Chapter 5: Summary and Discussion
Faced with the prospect of publishing a book, each author must choose whether to query and solicit from traditional presses, or to prepare, publish and market the book alone. Traditional publishing, where a prospective author sends a manuscript to a publisher in the hopes of acceptance and publication, has been the accepted method of producing quality books. However, in recent years, self-publishing has exploded onto the scene, fueled by platforms like Smashwords or Amazon and aided by the internet and social media. ISBN Agency Bowker tracked its growth, reporting that “ the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007” (Bowker). Both of these options are now viable paths to success, be it personal or financial.
Statement of Problem
The market is evolving, and with that change comes confusion, especially for the inexperienced. Both styles of publishing bring their own benefits and flaws; what are they, and how can authors either compensate for, or take advantage of, each? Traditional publishing forces books to be drafted and polished, which can bring out the best in them, but the process typically takes six months or longer. Self-publishing can be much more rapid, but it is also riskier, especially for a novice who thinks that all they need is a well-written story and maybe a nice cover. In either situation, how much work will an author actually have to put into his or her book? Also, in a market with so much variety, frauds can creep in and deceive the inexperienced. Vanity presses may trick authors into paying for the privilege of doing all the work themselves, and of course one might run into a stubborn editor whose vision is drastically different from that of the original author. How is a brand-new author to tell when they are being taken advantage of?
This study will compare these two major options to each other so that authors can make an informed decision. It will seek to answer four basic questions: 1) what are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing, 2) what are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing, 3) what can an author do to help his or her own book, and 4) how can an author avoid being exploited? Since this is a broad field, with many different opinions, perspectives and options, this study will be limited to the market of fiction. Success, a hard thing to measure, will be defined as “a process that results in a quality book the author is proud of.” A number of authors, self-published, traditional and hybrid, have been interviewed, and others have been surveyed as well to discover both common experiences and common perceptions.
Review of Methodology
The internet has been a powerful tool in recent years, allowing authors to connect directly with their readers through blogs, websites and social media. It also allows individuals to publish their ideas with whatever level of outside control they want, allowing for a wider variety of perspectives. Thus initial research for this project took place through the internet, seeking out knowledgeable individuals and commonly cited studies. Once general opinions from both camps were obtained, interviews with various authors were conducted. Most were relatively obscure, but had as many as twelve years of experience and a number of books in various genres on the market. They were questioned about their experiences and recommendations to new authors hoping to enter one field or the other. In addition, a survey was created to obtain more general experiences and perceptions. Authors were questioned about whatever type of publication they chose, as well as their perceptions of the options they did not. Overall, since literary success is as subjective as literary quality, actual experience was the main focus of research.
Summary of Results
1. What are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing?
Most of the authors interviewed agreed that one of the greater benefits of traditional publishing is the focus on quality. These publishers use professional editors, marketers and artists to polish the book. Since they are also established companies, they have network connections to others within the industry, such as bookstores and competitions. The primary flow of money is towards the author, in advances and later royalties. The process is collaborative, allowing the writer to focus on writing and connecting with readers, trusting that the rest of the team will do their jobs.
The primary flaw cited by authors is the length of time it takes–before and after publication. Soliciting and querying can take a very long time, and even after a manuscript has been accepted, it takes months, if not years, for it to hit the shelves. With this trial and error process comes the risk of being rejected, not because a book is bad, but just because it has been sent to the wrong people, which can be highly frustrating. That same collaborative element can limit creative freedom. Publishers are businesses, and thus have to weigh profitability in each choice they make.
2. What are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing?
The reason most of the surveyed authors cited for their choice was “creative freedom.” Self-publishing is independent, managed entirely by the author. Author CSE Cooney, traditionally published in the past and just entering the self-publishing field, suggests that self-publishing might be the right choice if “your product is perhaps TOO unusual, too beautiful, too strange or interstitial or liminal, or you know it’s good, but you also know there are a billion others like it, and the magazines and small presses can only choose the absolute best” (Cooney). Any editors, marketers, printers or other collaborators are selected and paid by the author, and answer to him or her. Probably for this reason, the process is also rapid. It takes less than a week to publish on CreateSpace, even less for Smashwords. This amount of control is very appealing to those who prefer to work alone, or don’t feel their book fits into an existing market niche.
The flip side of this responsibility is that, as the interviewed authors agreed, self-publishing is entrepreneurship. A novice author who takes the wrong shortcuts could end up hurting his or her book’s chances. The work does not end when the book is published; the author is responsible for ongoing marketing and building his or her own platform. For someone primarily interested in writing, self-publishing might not be the best choice.
3. What can writers do to help their own books?
When asked, authors across the board agreed that the industry is evolving. Readers are making decisions based on user reviews and responses, not the seal of quality a publishing house used to represent. Personal connections with one’s readers are invaluable, and word of mouth is one of the best marketing tools any writer can use. A strong web presence, through a blog, website or social media page, will enable readers to get to know the author, as will appearances at places like book signings or conventions. These tools are valuable across the board, regardless of publishing method.
4. How can a writer recognize and avoid exploitation?
In this market, it is easy for a scammer to pose as a small press or a self-publishing foundation. However, there are also a number of resources available to suspicious authors to help identify potential exploiters. Sites like Writers Beware or Predators and Editors list known issues with various publishers, and of course there are other writing forums where past victims describe their experiences. Comparing those lists to each other, and including other writing advice, a number of common threads become clear. A scam will demand that the author pay for everything, but shirk on actually providing services. They combine the costs of self-publishing with the rights loss of traditional publishing, and hike the prices to boot. An informed awareness of market standards in pricing and services would help many authors avoid exploitation.
Relationship of Research to the Field
Although writing and publishing advice are prolific, they tend to be one-sided, either self-publishing or traditional. Often this is dependent on the medium of publication; traditionally published books naturally recommend traditional publishing, and independent authors sing the praises of self-publishing. As self-publishing has grown more and more commonplace, news sites and other experts predicted dramatic changes in the market, such as Forbes’s Nick Morgan declaring that “In an era where the consumer is becoming king, Amazon gets it, and traditional publishers don’t. That spells their doom” (Morgan). While Amazon has had a great deal of success, the traditional publishing industry appears to be going on strong, adapting to the change in some areas. Its services are not wholly outdated. Only a few individuals, like authors Alethea Black, Céline Keating and Michelle Toth, have actually compared the benefits and flaws of their choices (Black, Keating & Toth). This study hopes to show the factors involved so that authors can make that decision with open eyes, and then take advantage of the plethora of experience and wisdom about the chosen method.
Discussion of Results
This research project began with a relatively clear dichotomy between the two types of writing, and the reasons authors chose one or the other. Self-publishing has been famously abused by authors of low caliber and marketing integrity, like Gloria Tesch or Robert Stanek (Edelman). However, research uncovered the reality of crossover and hybrid authorship; a well-timed self-published short story can keep readers eager for the next installment of a long series, and an author with clear success in self-publishing will appear a profitable investment for a publisher. Many of the same legitimate techniques for bonding with one’s readership are used across the board. Because of these similarities, the authors have more positive ideas of other types of publishing than was originally assumed in this paper. It was more a case of the benefits outweighing the flaws that led their decisions, not bad experiences or mindless convenience.
Based on the experiences of authors, agents and others within the publishing industry, both self-publishing and traditional are perfectly valid. Traditional publishing is generally better for those who want to collaborate on their books, who are willing to wait for it to be polished, and who want to see them in bookstores. For those who seek creative independence and efficiency, who are willing and able to handle the business of publishing, self-publishing would be the better option. However, hybridization is common, so unsure writers can experiment to see which fits their situation and talents better. Both choices share many techniques when it comes to connecting with a potential audience, an invaluable aspect of publishing in the modern world. Likewise, both can be paths for exploitation and abuse, unless the author is knowledgeable about the market. Ultimately, whatever an author chooses, there are no shortcuts, if he or she wants a book to be proud of.
Black, Alethea, Keating, Céline and Toth, Michelle. “Decisions, Decisions: Three Different Paths to Publication.” Poets & Writers. pag. 1. 3 May 2012. Web. 27 May 2014.
Cooney, CSE. Email Interview. 22 July 2014.
Edelman, David Louis. “A Guide to Ethical Self-Promotion.” DavidLouisEdelman.com. n. pag. 17 August 2007. Web. 10 July 2014.
Morgan, Nick. “What Is the Future of Publishing?” Forbes.com. n. pag. 12 July 2012. Web. 29 May 2014.
“Self-Publishing Movement Continues Strong Growth in U.S., Says Bowker.” Bowker. ProQuest. n. pag. 9 October 2013. Web. 30 May 2014.