New authors face a serious dilemma: Traditional publishing or indie publishing. For the majority, their publishing dream is rooted in the traditional publishing world, and includes a nice advance and then semi-annual royalty checks. Most begin by seeking representation by a literary agent, or by contacting publishers directly. Then, after many rejections and growing frustration, they self-publish on Amazon, Smashwords, or some other self-publishing platform. Some will be successful — we are all familiar with the stories of John Locke, Hugh Howey and a few others — but most will not be.
My approach was different. I never considered the traditional publishing route. Not because I didn’t think my novels were good enough. To the contrary, I think my books are better than anything I’ve read from a traditional publisher in the last five years. (OK, I’m entitled to an opinion on this.) I have no doubt that, in time, I would have secured a traditional publishing contract and gotten my books into brick and mortar bookstores. But, I did a lot of research and decided that wasn’t the best approach for me. Here is what I found:
1. Agents and publishers are swamped with submissions, most in the form of query letters that include a short 200 to 400 word synopsis of the author’s 100,000 word creation. Their evaluation of the novel’s potential will occur in seconds, not minutes or hours. Personally, I think it’s very unlikely that even a well-meaning agent or editor is going to get a good picture of the book’s potential based on a query letter. In fact, some of the most successful books of recent years were rejected many times before they were eventually accepted. I have read that The Help, one of the most successful books of the last decade, was rejected 60 times before it was accepted. That means that one reader in 61 got it.
2. In today’s business environment, publishers don’t budget marketing funds for new authors. So, even if one agrees to publish your novel, most of the marketing effort (and expense) is still going to come from the author. They will provide cover art and editing, but based on what I’ve seen in recent years, you may want to hire your own editor.
3. Royalty advances for new authors are miniscule. While the publishing industry doesn’t disclose these numbers, anecdotal evidence based on the comments of many writers and bloggers indicates that advances for first time authors range from $2,000 to $7,500, largely based on genre. And with no marketing budget to support sales, most of these never pay out.
I was 60 years old when I wrote my first novel, which I think made the choice easier for me. I couldn’t see spending a year or two chasing a contract and then another year waiting for publication. All for a few thousand bucks. I decided to find a good editor and publish my own work. I’ve also had the time to publish the second book and to start on the third.