Guest-Post from Ex-Indie Author Michael J. Sullivan who discusses the advantages and disadvantages of Indie and Traditional Publishing.
I often hear that if you self-publish a novel it’s as good as dead as far as traditional publishing is concerned. While this may have been true at one time, I’m proof that this is no longer the case. My fantasy series, The Riyria Revelations was originally self-published, and by the time the fifth book was released, I was selling modestly well at 2,600 books per month. This series was picked up by Orbit (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group) for a three-book, six-figure advance.
I already had a foreign rights agent (and several overseas contracts), and I asked her to test the water with New York. She put together a proposal, sent it to seventeen houses, and received immediate interest from seven or eight of those. Orbit made a pre-emptive bid and we agreed on terms in mid-November 2010. By the time my self-published books were removed from print (August 2011) I had sold more than 70,000 copies (most of which occurred after my decision to switch).
For others who also wish to make the jump, the formula is pretty simple. Write a really good book (or series) and once you start seeing some substantial sales (and good reviews) add this information to your query letters. I’ve heard that if you’ve sold 5,000 books in less than a year then it is definitely an accomplishment that agents will take notice of. Also, if you start appearing on any of the Amazon bestseller lists, don’t be surprised if agents start calling on you. I know several of my fellow indie authors have found representation this way.
At one time self-publishing was considered the last resort of writers who had been rejected by traditional publishers, but now many authors are choosing this option first. I even know quite a few who have declined contracts (some with six-digit advances) and are staying independent.
Looking at Amazon bestseller lists, you’ll find both self and traditionally published books side by side, both sporting a large number of high ratings. This is proof that the lines are blurring and good books are finding audiences from either route. In fact, I suspect the percentage of projects that make it through the query-go-round to actual publication is about the same as those that sell well when self-published. In both cases, the number is small since only the best of the best will succeed, but if your book is one of those you do have options.
So what route to choose? To be honest, there is no “right answer.” It really depends on each author’s individual goals and aligning those desires with the path that best suits your needs. Self-publishing offers complete control, and for some this is liberating, and for others it can be daunting. Going traditional and having a team of people helping to produce your work can free your time for other things, but you’ll also have little say into aspects such as title, cover design, or even the price your books.
From a financial perspective, if you’re the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King then traditional offers a distribution network capable of moving large numbers of books that that will be difficult to match with self-publishing. This high volume will easily offset the lower income per book. However, most authors never reach that level and find themselves in the mid-list. For these people, there is no doubt that self-publishing will produce a much higher income, which could be double or even triple what you would receive through traditional means.
One thing to keep in mind is that marketing should be approached similarly regardless of how you are published. Traditionally published authors should work just as hard as self-published ones because even though they have access to a marketing team, those people must balance their time across multiple authors and can only do so much.
Years ago only traditional publishing offered authors the ability to earn a living and find an audience. Nowadays with eBooks and online distribution the playing field has been leveled, and options abound making this the best time in history to be a writer.
- Michael J. Sullivan -
About the Author
Michael discovered that never is a very long time, and he ended his hiatus from writing after a decade. The itch returned when he decided to create a series of books for his then thirteen-year-old daughter, who was struggling in school due to dyslexia. Intrigued by the idea of writing a series with an overarching story line, he created the Riyria Revelations. Each of the six-books were written as individual episodes but also included intertwining elements and mysteries that develop over time. Michael describes this endeavor as something he did "just for fun with no intention of publishing." After presenting the first manuscript to his daughter, he was chagrined that she declared, "I can't read it like this, can't you get it published?"
So began his second adventure on the road to publication, which included: drafting his wife to be his business manager; signing with an independent press; and later creating a small press. After two and a half years, the first five books sold more than 60,000 copies and ranked in the top twenty of multiple Amazon fantasy lists.
Please, leave some comments or questions for the Author at the end of this post!
Links to the Author and Books
Link to Michael J. Sullivan's Website
Link to Michael J. Sullivan's Books on Amazon
Connect with Michael J. Sullivan on Twitter: @author_sullivan