What Do Authors THINK They Want?

Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest asked 5,000 authors what factors influenced their decisions between traditional and self-publishing. Without reading the full (expensive) report, the accompanying chart is ambiguous because it merely states what factors influenced the decision, but not which direction authors were influenced. If you and I both consider “Publisher prestige” a factor, and it causes you to pursue traditional publishing, but causes me to choose self-publishing, the factor itself has limited value without the reasoning behind it.

These are, in fact, important factors; too important to leave to the ambiguity of a simple chart. Let’s clarify, shall we? As usual, I’ll fall back on opinion. Mine, of course. Where I see shades of grey I’ll say so, but where I see black and white, expect hyperbole.

factors in deciding whether to pursue traditional or self-publishing

I’ll dispense with one vague generality right here: the entire publishing process is easier with traditional publishing. That is, once you’ve found an agent, created a proposal, and gathered the requisite number of rejections, and finally joined the less than 1% chosen by traditional publishing. I refuse to accept “waiting to be picked” as a viable artistic or commercial plan.

  1. Wide distribution — Your self-published book can be available anywhere in the world, any place books are sold.
  2. Distribution into bookstores — Available either way, but immaterial as far as sales go.
  3. Marketing support from a publisher — You’ll do the bulk of the marketing no matter how you publish.
  4. Publisher prestige — The only people who consider one publisher “prestigious” and another not are folks in the industry. Unless your audience is made up of professionals in the publishing industry, this is no more important than which lumber mill provided the 2x4s for your house.
  5. Managing the publishing process — Excellent reason to self-publish. With traditional publishing, you relinquish all control.
  6. Editorial help — With traditional publishing, you’re assigned an editor. You may have a voice in switching, if they’re not a good match, but in the end, the editor and the edits are owned by the publisher, not you. Choosing your own editor and having final say in the edits is a valuable reason to self-publish.
  7. Maintaining or losing creative control — Perfect reason to self-publish.
  8. Avoiding the expense of self-publishing and distributing — Waiting to be picked is not just foolish, it’s lazy.
  9. Speed to market — Self-publishing is a huge win here. A determine author with a good team lined up can have a manuscript published in 90 days. Traditional publishing takes a year or more, even in a best-case scenario.

I know quite well how our biases affect our thinking. I keep looking for the good parts of traditional publishing, in order to develop a balanced perspective.

I just can’t find them.

How ’bout you?

13 thoughts on “What Do Authors THINK They Want?

  1. Good overview here. One thing I do wonder about is the distribution into bookstores. Also those independent reviews by recognized critics. I understand both are hard to get for the self-published author. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Hulloo, Diana!

      With either CreateSpace or Lightning Source you can have your book available to bookstores, and Smashwords even makes digital versions available to libraries.

      That’s not to say they’ll SELL, only that they’re available. The bulk of book sales are online, so I’ve chosen to ignore bookstores.

      I imagine recognized critics are going to be a tougher nut to crack. Since less than 1% of submissions are accepted by traditional publishers, my guess is that it’d be faster and more dependable to wait for critics to come around than to hope and pray for a traditional deal.

      I haven’t seen any evidence, even anecdotal, that reviews sell books. Waiting to be picked, by a publisher or a reviewer, is just that: waiting.

      You’re fully capable of engaging an audience and creating fans. It takes time, but in the long run, authors who are persistent and patient (and who continue writing) will still be around in 5 years, selling books and succeeding, where those who looked for a quick fix, waiting to be picked, will give up and move on to something else.

      Tell me about your book. Fiction or non-fiction? What’s it about?

      1. It’s called A CRY FROM THE DEEP. When an underwater photographer about to cover a treasure hunt buys an antique ring, a series of strange events lead her to fulfill a promise of love made centuries before.

        It’s romantic suspense with some paranormal.

          1. Thanks, Joel, for the encouragement. That’s what I’m hoping for. I’ve spent a lot of time on this book, researching underwater photography, scuba diving, salvaging, psychics, etc. I have a background in writing screenplays, had agents in both Vancouver and Toronto at one time. So, I’m ready to go. I was resisting self-publishing, as when you put in so much work creating, and then have to don the marketing hat, it’s **** frustrating.

          2. Think of it this way, Diana: you were going to talk to people about your book anyway, weren’t you? That’s all marketing is: talking to people who might be interested and sharing what you’ve got.

            Even with a traditional marketing deal, you’d still be doing all the marketing. It’s a common misconception that publishers provide marketing Maybe back in the old days, but nowadays, you have to come to them with a marketing plan already in place before they’ll even talk to you.

            At least this way, you’re reaping the benefits instead of giving control and a huge portion of profit to a publisher.

  2. Joel, I have to agree with your points. What are the benefits of traditional when self-pub lands you more money, immediate release, and you don’t share with an agent….? Since you have to market the book yourself either way, it’s a no brainer.

    1. Hulloo, Donalie!

      So many authors have this dream, based on old expectations from the way publishing used to work. They’ve had the dream so long that even if it’s no longer logical, they’re so emotionally invested they won’t consider alternatives.

      I shun the non-believers and help the converted gain salvation.

  3. Joel

    Very refreshing. I live in Canada and I originally thought like music and business you needed to be in the USA to sell books. With self pub and e-books it doesn’t matter where you live. I will admit the task of self promotion and marketing is daunting and finding an audience may or may not ever happen but if the story is good enough eventually word of mouth will begin to work in your favor. I am finished and self pub the first two books of a trilogy through Createspace and Smashwords and have decided to wait for the ‘big’ push until I complete the final installment. They are big books with each close to 500 pages that covers an epic story. I think if someone like you, say, were to write a book highlighting a path to marketing success or a blueprint for authors to follow, now that would be a best-seller.

    Errol Barr

    1. Errol, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m working on DIY marketing tools for authors based on all the feedback I’m getting on what works and what doesn’t. Feel free to sign up for the newsletter (on the home page) if you wanna be in the loop.

  4. Thanks, I agree with you completely. I got my first book up on Amazon Kindle and proved that I could publish. Up ’till then I was stumped by the “publishing industry” which seemed harder to break into than the movies. Now I am about to put up my second book but am looking at a more complete marketing strategy. Whew! It is a lot of work, but as you say it is WAY BETTER than waiting.

    1. Hulloo, Lallah!

      Is there part of marketing you don’t like, or is it just that there’s so much to it? I’m putting together a book on DIY marketing for authors, so I’m gathering all the info I can get.

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