Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why does it have to be one way or the other?

I find myself in a unique situation in that I have one foot in each of the publishing genres:
  • Self publishing my husband's Riyria Revelations
  • Small press publishing 15 titles by Ridan authors
  • Traditionally publishing a series with Orbit books (fantasy division of #2 Big Press Hachette)

It seems as though there is a lot of "anti-traditional" sentiment out there these days. I can understand from whence it comes. The industry has a number of problems and challenges including:

  • Not enough bandwidth to produce all the good books they are submitted
  • Slow moving - typically 12 - 18 months to get a book to market
  • Distribution system that results in 50% returns
  • Erosion of the Best Seller Lists by low priced indie books
  • Authors who don't make enough to "quit their day jobs"
I can totally understand the battle cry of the independents that sing songs now that the oppressive yolks of the publishing masters is off their necks. I totally believe that for a new author the best path to earning a living wage is with going solo. But is that to mean there is no place for traditional publishing anymore?

As I wrote in my Write2Publish short - it really depends on what your goals are - if money is your primary motivation - I suggest indie. If recognition is a primary goal - I suggest traditional. Neither goal is better than the other - they are just different.

I totally don't understand the one way or the other mentality. Why can't there be value in both?
Michael is going with Orbit in the hopes of reaching a larger audience. But what about his books not under contract? Well one of several things can happen.
  1. Orbit doesn't find the next book interesting enough - easy solution - self publish next
  2. Orbit does a terrible job with Riyria (which I doubt) - easy solution - self publish next
  3. Orbit does a great job with Riyria, is interested, and willing to a more equitable distribution of ebook royalties - traditionally publish next
  4. Orbit does a great job with Riyria, is interested, and not willing to a more equitable distribution of ebook royalties - self publish next

Look Mom...options...how is this not a good thing?

Let's say that his next book is not published through Orbit (or any other traditional publisher)...it doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't like them, or they don't like him. It could mean that they didn't agree on terms. There is no good or bad guy in this situation. It just means that there was not a "good fit" as both parties couldn't get what they were looking for out of the deal.

But...so what...Orbit's books will benefit from readers who find Michael's other books first and want to read more. Michael will benefit from people who read Orbit's books and want to read more. It is a symbiotic relationship - a win-win for both parties.

There are a lot of people who are realizing this and I think, ultimately they will have their cake and eat it to. Some examples:

  • Bob Mayer - New York Times Best Selling author who has now opened his own indie press similar to what Ridan is doing - hand picking who he thinks will produce.
  • Bella Andre - Romance and Erotica writer who has a huge following developed through traditional publishing who is now making huge $$'s self-publishing (NOTE: She is resisting the $0.99 lemming effect and sells well at $2.99, $4.49, $4.99 and $5.99)
  • Julianne MacLean - who has traditionally published dozens of books from three different publishers and now has a top Ranked self published book: Color of Heaven

There are many today that say anyone signing a traditional contract is a fool...I think it is as legitimate a strategy to a higher audience as bargain basement discounting. Will it produce more $'s - nope probably not - but is that the only yardstick we are talking about?

I guess my point here is people think hard and long on the decisions between self and traditional and to berate them because they don't make a choice that fits with your goals is wrong. To each his own I say. Live and let live - offer advice sure...heck I offer a lot of advice here. But whatever you choice you make, if it is well informed then I'm confident that it is right for you.

16 comments:

rdlecoeur said...

'it really depends on what your goals are - if money is your primary motivation - I suggest indie. If recognition is a primary goal - I suggest traditional.'
I think that there are a great many other reasons why people publish and also a great many other reasons why some people shouldn't!
Some will rise meteorically, for others it'll be the long hard road that could take years to build up a following.
How you decide to do it, is entirely up to the individual. Just because team Sullivan have chosen their route, I really do not see any reason to defend it at all. It's a business decision, your business and nobody else's.
BTW. Love the 'lemming' analogy.
Best as ever,
Roy

Robert Bidinotto said...

Robin, you have been more than fair in laying out the various publishing alternatives for authors, and in emphasizing that it is all a matter of trade-offs. The choices we make ultimately depend upon our personal priorities -- and everyone's priorities aren't the same.

In my case, I seek both the income potential and creative independence that self-publishing offers. But I don't argue that the Traditional route doesn't have significant rewards for certain authors.

I remember that silly old song about the guy who wants to get his picture "on the cover of the Rolling Stone." Hey, if that's what he wanted, great. But more seriously, you're right in saying that Traditional Publishing can generate widespread visibility for an author's works, and in venues currently denied to Indie authors: e.g., the NYT bestseller list, chain bookstores, major reviewers, even Hollywood. As you've also pointed out, those venues can bring an author to the attention of new, large, and important audiences.

So, pursuing Traditional publication (even if there is an income trade-off) might make perfect sense as part of a given author's long-term career strategy -- at least while the Traditional presses still leave such huge footprints in our culture.

Finally, you're right in saying there is no univeral Good or Bad alternative here. It all depends on what a specific author wants or needs at a particular time.

Thanks for helping to clarify exactly what all the trade-offs are, so that we can make our publishing choices with our eyes wide open.

--Robert Bidinotto
RobertTheWriter.com

Alan Ryker said...

I love teaching creative writing. It's amazing. In ten years, if I have the opportunity, I might want to dial my writing back a bit and teach at an MFA. For that, I'll need traditional pubs. To teach in an MFA program, that'll require both journals and a traditionally published collection, minimum. So while I'm going self-pub right now, because I want to try to support myself with my writing, I'm not at all closing off the idea of a traditional book deal.

Merrill Heath said...

Nice article, Robin. I agree. It doesn't have to be one way or the other. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Likewise, there is value in both methods. It all depends on what you want to do and what each method offers.

The problem is that many writers only have the option of self-pubbing. Not because their work isn't any good or isn't marketable or won't sell. It's purely a numbers game and it never has a chance to be "discovered."

It's interesting. Basically, the slush pile is moving from the publisher's mail room to the Kindle and Nook and Smashwords.

Merrill Heath
Consequences

wannabuy said...

Robin,

I will be very interested to see how this slit approach pans out.

I think the exposure will be a great thing. After watching a 'feeding frenzy' over a pallet of books at a big box store last November, I'm convinced 'mind-share' is more easily won by being on a strategic shelf.

I think it will cost cash... but you're going in 'eyes wide open.' It is about other aspects.

Alan also has a good point, certain 'academic careers' require proof of being published.

Good luck and please keep blogging the experience.
Neil

Bella Andre said...

Robin,

Hey there! I have such respect for you and your husband - I loved finding myself on your blog. :)

Interestingly, my agent actually asked me if I would write a blog on this very subject: Why I'm choosing to both epublish and NY publish simultaneously.

Honestly, it feels like the best of all worlds to me right now. My epublishing success has opened up a whole new world of options - and my publisher (Grand Central Forever, which is a subsidiary of Hachette) - is beyond thrilled at the tens of thousands of new readers my self-published books are picking up every single month. My first book with Grand Central is actually going to be under a new name - Bella Riley, HOME SWEET HOME, Sept 2011 - but they're planning doing everything they can to pull the Bella Andre readers in along with capturing new markets (i.e. fans of #1 bestseller Debbie Macomber and Susan Wiggs fans - my Bella Riley series is set on a lake and knitting store) with these sweeter, less sexy, small town books. (My first super-sexy Bella Andre mass market paperback with them will be out in summer 2012. They will be releasing 5 of my books in 18 months.)

In any case, I'm excited about all of it, especially the fact that more than 1,000 of my self-published ebooks are being sold and read every day! It's been an absolutely thrilling 11 months since I first put up my first 2 books on Kindle.

As for pricing, those were just the prices that seemed to make sense when I put up each of my books. It will be interesting to see where pricing goes over the next months.

:) Bella
http://www.BellaAndre.com

Tara Maya said...

I think it's pretty cool you will be gaining experience with all three main ways of publishing, and I look forward to your blog posts on how it goes. I think this is such a unique time in publishing history, having a foot in both courts is surely an advantage.

Robin Sullivan said...

Merrill Heath said... It's interesting. Basically, the slush pile is moving from the publisher's mail room to the Kindle and Nook and Smashwords.

Exactly...I personally think that a new author should put their books out there, make some money, build an audience, and THEN the traditional COULD come. The chances are about the same as the agent route - but you also get readers, feedback and cash in the meantime.

Robin Sullivan said...

@wannabuy said...I think it will cost cash... but you're going in 'eyes wide open.' It is about other aspects.

Agreed - I think it will cost cash - and probably a lot but money was never Mike's goal for writing - it was to get read - so if we can get more readers with less money - we're pleased.

I think the only thing we really want is enough so that both of us can devote full time effort to his books and as long as those costs are covered we're "good".

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey Bella - welcome to the blog - I really like your model and will be keeping an eye on where things go - Orbit is an impring of Hachette as well so we're under the same umbrella.

Nancy Beck said...

I totally don't understand the one way or the other mentality. Why can't there be value in both?

QFT.

This is it exactly. What works for me might not work for you but might work for the next writer down the line.

Depends on a lot of different things.

You just have to look at yourself honestly and decide what works best - for yourself.

And stop bashing! Sheesh, it's getting so that I don't like going on my fave writing site anymore, with the "trads" bashing the "indies" and vice versa.

What happened to writers helping - supporting - other writers?

I was considering my own rant/whatever, and so I linked to this...and did a (sort of) rant anyway (scheduled for next Wednesday, the 23rd :-)).

Thanks for this.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Nancy - I totally agree - it seems almost as bad as political fighting these days.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - writing is a hard, hard life. I agree that we should band together and stop the infighting.

And while we're at it lets stop the publsiher bashing - they are not the devil incarnate who hate and want nothing more than to abuse authors.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Thanks Tara - I've "learned" about all I could about traditional without being involved so I'm really looking forward to rounding out my experiences in this regard.

Melissa Romo said...

Great, great post, Robin. I am trying to decide which way to go - indie or traditional - and I posted today about my fears on the terrible price war that has erupted because of new indie authors giving away their books or selling for cheap in order to attract readers. It scares me, either way I go.

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey Melissa, I'm also afraid of the race for the bottom - but Ridan's books still sell well at $4.95 (and one at $6.95) so you don't HAVE to jump on that bandwagon.

There are a few people who have been very successful with that technique (see my post from Julianne MacLean) but noticed she used $0.99 VERY temporary to get high in the rankings then she raised her prices.

Don't be scared. There are more opportunities now than ever - sometimes we use fear to give us an excuse not to do anything so if I could give you some advice I say "jump in and start swimming".

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