Traditional or Self-Publishing?

For ages, I’ve been considering the question of whether to self-publish my novel “27” or to seek traditional representation. A couple of months ago, I couldn’t decide, and so as I often do in these situations, I decided that I would just pursue both options and see which one worked.

Using a very useful spreadsheet from the Writers’ Workshop (available here) I went through all the UK agents, looked at each of their websites and shortlisted them based on these criteria:

  • – Represents authors I have heard of
  • – Open-minded about new writers
  • – Good website and seems au fait with social media (The target audience for my work is 20/30-somethings so I wanted to select an agent who understood this audience)

I got as far as a shortlist of 20, and then I spent two days drafting a query letter.

Then I stopped to think. Stopping to think is sometimes dangerous as it can lead to inaction. On this occasion though, I think it stopped me from wasting time.

  • I thought about the ratio of query letters to publishing contracts (less than 1 in 5,000?)
  • I thought about the length of time, it takes to i) get an agent ii) get a publisher iii) get published ~ let’s say a year each for i) and ii) and 2 years for editing and marketing in part iii) – so 4 years in total (if your book is what they are looking for)
  • And then I asked myself where will traditional publishers be in 4 years? I suspect that with the way the market is going, some of them won’t even exist.

So do I want a traditional publisher? Well, I wouldn’t say no if one tapped me on the shoulder right now and offered me a good deal. But for the time being I think I’ll try self publishing.

8 thoughts on “Traditional or Self-Publishing?

  1. Self-publishing does not come free or cheaply, Ruth and marketing is really problematic, as I’m finding.. Only self-publish if it’s with money you can do without. Yes, it’s great to see the published final product of all one’s hard work but it’s also heart-breaking to have to hawk copies around and end up selling only to family and friends.
    With all the printed rubbish out there, one begins to wonder what ‘traditional’ or ‘mainstream’ publishers and editors are looking for. If you know, perhaps you’ll tell me!

    • Totally agree Bel. I’m planning to spend money on editing and book cover design at the very least. I’m either going publish Print on Demand through Lulu or get the printing done in Thailand to save costs. Also, in terms of marketing, you have to consider what a traditional publishers offer. Lots of contracts for first time authors don’t include marketing, which means you’re still doing it yourself. I’ve been doing a bit of a looking around on Amazon lately looking at some new traditionally published books to see their rankings and although some are incredibly successful, some sink. And when you first see a book on Amazon you can’t tell who the publisher is. So how much does the publisher influence the readers buying habits when there is no marketing budget?

      In terms of what traditional publishers and editors are looking for – who knows!

      • Any publisher would be dieglhted to publish your work *if* they thought they could make a profit by so doing. That means your stories have to stand on their own merits against published stories written by adults. Being merely good for your age isn’t going to cut it.As an aside, most of the major publishers (the ones who can get your book into bookshops) won’t consider your book unless you have an agent. An agent’s job is to sift through the thousands of mostly-unreadable manuscripts that wannabe authors send him every year and forward the ten or twenty that he thinks stand a chance to whichever publisher(s) he thinks will be most interested in them.

        • I agree. “If they think it will be profitable….” But there is a lot of subjectivity in that judgement. I read somewhere that only 1 in 5 of books released by major publishers are actually profitable, so I don’t think publishers have a crystal ball when they are thinking trends and profitability. However, they probably do have access to a lot of research which will help.

    • I agree to find the information to use the best would be the Writers Market book, and or wisbete. Further contact the publishing company and see the response. If they give you a contact address, phone number and email or wisbete then you can check them out first hand rather than relying on third parties information. I find the online ezines, such listed Editors and Preditors, Absolute Write and a few others tend to call themselves experts when they really are a group of writers testing the marketplace and list publishers and agents under the Writer’s Beware without clarification or notification of any kind to the agents or publishing companies.

      • The Writers & Artists book in the UK is also very good for finding UK agents and publishers. There doesn’t seem to be a Kindle edition though, which is odd.

  2. There, there. Of course he’s wrong, but the psiublhing industry wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now if they hadn’t become so entrenched in their opinions.Sure, it *used* to be that vanity presses put out shoddy work. It’s probably still true, because they’re simply printing presses they’re not small publishers, and newb authors didn’t know the difference, and in that sense they were preyed on. But really, that was the 90s. Where has this guy been?Nowadays, yes, traditional psiublhing is about gatekeepers, and also to a lesser extent it’s about status. There’s still a cachet to having your business book published by Simon and Schuster: it signals to the rest of your status conscious world that You Have Arrived. So in the sense that it’s a well-trod (but quickly disappearing) path to the recognition you crave, traditional psiublhing still serves it’s authors in some small way.But if you *really* care about your ideas, and want to incubate and nurture them, you’ll start a blog, be active in forums, spread your ideas far and wide, and keep a nice POD or e-book on your sidebar for fans to explore.

    • Thanks for commenting. I agree that it’s nice to be able to say “I was published by x traditional publisher.” But I don’t think it’s so nice that it justifies the kind of royalties they take. As you say, blogging and POD/e-books seem to be a good way forward.

Comments are closed.