The publishing industry has changed significantly. Research suggests that there is no right or wrong way to get published in the 21st century and either way, you get the same result: a published book. However, the process of publishing is often more important than the result, as this ultimately determines who owns the rights of the published work, the author’s reputation, and time necessary to be successful.
Many writers have predetermined opinions about which method they believe is better, and this is causing a lot of confusion amidst new writers hoping to publish their work. Nowadays, new writers are facing the dilemma that comes with a changing industry: which option is better for me? While my past blog posts provide some insight on publishing methods, the ultimate decision often comes down to two questions for the writer:
- How much control do you want to keep?
- What aspects do you want to put your time and effort into?
In this last blog post on publishing, I hope to help writers weigh their decisions by navigating some answers to these questions.
Deciding on Control: Professionalism vs. Creative Rights
So traditional publishing houses still remain the gatekeeper and validators of most writing and literature, yet this route often includes the loss of creative rights. While the traditional industry has proven to have some downsides, this elitist structure comes great validation and prestige if granted entry. Furthermore, access to a traditional publishing house means a distinguished representation and other exceptional resources for the author.
The question here is this: what are the contracts saying? Some contracts may have arbitrary rules like you don’t get rights for 10 years and then everything reverts back to you, the author. Others say that all rights are always with the author except for a few exclusive selling rights.
Depending on the contract, you’ll have to ask yourself: if I lose (all/some) rights to my work, what would this mean to me? And: is losing rights worth it in the long run?
In comparison, self publishing does not uphold a snobbish aura. Instead, self publishing guarantees the author complete creative control over their work. However, all necessary attributes of publishing, from editing and design to event coordination and material preparation, are now left to the author to navigate. Of course, this process can be exciting for some authors, but for some authors, this extensive process can be daunting. Self-publishing also includes the risk of portraying the author as unprofessional, but with modern services and increasing popularity, self publishing may prove much simpler and less frightening for many aspiring authors.
Here, you may want to consider your talents. Do you have the ability to create materials and make them professional? Do you have the means of publicizing and doing extra work? If so, self publishing may be great for you!
Additionally, you might want to further consider why you want to publish. Are you looking to just publish to publish? Or do you want to make a name for yourself?
If your goal is just to publish to be published, self publishing may be a better route since you can publish faster and to your own ends. Of course, you can make a name for yourself in self publishing too! You just have to deeply consider what your real goal is with publishing.
Where To Put Your Time: Finding A Publisher vs. Promoting
In both interviews with Mancilla and Schuitema, they stated that it took several years for their work to be accepted and published. This is one downside of traditional publishing. However, once the publication is finished, the only work left for the author is promoting your reputation either through social media, a website, or word of mouth. The maintenance of legalities, logistics, and contracts are left to the publisher. However, traditionally published authors must still put in a significant amount of effort to ensure the success of their books both in-print and online…it’s just a different kind of work.
On the other hand, Reedsy blog says that “you have to spend money to make money with self publishing” (“Is It Better”). The author may have complete control over all creative aspects of the process, but these various services cost money and time. As the article from Publishers Weekly describes, self publishing includes a ton of work since the self-published author is doing everything a publisher would do. Jordan also mentioned in her interview that self publishing requires much more time when it comes to marketing and promoting one’s work. However, if the author is skilled in these areas and has time to devote to these aspects of the publication process, then self publishing can grant immense profit.
Basically, you’re going to spend time and money either way. The real question here is where you want (and can) spend your time and money.
If you have the time and energy to learn how to do everything yourself, then self publishing may be the path for you. But, if you are not skilled in producing media and graphics, or you don’t enjoy organizing large projects, leaving everything to the traditional publishing house may be more beneficial.
Which is Better?
The decision of choosing a publishing route is completely subjective and usually based upon the author’s preferences and situation.
It’s not as easy as ‘traditional publishers steal all your money, so indie is better.’ It’s also not as easy as ‘indie books aren’t edited very well, so traditional is better.’”Shaunta Grimes
Essentially, the publishing methods are simply different. For some authors who are willing to do the necessary research and commit extensive amounts of time into the creative process of getting published, self publishing may prove more satisfying. However, if an author is looking for a professional service and reputation without the hassle of researching independent services, traditional publishing would be better.
In modern society, both options are relatively common and while self publishing rises in popularity, traditional publishing still maintains dominance and provides other benefits for authors. The decision simply comes down to what the author wants out of the publication.
To aid authors in this search for answers, Mancilla and Schuitema both provide insight and advice. Schuitema advises writers “not to rush the quality of the work for the sake of publication” and to ensure that the work is “as good as it can be,” no matter if one chooses to self-publish or search for a publishing house (Schuitema). Any author must be patient with their process and should always ensure that they are placing their best work into the public eye.
Similarly, Mancilla reminds authors to do their research and to look into whichever method they decide on, as “some places are more exploitative than others” (Mancilla). Also, Mancilla encourages authors “to maintain a group of readers for their work” (Mancilla). No matter if one decides to self publish or traditionally publish, having a group of readers who provide feedback and insight will help advance the author’s writing and provide a support network before, during, and after, the publication process.
Lastly, Jordan reminds young writers that the hardest part of being a young aspiring writer is “being young and having to grow up” (Jordan). Younger authors do not often have the necessary research, skills, and information to understand how to get published or even improve their writing. As a young writer and aspiring author herself, Jordan reminds young writers to research potential opportunities, gain a support network, be patient, and continuously work to improve your writing.
Through advice from professionals and extensive research into both modes of publishing, the decision still remains solely on the writer. However with this information, writers and authors can learn how to approach the publishing industry and maybe, with time, we can change it for the better.
Grimes, Shaunta. “A Guide to Traditional Vs. Self Publishing.” Medium, The Write Brain, 23 Sept. 2019, medium.com/the-write-brain/a-guide-to-traditional-vs-self-publishing-6f7c126707b5.
“Is It Better to Self-Publish or Get a Publisher? An Author’s Guide.” Reedsy, Reedsy, 14 Oct. 2020, blog.reedsy.com/self-publishing-vs-traditional-publishing/.
Jordan, Beth. Personal interview. 1 November 2020.
Mancilla, Dr. Dan. Personal interview. 8 November 2020.
Reid-Jarvis, Phyllis. “My Experience in Self-Publishing.” Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, vol. 66, no. 4, 2005, pp. 1. ProQuest, http://aquinas.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.aquinas.idm.oclc.org/docview/220831488?accountid=8340.
Ronte, Hanno. “The Impact of Technology on Publishing.” Publishing Research Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4, 2001, pp. 11-22. ProQuest, doi:http://dx.doi.org.aquinas.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s12109-001-0011-6.
“Publishing, After a Life in Publishing.” Publishers Weekly, vol. 262, no. 4, 2015, pp. 4-n/a. ProQuest, http://aquinas.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.aquinas.idm.oclc.org/docview/1648944791?accountid=8340.
Schuitema, Dr. Adam. Personal interview. 25 November 2020.