Over these last two years, the publishing world has literally turned upside-down. In the past, the writer who aspired to see his/her work in print needed to suffer through rejection after rejection in order to get representation and ultimately a contract. Today, it appears writers have taken on the responsibility of writing, publishing and marketing works on their own. Phenomenal sellers like Amanda Hocking and H.P. Mallory took advantage of self-publishing tools to gain national attention and amazing sales, while established authors like J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler have decided to cut middlemen and distribute their work on their own terms. Now, one can find self-published titles on the USA Today bestseller lists. No wonder writers are enamored by self- and indie publishing!
However, though Hocking and Mallory have translated their achievements into multi-book deals with traditional publishers, other authors with the “Big 6” are entertaining different options. Confusing, isn’t it? Which way do you, a writer preparing to ready your first book, turn?
You may find that authors choose different paths for different reasons:
- Traditional, large houses (e.g., Random House, St. Martin’s Press) – Association with a major publisher offers prestige and opportunities for wide distribution and exploitation of subsidiary rights (including foreign language and film/TV). Agent representation is usually required.
- Large but specialized houses (e.g., Harlequin, TOR) – For authors who aspire to publish in a specific genre, association with an established imprint offers opportunity to attract a large readership devoted to those brands. An agent may be necessary to get a foot in the door.
- Established digital houses (e.g., Samhain Publishing, Carina Press) – In recent years, titles from eBook-first houses have earned impressive sales and exposure. Authors like these houses for the flexibility they offer – some pay royalties more quickly, and have looser word-length requirements. Some authors may see these presses as a springboard to a contract with a traditional house. In many cases, agent representation is not required to submit.
- Self-Publishing – Here the author controls every aspect of the publication: he/she hires the editor and cover artists, establishes distribution channels and handles marketing, and pays all expenses for printing, digital conversion, etc. In return, the author keeps every cent earned.
In the past, distribution was a key factor in helping people decide their paths. Major bookstore chains work primarily with larger publishers, leaving authors with smaller houses to negotiate with individual stores for space. With stores closing in this strained economy, online retailers benefit from endless inventories, and self-publishers have a venue from which to sell.
The writer who prefers to write, rather than wear several hats, is more likely to query agents and publishers until one is found. Though self-publishing still may carry a stigma, talented authors capable of producing a book of quality will gain readers regardless of the logo on the spine.
Ultimately, you as the author must decide which is right for you. Take into consideration everything involved in submitting a work to an agent, and preparing a manuscript yourself for distribution. Know what goes into each job and decide where you want to focus your creative energy. In the end, your decision will be the right one for you.
Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer specializing in articles on self-publishing services for authors interested producing their own work, and on the rise in indie publishers.