Should You Go with a Traditional Publisher or Self-Publish?

Be open minded about the options available for book publishing and then pick the best one

Traditional Publishing is the New Vanity PublishingMy goal as an author has always been to be a hybrid author, one who self-publishes some books and goes with a traditional publisher for others. What changes over time, however, is the emphasis I place on one over the other. On this, I waffle frequently. Some days I favor the allure of being traditionally published and on others I lean toward self-publishing.

Though I embrace both as viable options, many people do not. It seems that many writers view one of these two options as the only choice for rational people, while outright dismissing the other for those uninformed. The problem is that some land squarely in the camp of traditional publishing as the only way to go, while others adamantly pursue self-publishing as the only sane choice.

I understand both perspectives.

What I don’t understand are people who are so obstinate toward their point of view and so biased against the alternative. They need to open their eyes: both traditional publishing and self-publishing have their pluses and minuses. Consider them, evaluate them, and then go with what seems best for your particular book at this particular time.

That’s my plan.

Here’s why:

Traditional Publishing: Traditional publishing pays authors to be published. But getting a traditional publishing deal is hard. In most all cases we need an agent first, which takes time. Then our agent needs to find a publisher to publish our book, which takes more time. Then our book goes into their publishing machine for edits, marketing, production, and so forth, which takes even more time. It often takes several years from writing a book to having a traditional publisher make it available to the public—assuming it happens at all.

Once we land a book deal, assuming we can, traditional publishers do most of the work and take all of the financial risk. Yes, they still want us to help market our book, but they do everything else—as we lose most of our control over the product and the outcome.

However, once the only real option for authors, technology has provided a viable alternative: self-publishing.

Self-Publishing: With self-publishing the author becomes a businessperson, investing money into a product in hopes of turning a profit. Success isn’t guaranteed, but the benefits are many. The author maintains control over the product, can get it to market fast, and will make much more per book. There are no gatekeepers to stand in our way, no one judging the size of our platform, and no one turning our baby into something we don’t like.

Self-publishing was once decried as vanity publishing, but now I actually see traditional publishing as the new vanity publishing. Being traditionally published implies a stamp of approval. It says we’ve been accepted, our work has gained approval, and we have jumped high hurdles. This strokes our ego.

I get that. I want that.

Yet the very things that make us attractive to traditional publishers—a stellar book and a huge platform to promote it—are also the very things that make us an ideal fit for self-publishing, where we control the product, take a risk, and make a profit.

I get that, too. I want that.

My leanings, one way or the other, change often. What I do know is that I want to publish books, and I’m taking a hybrid approach to get there.

Recommended Podcasts for Writers and Content Producers

Podcasts provide practical on-the-go instruction – and entertainment

Recommended Podcasts for Writers and Content ProducersI listen to many podcasts, between five to ten hours a week. Most cover writing or publishing, and a few (not listed here) address other areas of interest. I listen in the car, during lunch, and as I work around the house. I access all through iTunes and listen on my iPod.

I select podcasts to help me become a better writer and producer of content. Of course easy-to-listen-to hosts, as well as overall quality are also important. With so many options to pick from, I don’t want to waste my time.

Here is a list of my current, can’t-miss podcasts, in order of preference:

I also have a string of alternate shows and listen to some episodes based on the practical application of specific topics. They are all good, professional productions, but since I have limited time to listen, I must be selective:

  • On the Media considers all things media related, some of which includes writing, publishing, and books; just under an hour, weekly:
  • Story Grid Podcast discusses the art of writing a book: under an hour, weekly:
  • The Portfolio Life (Jeff Goins) covers how creative people can build a portfolio of work to make a difference; up to an hour, weekly:
  • ProBlogger Podcast shares tips to be a successful blogger; at least weekly, varying lengths:
  • This is Your Life with Michael Hyatt looks at intentional leadership, with references to writing, marketing, and platform building; thirty to forty-five minutes, weekly:
  • Social Media for Authors is no longer being produced, but it does have relevant information; up to fifteen minutes:

This list is long and no doubt, daunting. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Pick one to check out and go from there.


Do You Suffer From Marketing Inadequacy?

The success some authors have in marketing their books can overwhelm writers or even cause them to give up

Do You Suffer From Marketing Inadequacy?Last week we talked about how to deal with writer envy, of how to avoid having the abilities of other writers overwhelm us. While the threat of writer envy does assault me from time to time, I’ve mostly come to peace with my writing ability. I know I am good and am getting better. I may never be really great, but I’m okay with that – most of the time.

However, the flip side of writing ability is marketing proficiency. I must admit that I sorely struggle with my lack of promotional prowess. I’ve taken classes (even at the graduate level) and understand the theory. I know what to do, yet my gut churns when it comes to implementation. Too often it feels smarmy. Yet when I press through, I do well, but too often, I don’t bother to push myself to act.

I see other authors who successfully promote their books into the stratosphere of success, book after book. Their results devastate me – especially when the book isn’t well written. The sad reality is that a marketing maven doesn’t need to write a good book to make a lot of money. They just need to excel at marketing. I am envious.

So if we’re not good at book marketing, don’t want to do it, or even feel it is beneath the art, what are we to do?

Give Up: We could just forget our passion to write, our dream to create art, and move on to a less frustrating, more profitable career. Yet would that make us truly happy? Or would an unsatiated compulsion to write roil in our souls? I think we all know the answer.

Ghostwrite: Writing for others as a ghostwriter, writer for hire, or collaborator allows us to write – and earn money – without the need to market. I like this. I do this. Yet I also want to see my name on the cover. True ghostwriting assignments don’t provide that option.

Write But Don’t Market: This is a built-it-and-they-will-come mentality. We focus on the art of writing and forget about the business of writing. In rare instances it works. Usually not. Don’t pin your hopes on this strategy.

Outsource Marketing: I’d love to hire someone to do all my marketing for me. It would be so freeing. Yet two questions nag at me: Would it be cost-effective? (likely not), and would they produce acceptable results? (doubtful).

Press Through: Every job has fun aspects that we like and other chores that are, well, chores. We must slog through the difficult toils to resume the joys of creation.

I’ve considered each of these five responses. I often vacillate between them. Though I seldom consider quitting any more, the other four considerations pop up each week. I don’t have an answer, but as I try to figure one out, I will continue to write.

What is your view on marketing your work? How do you balance marketing with writing? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

You May Be One Blog Post Away From a Book Deal

An online friend wrote a blog post that went viral. It elicited emotion. Passionate comments spewed forth in support and opposition. Because of the firestorm his post created, a publisher offered him a book deal.

You May Be One Blog Post Away From a Book DealThis is one way blogging can result in a published book. Though we can’t plan on this occurring or even scheme to make it transpire, it could happen. Possibly.

So each time you post on your blog, do so knowing that it could result in a book deal. Maybe. Yeah, right. But it might. Don’t hold your breath. It could happen, but it probably won’t.

After all, having written 1,500 posts none of mine have ever gone viral; no publisher has ever knocked on my door waving a coveted book contract. Yet it could happen, but it probably won’t.

So aside from this one-in-a-million, perhaps one-in-a-billion, chance of this happening,  Blogging can:

Build Our Audience: Each post can expand our reach. As people appreciate what we have to say they follow us and share our words with others. Over time we grow an audience. We build our platform.

Sharpen Our Writing: With each post our writing improves, we write better or faster or with more passion. If we truly need to write a million words before we get good, then each post brings us a couple hundred words closer.

Hone Our Voice: As we write, various styles emerge. Eventually these all converge into one cohesive, consistent comportment. We have found our writing voice.

Provide Feedback: Blogging allows us to get quick feedback. We learn what elicits a reaction and what doesn’t. We realize when an idea is half-baked and when it is fully formed. Let’s handle these things with the correctable, immediacy of a blog and not the permanence of a book.

Form the Habit of Writing: By showing up to blog on a regular basis, we demonstrate to publishers we have established the discipline, the habit, to write regularly. They can expect we will do the same for our book and not let them down.

I blog for these reasons. I also blog because I have something to say and because people appreciate what I write. Yes, I do blog to move me closer to a book deal, too. It may not happen quickly, but it will happen.

Why do you blog? What steps are you taking to publish your work? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Do You Really Want to be a Ghostwriter?

If all you want to do is write, you should be a ghostwriter. Ghostwriters don’t need to seek an agent, sign with a publisher, or promote their books. They just write. The downside of being a ghostwriter is they seldom receive recognition for their work, just a paycheck.

On some books the ghostwriter is mentioned, following the official author (that is, the person who will promote the book and paid the ghostwriter) using the words “with,” “and,” or “as told to.” Their name is in a smaller type than the official author’s. Other times the ghostwriter won’t make the front cover but will appear on the title page or maybe in the acknowledgements section. Usually, however, the ghostwriter’s identity is kept secret, especially with fiction.

I recently started a blog writing and content marketing service. Sometimes I receive the byline for my work, and other times I don’t. I thought I’d be okay with this, but it’s not always true.

The first time I saw my words – really good words, if I may say so – with someone else’s name attached to them, I was taken aback. It was disconcerting.

Yes, I was paid for my work as agreed. But in retrospect, it wasn’t enough. I should have asked for more if my name was to be omitted. The next time I did.

Why is receiving credit for my work so important to me?

I suppose ego is a part of it, but a bigger issue is the realization that I can’t use those words again. I can’t repurpose them for a book, put them on my blog, or turn them into an article. I sold them; they are gone.

A few years ago, I was commissioned to write a biography. Naively, we never discussed who would get the byline. I finished the book and was paid, but for reasons outside my control, it wasn’t published. Had it been published with my name on the cover, I would have been happy with the money I received. However, if someone else’s name would have ended up there instead of mine, I would have felt undercompensated. I think I would have wanted twice as much or negoiated for a percentage of the sales.

I’m convinced ghostwriting is a viable option for writers. Since my first work-for-hire experience, I’ve ghostwritten many more works, from blog posts to books and everything between. I just ask if my client will list me as a coauthor, and then I charge appropriately.

Have you ever ghostwritten anything? How do you feel about ghostwriting?

If Publishing a Book Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

The first writing conference I attended had no authors with published books, which was discouraging. The second conference had several, which was intimidating. Although these published authors were in a minority, they loomed large. We unpublished attendees comprised a silent majority.

At the first conference, our speaker said only three percent of writers make their living by writing fulltime; the rest need a day job to pay the bills. At my second conference I was further dismayed to meet an award-winning author who cranked out nine books in five years – he, too, needed a day job.

This author taught a session on memoirs at the conference – teaching, incidentally is his day job. I was also fortunate to have a fifteen-minute personal consultation with him, where we discussed one of my book ideas. I still relish his encouragement.

Knowing my habit of buying books faster than I can read them, I’ve given myself a one-book per conference limit. I used it to buy one of his memoirs. I asked him to sign it. (Is it proper etiquette to read the inscription right away or should you wait until later?) He simply wrote, “Thank you for buying my book.”

I look forward to the day when I will be on the other end of a book signing transaction. What will I write? I don’t know now, but I have time to contemplate it.

After all, if publishing a book was easy, then everyone would do it.

“On the Media” Discusses the Publishing Industry

The November 23 edition of “On the Media” (Publishing: Adapt or Die) focused on recent developments and trends within the publishing industry. (It was an update of coverage from April 2012, so some portions were a repeat).

The segments include:

  • How Publishing and Reading Are Changing
  • No Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • Is Amazon A New Monopoly?
  • Are Publishers Stuck In The Past?
  • The Story of Pottermore
  • Taking On Amazon
  • The Problem of Knock-Off Books
  • Steal My Book, Please
  • Life After Publishers

You can listen to Publishing: Adapt or Die online or download the recording.

While I don’t agree with everything they say, there are many good segments and even some encouraging developments for publishers — and the writers who keep the publishers supplied.

Six Things to Consider Before Writing Your Personal Story

I recently had someone share a book idea with me. It was about him dealing with a tragedy. If you want to write your story about a personal struggle, here are some questions to ask:

Are you emotionally able to write? This man was in the middle of his struggle. He was on edge and barely hanging on. He could journal about it or make notes for later, but I doubt any good writing could take place now. Time is needed for healing before writing.

Why do you want to write? Writing can be a catharsis, but that doesn’t necessarily make it worthy of publication. Are you writing to heal, to understand, or to share with others?

What’s the main point? A book needs one theme and only one. His had several, with the only connection being they emanated from the ripples of his experience. He had enough themes for several books. Clarify and focus before writing.

Has your idea already been published? Do some serious online research to learn how many others have written about the same thing. If too many books have been published then there’s likely no room for one more. Conversely, if nothing’s been published, there’s probably a reason why: from a business standpoint there’s not enough interest in your topic. (Personally your book is significant, but publishers will approach it as a product they must be able to sell and turn a profit.)

Are you able to complete the work? Writing is easy; writing well is hard. It requires work and perseverance. It takes time to hone your skills and letting others see your work is a baring of your soul. Are you at a point where you can do that?

Are you able to follow through? Finishing your book is just the first step, not the last. You need to find a publisher or agent — and sell them on your idea. Rejection is common at this step. Next your book will be edited. Will you be able to have someone correct and change your words? Once it’s published, you will need to promote it. Publishers focus their marketing efforts on the big name authors who will sell a million copies, not people like you or me.

This may seem overwhelming and discouraging. That’s the point. Know what you are facing before starting. But if you do proceed, know that books are published every day, so why can’t you be one of them?

Breathe Life into Your Writing

I attended my first writers conference over two years ago. Aside from the presenters, not one attendee had published a book. Some were talking about it, others were working on it, and a few were seeking an agent, but no one had published anything beyond an article.

How discouraging. No one had a success story to share; no one had a book deal to show it could be done. It was an overwhelming feeling that cast a pall over the entire event.

I left discouraged.

The second writing conference I attended was the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. The attitudes and atmosphere there was quite different. Although most attendees were in the not-yet-published category, there where an encouraging minority who had. They shared their successes, not in a look-at-me manner, but with an inspiring you-can-do-it-too perspective.

I left motivated. The conference was what I needed. I knew that with hard work and perseverance I could be like them.

Although we write alone, we need others to encourage us on our journey; they can breathe life into our writing.

[I will soon be attending my third Breathe Writing Conference, October 12-13 and hope to see you there.]

Get Published Quick

I recently read of a published author who advises writers on how to snag a book deal through blogging. Another says social media, specifically Facebook, is the key, while a third advocates the aggressive use of Twitter. Then there’s the countervailing strategy to not waste time online. Others say give your work away, either for a while or forever, (which reminds me of the one-liner: “We lose money on every sale, but we make up for it in volume.) Then there’s newsletters and email marketing. And don’t forget self-publishing.

These are all heralded as strategies to get published quickly.

Each of these self-proclaimed experts has empirical evidence to back them up: their own experience. “It worked for me,” they reason, “so it can work for you, too.”

But one success does not a strategy make. A singular occurrence may be a result of good timing, a confluence of factors unlikely to be repeated, or other unidentified causes.

Their path to success may be unique to them and not normative. As the fine print warns, “Individual results may vary.”

Until their advice can be reliably repeated, their experience is little more than an anecdote . Unfortunately, once a particular tactic can be quantifiably verified, it may already be passé and no longer viable.

So instead of chasing the latest “get published quick” scheme, focus on the time proven strategy of producing really great work and being patient.