In the old days, authors had two publishing options: traditional houses, the optimal choice, or vanity presses, their ugly stepsister. Today, authors have choices that were unimaginable just a few years ago. In addition to large and small traditional houses, the plethora of options includes DIY self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s KDP or Barnes & Nobles’ PubIt, self-publishing partnerships, also called assisted self-publishing, and, for self-publishers who want the publishing house experience, hybrid subsidy presses.
Rather than putting all their eggs in the traditional publishing basket, savvy authors now take advantage of the various options, choosing the method that’s right for them or their particular project. With so many choices, the system can be confusing and difficult to navigate. How do you choose? How do you know which is right for you?
This questionnaire will provide insight and, based on your personality and needs, help you evaluate your options.
What is your risk tolerance?
A High—I’m a natural entrepreneur. I don’t mind fighting and I love the thrill of a challenge.
B Moderate—I don’t mind taking a risk as long as I don’t stand to lose too much.
C Low—I’m most comfortable when things are planned and I know exactly what to expect.
D None—just thinking about risk makes me want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head.
How flexible are you?
A I thrive on change. Testing new ideas excites me and I have no problem adapting mid-stream.
B I recognize the need for flexibility, but I feel most comfortable with some structure.
C I prefer to plan the work and work the plan. I tolerate change as long as it’s not too disruptive.
D I’m most confident when I know what to expect and most things go according to plan.
How much time are you willing to devote to work that’s unrelated to writing?
A I’ll work 100+ hours a week, if that’s what it takes to succeed.
B Logistics can be complicated and hiring and working with contractors takes time. I’ll do it, as long as the demands don’t interfere too much with my writing—or family, personal time, etc.
C I don’t mind devoting a few hours a week to logistical details or business chores, but I’d prefer to spend the majority of my work hours writing.
D My writing time is sacred. Anything other than writing is a waste of valuable time.
What is your financial situation? Are you willing and/or able to invest in publishing your book/s?
A I can’t (or don’t care to) spend a fortune, but I see publishing my work as an investment in my future. If I can’t afford to pay for services, I’ll gladly invest the necessary hours.
B It’s important that I produce a quality product. I know my limits and I’m willing to make the necessary sacrifices so that I can hire professionals to do the things I’m not good at.
C I want the publishing house experience and I don’t mind paying for it.
D My time is an investment. I want to be paid for my work, not pay for it.
Are you comfortable with multi-tasking and do you enjoy learning/doing new things?
A I thrive in high-energy environments; I’m always the first to dig in, roll up my sleeves.
B I can multi-task to a point and I don’t mind doing things I’ve never tried, but I’d prefer to hire professionals to handle design and production and/or manage business aspects of publishing.
C I can’t imagine not having a reliable professional team to take care of production and logistics.
D I’ll do some marketing, grudgingly, because you have to today. But that’s it other than writing.
What work situation or environment makes you most comfortable?
A I need to control my destiny; if that means going it alone, fighting my own battles, so be it.
B I’m an entrepreneurial person, but I prefer to work with a supportive and enthusiastic team.
C I want control of my career, but I’m most comfortable in a corporate environment where the responsibilities are defined. I’d rather be a CEO, delegating, than the worker in the trenches.
D I’m willing to give up some control in exchange for things—time, money, prestige—that I value.
How important is artistic control?
A I want full control. I’m the best judge of my work. I don’t want anyone looking over my shoulder, telling me what I can or can’t write or how to design, produce or sell my books.
B I value artistic control, but working with editors, designers, and other publishing pros gives me perspective and helps me make my work the best it can be, improving my chances for success.
C Artistic control is important—I want the final say in the process—but I’d prefer not to be bothered with the nitty-gritty. If delegating means losing some control, that’s okay.
D I’d prefer a say in the editing and design process, but I trust my publisher to do what’s best for my book. After all, publishers are in the business for a reason; they know what they’re doing.
Is it important your book is widely distributed with good placement in bookstores and retail outlets?
A It depends on the cost-value ratio. Powerful online distribution channels enable authors to sell millions of e-books, making presence on bookstore shelves less important. That said, if I found it cost-effective to print books, I wouldn’t mind making sales calls or schlepping my book.
B A distributor with an enthusiastic sales force can make a big difference, but I understand the costs and challenges of distribution. I’d be satisfied with a regional presence. I’m comfortable paying a literary or marketing agent to work with a distributor or hand-sell my books. Depending upon the situation and/or project, I’d consider publishing only in e-book format.
C My goal is to see my books in as many stores, retail outlets, and airports as possible. Yes, there are challenges even for small publishers, but I’m willing to pay for placement if it’s an option.
D Bookstores are the key to attracting a broad audience. Personal recommendations and impulse purchases drive sales. I wouldn’t want to publish if my book were not available in stores.
How important is prestige?
A Not important—I don’t care what others think or say. Sales figures speak louder than words.
B Moderately important—validation by an agent or other publishing professional gives distributors, booksellers, and buyers confidence in me and opens doors I can’t open alone.
C Important—when people see a publisher’s imprint, they see the book as better quality than the best self-published work, particularly if the publisher has a reputation for being selective.
D Extremely important—I’ve always dreamed of being published by a Big 6 house. Writing a book is labor of love. I want the rewards—a chance for a fancy book launch, reviews, literary prizes.
How important are royalties? An advance?
A When a traditional publisher pays an advance and a book doesn’t earn out, even if the publisher fell down on the job, the author takes the rap and gets blackballed. I’d rather rely on myself. I’m willing to take a chance on myself, and I want the highest royalties possible.
B An advance would be nice, but I understand the pitfalls; high royalties are more important.
C I’d love an advance, but getting a big advance is like winning the lottery. Slow and steady, with a professional support team to handle logistics and keep things on track, is the way to go.
D An advance would allow me to write full time and fund my marketing efforts. A big advance is a show of confidence and means the publisher will put muscle behind the book. That’s vital.
If your responses are mostly:
Your needs and temperament are well-suited for Do-It-Yourself publishing. With DIY self-publishing platforms like Smashwords, Barnes & Noble PubIt, Google Books, Apple iTunes Store, and Amazon Kindle Direct, the author retains complete control of the publishing process. You’re required to upload fully formatted files, compatible with the platform (most use nonproprietary ePub files; Amazon prefers .mobi or .prc). Smashwords provides a list of formatters upon request; otherwise you’re on your own. At 30 – 70%, depending upon the platform and retail price, DIY offers the highest royalties in the industry. With DIY publishing, authors have access to a dashboard that shows current and cumulative sales and royalties are paid on regularly basis (typically monthly, though Smashwords pays quarterly).
For authors who wish to publish in paper formats, Createspace offers an inexpensive DIY platform. Createspace also offers reasonably priced à la carte services—editing, layout and design, formatting, and marketing—as well as expanded distribution to bookstores, libraries, and institutions, and e-book conversion through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program.
The downside to DIY is that, while most platforms provide customer service, you’re largely on your own. All responsibility—for design, production, distribution, marketing, and sales—falls on the author. This can be daunting, and it’s frustrating when things go wrong. There are, however, plenty of Internet resources to help you navigate the terrain and many indie authors join supportive networks and help one another.
You’re a good candidate for assisted self-publishing, also called publishing partnerships. Assisted self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular with authors wish to produce quality work, while eliminating some of the time-draining chores and complex aspects of self-publishing. As with DIY self-publishing, authors publish under their own ISBN and retain control of their project.
Some authors hire literary agents, who may oversee the entire process; others work with a publishing team, typically consisting of professional editors, book designers, marketing pros, and/or small press distributors. Authors retain a high percentage of their earnings and, by hiring an agent or team to help with the nuts and bolts of the publishing process, they also save time.
With assisted self-publishing, authors collect royalties in the same way as DIY publishers. If an agent is involved, the agent may handle the business arrangements. (How much work the agent does varies by agent.) Working with seasoned pros can lend credibility and help counteract the self-publishing stigma. The downside is that these services can be expensive. Services like editing can cost thousands and many agents charge 15%—whether their clients publish traditionally or on their own. Depending upon the arrangement, distribution can also be costly and there is no guarantee that bookstores will order printed books.
For authors who’d like help but don’t care to hire a team, new, competitively-priced services continue to launch. Book Baby, an online distributor, provides a full array of publishing services through Book Baby or their affiliates. For a Basic package price of only $99, Book Baby distributes to all major e-book retailers. Standard and Premium packages, priced at $149 and $249, include e-book conversion and other services. Except for add-ons, there are no other charges; authors retain 100% of their royalties. Indie Reader offers similar services on an à la carte basis, giving authors flexibility and control, with the work still performed by highly-regarded industry pros.
Traditional publishing may be your best option. If you’d prefer to self-publish, consider a hybrid subsidy press. Subsidy presses, once widely considered a last option for writers who couldn’t hack it in traditional publishing, are enjoying new-found respectability. Quality subsidy presses give their authors a great deal of oversight and control, while providing a traditional publishing house experience, including a house—issued ISBN and an array of publishing and distribution services. Hybrid subsidy houses, such as She Writes Press, are selective about the authors they sign. SWP maintains stringent quality standards and provides extensive (required) editorial assistance.
With a selective, high quality subsidy press, the author experience is very similar to the experience with a traditional press, the difference primarily in distribution: while bookstores are beginning to looks seriously at self-published books, until recently it was difficult to get bookstore placement. It may be easier with a reputable subsidized press. As with assisted self-publishing, the downside is the expensive. SWP, for instance, charges $3900 for their publishing package, plus a percentage of net sales on paper and e-book formats, as well as a distribution fee.
A large or small traditional publisher is the best option for you. While I’m a firm believer in the power of self-publishing, publishing traditionally has many advantages. First, authors enjoy the prestige of being anointed. If this is important to you, traditional publishing is the only way to go. Major publishers, as well as some smaller houses, offer an advance against royalties, which can alleviate financial stress. In large and small houses, a publishing team works to edit, design, and produce high quality products. The Big 6 have marketing departments to garner professional reviews and secure traditional media attention—avenues currently closed to indie authors—a sales force to ensure widespread bookstore and retail distribution, and the finances and clout to pay for regional or national book tours and prime bookstore placement.
Authors who don’t fit the big house profile—those whose unconventional stories or beautifully written literary work wouldn’t attract a large enough audience to impress a bigger house—are good candidates for small quality presses like Greywolf or Milkweed Editions. Few small houses have the resources to pay huge advances or the marketing clout of the Big 6, but they enjoy a reputation for nurturing talent. Unlike major houses, driven by profits and corporate demands, quality small publishers stand behind their authors; some keep books in print indefinitely, and they don’t drop an author from their stable if her book fails to meet unrealistic sales projections.
This is an exciting time to be an author. The industry is evolving, with greater power and control in the hands of authors than ever before. Until recently, an author could wait, often for years, for a publisher to anoint her or self publish with a vanity press and endure the stigma. Today, authors publish proudly and enjoy tremendous success—regardless of their publishing choice!