Today I am sharing another installment of Supporting Aspiring Writers which focuses on tackling the tough decision of self-publishing versus going the traditional publishing route. This is a tricky call that many authors grapple with, especially at the start of their writing careers, when they are not yet established. In this day and age, it is an even more challenging decision since the literary world has undergone a tectonic shift in the last decade with the advengt of self-publishing. This emerging form of publication has exponentially grown in popularity, and at the same time has gradually been gaining ground on traditional publishers as a legitimate publication channel for high quality literature.
As a modestly ‘experienced’ self-published author (with three books to my name) I am currently actively exploring traditional publication options for my upcoming historical fiction novel (Children of the Ocean God). I must confess that I find it quite a daunting task to choose which is the better option between self-publishing and traditional publishing in the present situation. On the one hand, an established publishing house, has social proof (i.e., a reputation for quality) that will give my work a boost in credibility with readers who have never heard of me. Besides that a traditional publisher often has an extensive dustribution network with book retailers, which can ensure your book gets on bookshelves around the world. Furthermore, and importantly they have the experience and know-how (i.e., domain knowledge) of bringing a book successfully to market while targetting a specific reading demographic. But perharps the mot compelling reason for me to go the traditional route at this stage in my embryonic literary career is that in the long run it will open up a lot more doors for me to publish with reputable publishing houses in the future. Once I can become an “established” author with a book deal from a credible publisher, it will be much easier the next time I want to publish via the traditional route.
However, there are some major drawbacks worth noting. For one, the royalty that an author gets from each book sold via a traditonal publishing contract is significantly less than that earned when self-publishing. A rough estimate to keep in mind is that the royalty is in the range of 10% for traditionally published books compared to as much as 70 % for self-published works. To put that in perspective, if I were hypothetically to sell Children of the Ocean God for $20 I would get about $2 in royalty with a traditional publisher, versus up to $14 if I self-published. That’s quite a difference! Mind you, I am keenly aware that money is not everything in life. However, it is a sobering realization. Naturally, you might argue that with a traditional publisher the volume of book sold will likely be much higher, which would offset the smaller royalty rate. This is indeed mostly true, but perhaps not the full story. In the case of Children of the Ocean God, I am somewhat skeptical that a traditional publisher can reach my target audience (who are the Garifuna and Caribbean diaspora) more effectively than I can. By this I mean to say that if I, on my own, do sufficient legwork and marketing of the book to my target audience, it may be possible for me to achieve a comparable sales volume as a traditional publisher. If that were to happen then self-publishing could be a very attractive option for me to pursue. It would certainly require a lot of upfront investment from me in both time and money, which may or may not pan out. The other ancillary benefit of this approach would be that I would build up my own platform for connecting with my readers, which in the long run would make me less dependent on an established publishing house, when publishing books in the future aimed at a similar target audience.
So in short the answer to the question To self-publish or not? is not straightforward. I have chosen to follow a pragmatic approach with Children of the Ocean God. I am exploring traditional publishing options, while at the same time keeping my eyes open to self-publishing if the traditional route fails to work out in a reasonable time frame. Admittedly, my patience is not limitless in this regard, especially since I am anxious to share the message of my book with the world. Waiting several years for my novel to see the light of day does not appeal to me. For the moment I can accept waiting for at maximum a year to a year and a half. I am curious to see what the future will hold!
I hope this post has given you some useful insight into the fun and exciting underworld of writing. If you have feedback or suggestions please feel free to leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. Also please don’t forget to sign up for my mailing list if you would like to receive my latest writing updates.