Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How to Decide Between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

By: Bruno Somerset

In years past, the only way to get a novel published was through what we now refer to as "traditional publishers". Today, however, technology has made self-publishing a viable alternative for many authors. To properly assess traditional publishing vs. self-publishing as a means of getting your novel to readers, you must first understand the realities of each method. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and in the end, it is up to each individual writer to decide which choice's pros outweigh its cons.

Being published by a major (or even minor) "traditional" publishing house is the goal of nearly everyone who has completed a novel. We envision huge advances, even bigger royalty checks, movie deals, and no more 9 to 5 job. It rarely happens that way. Most of the time you need an agent first, because publishers usually won't accept manuscripts from anyone but agents. Agents often only accept query letters, not full manuscripts or even sample chapters, and you need to be prepared for a deluge of form rejection letters that may not even spell your name right. If you do get an agent, there is no guarantee he will be able to sell your novel to a publisher, and if he does, he will gladly take 15% of everything you earn for his trouble.

After acceptance by a publisher, it will be at least a year or more of editors changing your novel in a seemingly arbitrary way. This will be followed by more delays because it wasn't finished in time for the most current catalogue they are sending to booksellers. And while you weren't looking, they slipped a clause into your contract that requires you to pay back part of the advance if the book doesn't sell enough copies for royalties to cover it. They will handle the cover art, and you may even have some input. But be ready to do all the publicity yourself, because unless your name is Grisham or King, they're not going to do it for you.

Self-publishing has just as many difficulties, but in my opinion, the pros here do outweigh the cons. To clarify, vanity publishing and subsidy publishing are not what I consider self-publishing. More often than not, they are simply scams. True self-publishing companies include Xlibris, iUniverse, Cold Tree Press, and Lulu. Of these only Lulu (www.lulu.com) charges no fees for their service; they only make money on copies of your book that actually sell.

With self-publishing, you have to hire a freelance editor; do not trust your best friend who was an English major to do this for you. You will do most of the work yourself, or pay a hefty fee for a publishing package to do it for you: cover design, layout, reviews, and many other things. You will have to market yourself, but as mentioned earlier, this is true for traditional publishing as well.

The most difficult aspect of self-publishing is getting placement in brick-and-mortar bookstores. An ISBN will get you listed in Books in Print, which nearly always leads to listing on Amazon.com, Borders.com, and other retailer's websites. But because most self-published books are published using Print On Demand (POD)Technology, and POD companies do not accept returns, most bookstores are hesitant to carry them. Bookselling is one of the few industries left that still expect not only a huge discount from wholesalers, but the ability to return for full credit anything they don't sell.

Your best hope of getting into stores is to sell enough online that they can't ignore you. Advertise it on your website, your blog, and every other online presence you have. Utilize your e-mail distribution list, as well as those of your friends and family. But even if this doesn't make the bookstores take notice, enough books are sold online every year for you to attract a wide audience through aggressive marketing and positive word of mouth. And you don't have to give 15% to an agent in the process.

In the end, while you may want to keep sending queries in the hope that someday a publisher will actually read your manuscript, you might want to give self-publishing a try. It sure beats waiting on rejection letters.

Source: Associatedcontent.com

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