First of all, some terms.
Exhibit a) Indie publishing, aka self-publishing, or, if you prefer, self-pubbing (which sounds a lot like the process of turning oneself into an alehouse).
Exhibit b) Traditional publishing, aka trad-publishing (© Andrew Oberg, 2011) and its obvious derivative trad-pubbing (conjuring images of a ghastly Oxbridge bar crawl), and then, finally, the term the industry seems to be pushing, legacy publishing.
Exhibit c) the many-headed hydra, being a hybrid author.
But before we start…
*Disclaimer 1. I’ve yet to publish fiction via any medium (except for BPOs on here, shameless plug 1, shameless plug 2, shameles plug 3). As such, my opnions have been formed by regularly reading writers’/agents’ blogs and by my experiences working with other writers here at Drugstore Books over the last four years.
*Disclaimer 2. If you read this a few months after the publishing date, a little/some/all of it may be out of date. Things are changing so quickly that might even be the case already.
*Disclaimer 3. I’m getting close to finishing a novel I’ve been working on for a few years sodding ever and therefore feel reinvigorated by the nuances of the current publishing climate after many years where I couldn’t have given a monkey’s. Indeed, my lust for the high life has become so acute that I recently bought a 1986 Lamborghini Countach on ebay with my credit card. (The ocelot skin seat covers are divine, unless you’re vegan.) This, however, is not really a disclaimer at all, more like a daydream that’s been foolishly typed out.
When we first started this website, there were still mutterings on the internet about ‘Vanity Publishing’. No more. Indie publishing is not a reluctant last resort; it’s a bona fide choice.
Its main strengths (in no particular order) are: total creative freedom; speed of project completion; it’s fast enough to respond to trends; control over cover design; control over marketing campaign (if you can afford one); you can release via multiple services and platforms (CreateSpace, Lulu, Smashwords, books printed at a print shop etc.); niche genres are welcome and well-suited; and, the author can start earning immediately.
On the negative side, you’re on your own throughout. You have to do everything yourself or outsource stages beyond your capabilities (feedback, revisions, proofreading, artwork/covers, marketing). In addition, you have to organize getting your book reviewed, set up book readings and signings, and arrange radio interviews and schedule promotional work at book festivals — all at your own expense. If you live outside the U.S and sell less than $100 worth of stock then Amazon will never send you any royalty payments. Marketing your book is now a full-time job.
It’s probably still true that a book distributed by a legacy publisher has more cachet than an indie-published book. This is because, at the very least, the reader is guaranteed a basic minimum standard of quality (edits, proofreading, printing). It also implies that industry professionals, at the very least, see some kind of commercial value to the project.
Positive things for the writer include: being able to discuss the project with an agent and get feedback on early drafts; in-house editing and proofreading services; in-house designers for artwork/covers (this I see as a plus because making covers might be lots of fun, but they need to be done by a professional); at the very least, listing in trade journals; probable marketing campaign strategy and support; getting the book into bricks and mortar stores; and, crucially, some form of royalty payment.
Negatives include: getting from being unrepresented to published takes a very long time; even when you’re represented, getting published takes a long time (the legacy machine is slow); reduced control over the book’s content; no control over artwork (and you might hate it); royalties aren’t what they used to be (broadly speaking, for debut writers); marketing isn’t what it used to be (broadly speaking, for debut writers). In fact, modern writers are expected to promote their work tirelessly through social media, book signings and book readings, festivals, radio etc. The publisher will open doors, but much legwork remains. In short, congratulations on getting an agent and publishing deal but hold off on that ’86 Countache with ocelot seats for a while.
Hybrid can mean many things to many people. It can mean self-publishing one of your books and legacy publishing the next. It can mean selling ‘paper book’ rights to a legacy publisher and handling ebook sales yourself (for the same book). Some agents will not take on a client whose book has been self-published. Others most definitely will. Some agents scour Neilsen BookScan looking for writers whose sales have acquired ‘traction’ and then offer to represent them. (I read an interview where an agent mentioned that 5,000 copies sold gets people’s attention.) Even million-seller authors have switched to indie publishing after long careers with legacy publishers (if you don’t believe me, Google it), and authors who started out as indie publishers have gone the other way and been signed by agents and publishers.
If you’re querying agents having already indie-published the same book, do your research and make sure you’re approaching indie-friendly agents. In a nutshell, being a hybrid author means being flexible, at ease in both worlds, and choosing different methods of publication, project-by-project, or, even within one project. It goes without saying that much promotional work needs to be done and that rests with you, the writer.
The common thread here seems to be that in 2014, unless you’re a best-selling author, the onus on real world marketing and raising the book’s profile online rests squarely with the author.
I guess, these days, being a writer is the best of times and the worst of times all at the same time.