And if I can't afford that, I won't self-publish. And I don't think I can afford it at this stage.

I'm fairly sure I could scrape together the money. But I could not afford to lose it. I would be relying on at least recovering the costs. If I'm traditionally published, I might still need to hire an editor, but what advice I can find on the subject seems to suggest that it's certainly worth a go without, and to only pay for editing if you're consistently rejected by agents. And I will still need to promote my book, and don't yet have a very clear idea of the costs of that. But the publisher will take a lot of the costs away from me, and if I get an advance that at least covers any editing costs, even if I never earn it out I won't be out of pocket.

But I want to be read, not just to make money. One of the biggest arguments in favour of self-publishing is that you make more profit on each book. But it still seems it won't be an awful lot. And it seems like you will be likely to sell less books, and even if that adds up to more money in total, I write for the love of it more than for the money, and I want my books to be read. And as a new author, I want to be read and recognised and build a following. I would love to be able to give up the day job (assuming I manage to get a day job after I finish uni), but mostly I just want to write and be read. And if I am successful I don't really care whether I make millions, or just enough to give up the day job and still live comfortably.

At least with my first book, I will be measuring success by how many books I sell, not by my bank balance, and I think that traditional publishing is the right option for that. For this one at least, the publisher can have the lion's share of the profit, and I'll take the recognition - assuming there is any of either.


  1. Yeah there are plenty of ups and downs to it. It costs a bunch to self publish and a long road, may never make the money back either. Then again it's a long road publishing traditionally too, I guess it is whatever you feel most comfortable with

    1. The money is the real decider: it would be a massive gamble, and I simply can't afford it. But realising that was a huge weight off my mind; I think I felt a bit pressured into self-publishing, by the rest of the internet, and I've been terrified about it.