5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Friday, June 08, 2012

Indie or Traditional: Should you make the jump?

Guest-Post from Ex-Indie Author Michael J. Sullivan who discusses the advantages and disadvantages of Indie and Traditional Publishing.

Indie Author News - jump
Indie or Traditional: How to make the jump and what are the advantages/disadvantages.

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

After finding a manual typewriter in the basement of a friend's house, Michael J. Sullivan inserted a blank piece of paper and typed: It was a dark and stormy night and a shot rang out. Well, he was just eight years old at the time, so we'll forgive him that trespass. But the desire to fill the blank page and see what doors the typewriter keys would unlock wouldn't let him go. For ten years Michael developed his craft by studying authors such as Stephen King, Ayn Rand, and John Steinbeck...just to name a few. During that time he wrote ten novels, and after finding no traction in publishing, he gave up and vowed never to write creatively again.

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


Holly Robinson said...

As someone who has published both traditionally and indie, I wanted to say that this is a wonderful post--very true, very sensible. Thank you, Michael.

Becca Mills said...

Nice article -- inspirational, yet realistic and balanced.

Alison Morton said...

I'm teetering on the edge so this article was timely - thank you!

Selling my books is the thing that I'm a little concerned about. What were the three most important things you did when you self-published to sell/increase your sales? And would they be exactly the same for your traditionally published books?

Michael J. Sullivan said...

Well thank you, Holly, for not only readign but also for letting me know you enjoyed it. I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

Michael J. Sullivan said...

Thanks Becca,

(My daughter is Rebecca and we call her becca btw). I' glad you enjoyed it.

Michael J. Sullivan said...

Success in either does really come down to the same things:

- Writing a good book
- Getting the word out to enough people that they they start generating sales for you by recommending to others.

The three most important things in my mind:

* Establish and promote your brand (and by that I mean what is it about your writing that you are passionate about) and sharing your enthusism with others. People who share similar values and aspirations will gravitate to you, and want to support your work.

* Treat book bloggers as the industry influencers that they are. Appreciate them for all that they do, woe them, compliment them, and do all you can to support their sites. Getting a thumbs up from one of these people will reach many, many people.

* Become a member of goodreads and become an active participant in the community. This is a group dedicated to books and reading. It is/was instrumental in my success. But don't go out and constantly say, "buy my book." Be yourself, (back to the braning of #1), mention your book when there is context, and when permitted (some groups look down upon any sort of self-promotion). Thank those that review your book, ask people reading similar books to try one of your sample chapters. It is a tremendous resource because it was designed for writers and readers to interact.

I hope some of this helps...but remember - all that I just said applies to both self and traditional publishing.

Vlad Vaslyn said...

Thanks for the input, Michael! I think you've outlined 3 crucial aspects to promotion in your response to Ms. Morton, but I wonder if I could ask you a few questions in regards to engaging on Goodreads?

Do you have any special strategies or tips that you'd be willing to share?

How much time do you dedicate to these reading

What's the most effective aspect of engagement (book reviews, chatting, etc)?

I've been on Goodreads for awhile now, but just recently started really trying to engage, so I'm still feeling my way around a bit. Any advice would be appreciated!


John Holt said...

Traditional or Indie? That is the question. For me the answer is simple - Traditional every time. I would love to be an established author with Harper Collins with a large advance, a book deal, book signings, radio, tv interviews. A lovely lovely thought. Okay here's the reality check. the vast majority of traditional publishers are not taking new authors. They have more than enough with the Jeremy Clarksons and Jamie Olivers of this world. So why on earth would they want to take a chance on a complete unknown. So when it comes right down to it I don't think we really have too much of a choice. Of course you could consider the so-called vanity publisher, the one who charges you a collosal sum for the privilege of having your work published so that they (the publisher) can earn even more money from your sales. No, in reality terms there is only one answer to the question. It has to be Indie. Self publish, and self promote. You retain full control of everything. If the book fails it's all down to you. If it succeeds it did so as a result of your efforts alone.

Unknown said...

Thanks very much for this, very helpful. I've just published an e-book on Amazon and am now looking for 'inspiration' on how to raise my profile and perhaps invest in the paperback version. So ... your reply to Alison Morton has also been useful. It's been amazing how much extra work I've done since the relative joy of that first draft :) I thought editing/proofing was hard going, but the selling, marketing and web presence work beats it hands down!

Adriana Ryan said...

Helpful and very timely, as so many indies are being approached by agents and publishers when they hit a certain level with sales/visibility. Thank you, Michael, and congrats on all your successes!

Anonymous said...

I was originally going to traditional, but sort of accidentally discovered self publishing in June and am sold on it. I don't know if I would reject a traditional deal - the deal itself would dictate that - and I would keep ebook rights if at all possible. But I think there's room for both and certainly there are great (and bad!) writers doing both! Thanks for sharing your story!

LM Preston said...

Wonderful article! I say authors don't have to choose anymore. If you have one series that would do well traditionally then focus on that market potential, but if you have a collection of short stories that you would love to sell yourself in ebook first then in paperback format..why not do it? The sky is now the limit. Now we authors need to be more focused on knowing our markets and what's best for each work.

CuriousAuthor said...

Thank you for this. I have some questions since I recently self published my first novel. I've gotten twelve five star Amazon reviews (total) but I'd like the books to sell more. I've been also been reviewed by a few publications. How long did it take for you to sell 2,600 books a month? And was this for several titles?

Diana Stevan said...

A timely post for me as well. I wanted to go the traditional route, but it doesn't seem to be in the works. Before you self-published, did you hire an editor? Much as I've revised and edited on my own, I still wonder if I should get an editor before I take the plunge. Thanks.

Nancy Naigle said...

Spot on, Michael - I think your portfolio of written work is much like your investments - diversity brings good balance! The landscape is changing. Regardless of the way you get to the shelf, just be certain you put the right rigor around editing and putting your best foot forward :)

Hugs and happy writing, y'all~

Nancy Naigle said...

edit edit edit --- so worth the investment. This is your reputation! :)

Greever Williams said...

Great post Michael - a very balanced assessment! I wrestled with this topic myself for many months. Last year, I went through the traditional process for a nonfic book (under my real name) that has by many standards been very successful. I enjoyed writing it, but the publishing process was a major letdown for me. Yes, I got a great advance and the glossy cover design and I see it in the stores, but the process was cumbersome and disappointing and I ended up doing much of the work myself that I had expected them to manage (most notably the marketing). After that, I decided that my fiction work (where my passion lies) was too important to me to subject it to that process. I wanted to steer the ship. I want a say in my cover design. Heck, I wanted to design my own cover (which I did). I didn't want a bunch of corporate opinions of what is "marketable". I wanted to write what I want to write and if you don't like it, don't read it! Of course I did connect with solid proofreaders and an editor - writing you don't care for is very different from bad writing. :) As you said, I am now in complete control. I succeed or fail based on my own merits. My time to market myself is short, but it is mine and I am having a blast doing it. If a publisher comes along now and wants me to work with him/her and offers some sweet deal for my next book, would I take it? I don't know, honestly. But you can certainly bet that I'd go into it with realistic expectations and painful knowledge of the pros and cons of the options! Thanks again for this great piece.

Save the Book said...

I recently engaged a professional editor for the 2nd edition of my novel Iraqi Icicle (out soon). His work has made it so much better. I do think you need to engage a professional. I am an Australian but I chose my editor from the Irish Society of editors. I would say engaging a cheap self-proclaimed editor could be a waste of money. As with many things, it does come down to what you can afford. In summary, I would say either a good editor or no editor.

Jean Latz Griffin said...

Hi Michael, Very helpful and encouraging post. I started my own very small publishing company to bring out two non-fiction books about six years ago and had modest success with the marketing and sales. I'm now working on a trilogy of historical fiction with a strong thread of fantasy. You say that you started "a small press." How small? Did you publish only your own books or also others? My company has its own ISBN # and I have a contract with B&T, am on Amazon, etc. Is that enough to call oneself a "press?" Or so you also have to publishe the book of other offers. Thanks!

Post a Comment