War of Words: Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing vs Hybrids

The line in the sand is drawn. In one corner, the traditional publishing companies have taken off the gloves. The Self-Publishers are on the other side, snickering into their coffees.

Trapped between the two, those taking advantage of both sides are rolling their eyes and wondering why everyone can't get along.

I have to make a serious decision this year. Do I go traditional? Do I risk self publication? Do I go all out and try both at once? What choice should I make?

I'm still not sure I know for certain. I've been fighting myself on this for a while. I'll keep fighting myself on this. On one hand, I have a dream. That dream is traditionally publishing with TOR or DAW or maybe even DEL REY. The writers that inspired me came from those houses. But, the sad truth is, my dream is actually to inspire people to read and love reading fantasy.

The names are the bonus, the trimming on the tree, a delicious and tasty cupcake. A treat. Not a necessity.

I feel like I need a strong drink just typing this out. And, perhaps, letting go of one dream in exchange for success at the real one. Is traditional the best choice for me? Or, should I consider trying self-publication?

In a way, Zero is the first test of the waters. A serial isn't that far from self-publication! The difference? I am giving away the story for free. It takes an exceptional amount of courage to walk that road. Releasing that first scene as a serial horrified me. I stared at the “Publish” button for a full ten minutes, in a cold sweat, wondering if it was a good idea.

I suspect self-publishing and traditional publishing feel the same way. It is a big and scary world. Hybrid authors have to deal with both worlds and the pros and cons of each. Of course, with my curious and inquisitive nature, I couldn't just let this go. Oh no.

I made some tables.

A: The Pros of All of the Things.

Traditional Publishing Hybrid Publishing Self Publishing
Agents: "Ins" with Pub Houses Choice on a Project by Project Basis Control: Cover
Agents: Advice Broadest build of Audience Base Control: Work Schedule
Agents: Contract Negotiation Flexibility in what to Control Control: Royalties
Houses: Editing (Free) Benefit from Trad Pub experience to apply to Self Pub efforts No Conflict of Interest Situations
Houses: Promotion (background) Reputation of Quality from Traditional Publishing Control: What I write when I write
Houses: Cover Art Undesireable books can be sold No Genre Limitations
Houses: Typesetting / Formatting Short Stories / Novellas Sold on Amazon Full Control of Backlists / Editions / Updates
Little Less Marketing Backlist can be Self-Published on Return of Rights No Experience / Talent / Reputation Required
Higher Potential for Movie Optioning Potential of SFWA Membership Little Time to Print
Higher Potential for Exposure Some Pre-Orders Via Amazon No Deadlines
Advances / Higher Visibility
SFWA Membership Options
Pre-Orders via Amazon
Quality Controls

Chart B: The Cons of All of the Things.

Traditional Publishing Hybrid Publishing Self Publishing
Exclusivity Lockouts Legal Dancing (Contract lockouts) All Marketing
Agents: Commissions All Marketing Work Cover: Costs
Agents: Right of First Rejections Conflict of Interest Situations Editing: Costs
Agents: Waiting Self-Publishing's negative reputation Formatting: Costs
Houses: More Waiting Costs of Self-Publishing Formatting: Effort
Houses: Lower Royalties Higher Contractual Awareness required Advice: No Market Strategies
Houses: Most Marketing Varying Release Times Amazon's Print Regulations
Houses: Cope with Bad Cover Art Risk of letting complete drivel out for readers to see Low Visibility
Houses: Contract Negotiations Low Income
Backlists Crippled No Advances
Advances currently shrinking / vanishing No SFWA Membership
Genre Limitations No Ability to have Pre-Orders
Quality works only! Risk of letting complete drivel out for readers to see
12-18 Months to Print per Books No Deadlines
Extra Deadlines No Quality Controls

What does bother me about these two tables is the fact that I'm missing a lot of things. The things listed here were things at the forefront of my mind. I've missed things. I've missed a lot of things. I've missed things like just how much financial turmoil is involved with all three choices.

But one thing is clear to me. Traditional Publishing no longer has the immediate response of “This is what I must do!”

That both thrills me and terrifies me. I have choices. Realistically three choices that I can make. Unfortunately, I still have no idea what is the best way for me. One way or another, I will find out this year.

Wish me luck.

Leave a Comment:

Joseph Landers says January 18, 2013

I have tried self publishing and sold very few copies. Partly because I have had a hard time getting my name to the public. My book wasn’t edited but was proofread several times. Now I’m trying another publisher which has given me an editor, cover designer and a marketing assistant. At this point I like this publisher. The editor and cover designer was great but I think the marketing assistant will try to get me to fork out a lot of money which I don’t have. Depending on the results which will prove in a few months, I might self publish my next book. I like the freedom and swift results.

    RJBlain says January 18, 2013

    Aye, if I go self-publishing, I don’t expect to make much of anything the first year. Self-publishers, I feel, must have a notable backlist before their efforts show any real results.

    I’m in an interesting position of potentially being able to release up to 4 books this year if I work really hard at it. (2 books for 2 series. Well, one is a full series, the other is probably a duo.)

    Lot to think about!

Dane Baylis says January 18, 2013

Okay, first choice, traditional route:
1. Am I as good as I think I am and do I want to find that out?
2. I’m going to end up flogging this thing around on my own quite a bit anyway.
3. Don’t I know someone who I can work with for the editing ahead of time? Or at least part of it? How solid are my friendships?
4. Everything costs but I don’t expect to work for free either. If the publisher invests then they have some say, it’s like paintings on commission, the patron calls some of the shots.

Second, hybrid:
1. Everything’s negotiable and negotiations take time and effort and don’t always lead where we want.
2. If we aggravate each other enough I’m back out on my own. Hopefully it’s a zero sum but….?
3. Maybe I sell through Amazon or languish on a shelf until the next rotation?

Third, self-pub:
1. Yup, there is a rep.
2. Occasionally someone climbs up out of the pile.
3. Know any indie film makers :-)!
4. I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Wonder if the community college has a creative writing class?

Take the leap. Try for the Traditional but keep releasing as an indie. Work the craft, take the advice, cultivate the contacts, and remember, there’s the business of art and the art of business. The biggest names master both.

    RJBlain says January 18, 2013

    I am strongly considering the hybrid route; trying Storm without End as traditional and The Eye of God as self-publishing. The technicalities of self-publishing do worry me, though!

    Sooo much to worry and think about. My poor head is spinning.

Lance says January 20, 2013

Very thorough. I’m choosing the hybrid route myself, which mostly involves self-publishing and manuscript cleanup for this year. I do have a couple of things I’m intending to shop, and still putting short stories in the wild when I can.

Don’t spin too much. Remember the whole “no deadlines” thing on the self publishing side.

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