Indie or Traditional Publishing: How to Choose?

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As you’ll quickly learn, all those hours crafting your book were only the beginning. Publishing it is a whole other story. At first, the thought of navigating the publishing world can seem overwhelming, but if you take it one step at a time, it will seem more manageable. 

One critical question to ask yourself is whether you want to go for indie or traditional publishing. Are you more of an A24 or a Universal fan? Both have benefits and drawbacks. Either way, collaborating with publishing experts will make your journey into bookstores far easier. 

Going indie

If you want to call the shots and preserve your vision, indie publishing might be your option. Usually, if you decide you want to go down that route, you can exert more creative control over your book. For obvious reasons, this can be very appealing to authors. To clear any confusion, “indie publishing” here means self-publishing, which is its current definition. In the past, it has also meant a small press. Indie publishing, usually print-on-demand or vanity press, is quite different from traditional publishing.

Vanity press and print-on-demand (POD)

With POD, you create your own book, but the service only prints copies when the book is purchased. This saves the initial expense of printing and the problem of storing all the unsold books. A vanity press prints a specified quantity from the get-go. This is fine if you have a reasonable initial sales estimate, but if you’re unsure of that, POD is more sensible. Both are much faster than traditional publishing, too. Thus, if you don’t want to wait for a long time to get your book published, the indie option would be a good bet.

Turning a profit

When you choose indie publishing and want physical books, you’ll have to pay for those. If you put out an eBook, platforms charge you to sell it. However, authors receive a more significant amount per book than in traditional publishing. Even if your book only breaks even, it’ll establish your reputation as a published writer. 

Though the higher royalties are tempting, you should also keep in mind that if you go down the indie path, you will likely not have as great a reach as you would if you work with a traditional publisher. Therefore, as a self-published author, you will probably not sell as many copies of your book.

Publishing support

PODs and vanity presses only print your book; they don’t store and promote it or help with revisions. This might suit you fine if you have an internet following and plan to hire editors and marketing help. However, self-publishing, promoting, and selling a book is a lot of work, even when assistance is available. Additionally, it takes a lot of capital to ensure that your book is getting all the attention it deserves. Thus, indie publishing may not be feasible for people who don’t have extra money lying around.

Going traditional 

The big presses have tons of money and resources behind them. Typically, an agent submits your manuscript to publishers. If accepted, you sign a contract, and the book goes into further editing, then production. You’ll have to overcome some long odds, but signing with a well-known publisher certainly has its benefits, and you’ll gain more prestige.

Finding an agent

Most publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. You need to find an agent before reaching out to them. This can prove difficult as you’ll need a rockstar query letter and diligent research. Fortunately, you can hire talented consultants to find and help you query agents

Making money

Big publishers give you an advance, which is an initial payment when they buy your manuscript. Once your book has recouped that, you’ll start collecting royalties. The royalty rate is smaller than in self-publishing, the trade-off being that your book will appear in far more places and have the backing of an esteemed publishing house. If it sells poorly, though, your publisher might not want another one. This makes traditional publishing difficult as you’re only as good as your last book. 

Having resources and distribution

When you get signed, a publisher assembles a team of people to get your book ready for sale. You’ll be revising with their feedback, while they’ll handle distribution, design, fact-checking, and marketing. Your book will have a higher circulation and appear in mainstream bookstores. The publishing house prints far more copies than you would by yourself. You can (and should!) promote your book, but there is also a PR department to help with that. 

Your book, your choice

You have different paths to reaching the moment when you can hold your book in your hands, but each one requires substantial effort. If composing query letters or designing covers sounds daunting, you can always reach out to publishing experts to help make your book a reality.  

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