I get asked a lot of questions about book marketing, publishing, and even writing/speaking. When I first considered launching the Ideas to Books Podcast, my thoughts were to make it a tutorial-type format, where I would share information about those topics. But, when the opportunity arose to interview another author, I realized that was a much better use of the new podcast.
That said, I still want to share answers to the questions I get asked, as most of them are relevant to many more people than just the person who asked me. I’ve seen a number of bloggers using the #AMA hashtag, which stands for Ask Me Anything, and I thought, “That’s a great idea!” So, I’m planning to answer a question every Monday that someone has asked me.
Should I Seek Traditional Publishing or Self-publish?
I recently met with a young woman, fresh out of college. She is co-authoring a book with her sister, and she had some questions about the whole book-writing/book-publishing process. We weren’t too deep into the conversation when she asked, “Should I seek traditional publishing or should I self-publish?”
That’s an excellent question. Just as Solomon said, “There’s a time for everything,” I believe there’s a time to seek traditional publishing, and there’s a time to self-publish. There are pros and cons with both types of publishing.
When It’s Time to Seek Traditional Publishing
Before you seek traditional publishing, the first two things to consider are (1) Am I ready to be published traditionally? and (2) Is my book ready to be published traditionally?
If you’ve ever sat down across from an agent or editor at a writer’s conference, you know the types of questions publishers ask:
- Is your manuscript finished?
For first-time authors, it is vital to complete your manuscript before pitching it to a traditional publisher. If your book isn’t done – written, revised, and edited to the best of your ability (including having some critique partners/beta readers go through it and provide feedback), then finish it before submitting it to an agent and/or publisher.
The competition for publishing slots is so great, you must give your book the best chance possible to stand out among the literally hundreds of books yours will compete against. Make it as close to perfect as possible.
- Is your book a good fit for the agent/publisher you plan to pitch it to?
Publishers and agents all have submission guidelines. If the guidelines on their website say something like, “Not accepting historical romance at this time,” then don’t submit an historical romance query to that agency or publishing house. They know what they want/need to fill their editorial calendar, and it doesn’t matter how amazing your book is, if it doesn’t fit their current publishing needs, it will be rejected. Period.
This may seem harsh to say so bluntly, but, if the publisher you want to target isn’t accepting the type of book you’ve written, either pitch it to someone else, or write a different book.
- Is your book marketable?
I’ve heard many authors tell how their book is so unique it transcends traditional genre categories. If you pitch such a book to an agent or publisher, the first thought that goes through their mind is likely, “Uh-oh.”
There is a reason publishers use genre categories – readers know what type(s) of books they enjoy, and they want to be able to easily find them. Genres and sub-genres enable publishers to market new releases to reach the target audience of readers who will buy books in that category. You can see popular genres by visiting a bookstore or viewing the categories at Amazon.com. If your book doesn’t clearly fit into one of those traditional categories, then it likely won’t fit into the needs of a traditional publishing house.
- How big is your platform?An author platform is what gives you visibility to your target audience. If you are a new, relatively unknown author, the chances of being picked up by a traditional publisher, especially a larger publishing house, are slim. The best way to boost your chances of being accepted by a traditional publisher, after writing an excellent book, is to build your author platform.
– You’ll want to develop a professional author website. (This free eBook shares what you need to do that – http://lindafulkerson.com/12-must-haves-for-author-websites/)
– You need to build an email list – the bigger the better. Email marketing is the number one tool best-selling authors use for selling books.
– You need to grow a large, active social media presence. Social media is best used not for selling, but to build brand/name awareness and relationships.
– You’ll need a blog. Blogging is one of the most effective marketing tools. Blogging grows the authority of your website in search engines, which will increase your traffic and give more leads to add to your email marketing list. Blogging also enables you to set yourself apart from the competition by letting readers get to know what you and your books are about.
– You’ll need to build a personal network of other authors. Networking is an excellent way to prepare for launching your book. One of the easiest ways to grow your own audience and platform is to make use of other people’s platforms through guest blogging, becoming a podcast guest, developing a “Street Team” of “evangelists” who will help spread the word about you and your books, and, don’t forget – writers are readers, so by building a network of author friends, you are also building a ready-made audience of potential book buyers.
- What are your publishing goals?
Traditional book publishing is a long, expensive process. It’s simply not practical for a publishing house to develop an author who will be a one-book wonder. The purpose of this post isn’t to teach how to write a book proposal (although that would be a great topic for a future post), but it’s important to include information about your future book publishing goals within your proposal so potential publishers understand you are working to launch a career, not just a book.
- Are you in a hurry?Depending on the size of the publishing house and their current publishing calendar requirements, it can be a while between the time you pitch your book and the day your book comes off the press. If your book is time-sensitive, traditionally publishing may not be your best option.
There are, of course, even more things to consider about traditional publishing – royalty payments, advances (if any), contract terms, etc., including what rights to your book you retain and how much input you will have during the publishing process. Because each of those items is specific to each publishing house and, in some cases, to each book, I won’t be covering them in this post, but they are elements of traditional publishing you will need to be aware of.
When It’s Time to Self-publish
Even though many classic authors began as self-published authors, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when self-publishing had an almost plague-like stigma. Digital and print-on-demand publishing changed all that.
Unfortunately, because self-publishing is now easy and cheap, some would-be authors think it’s a short-cut. That anyone can (and should) be published. True, nowadays anyone can be published, but not all books should be. That is, until they’re ready to be published.
When should you choose to self-publish?
- If you are a speaker who can sell books at the back of the room, you stand to make a lot more money per book though self-publishing. Plus, you have a built-in platform of those who taken the time to come hear you speak. Back of Room (BOR) sales are perfect for self-published authors. Tip: Take someone with you to help keep track of money transactions so you can interact with your audience at the book-buying table.
- If you have a time-sensitive message to get out. Many political and health-related books are self-published for quick releases in order to address a specific current event or issue.
- If you have recently acquired rights to a previously traditionally published book, you can re-release it through self-publishing.
- If you have gone through the traditionally published query process and been rejected, try to learn as much as possible about the reasons why your book didn’t make the cut. Make revisions as needed to improve your book. Then, you can either re-submit the book to any agents/publishers you haven’t been rejected by (as long as it fits their submission criteria), or you can choose to self-publish.
- If you want to have full control over your book’s production and you want to keep a higher percentage of the per-book profit, then self-publishing is the best option for you. I’ve known several well-known traditionally published authors who have switched to indie authors. Most of the authors I know, however, are “hybrids” – they have some books published traditionally but they also release some self-published books. The hybrid book-publishing model is becoming more and more popular.
Things to understand before self-publishing your book:
- Self-publishing isn’t free.
True, CreateSpace and Amazon don’t charge you to upload your book’s files, but you will need to invest either money or time/talent to prepare those files for publication. You’ll need a professionally designed book cover. If you’re not a graphic designer, this is one of those “don’t try this at home” things. Readers can spot a homemade cover instantly, and slapping an amateur cover on the book you worked so hard to write isn’t fair to your book or your writing career.In addition to investing in your book’s cover, you’ll need the interior layout to be formatted correctly. If you’ve never done this, be prepared to have your patience stretched thin. It can be done without professional help, but you will need to do some research on exactly how to lay out the pages and format them to fit the printing specifications. The same goes with your Kindle conversion. If you aren’t familiar with how to properly format your manuscript into an eBook, you may wish to hire a professional or invest in some good software that will do the conversion for you.
- Self-published books need to be edited.
I’m not sure why, but many self-published authors feel it’s okay to skip out on the editing process. Do you need to hire a professional editor? That would be awesome if you can afford it. If not, perhaps you could barter the work for some talent you have that an editor needs or hire a grad student who is looking to build his/her portfolio.What about having friends or family edit your book for you? Unless your friends and family members have proper education and experience, they are not book editors. They can provide feedback, but having Aunt Susie say she loved every word of your book doesn’t mean your book has completed the editorial process.
Also, there is a difference between editing fiction and editing nonfiction. You want to make sure you get the best editor you can afford for the genre in which your book is written.
- You still need to build your author platform.
When I teach book-marketing classes to writers’ groups, one of the first statistics I share is that the average book sells less than 200 copies, and about half of those are purchased by the author. The difference between one of those books that flop and a best-seller is the author’s platform.As a self-published author, the entire platform-building responsibility falls on you. If you can afford it, you can hire a publicist or a virtual assistant to help with your platform and book launch. Otherwise, you need to start building your platform BEFORE your book is finished.
- There is nothing shameful about self-publishing.
Far more books are self-published than traditionally published. I haven’t checked in a few years, but at one point, over 90 percent of books that hit the market each year were self-published. That figure may have even increased as the popularity of self-publishing increases.As long as you have taken the steps to produce the best book possible, you should never apologize for being an indie author. If you’ve used self-publishing as a short-cut to hold your own book in your hand and have bypassed the professional cover design, interior formatting, and editorial process, then I’d suggest you take your book off the market long enough to correct those issues and then re-launch it. Taking the time and effort to produce the best self-published book you can will help you feel more pride in your book, will help your author career, and will guard the reputation of the indie publishing industry.
Do you have a question you’d like answered in a future Ask Me Anything post? Please use the comments area to ask your question.
Do you have any further questions about traditional vs. self-publishing? Use the comments area to ask you question.
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Are you struggling with self-publishing your book? Perhaps I can help. Visit my Coaching Page and complete the form with your question(s).