In the comments to an earlier blog, Lexi Revellian (an independently published author) and Gary Gibson (a traditionally published author and a wonderful WW editor to boot) had a debate about whether indie publishing of traditional publishing represented the better route to market. Gary argued for the latter. Here’s Lexi’s arguments for the former. We’ll probably post a riposte from Gary in due course, but let the debate begin!
You’ve written a book – now what?
So you’ve finished your novel; probably not your first novel, the one you learned to write on, but the second or third. You’ve been over it many times; you’ve made adjustments in the light of beta readers’ ruthless comments. You know it’s good. (For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming you are correct – if your book is boring and badly written then you will not be able to find readers for it, no matter what you do.)
You now have a choice: Plan A or Plan B.
Plan A You make a list of agents who represent your genre, research them and submit to a handful at a time. Each one has slightly different submission guidelines, so you have to be careful. Agents like to be told why you chose them – here flattery is called for rather than honesty. I’ve tried everyone else will not go down well. A few insist on exclusivity. Most require mailed submissions, so you spend a surprising amount on paper, ink cartridges and postage.
Responses are slow. Some agents never reply and most send generic rejections, often unsigned. A personal rejection is a rarity. You realize the s.a.s.e. they insist on are a waste of time; if an agent is interested, she will ring you. As your book is good, three or four agents may request the full typescript. You put submissions on hold while they read it. Most likely they will then tell you your book is unsaleable in the current difficult marketplace. But let us suppose an agent signs you. Stop dancing round the room for a moment and read the contract. Agent/publisher/author contracts are not like credit card agreements. There are no consumer protection laws for publishers’ and agents’ contracts.
Your shiny new agent will now shop your novel to publishers. More waiting. Maybe your agent can’t sell it. Your only option is to hope for better luck with the next. But let’s imagine you get lucky, and your book hits an editor’s desk just as he was hoping for that very thing. The advance may be small, but you will be a published author! Stop dancing round the room and READ THE CONTRACT, because some publishing contracts are among the most one-sided and unfair in existence. You may be signing away your rights to all forms of the story, including those not yet invented, until seventy years after your death, unless the book goes out of print. And ebooks and POD never go out of print. You need to know exactly what you are agreeing to.
You now wait eighteen months to see your book in print (publishing is a leisurely business, unless a celebrity dies suddenly, when it becomes possible to get a book into the shops within three weeks). You realize that any marketing has to be done by you. Publishers only promote blockbusters they have put big money into, and yours was a typical first advance of £5,000 (of which you get £4,250 after your agent’s cut). You can go and admire your novel in bookshops until, a few months later, unsold copies are remaindered to make way for newer books. The ebook will not be priced to sell, nor will you have access to sales figures. With an 8% royalty for print and 17.5% for digital you are unlikely to earn out your advance. 90% of new authors don’t. If your book’s sales are less than stellar, your agent may find it difficult to place your next book. But hey, you’re traditionally published – that makes it all worth while, right?
Or you could go with Plan B.
You decide to self-publish your novel as an ebook. If necessary you pay a proof reader (and it’s a myth that every author needs this). You format your text, design or commission a cover, and load it to Amazon’s KDP. All this will take a week or two. It’s a steep learning curve, but perfectly possible if you can follow instructions, and there is abundant help available on the internet.
You will need to promote via forums and book blogs else readers won’t find it. But as your book is good, word of mouth and Amazon’s algorithms quickly make it more visible. Millions of readers are actively looking for an absorbing read, and Amazon wants to help them find it. You priced the book modestly at £1.99, of which you receive 70 %, £1.33 per unit sold. You get paid monthly, sixty days in arrears. You have full control; you are able to track sales in real time, and experiment with changes to the cover and blurb.
You realize you are making real money while retaining all rights. Readers write reviews, and email to thank you for the pleasure your writing has given them. A prestigious agent approaches you, offering you representation. You decline.
You dance around the room.