This is a question that every writer eventually deals with if they’re considering publishing their work: indie or traditional. There are a lot of pros and cons to each, and every writer needs to look into both options and decide for themselves before they make a decision. As for me, I went with independent publishing. At the time, it just felt like the right decision, but in the years since, I’ve become more grateful that I took that path.
You keep all the rights
This is a big one. With self-publishing, whether you do it through Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble Press, or something else, you’ll typically get to maintain all the rights.
Some traditional publishers will try to purchase the rights from you. Then they can do whatever the heck they want with your story. Change characters. Get rid of plot points. Turn your space western into a romantic comedy. No creator wants that, so maintaining the rights to your story and distribution is a major factor.
You have to market your own books either way
Personally, this came as a big surprise when I found this out. “When you traditionally publish, they’ll do the marketing for you!” Eh. Not necessarily. And this is especially true for first-time authors–they’ve got it the hardest. This has been confirmed to me by friends in the traditional publishing industry.
Usually, what a traditional publisher will do is give you an advance (typically $5,000-6,000) for your book, then they print a bunch of copies, send them to retailers, and see if it sticks. If your book sells enough to cover the cost of printing, you start earning royalties! Yay! However, if the book doesn’t catch on, your advance is all you get.
It’s on you to set up the book signings, the social media marketing, the paid ads, and try to get eyes on your books. It’s a lot of work, and the publishers won’t even be willing to do it themselves sometimes. That blows.
Much higher royalties
The potential for earnings in self-publishing is actually higher than you might think.
- Traditional publishing royalties: 6-8% per copy (after your advance)
- Indie publishing royalties: 20-70% per copy
Yep. It’s the truth. With traditional publishing, book earnings have to be spread out to a lot of people, so you get a smaller piece of the pie. With indie publishing, you took care of all the creative aspects yourself (cover design, formatting, marketing), so you get a significantly greater portion of the earnings.
The one caveat is that you’re not going to get any kind of advance with indie publishing. No one is going to hand you a check for $6k just because you happened to write a book. Your potential for earnings is greater, but you’re hardly going to make a dime when you first start out. As a matter of fact, between the money you spend on a cover design and editor, you’ll probably lose money at first. It takes time to grow an audience. It’s a long game.
However, there are plenty of indie authors that are making a good living publishing books themselves. Two legendary figures are Hugh Howey and Bella Forest, which each have a net worth in seven figures. And there are loads others who are making a comfortable living that you might not have heard of yet. So it’s definitely possible to make it work.
Full creative control
Do you have an idea of what the cover should look like? Cool. Make a mockup and hire an illustrator to make sure it looks the way you want. Do you know an editor that will give you a good price and won’t meddle with the integrity of your story? You got them.
You’re the boss. Every single aspect from start to finish is yours to dictate. No one is going to breathe down your neck and tell you the story has to be another 20,000 words or you need to add a scene here or there. Because let’s be honest… do publishers really know what sells?
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