Two Roads Diverge: Traditional vs Independent Publishing
Updated: Aug 25
Guest post by K.C. Julius
A Changed World
A lot has changed in the world of publishing since 2001, which is when I received my first offer of a publishing contract at a writing conference in Australia. Like the other attendees, I’d sent in my manuscript for an editorial review beforehand, and when I met with my assigned publisher, I was expecting a professional critique of the work. Instead, she stunned me by saying she loved the book and wanted her publishing house to pick it up. Thus, I bypassed the whole agent scenario and signed my book contract directly with Lothian.
Fast-forward nineteen years to January 2020, when I launched my first indie book without even trying to find an agent or publisher. What prompted me to strike off into this new territory?
Simply put, exciting alternative opportunities now exist to get my work into the hands of readers.
More and more authors are electing to become independent of traditional publishing houses, and I’m one of them. Since 2015, I’ve been taking workshops, attending writer’s conferences, following podcasts, and participating in writing organizations and forums to learn how to be an “authorpreneur.” After educating myself thus and comparing the pros and cons of traditional vs independence publishing, it’s been an easy choice for me.
Three Deciding Factors
Here are the three main factors that led me to follow this path:
You have very little:
Creative control — While I was able to keep the title I’d given my traditionally-published book, and actually rejected the initial sketch I was shown of the cover, this is by no means the norm for authors who go with a publishing house. Even the target audience is decided by the publisher, and changes may be required to make your book more appealing to this determined group, even if you don’t agree with them.
Legal control — When you sign a publishing contract, unless it specifically states otherwise, you surrender all rights (audio and screen as well) to your work. You may also be required to offer your publisher the right of first refusal for subsequent work.
Timeline control — Publishing traditionally is a sloooow process. It may take you a year (or years!) to find an agent, then another (or longer) before he/she gets your work accepted with a publishing house. After that, there will be edits to complete, which means it can take anywhere between two months to two+ years more before your book is finally on bookshelves.
Control was without doubt the biggest factor in my decision to make the leap and become an indie author.
With my current series, The Drinnglennin Chronicles, I have complete control over the titles, cover designs, content, publishing timeline and legal rights. Portents of Chaos was released on Jan. 3rd of this year, and the following three books of the series will come out in February, April and June. Currently, Portents is trending on Amazon’s Hot New Releases list, and when A Realm at Stake (Book 2) comes out, this rapid-release strategy should provide me with a big boost in sales, as readers will be prompted by Amazon to continue the series.
2. Investment and Returns
There’s no question that going with a publishing house suits a tight budget. In general, there is no initial financial outlay for the writer. Reputable agents are paid on a percentage of the sales from your book, and may also take a commission from the advance most authors typically receive when their books are picked up. Nowadays, an author may hire an editor to go over their manuscript prior to querying agents, but this isn’t a requirement.
The flip-side of this is that your typical return on your work will be between 8—15% royalties.
I personally made a considerable investment in my manuscripts. I hired two editors—one for developmental/concept editing, and the other for copy/line editing. I paid a cover designer for original artwork, a cartographer to draw my maps, and a formatter to make sure they will upload seamlessly on Amazon. Every member of my team has provided services that are worth every penny I’ve paid them.
Independent publishing is a business, and there’s always going to be some outlay of capital, but I expect to earn back what I’ve invested very quickly since I get to keep 70% of my royalties.
3. Marketing and Distribution
Unless your book sales rank up there with those of J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, don’t expect your publisher to do much, if any, marketing for you. In addition, you’ll likely have to ask their permission regarding your website design and any marketing you would like to do yourself.
A traditionally-published book will more easily find its way into bookstores, and your publisher will see that it gets distributed.
You do it all. But as an indie, there are now countless great resources to guide you through the process, AND you have complete control over how you market, and where you distribute your book.
A Note About Social Credibility
If you’d asked me six years ago if I’d ever consider publishing my own work, I would have said an empathic NO. In those days, independent publishing invariably conjured up a vanity press cranking out sub-standard work. But times have changed in the industry, and in this new age, writers—GOOD writers—can reach readers without surrendering their creative rights for minimal returns.
Now we can choose our own road to readers, and if they love (and purchase!) our books, isn’t this the ultimate validation of our success?
K.C. Julius is the author of The Drinnglennin Chronicles, an epic fantasy series. Portents of Chaos, the first of The DC, is already available on Amazon, with the remaining books of the quartet all releasing by June 2020.
Portents of Chaos is available on Amazon.au
Subscribe to Emma Lombard's newsletter for book publication news and swag giveaways.