How to Publish a Novel: Self vs. Traditional
Interview with Self-Published Authors
Hello everyone, I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview not just one, but two self-published authors on their respective publishing experiences. These authors consist of Marla Bradeen, who recently published Fatal Fire at the end of 2014, and Joel D Canfield, who published A Long, Hard Look during the same year. Both authors have multiple other works that can be found on their Amazon pages, which I have linked at the end of the interview. I’d like to offer huge thanks to both of them for being a part of this interview.
Why did you choose self-publishing over traditional publishing?
“Back when I finished my first book in 2004, I went the traditional route of querying literary agents for representation. I spent two years accumulating rejections from over fifty agents before I quit. At the time, print books still dominated the market, and self-publishing wasn’t a viable option. I set the book aside in 2006 and mostly forgot about it for seven years.”
“In 2012, I quit my day job and found the time to write again. I considered pursuing the same route of querying agents and trying to break into a big publishing house when I finished my second book in 2013, but found my enthusiasm waning every time I thought back to my experience in 2004-2006. Rather than risk losing interest in my own work, I opted to try self-publishing. Things had changed a lot from when I wrote my first book. Readers had embraced ebooks, and print-on-demand technology allowed self-publishers to keep costs low on printed books.”
“I knew I had the skillset to produce a quality book, and preferred to spend my time preparing the book and publishing rather than chasing an agent and publisher, which could take years in itself and had no guarantee I’d be published.”
What was your experience like with self-publishing? Was it simple? Difficult? Would you consider doing it again?
“The technical aspects of self-publishing I found to be quite easy. I worked with computers my entire professional life, so I didn’t experience any problems with book formatting, creating covers in the right dimensions, or actually getting my book out there. Someone not as comfortable with technology might find the process more difficult.”
“It did take me a while to learn about the different options available. For example, many retailers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, to name a few) allow you to publish directly through them, or you can reach multiple retailers through a single distributor (Smashwords, for example). There are also quite a few different details that took me some time to figure out. For example, Amazon allows authors to create an author page, but manages that process through a different site than the one used to actually publish books.”
“Marketing I have yet to master. I never used social media before becoming an author, and I don’t use it effectively nor do I really enjoy it.”
“Like anything else, there’s a definite learning curve. I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing and writing in general over the past couple years both from my own experience and from talking to other authors. Some things I’m sure I still have yet to discover, and things are always changing. But I intend to continue self-publishing as long as I keep writing.”
“My first book was more work than it had to be. I focused on things which I’ve learned aren’t important and spent too much time doing things myself which others could have done faster and perhaps better.”
“Since then I’ve published 11 more books. On 11/11/11 I released 6 books simultaneously. Six months previous to that, 2 of those books were unedited manuscripts, 2 were audio recordings requiring transcription to even be considered manuscripts, and 2 weren’t even thought of. It’s working better with every book. Self-publishing is the only choice that makes sense to me.”
In your opinion, what is the greatest strength and weakness of self-publishing?
“The greatest strength in my opinion is having complete control over all aspects of your book. With a traditional publisher, they set the price, have final say on the cover, and decide how and if to assist with marketing. With self-publishing, the author chooses their book’s price, what their cover will look like, and where they want to focus any marketing resources. Because the author is in complete control, they also keep a larger percentage of the royalties, have final say on creative content, and can generally publish faster than a traditional house that has to coordinate the efforts of multiple people.”
“The greatest weakness in my opinion is the difficulty to reach certain markets. Traditional publishers have access to physical bookstores and libraries that aren’t generally as accessible to self-published authors. Traditional publishers also have a certain clout that opens them up to more readers. Because self-publishing is so easy, authors can skip over certain steps, such as editing and proof-reading, that often result in a stronger book. Some readers who have picked up too many self-published books of poor quality may be reluctant to read other self-published works.”
“The greatest strength is that you have control. Your chances of publication are 100% rather than less than 1%. You can have a book written and published in a year, about the time it takes most authors to even find an agent, not even a publisher.”
“The greatest weakness is that the author is solely responsible for the quality of the book. It costs money (usually) for professional cover design and editing. Some authors can’t afford it; some don’t even realize good cover design or editing matter.”
What advice would you give individuals seeking to self-publish?
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and be open to learning and experimenting as you go along. Also, don’t be afraid to go back and fix anything you didn’t get right the first time. I recently overhauled all my book covers hoping to communicate the genre better and increase their appeal. This year I’ve also revised two of the books I published in 2013. With self-publishing, your book doesn’t have to be a static work, but something that grows as you grow as a writer.”
“That said, don’t be too anxious to publish right away. After working on your book for months, it’s natural to want to see it out there as soon as possible. The temptation to skip important steps like proof-reading can be great, but some shortcuts can hurt your reputation in the long run.”
“Lastly, don’t forget why you started writing in the first place. Not everyone will like your book, friends and family might not want to read it, and you might not sell any copies for long stretches of time. If those things discourage you, ask yourself if any of that changes why you write and, if so, adjust accordingly.”
“Never use a vanity/subsidy press. Self-publishing means you are the publisher. No one else can “self-publish” your book for you. Vanity press takes away the single greatest benefit of self-publishing, control.”
“Learn to love marketing. No publisher, traditional or vanity, will market your book. A traditional publisher won’t even offer a contract unless you have a marketing plan in place and active. (Reading marketing guru Seth Godin’s seminal work Permission Marketing and one of his later books, Tribes, will do much to dispel outdated beliefs and ideas about marketing.)”
“Don’t assume “self-publishing” means digital only. You can produce a printed book for a minimal additional investment in time beyond the digital book.”
“Never print in large quantities unless you have preorders, money in hand, to cover the entire cost. There are a number of print-on-demand companies where your book can be printed after it is ordered, eliminating funds tied up (and risked) in stock and storage.”
Are there any circumstances where traditional publishing might be a better choice?
“Yes, definitely. Everyone has different goals, and traditional publishing might be the better option for some authors. Those who don’t care to bother with all the details related to publishing might prefer to let someone else manage most of that. And for some authors, the advance offered by a traditional publisher might be incentive enough to go that route.”
“If an author already has a traditional publishing deal they’re satisfied with, I don’t recommend leaving the publisher without good reason.”
“But for a new author, I cannot imagine any circumstances where traditional publishing would better serve an author’s interests. You can produce the same quality book in far less time, without waiting to be picked by someone else. The marketing effort will be the same either way. The profits will be greater for self-publishing for the same number of books sold. The author can have a direct relationship with their readers, building a fanbase which could conceivably support them as a writer full time if they so chose.”
I’d like to thank both authors for their insight into self-publishing.
Next week’s post will consist of a podcast explaining how to choose between the two practices based on an author’s current situation. The post will also conclude this blog.
Marla Bradeen’s works can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Marla-Bradeen/e/B00C3PAW3K
Joel D Canfield’s works can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Joel-D-Canfield/e/B002ZQ06OM