Chapter 4: Results of the Study
This study sets out to compare and contrast the factors of different methods of publishing, in order to allow authors to evaluate the risks and benefits, and find the best option for themselves. In order to do this, it will ask what are 1) the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing, 2) the benefits and flaws of self-publishing, 3) how can writers improve their own books and their chances, and 4) how can they recognize and avoid exploitation in a market with so many possibilities. A number of authors, primarily self-published, have been interviewed, and others have been surveyed as well to discover both common experiences and common perceptions.
1. What are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing?
The main benefits of a traditional press are, ideally, the expertise of its people in crafting and marketing a book. Their contacts within the industry help put books into major bookstores, which even profitable and famous self-publishing presses like lulu.com and Smashwords cannot typically do. In some cases, as with author and illustrator Bonnie Watson, an arrangement with a traditional press can lead to unexpected opportunities: “It threw business my way since I became sole graphic designer for the publisher who did my books” (Watson). Even small presses can connect with various professionals to create a quality manuscript.
However, the process can be time-consuming. Traditionally published author Geri Krotow recalls from her own experience, “The worst part is the wait—it took me 6 years of submissions (and rejections!) to sell. But this is good because it forced me to keep learning and improving my writing” (Krotow). The average time between acceptance of a manuscript and publication is two years (Laube) (Doyen) (WritersServices). For those who choose a small press, the uncertainty both in production and sales echoes the troubles of a self-published writer. Thus, in this evolving market, many tools and tricks of self-publishing and self-marketing have become more useful to even traditional authors. Essentially, traditional publishing is best for authors who 1) want to focus on writing, 2) finds the process of submission, rejection and revision useful instead of frustrating, and 3) can wait for publication.
2. What are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing?
Self-publishing has been a polarizing issue in the past. Either acclaimed for undercutting publisher monopolies and granting creative freedom, or decried as a way for writers to sidestep benchmarks of quality, it is becoming less controversial as its users grow in skill. In fact, for some it can be a step towards a traditional contract. After all, an author who has an established fanbase and track record of quality writing is much less of a financial gamble than a completely new writer. As Bonnie Watson recalls:
I really have no regrets. It was a nice learning curb [sic] that slowly transitioned the more I studied between the different companies. I knew where I wanted to go. It was only a matter of time before I could get there. So what’s there to miss about self-publishing? I suppose it would be the fact that I could control my prices, change up books on the whelm [sic]. Not so much now, at least with print. Now eBooks… that’s a different story.
As demonstrated in the survey (see Appendices A and B), self-published authors typically choose this path for its speed and creative freedom, and agree that it is an entrepreneurial endeavor. Author Kimberly Herbert, who first entered the self-publishing arena twelve years ago, “In order to be a successful self-published author, one must have that drive to get their work out into a very crowded market” (Herbert). Some authors might not be well-suited to self-publishing, either because they have little time or experience in marketing, or because in their haste to finish their book they turn out a shoddy product. Self-publishing would be best for authors who 1) value creative freedom and efficiency, 2) can afford the time and money to handle all aspects of publishing, and 3) make their own standards of quality.
3. What can writers do to help their own books?
Speaking from experience in both fields, Bonnie Watson says, “Marketing is still a big factor and is very expensive” (Watson). In her interview she mentioned that she was offering free PDF’s of her books in exchange for Amazon reviews as a promotional tactic. Word-of-mouth marketing, through reviews, social media or even conversation, is a versatile and useful tool. According to Kimberly Grabas of The Writer’s Platform, it is “the most powerful way to market your book” (Grabas). Other techniques include an author’s website, virtual tours by guest-writing on other writers’ blogs, and various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. All of these connect directly with potential readers, as well as other writers who can help and cross-promote. In an evolving market, an author must be willing to work for his or her own book’s success, no matter how it was published.
4. How can a writer recognize and avoid exploitation?
With the world of publishing opening up in new ways, room has been made for scammers and con men to take advantage of the unsuspecting. They can take the guise of small independent presses, self-publishers or even platforms managed by famous traditional publishers, meaning that old chestnuts like “follow the money” are tricky to apply. However, an author who fully understands what he or she has signed up for should still be able to recognize a company that is taking more than it has worked for. In an article detailing how to identify a vanity publisher, Chris Holifield points out that self-publishing “is very much cheaper than vanity publishing, as it generally uses print on demand and books are only produced when they are required. Equally importantly, the author is in charge and keeps all their rights. This means that they continue to control their own destiny and are not at the mercy of a possibly crooked publisher” (Holifield, emphasis original). That freedom is one of its primary appeals, after all. Whatever choice an author makes, he or she should research and understand it, not blindly ship his or her book off for “publication.”
Doyen, Barbara. “How long does it take to publish my book?” BarbaraDoyen.com. n. pag. n. date. Web. 28 June 2014.
Holifield, Chris. “Vanity Publishing.” WritersServices.com. n. pag. 2006-13. Web. 30 May 2014.
“How long does it take to publish a book?” WritersServices.com. n. pag. n. date. Web. 28 June 2014. A breakdown of the time it takes to publish a book, comparing traditional and self-publishing.
Krotow, Geri. Email interview. 27 June 2014.
Laube, Steve. “How Long Does it Take to Get Published?” SteveLaube.com. n. pag. 8 March 2011. Web. 28 June 2014.
Watson, Bonnie. Email interview. 27 June 2014.