Okay, here we go at last. I’m leaving out some of the MLA-related details, like the title page and table of contents, because those don’t quite work on a blog. I’m also splitting up the Works Cited pages so that each post is self-contained in its references.
To be honest, I’m not particularly happy with my title. It’s rather wordy, and I have to keep using the word “entrepreneur” for each post. Titles tend to be a problem for me, so if you have any ideas for a snappier one I’d be happy to hear them. With that said, let’s begin.
Both traditional and self-publishing bring their own benefits and flaws, which prospective authors should weigh before choosing one or the other. This study hopes to answer 1) what are the benefits and flaws of traditional publishing, 2) what are the benefits and flaws of self-publishing, 3) what can any author do to aid the success of his or her own book, regardless of publishing method, and 4) how can he or she avoid exploitation in an evolving industry? To answer these questions, a variety of internet and firsthand sources were tapped, primarily authors from one or both styles of publication. A few common traits were found. Typically traditional publishing is slower, but more collaborative and connected to other partners in the industry, such as bookstores, while self-publishing is an entrepreneurial endeavor with a great deal of freedom and responsibility. Internet marketing and personal connections with readers were invaluable regardless of publishing method. Vanity publishers and scammers can pose as any type of press, but there are a number of resources available to authors if they choose to investigate their options. Ultimately each writer must choose for him or herself, based on his or her unique circumstances, how to publish.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Every prospective writer faces a crossroad. Once the draft is finalized, the mistakes polished and the secondary readers pacified, the author must choose: self-publishing, or a traditional press? Writing and publishing advice is plentiful, but not always helpful, and those with experience tend to be biased towards whichever path they have already chosen. What turns one person into a bestselling author may bankrupt another due to talents, circumstances or simple luck. How do authors, particularly brand-new ones, decide which is the better path for them? Each side has its own benefits and negatives, which will have to be weighed so that authors can decide for themselves. However, the difference is not as wide as it has been in the past, either in options or in shared techniques.
Background of the Topic
The format of traditional publishing has little variation between publishing houses. An author, with or without a literary agent, turns in a manuscript, perhaps accompanied by a query letter or book package. If the publisher accepts it, the book is edited, polished and marketed to the masses, with both parties taking a portion of the profits. Otherwise, it is rejected for the author to continue drafting, or to send elsewhere. A publisher acted as a benchmark, theoretically keeping poorly-written novels out of the market. However, the market has evolved. As author Guy Kawasaki points out, publishers are no longer hallmarks of quality writing; “when readers contemplate buying your book today, they often don’t even notice the publisher. They look instead at the ratings and reviews received by the audience” (Caprino). Thus self-publishing has become more and more successful, particularly as the eBook market has grown. However, this new independence means that an author is no longer offered a single package of editors, artists and marketing consultants with a publishing contract, but must seek them out single-handed. Some choose to cut corners, not knowing whether or not that might harm their book, and like many new ideas, self-publishing’s most famous successes are often just as infamous as they are famous, such as E. L. James. The choice is legitimate, and that much more complicated.
How is a budding author to know what to do? 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, and puts them on mainstream bookshelves, but the process typically takes six months or longer, assuming the book is accepted at all. 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 an attractive cover. In the case of self-publishing, what parts of the usual package are the most important, and which can be skipped? Also, in a market with so much variety, frauds can creep in and deceive the inexperienced. Sometimes vanity presses, which print books at the author’s expense, pose as traditional publishers and 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?
Professional Significance of the Work
This decision becomes relevant to each young author as he or she begins to consider publication. Those in writing circles have seen their friends discuss their options, and likely attempted a few stories themselves. The advice from writers and agents, the bad examples of self-published authors like Robert Stanek or Gloria Tesch, and the tempting offers from places like Lulu or Amazon, make this a very confusing situation. By examining all of these sources, this study is intended to examine all of the relevant factors, so that whatever its readers choose, they choose it with open eyes.
Overview of Methodology
In order to collect information, members of the industry on both sides of the argument will be sought out. Experienced authors, agents and editors will be studied to find what made them choose their publishing method, and this way the inevitable bias will hopefully be balanced out. Blogs in particular will probably be a very helpful source, because they are often the opinion of an individual, not filtered through the biases of editors, but they can also win professional acclaim—for instance, the Reader’s Digest gives awards to useful sites for writers—and thus earn credibility. Along with these secondhand sources, authors—self-published, traditional and hybrid—will be interviewed directly on their experiences, and surveyed for common perceptions and motives.
Boundaries of the Project
The purpose of this study is to introduce beginning authors to the world of publishing. Thus, the only method of traditional publishing that will be considered will be unsolicited, in which the writer queries for a publishing contract with a manuscript. Solicited writing or ghostwriting are not relevant to this topic. Also, the focus will be on fiction, especially novels. Short stories, poetry and anthologies are typically sold to different venues, such as magazines or anthologies, and nonfiction has its own benefits and challenges. All of these genres extend beyond the scope of this paper.
Definition of Terms
- Publishing – The business of preparing and selling a book to the public.
- Self-publisher – An author who publishes his or her book without aid, or a company which enables an author to publish a book, for which the author has complete marketing and financial responsibility.
- Traditional publisher – A third-party publisher who takes on the responsibility of editing, packaging and marketing the book, and part of the financial risk in exchange for a percentage of the profits.
- Hybrid publishing – A practice in which an author uses both traditional and self-publishing practices, such as making a short story anthology available as a free download while working on the next novel in a traditionally published series.
- Vanity publisher – A press which authors pay to have their works published, instead of being paid for writing. They are not selective in what books they publish.
- Soliciting – Sending in a manuscript for consideration.
- Marketing – The business of promoting a book in order to attract potential buyers.
New authors seeking publication are faced with a changing marketplace. They have to choose whether to submit their work to a major publishing company, and undergo the long process of preparing their book for publication, or take the deceptively quick route of self-publishing, and find all of the services they need on their own. Before they even reach that point they have to evaluate their chosen press to make sure it is legitimate, and afterwards they must assist in marketing their books to potential readers. This paper is intended to present both sides of the issue so that those same authors can make an informed decision based on their needs and strengths.
Caprino, Kathy. “Considering Self-Publishing? Don’t Bother, Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki’s Advice.” Forbes.com. n. pag. 21 January 2013. Web. 27 May 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2013/01/21/considering-self-publishing-dont-bother-unless-you-follow-guy-kawasakis-advice/