I’m not saying it’s really a secret, but it also isn’t the first thing authors talk about when discussing their books. In fairness, why should it be? We want to tell you about our book, not how it got published! Now, if we’re specifically asked…we’ll talk your head off. Kidding(ish).
It’s actually a mixed bag of responses and all depending on how the author feels about their publishing platform. Traditionally published authors – meaning published by a publishing house who does NOT ask you to pay ANY money to them to publish your book – will immediately, proudly, and occasionally even snobbishly tell you, “I’m traditionally published.”
Why? Because having a publishing house offer you a contract for your life’s blood, your precious, your darling manuscript, means Someone Of Importance sees value in your work. All was not for naught. You, like the Velveteen Rabbit, are now real.
So, what about self-published authors? Well, that’s different. Self-publishing has gotten a bad (and in some ways, deserved) rap. The glory and the bane of it is this: Anyone Can Self-Publish. Great for aspiring/wanna-be authors, not so great for the writing (and reading) community.
The Good. Several of my mentees are seniors who’ve been working -sometimes on and off – for many years to bring to life their story. They feel their time is limited and the query submissions process is too long. They want their work out now so they can actually see it. They’ve been thorough: hired editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and the like. They are as ready as anyone can be and they deserve to see their book baby born. This is where self-publishing is wonderful.
Why else it’s good: Assuming you 1) take the steps, do the things, and create a body of work that possesses the 8 elements of a story and 2) it is well told and 3) have a professional-looking cover design, self-publishing is a great platform. Especially if you’re a control freak and need to call all the shots. I may, ahem, know someone like that. (*Raises hand)
Why it’s not so good. Well, a million self-published books are out there. No, literally. In 2017 one million books were self-published. That’s a lot of “competition” and doesn’t even factor in the ones traditionally published… who can also bankroll advertising and promotion. Ouch.
Another reason it’s a drag: You wear all the hats, my friend. All. The. Hats. Writer, publisher, advertiser, social media strategist, webmaster, public relations, booker, event coordinator, graphic designer… shall I go on? Again, if you’re a control freak (like me) and LOVE to do all the things (like me) it’s all good. If not, and you want more than your family and bestest friends to see and buy your book… you have some scales to weigh.
So, then, traditional publishing is the way to go, right? Whoa, whoa, slow your roll! Honestly? Both are awesome. And awful. Are you hating me right now? Sorry, man. I’m just trying to give you a well-bodied glass here. I can’t tell you what the best thing is for you. All I can tell you is that I’ve done both and they each have pros and cons.
My best experience with traditional publishing: Pshhh. Bragging rights. I love saying I’m traditionally published for the aforementioned reasons. Street cred, baby.
My worst experience with traditional publishing. I’ve tossed that label, control freak, out a few times with good reason. Signing to the terms of their contract (I did) meant I had to relinquish say in some major aspects of my book. Everything was fine… except for their choice in cover. I. Hate. It. Yes, I’ll show you…
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely couple. Pretty font. But this cover doesn’t even vaguely represent the story of Mae’s Cafe and the Welcome to Chance series. I asked them to at least throw a coffee cup in there. The declined. What’s my drama about this cover, you ask? You see, Welcome to Chance is a small town saga. Like Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, This Is Us, and the like. Not steamy, sexy heaving bosom romance. Sigh. To their credit, they redeemed things a bit with the second book’s cover, this one for Rosabelle’s Way. They captured the quirky Rosabelle perfectly with that silly hat…
Oh, and for book three, Georgie’s Secret, I got the reins back completely:
*It should be noted I was/am un-agented & this was a small publishing house, not part of the Big Five and offered no advance.
Now, my best experience with self-publishing: Ah, so much. The learning process, the (yep) control, the personal pride in knowing I did all of this, on my own. I discovered my capabilities – ones I’d never before imagined – and learned new skills, and fell in love with those new skills. The not submitting query after query. The waiting and waiting to publish.
And, my worst experience with self-publishing: Mistakes. I’ve made a few. Okay, fine, a lot. Listen, I jumped in face first. I had to learn as I went, which often meant redoing things, doing them backward, or not at all, starting from scratch and wasting money. My journey was bummmpy. But, I love it. It’s brought me to this place, right here, where I can help aspiring and new authors avoid the mistakes I made. I will (and have) throw myself under the bus, share my most cringe-worthy errors, in order to help you on your writing journey.
How do you decide?
- Assess your goals. What do you envision happening with this book? Bestsellers list? A keepsake for friends and family? A steady income from the sales?
- Assess your skills and willingness to learn new ones.
- Decide how you’ll feel about saying ‘I’m self-published’ or ‘I’m traditionally published’
- Consider how long you’re willing to wait to see your efforts come to fruition.
Here’s the thing, though. Oh, and it’s good. You can do both. I know, I know, someone has told you you cannot. They, Are. Wrong. How do I know? Living proof, baby. Those first two books in my Welcome to Chance series – Mae’s Cafe and Rosabelle’s Way – were originally self-published. I decided on a whim to submit them to a small publisher for consideration (telling them up front they’d been previously self-pub) and they offered contracts. Boom.
In conclusion, the they‘s are always going to tell you what you can’t do. They’ll say there are rules, here, buddy. I’m telling you, screw their rules. You want that baby out in the universe? Put her out there. If you decide, damn, maybe I do want to be traditionally published? Hone your query skills and send that baby out there, too. Just make sure you follow the submission guidelines for each publisher. These are rules that really do need to be followed.
Happy writing! xo
Elsa Kurt is a multi-genre, traditionally & self-published author of over twenty-five books. She is also a speaker and creator of Path To Authorship, coaching for new and aspiring authors. Thanks to her fabulous ADHD, she also designs several apparel lines, took up roller skating, and is pressuring her long-suffering husband for a fourth dog. For more tips, insights, and observations on the author’s life, visit Elsa HERE. For all of Elsa’s links, visit HERE.
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