Traditional or Indie Publishing?

Indie or TraditionalI interact with a lot of writers, published and unpublished, and I find the ‘Indie or not?’ dilemma causing angst more and more. Typical comments are:

“I’m up to the final draft of my novel. I’m thinking I should maybe try to find an agent or a publisher before trying to do it myself… but I’ve heard that it’s almost impossible to find a publisher these days. What do you think?”


“I’m not making much money from my published books. I’m tempted to try self-publishing. Would you recommend it?”

Hoo boy. When I see questions like this, I feel as though I need to cover myself with comments like “You need to research this before you make a decision, but…” so that nobody can point the finger later and accuse me of ruining their writing career. So let’s assume it’s understood that this is just my opinion, right? I’m just one voice amongst thousands. (Google “indie versus traditional publishing” and you’ll see what I mean. I just did it, and the Google stats tell me that I got 3,260,000 results in 0.36 seconds.)

Here is my broad answer – all care and no responsibility.

Traditional Publishing

If you really want to try traditional publishing, and you’ll start feeling all anxious and trembly if you don’t, then go ahead. Get feedback on your novel, polish it to within an inch of its life, then look up as many publishers and agents as you can that seem to fit your chosen genre. Go through whatever process those editors/agents want (online submissions? Snail mail? Via an agent only? Via recommendations from established writers or freelance editors only? etc etc) and then send your work off.

Your odds aren’t good. I don’t know what they are now, because I haven’t looked for quite some time. If you’re a fantastic, mesmerising storyteller then you probably have a slightly better chance. You may have to wait for anything from 3 weeks (almost unheard of) to a year for a response.

Many traditional publishers are doing it tough, because they weren’t ready for the eBook revolution. If they do take on a new author, it’s because they think you’ll earn them money. It’s not likely you’ll make much yourself – and you’ll probably have to wait at least 6 months after publication for the first royalty payment. Any advance you get will probably be small.

If you want to have a shot at it, even knowing all this, then go ahead. Who knows, you could just be the next J K Rowling. BUT… while you’re waiting to hear, plunge straight into your next book. This is why…

Indie Publishing 

Fact: publishers keep an eye on indie authors. If they see an author selling plenty of books, they will often offer a contract. Imagine that; you don’t have to chase them – they chase you. You will now find a new breed of writer: the hybrid. They have contracts with tradtional publishers, while still publishing independently. It’s not uncommon for authors to keep electronic rights while selling the rights to printed books.

BUT – even if you don’t ever have a publisher approach you, it’s possible to make a nice income by self-publishing: anything from the grocery money to the basic wage and well beyond. Writers are often stunned by how quickly their income can build.

That’s why I advise getting stuck into that second book the moment you finish the first, whether you choose to ‘go indie’ immediately or try traditional publishers with your first book. Whatever your choice, you will have a second book to sell to people who like your first one, and are looking for more of your work.

A Partial List of What Indies Have to Know

  • Your options for indie publishing – ebooks and print (e.g. Kindle, Createspace, Smashwords, iBooks, etc etc) 
  • How to write a good book description (hook the reader) 
  • Where to interact with other writers and readers (e.g. GoodReads, KindleBoards, writing forums, private groups, public groups
  • Where to find a book cover designer 
  • How to upload a book to your chosen platform (e.g. Kindle, Smashwords) 
  • How to create a book trailer OR where to get one made (not essential, but every little helps) 
  • How to get paid (e.g. Payoneer card rather than an overseas cheque) 

Some Reading / Listening To Help you Decide

The Self-Publishing Podcast – DIY Digital 

A year’s worth of weekly podcasts, with interviews from some very successful authors. I quote: “Want to get your words out into the world without contending with agents, publishers, or any of the other gatekeepers in traditional publishing? There’s never been a better time to become a writer, and to be in charge of your own destiny rather than jumping through hoops to please the Powers that Be. Self-publishing ninjas David Wright and Sean Platt — who have manufactured a publishing machine around Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform — join popular blogger and author Johnny B. Truant to explore everything related to getting published in today’s new DIY digital publishing frontier. ”

C J Lyons “No Rules, Just Write” Site (sign up for her newsletter too)
I quote: “Tired of people telling you the RULES instead of giving you the tools you need to write? I know what you mean. Which is why I created the No Rules, Just WRITE! site.  I wanted to give something back and help fellow writers struggling with their own path to success, so I built the No Rules, Just WRITE! site to share everything I’ve learned. Look around, share the site with your writer friends. Don’t forget to sign up for updates and get your free copy of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS OF PUBLISHING while you’re there.”

Joanna Penn’s “The Creative Penn”: 
Quote: ” Welcome to The Creative Penn, where you will find resources to help you write, publish and market your book. Voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 3 years running, and one of the Top 10 Blogs for Self-Publishers 2012.”

There are plenty more authors willing to share their success, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. The three sites above will give you plenty to think about – and plenty of motivation!



Traditional or Indie Publishing? — 18 Comments

  1. I really like this post!

    I actually spent quite a lot of time trying to go the traditional publishing route, but got a tired of constantly having to submit to agencies (I wanted to go through an agent rather than direct to a publisher). Even the agents who were interested seemed to be dragging their feet, so eventually I made the decision to self-publish.

    My decision was pretty much based on everything you’ve written in this blog post – more creative freedom, being able to instantly publish work, quicker royalty payments, and so on.

    I’ve nearly finished my second novel, and haven’t really thought about going the traditional route at all. That’s not to say I’d turn down a major publisher if they wanted me (if you’re reading this, call me!), but for my purposes right now – building an audience, having complete control of my work, etc – self-publishing is working just fine.
    Angelo Marcos recently posted…Does success change your performance?My Profile

  2. Hi Angelo,

    Good luck with your second novel. I’d love to know how you go with it. IMHO, the playing ground has changed permanently – and about time. But for writers who have been writing for decades battling against the established system, it takes a while to change perspective. It can seem scary – but it’s exhilarating, too!


    • I agree that things have changed permanently, and I also agree it’s about time!

      It’s a really exciting time to be an author. A few years ago I was knocking on doors, sending submissions, and getting nowhere. Today, I’m getting positive reviews from the US about my novel, and getting invited to speak at book groups!

      The ability we now all have to get our work out in front of people is staggering when you think about it.
      Angelo Marcos recently posted…Does success change your performance?My Profile

      • I’ve spent years tutoring aspiring authors in writing for children and adults. Ten years ago – FIVE years ago – I knew that only a tiny number of those people would see their work published. Now ALL of them can, if they’re prepared to put in the time and effort. That has got to be a thrilling thought for newbies.

  3. Thanks for this post, Marg. Knowing what I know now about self-publishing, I would never start out the other way. It is just too simple to take control of your own destiny–and get a foothold by publishing yourself. A lot of personal time, energy, and writing time will be wasted trying to get traditional publishers to pay attention to you and your books–when it could be better spent elsewhere.
    Penelope Silvers recently posted…Ghost Novel: Day 4 | How to Incorporate Writing into Your DayMy Profile

  4. I totally agree, Penelope! In fact, I find that I’m in the situation now of having to ensure that I take an objective view of the situation – which is hard, when all my instincts are to say “Just go Indie and stop messing about!” However, I know that a growing number of authors are finding that it works for them to be hybrid. (Note: I am still writing children’s books for an educational publisher, and plan to do more later this year. But my adult fiction is all Indie. I’m not sure whether you’d call that hybrid or not, since I have opted to go one way with children’s books and another with adult fiction. FOR NOW!)

    • Thanks Penelope! As usual I’d like to clone myself to get everything done… but I must say that Scrivener is helping the organizing process. 🙂

    • Hi Penelope… it was watching Tink’s seminar in GFF. Her template is useful, and the tips. I’m still refining the template to suit my own needs, and I suggest you just keep it simple to start with. Keep Tink’s template safe somewhere and then copy and rename it for whatever your project is, and put it in a new folder. Then open it and use/delete whatever you find there. The character template is a good starting point, but don’t be afraid to change it to suit yourself.
      Then – before you start making any entries – right click the character file and choose ‘duplicate’. Rename the duplicate with your character’s name.

      I also bought Scrivener for Dummies from Amazon, (Kindle version) but I haven’t referred to it yet!

      I think you need to just go in and start. Don’t forget to find photos of likely-looking people for your characters and import them into RESEARCH so you can click on them when you want to see what they look like. I have found it useful to use the split screen (VIEW >> LAYOUT) so I can look at the character info sheet or their photo at the bottom of the screen when I’m typing the scene in the top split window.

      I think it’s like any new software or program: it’s all a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it you wonder why you panicked!


    • Grace, if you’re self-publishing then you really need to do all the promotion and publicity yourself – and it can be a big learning curve (not to mention time-consuming.) It looks like you’re targeting a Christian readership, so you probably need to be interacting with forums, Facebook groups etc that have this focus.

  5. Yep! Publishing the book is only a very small part of the entire process. Many indies are dismayed to find out all the work that goes into the promotion of your book. Yours is but one small fish in a very large sea. You have to find out where your readers are at, and target your work to them–without coming across as blantantly selling. That is the fine line to walk, as an author.
    Penelope Silvers recently posted…Writers are On a Journey – Everything in Life is a LessonMy Profile

  6. I have just been reading your blog on self publishing and really enjoyed it. I have bought two on your kindle books on character and plotting and done two of your online course. I have completed a 110,000 manuscript. I have had no luck getting it published (surprise surprise) so I am thinking of going down the indie route on Kindle. I use Scrivener so should be able to format it in the correct way.

    However, I think the ms needs a good edit before I go any further. Is this a service you offer? The genre is contemporary crime with a PI as a heroine.

    • Hi Margaret,
      Congrats on finishing your manuscript! That’s a huge effort.
      If you’ve been sending it out and you haven’t had any luck, then I’d certainly publish it on Kindle, rather than letting all that effort go to waste.
      When you say that your ms needs a good edit, what do you mean exactly? Are you looking for a structural edit, or an edit for style and technique, or just grammar/structure? There’s a big difference in all of these things.

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