If you type in traditional vs indie publishing, you’re going to get a whole lot of sites and given how prevalent indie publishing is online a whole lot of those sites will have a curious pro-indie publishing angle.
Once I got the rights to my traditionally-published book back I went ahead and began selling it online, effectively turning me into a hybrid publisher. I’m not going to waste time and go, well this method is better or that method is better, I’m just going to relate my own experience and my own motivations for going traditional. Meandering thoughts.
Defining these three terms in as basic and vague a manner: traditional publishing favors time-consuming but more reputable publishing. Independent publishing dispenses of the need to go through agents and editors and do everything on your own. Hybrid publishing is a little bit of both.
Vague definitions because there’s tons of exceptions in each and again, everyone has their opinion about which is best for them.
And I think those three words are the most ignored when people write thinkpieces about this subject (and so many others in the craft). Their way is the best way. You can’t be a successful writer unless you’re traditional. You can’t be a successful writer unless you’re indie. You can’t be a successful writer unless you write every single waking moment. You can’t be a successful writer unless you write 10,000 words a day. You can’t be a successful writer unless you write with your feet digging into an alpaca-hair rug and there is a mug of green tea at your side.
We all have our methods. And I think that’s the bone I tend to pick with some people who approach writing with a salesman’s mentality and I’ll clarify that in a bit. But first, why I originally went traditional.
When I first signed up for my MFA program, the push was that we would create things that would be able to be traditionally-published and so I kind of fell into that mentality as well because those were the books I grew up with. I’d go to book stores and see all these publishing houses’ product just lining the bookshelves. When ebooks came around I thought, oh neat! Then I tried them and I didn’t think they were Oh neat! anymore and since a lot of indie publishers default to going online-only it’s not something that’s accessible.
So I wanted to write a book that would be accessible in bookstores and a book that could be lugged around, forgotten, dog-eared to hell and back, written on, highlighted, etc.
Then of course, there was the vanity element. Even though I tend to dunk on my writing the majority of the time, there are moments where I’m like, you know what? This is pretty good. And part of my fear was that, say I pulled an Andy Weir and made it big. There would be part of me that would always go: “You went indie. You couldn’t have landed a deal on your own.”
Because that’s the thing about the poems and short stories that I’ve gotten published, each of them managed to get through at least one person that wasn’t me going “this shit’s pretty good!”
And finally…the effort.
Whether you’re traditional/indie/hybrid, you have to make an effort. That goes without saying. But I wanted my effort to be solely concentrated on writing. As it is, I’m employed full-time and active in school extracurricular activities. A lot of the writers I personally know are in the same position. I mention the effort bit because I don’t want to take say, 10 hours of creative time I get a week and spend 2 hours on being a writer, 2 hours on being a marketer, 2 hours on designing my own cover, 2 hours on running street teams, 2 hours on being mad at math.
Going traditional means I’m spending all my time being creative and handing off the responsibilities of the outside details to someone else. When I signed my contract with the small house that published my book, part of the deal was that they would find me an editor and a cover designer and would work with me to do the sales pitches/getting me interviews and all that.
Which leads me to the other myths people like to talk about when it comes to traditional publishing. It seems almost monstruous: “IF YOU GO TRADITIONAL, THEY WILL MAKE YOU CHANGE ALL YOUR CHARACTERS AND ALSO TAKE ONE OF YOUR KIDNEYS!”
Here’s the thing about contracts: you are allowed to say no. You are allowed to tell the people offering you a deal that you need to have someone look over it. You are allowed to tell them you’re not comfortable with something. You are allowed to tell them what kind of rights you want to keep. Don’t treat a contract as if it’s the TOS to just about every other social media you have. Treat it for what it is. If at any point you’re not comfortable with the risk: walk away.
(and it goes without saying, money will never go from the author to the publisher. Any “agent” that says otherwise is trying to get you to buy into a scam and you’re best running.)
The other thing with traditional publishing that is true is that it can take some time to get a deal. I went through 60 rejections over the course of a year. I know people who are three times the writer I am and they had double the rejections. It’s part of the risk. Self-publishing? Once you have the completed product, the entire thing took me about 2-3 hours. It’s that ease that facilitates problematic approaches to the craft.
“Hey, tell you what, Writer X! Just write the most base, trope-laden, typo-ridden, excuse for a novel, click submit, and then start working on the next one.”
I think that cheapens the art as a whole, and then it leads to attitudes of “Well, I’m a best-seller, I move so many units of books! Quality! Best-seller! Ranked #24 in Amazon for the web in the category of Spaceman Vampire Lover Robots!”
I’m being just a teensy bit hyperbolic there but the times I’ve wandered into listening to indie-pub podcasts there seems to be that air of talking about selling books with the air of a business major. Or they’ll spend less time talking about the craft of writing the book than they do about how to game Amazon algorithms.
That’s not what works for me. If it works for them, sure, good, but I personally feel it cheapens it and it even takes the fun out of it. Think about Painting With a Twist or Pinot Palette or Three Sheets Vermeer or Drunk Donatello or any of those painting programs that have you paint on canvas and have a glass or many while you do so. I think those are pretty fun. (Assuming they’re not…let’s say….creatively crowdsourcing their inspiration)
Now I think they’d stop being fun if I started going to several of those locations, taking the paintings I made, and then selling them on Etsy and then bragging about becoming some sort of incredibly-successful artist. Seems ridiculous, right? But this frantic need to just put out whatever cheapens everything as a whole.
I’m not in this business for the money.
I’m here to tell stories.
Now if you’re one of those people that wants to go into writing furiously and putting out the least-common-denominator of a product just to chase a pipe dream on the off-chance you can get a steady amount of bread…cool. But consider what you’re doing, especially if you’re a fan of the genres that you write in. Sci fi, romance, paranormal, fantasy.
All you’re doing is putting product out there that people can take and go “see, this is why I don’t read fantasy! These four books have the same plot and they didn’t even get edited properly!”
And I don’t mean all this to just rag on indie authors, just those that have the above approach. If you don’t, then there are many good reasons to go into indie publishing, indie authors who go into it for the love of the craft itself, love of just wanting to tell a story and not game the system. That, I can stand by. There’s also the idea that publishing as a whole has a history of not being super-friendly to BIPOC writers. There’s been a push to change that with smaller presses leading the way and giving shots to authors that are being ignored by the top publishing houses, but at the same time I totally understand that someone who feels disenfranchised doesn’t want to face rejection after rejection for telling their truth.