Happy New Year everyone, welcome to 2022, and my first post of the year! May you all have a safe and prosperous 2022!
I’m going to start the year off (and periodically revisit throughout this year in other blog posts) some thoughts that I believe are weighing heavily on the minds of many a self-published fiction author, and many an aspiring fiction author who has not yet published and is considering what avenue to take to publish their book.
Should I pursue traditional publishing, or not? Why do I prefer one (self-publishing versus traditionally publishing) to the other? What avenue best suits my needs and wants as a writer? What are the advantages and disadvantages to the different methods of publishing?
There was a time in the not-so-distant past (I’d say three decades ago, for sure) this question was a non-starter. Traditional publishing, essentially, was THE WAY. The only viable way towards critical acclaim, financial success in the writing world, getting into major bookstores, and just about every other advantage that most writers seek when pursuing an agent, trying to get a book deal, and having a “big five” house emblem on the spine of their book.
But the landscape is changing and evolving. Self-publishing, for many authors, is becoming quite lucrative, gaining them fame and recognition, and achieving all the dreams they may have initially felt was exclusively tied to big trad publishing. Some self-published writers still make the leap to traditional houses after successfully publishing their own books, come back to self-pub, and jump back to traditionally-published, or mix and match different books or series, publishing them by different means.
But it would seem, more and more, writers are either chasing the traditionally published dream to fruition – no matter how long it takes, and it usually takes a lot of time – or self-pubbing. And once self-published, those writers either staying that course (and only tepidly pursuing traditional publishing “on the side”) while enjoying the creative freedom, exclusivity of rights, popularity, and yes, even sometimes making money, and a lot of it, from self-publishing, OR continue to full-on chase an agent and a book deal.
This post is not to discourage anyone from trying to be published one way or another. Yet, I believe some salient examinations of the facts are in order.
The odds are, unfortunately, unless you are very well-connected in the traditionally publishing world, or have a ready-made audience, a lot of influence, or are already a “known” commodity in the trad publishing world (with previous big traditionally-published sales), it is very difficult (but not impossible of course) to get an agent, and a trad book deal.
Traditional publishing houses are profit-driven. They are businesses, first, last, and always. It’s all about what they believe will sell, and everything else matters less than that. There’s nothing wrong with this, simply stating facts of the industry. Therefore, trad houses tend to be risk averse, and want the surety of success. If you are new author who happens to also be an ex-political leader, movie star, or some other sort of celebrity, etc. the likelihood of you obtaining an agent and a book deal is EXTREMELY HIGH, because the traditional publishing house will be confident you can sell. If you are not one of those people, the likelihood is very much lower. Again, not impossible, but very hard.
It seems to be a LOT easier if you have been a successful self-published writer, with a proven sales track record, readership & fans, perhaps some writing awards to your credit, a strong social media presence and following, to attract the attention of a big trad house.
For an example of this, look no further than some of the self-published authors who have been semi-finalists, finalists, and winners of traditionally published fantasy star Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO). Several of those authors who earn at least a semi-finals berth in this very public and renowned showcase of self-published fantasy talent (most of whom are established, and well-known Indie writers), have managed to gain a lot of additional credibility, and draw the attention of big traditional houses, by placing in SPFBO.
Thus, riding the heels, specifically, of SPFBO success, these writers have won the big book-deal. Justin Lee Anderson, Josiah Bancroft, Jonathan French, Devin Madson, and more, are just some of the names who, after ticking the box of “some writing awards to your credit”, have signed on the dotted line with big traditional houses.
To reiterate, while winning any writing contest, or even winning lots of them, won’t assure you get a six-figure deal, there seems to be a (growing) definite correlation between being a lauded and popular self-published author, and having someone like Random House be willing to gamble on your ability to make them lots of money. To learn more about the upside of competing for writing awards, and some of the other benefits of entering a contest like SPFBO, please read my blog post here.
In conclusion, being a well-established self-published author with tons of great reviews, and awards bearing your name does not guarantee you will get picked up by Hachette, or HarperCollins, or Macmillan, or Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster, or one of their imprints. Still, being a successful self-published author does provide your agent with much more ammunition in your favour, when they attempt to shop your book to one of those big publishing houses.
Especially because, in the new reality, traditionally-published authors are expected to do more and more in terms of marketing of their books. Self-published authors tend to have a lot of expertise with this, and beyond – i.e. printing, copyright, cover design, website design, running book sales, participating in podcasts and bookfairs, and much more. So an established and experienced, business-savvy self-pub, is going to have a great chance for success as a traditionally published author.
And that’s great news for all the self-published authors out there!
We’ll return to this topic and explore more on it, in later blogs!
In the meantime, you may find my article written in Jericho Writers about hybrid publishing interesting.
Please feel free to comment on this and future blogs and I will be sure to get back to you. Chat soon!
P.L. Stuart's Blog
I am a Canadian high fantasy author. My debut novel, A Drowned Kingdom - first in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, is now available! Book 2 in The Drowned Kingdom Saga, The Last of the Atalanteans, is now available here!