I spoke to an author a few days ago. Like, a real, published author. Her name is Linda Kass, author of Tasa’s Song. She owns a local bookstore, too, which is really cool. I buy most of my books there at this point. But I digress.
I asked a variety of questions, but perhaps the one most important to me was the one regarding publication. You can google a lot of things in regards to writing and publishing novels… how to plot, how to improve your writing, how to query an agent… You can google pros and cons of each route of publishing. But I think I found talking to someone about publishing was really helpful, because I could delve further into the differences beyond what they are at face value.
There are, from what I’ve found in my researching (and I will state right now that I’m no expert on publishing), three different routes an author can take: self-publishing (through Amazon or other book platforms), independent publishing, and Big 5 publishing (with which I’ll also include the smaller daughter-companies of the Big 5, because I think that makes sense).
This was not really a route I’ve wanted to take with any of my books. I don’t read e-books, preferring the physicality of paper books, and enjoying being off a screen for a small portion of my day. It makes sense that my primary form of book would likewise be physical books, too.
Self-publishing is also difficult because you have to do everything yourself. You have to decide when your book is ready (and hope that it lines up with your audience’s definition of good storytelling). You have to find someone to make a good cover for your book, knowing that good covers will probably cost money, and that money will come from your pocket. You have to know how to market your novel, what social media platforms to put it on, and so forth. You have to decide if you want to go the safe route of doing e-books first (which still require specific formatting in order to be readable on multiple devices) or if you want to risk printing out physical copies and hope that you can get them all to sell.
It’s not that it can’t be done. Plenty of authors are able to do it. My writing partner admires the author K. M. Shea, who I believe self-published her books, and was successful enough to eventually sell the physical books, knowing that people would want them. But I think you have to really understand how self-publishing works in order to not get lost in the extensive listing of files by those who chose self-publishing simply because it was cheap and easy.
This one was a new one for me. I might have known they existed, but for me the options were either self-publishing, if I really had to, or going for the Big 5. My discussion with Linda Kass opened this up as a possibility. She picked an independent publisher because she knew of them and they had a good reputation. They don’t always require solicited (as in, agent) submissions. And, unlike the Big 5 publishers, independent publishers might be more willing to help all or most of the authors that they help publish.
Kass’s independent publisher did not help with marketing directly — that may or may not be the case for most independent publishers — but she was referred to a PR person who could help with that, and the publisher had contacts for various parts of the publishing part: book cover artists, cartographers (if you need one), PR people, etc. So it was a more collaborative effort.
The only downside is that you still have to do most/all the marketing yourself, and the sales might not be as high because they don’t have a big-name publisher backing them. I don’t know yet how independent publishers do advances, but because of their size, it’s likely to be smaller than what an author might get from the Big 5.
Big 5 Publishers
This was always how I wanted to be published. The Big 5 were supposed to be very selective, where they only published books that they thought were good enough to be published. I’m no longer sure that’s completely the case, but regardless, being published by one of the big publishers or one of their daughter companies still feels like it would be a great accomplishment.
Kass said that the publishing industry has been evolving — and it’s no wonder, too, with how things are advancing so that other routes of publication are an option — and that while independent publishers worked for her, they might not work for everyone.
Big publishers might give authors a larger sum of money, but they will certainly be more selective on who gets that sum, and they will likely be more constrictive on the actual content. Those who are not in the “lucky few” may have more options in terms of what they can keep in their book, as it’s a smaller investment for the publishers in any case, as long as the books themselves are not long, but once the book deal term is over, marketing and continued sales will almost certainly fall to the author, and the author’s pocket.
Either way, research is key to figuring out which route is the best choice for a particular book. Out of pocket expenses, the extent of one’s author platform, and even the genre of the book can influence the way it might benefit from being published. Knowing where exactly you stand and what you can afford will help you decide what’s best for your book in the long scheme of things.
I obviously haven’t finished my research yet, but as someone nearing that stage, who’s looked into things briefly to get a sense of where I’m at, I think my best route may be through a smaller daughter company of the Big 5, or, failing that, perhaps an independent publishing company. I guess we’ll see.