Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Choice in Publishing

Ra Lion, glaring at me at Conservators' Center
A few weeks back a writer friend of mine brought me into an email thread she had started.  With all of the publishing options available, she wanted to know what we each thought about the choices and which one we would choose and why.

After some very interesting responses, I suggested we pool our opinions and blogs to collectively blog about this topic, all on the same day.  Thus, the "My Choice in Publishing" Blogday was born.  (as was the #MyChoiceInPublishing hashtag)

After you finish reading my take on the subject there's a list of other writers who are blogging today with their opinions and reasons for their choice.  Please read along and join in the conversation!


 When I was a kid I was in a book discussion group at the largest library in town.  I spent a lot of time both in that library and the one that was walking distance from my parent's house.  Even though I had my favorite sections of those libraries, I'd still spent time just wandering through the shelves, looking at row after row of spines, reading the titles and seeing which ones might catch my imagination.  I clearly remember being about ten or eleven and scanning the shelves in the children's section and thinking that getting a book published must be one of the best things life has to offer.

Once, this meant having your book accepted by a publisher who liked what you had written.  Eventually, that changed and to reach the biggest publishers you need an agent to help you find the right editor at the right publishing house.  Now, there's the additional option of being able to publish your book yourself with many built-in channels of distribution available to get your book in front of the book buying public. 

With so many choices, what's a writer to do?

This writer has thought about all three options and decided to go the Traditional Publishing route.  For me, that means finding an agent for my book who try to sell it to a big publishing house for a cut of my payments from said publisher.  Here's why:

Here's my perspective on things from the writer's side of things:

* I believe traditional publishing is still seen as a gatekeeper for some degree of quality. I believe most of the book-buying public wants to know my writing and my story have been vetted by people knowledgable with the craft.

In order for a no-name, first-time author like me to get published by the bigger publishing houses, my manuscript is going to be currently being heavily edited by an agent before s/he starts shopping it around to editors.  Even when my manuscript gets sold to an editor, that editor is going to want to put his/her mark on my manuscript with some editing 'suggestions' as well.  In short: my published story is going to be as good as an agent and a well-experienced editor believes it can be before it hits the shelves.

* An agent typically earns a 15% commission on the books they sell.  In exchange for that 15% I get an expert in the publishing business who will match my manuscript with the right publishing house and the right editor; I'll get an advocate in the contract negotiation process, someone who knows the ins & outs of contract language, what to expect and what clauses need to be added removed and will fight for me to get the best financial deal possible; I'll get someone who will manage the course of my book while I get back to the business of writing; I'll also get someone who will help me with career guidance and advice, someone who is a advocate for me and my writing career.

Personally, I think that's worth at least 15%.

* By working with a traditional publisher, I will get a professional team to work on making my book look as professional as possible.  My text will be gone over by an actual proof-reader who will make sure words are spelled correctly and my grammer is correct.  Someone in the production department will carefully map out the page layouts.  Someone will be in charge of the design of my book.  A professional artist will be assigned to create the cover art.

In short, the finished work I will hold in my hand and will work to sell will look like a professionally produced book because it is a professionally produced book. 

* Self-publishing, regardless of format, would require me to spend considerably more time selling my book.  In fact, I would likely end up spending more of my time selling myself and my book as I would spend writing my next book.  Sure, traditional publishing requires me to balance writing with selling as well, but the traditional publishing model comes with a publishing house's publicity department behind it.  That publicity department can, at the very least, help me out with some promotional materials, ideas on how and where to promote myself and will work to get my book on bookstore shelves and listed online.

With self-publishing, I would be completely on my own when it comes to marketing your book.

From my years as an elementary school librarian, I know I can put on a good show and entertain people at a book signing.  However, there's a big difference between that and doing all of the sales and publicity work necessary to sell a book in a competitive market.  I know as a first-time author, I will be expected to put forth more effort than a previously-published author, but I should still have some publishing house support behind those promotions.

What are your thoughts on traditional publishing vs self-publishing?  What made you decide one way or the other?  Or, if you are still undecided, what are your thoughts either way?

And, now that you've read my take on this, how about reading what some other writers think?  Below is the list of my fellow writers/bloggers who are posting Their Choice in Publishing today.  Stop by their blogs and read what they have to say!

Heather Kelly: Edited to Within an Inch of My Life
Kristine Asselin Writing. For Real.
Lynn Kelley Lynn Kelley: LynNerd's Random Acts of Writing.
Ansha Kotyk Ansha's Blog - A Writer's View of the World
Tina Laurel Lee Tina Laurel Lee: Watch Me Practice
Anita Laydon Miller Anita Laydon Miller's Middle Grade Blog
Tom M. Franklin Franklin, Ink

-- Tom