Masters tales

Traditional or DIY

This is a conundrum I have been asking myself for a while; traditional or DIY publishing. After all, self-publishing no longer has the same reputation and isn’t called ‘vanity press’ any more, but rather ‘indie publishing’.

Indie Publishing

To be an indie publisher sounds quiet cool, but what would I be taking on? Well, to go independent I would have to be the editor, the cover artist, the page designer, the guy who puts it all together and the marketer. That is a HUGE amount of work. But it can work. Some indie authors make a decent living at self-publishing, but you do have to know your market. If you are a literary writer then the market with the indie reader-ship may not be great, but if you write romance, horror, fantasy or sci-fi, or crime, then the indie way is definitely worth a think through.

Firstly though, whether you are an indie author or a traditional one, you must have some social media contacts. If you are well-known it means your fans can find you and if you aren’t, then any readers you can find are potentially the people who will read any indie or traditionally published work. But social media isn’t all about business, I know that writing can get lonely but a blog post and then some likes and a comment can make the work not seem like a blank white page, and your determination can start to flood back.

With indie publishing though the bit that fills me with dread has to be the marketing. How do you sell the book? If you use Amazon or another e-publishing site then it is helped by their marketing but otherwise it is down to your leg work. The other thing I have noticed is that it is now practically free to POD publish. This print on demand means that there can be a hard copy book, and it isn’t as expensive as you would have thought. An average paperback would be around £6-8, so equal to that you buy in the shops.

The only problem is that with the editing being done by yourself you have to make sure that the book is as good as you can get it. With an e-book you can update the version, and automatically each e-reader will update the one they have, but a printed book can’t be updated and if there are grammatical errors then you, as a writer, may become more known for them rather than the content. Saying that though one or two is fine, even in traditional books you can find one or two.

Traditional Publishing

What about traditional publishing? Well, ultimately it is the hardest to get into. First you have to find an agent, unless you are using a small press then just submit when they are open to accept them. Every published debut novel has been knocked back many times, and yet even once you are published you can’t guarantee that you will sell. Some wonderful books never get past the 2000 mark.


Royalties, those unusual and elusive creatures can be difficult to pin down and even worse to compare. An Indie author, as they do all the work, can get up to 85% of the price (this can fall if you take out a marketing pack as you publish). But a traditional publisher will only get 15-5%, and when a book goes on sale, say 50% off, then the royalty is also halved. And of course with traditional publishing you will get an advance which can be from a couple of hundred to the tens of thousands depending on the marketability. It is your royalty that must pay off the advance before you see any money. So if your book never pays off the royalty you are known to ‘not sell’. That is not a good place to be. So once you are traditionally published you must do everything in your power to sell the book.

My solution

I recently went to the Dylan Thomas Centre to do a reading, but the next people up were a group of publishers arguing the traditional/indie problem. I pop my hand up and ask if it would affect their decision if I was an indie author. They immediately said that the book would have to be exceptional to get a traditional contract once it was indie published.

“No, that’s not what I mean,” I said. “What if you have other work published via the indie route?”

“We may ask to see your sales record, but if you are selling then we are more likely to give you a contract.”

So there you have it – prove you can sell and the book world will open up! Except that wasn’t why I asked. I wanted to know because I want to publish some things via the indie route. Predominantly, short story collections, which are notoriously difficult to get published but which I love to write. I’m going to be indie publishing the short stories on the blog, and a selection of modern fairy-tales…

BUT my novels and books will be going down the traditional route. It’s one thing to edit a short story, it is another to edit a book. Of course if the novel doesn’t get a contract then I will look at indie publishing, but my ideal is to have that traditional contract. It gives a certain amount of security that I would love. Also they handle the marketing – something that I am really bad at.

Course I have got to write the books first. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Traditional or DIY

  1. Excellent post, Kate. Very useful to hear about your experience with the publishers – that resonates with something I hear sometimes: do you actually spoil your chances of getting published traditionally by self-publishing first? Seems that, as always, there’s got to be more than a yes/no answer!

  2. Thanks. There is never a straight answer when dealing with business. And that I find is a problem – to go from creating a work of art, your manuscript, to putting a business hat on and thinking of it as a commodity. Very difficult…

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