The never-ending discussion of whether it’s better to go indie or go traditional when it comes to your book’s publication just keeps on going, kind of as a way I think for those who are not big-time to get some consolation as to why you can’t get a book deal. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Now I personally do believe that indies have a lot of advantages in terms of control, flexibility, and freedom to write what they want without being cencorsed by corporate interests. However, let’s not kid ourselves: With the exception of 50 shades of grey, which was a once-in-a-lifetime strike of lightning, the A-list trad-pubbed authors outearn and are better-known than the A-list self-published superstars. It’s the trad-pubbed authors whose bestsellers are more likely to be turned into movies, maintain just about every blockbuster franchise, and sell the most merchandise and products (if that’s your thing) over indies, who don’t have the distribution, marketing, or credibility that comes with an established, big-time publisher. Yes, I know there are indie success stories. Bella Andre, whose twitter feed says she’s sold over 4 million books, mostly as a self-published author, just followed me on Twitter and she has the requisite 135k needed to land a major publishing deal, which she did.
However, I doubt Bella is reading my blog right now, and I doubt Hugh Howey or J.A. Konrath are either (howdy y’all, during National Teacher Appreciation Week 2015 in case you read this in the future- and please don’t unfollow me! It hurts my feelings). So let’s talk about why if you’re deciding to self-pub or find an agent to traditionally publish with, just stop.
First off, the odds are astronomically impossible that you will get an agent to request your full manuscript, let alone agree to an exclusive contract with you, let alone actually find a publisher who wants to buy your work, unless you have a major “platform”, meaning either online or terrestrial. So if you can count big-name talk show hosts or celebrities as BFF’s who will promote your book, then congrats. Here’s your contract.
- If you have a column in a national newspaper, or you’re a reporter for a big magazine or newspaper, or some other well-trafficked outlet, that’s a solid platform and if your book is at least solid, if not spectacular, then here’s your contract.
- If you can count millions, or apparently billions, of Wattpad reads for your stories, or you have publicity on another high-trafficked site, stop. Here’s your contract.
- If you can pull out a list of at least fifteen thousand e-mail subscribers to your blog or website, who are clamoring for your next book, and it’s good if not great, here’s your contract.
- If you’ve won major (and I mean MAJOR) literary awards, like a Hugo or Corretta Scott King Book Award, and you have at least some type of web presence, you can probably snag yourself a book deal.
- If you have already self-published and can show at least fifty thousand sales, preferably in the $2.99 or above range, hold on there little fella, you just might land yourself a book deal from a publishing house.
- On some occasions, if you are lucky enough to get noticed by a small, independent publisher willing to take a chance on you, you can get your book published by an actual company, with or without representation. Just don’t expect your book to end up in bookstores nationwide, because many small presses don’t have much better print on demand (POD) access or distribution than you could get on your own.
If you are still reading this and didn’t get your contract yet, then you don’t have a massive platform, don’t have enough A- or B- list celebrities who can endorse your work, don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of e-mail subscribers asking for your next book, don’t have a major literary award, and you can’t show indie sales in the mid-5 figures or above, then exactly why are you spending your time trying to query agents? Unless you have a masochistic fetish, you will be hurt when those rejection letters come in. And the worst part is, you will never know if your book was rejected because a) it’s been done ten thousand times before, b) it just flat out sucks, c) your attitude was unprofessional, d) your platform wasn’t considered big enough to sell enough copies to justify the agent spending her time trying to place it, or e) the agent was just overwhelmed with reading too many queries when they have to promote their current list of authors, or go to YouTube conventions/reality TV show sets to find their next writer. You will get a friendly letter of “thank you for your book, but I’m going to pass” with no explanation why.
So what is likely to happen is, you will automatically end up self-publishing as an indie. You can either just go it totally alone, or get published with a very small, truly independent press, which I will count as self-pubbed since you will do a LOT of your own promotion, and you will still have to be on top of your publisher to make sure the book was edited and produced to high standards. You simply won’t be able to do that with a major publisher.
IF you are good/lucky/persistent, you might be able to sell enough copies that some agents will call or e-mail YOU and talk to you about whether you’d like to sign a contract with one (agent) so s/he can help you with traditional print publishing rights, overseas rights, movie rights, etc. You may yet get that traditional publishing deal, which does have advantages over going alone. Namely, the ability to sell and collect money in foreign countries, get your book translated (well or poorly, I have no comment since I don’t know) into multiple languages as opposed to finding translators or learning a lot of languages really quickly, the ease of having your book sold in bookstores and having distribution handled, the increased likelihood of seeing your book turned into a movie (unless you have great connections), the increased odds of winning the very book awards which keep you contracted, and the ease of having other productions like audiobooks handled, which leaves you free to write, do social media, and maybe sell some merchandise on the side if you don’t have a licensing deal in place with a company.
Given that the barrier between indie and traditional is blurred, and that you can still get that book contract if you want it, why even consider otherwise? Even if you don’t want a traditional book deal, for many reasons like loss of control, no compete clauses, mediocre or poor advance, lack of trust in the publisher or agent to properly handle matters, or any other reason, circumstances can always change your mind.
So go indie. It isn’t like you have a real choice now anyway.