Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

I am a multi-published author. I am under contract with a small, traditional press, Pix-N-Pens, the nonfiction arm of Write Integrity Press. I currently have one book I have authored, three I have co-authored, and am contracted to co-write four more under this line. I also have one indie published book and another that barely missed getting a contract with a large traditional publisher, but in the end, it too is in the process of being published independently. So, I have some first-hand knowledge and experience with both types of publishing which I will share.

Differences Between the Two: 

Traditional publishing means that the author does not pay for any of the costs of publishing his or her book. She has a contract with a publishing company allowing them to publish the book as she agrees to split royalties with that company. It is more difficult to get a book traditionally published because the publishing company is pretty selective in the books /authors they choose. They must believe that the book they agree to publish will sell enough for them to at least recoup the money they spent on the publishing process.

There are several types of traditional publishing companies: large press, small press, and boutique presses. Large press are companies like Thomas Nelson, Harper Collins, and such. Boutique presses are usually medium-sized presses that cater to a specific niche audience. Small presses are just that—small, but traditional in that they do not require any payment of any kind from the authors they publish. These also vary in types of publishing with small press most often using print-on-demand (POD) technology.

The most important thing about traditional presses is the wording of the contract an author is asked to sign. Read your contract carefully! They all differ in many ways, including how, when, and what percentage of the royalties they will pay their authors. But even more important than the royalties in my opinion, are the rights you as the author will keep or give up to the publisher.

The book I co-wrote that was a near miss for a large traditional publisher, got picked up by a Boutique publisher but their contract stated that they would own all rights to the book. This differed from what they had told us on the phone and had we not read the contract carefully, we might have signed our rights of ownership over to this company believing the contract was what they said it would be when we spoke with them. As it turned out, it was not a contract we could sign, and we walked away from that offer. By that time, we were tired of dealing with publishers and decided to move ahead with indie publishing of that book.

With Indie publishing, the author assumes all of the responsibility and costs of publishing her book. Because of this, any person can indie publish a book, but the quality of that book will vary greatly depending on how carefully the book has been written, edited, and packaged. If you choose the indie route, I have a few suggestions.

1) Write the best book you can and make it consistent in its word count with traditional books in the same genre. (For instance, my small press requires that nonfiction books be at least 40,000 words. When I see a nonfiction half that size, I almost instantly assume it was indie published by someone who did not know the market standards.)

2) Pay for a professional editor.

3) Pay for a professional cover.

Pros and Cons of Each: The pros of indie publishing are that the author has complete control of the writing and publishing project and he or she will also receive all royalties. The cons are that usually having more than one set of eyes on a book during the publishing process makes the finished product a better book, especially when some of the people working on it are professionals.

The pros of traditional publishing are that the book is usually a high-quality product because of the many people who worked on it and usually the market reach is larger. This is true even for small presses since most small presses do make marketing efforts and the book will reach a larger number of readers than if it’s all up to just the author. The cons are that the author makes less per book and has less control over the publishing process.

So, which do I recommend? It really differs from book to book. I am extremely happy with the small press for whom I write. But I am signed under its nonfiction arm so when I wrote my first novel, I decided to go the indie route and have been happy with that too.

In the case of my other indie book, I think it would have been nice if that large traditional publisher had not decided against publishing it after six months of considering it extensively, but I really don’t know since we didn’t go that route. It may not have been a good experience after all. What I do know, is that walking away from the faulty contract offered to us by the boutique publisher was absolutely the right thing for that book.

Why didn’t I just pitch it to my small press? Again, the reason for that lay in the book itself. It is different from the other nonfiction I write for that small press and I did not think it was a good fit for them. So, yeah, there really isn’t one “right” way to publish. Much depends on the circumstances you as an author are facing and even the content of the book itself.

Click to Tweet: Interested in becoming a published writer? Know your choices up front. Here’s a look at the different types of publishing by author, Harriet Michael via @InspiredPrompt.

Writing Prompt: Story Starter! Using the above picture for inspiration, start a story. Maybe it’s going to be a short story, flash fiction, or an epic novel. We want the first sentence. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

  1. This is so true. There is no right way. It’s what is best for each book. I am thankful that we live in a time where there are so many options, and we can choose what fits best for each project.

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