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Self Publish or Pitch?

I've heard it both ways: pitch your book. Self-publish. Which is better to do first? Publishers have declared they like unknowns, while others want authors with a following already? Which path is more lucrative and advisable for a young author just starting out? write writer youngauthor author writing publishing selfpublish teenauthor

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Harold’s Answer

Your options are not mutually exclusive (pitch or self-publish) unless you are talking about the same material. If you self-publish a piece, few, if any, reputable publishers will even look at that particular material unless it becomes a runaway hit.

Self-publishing is challenging as you are then on the hook for all the publicity and trying to drive people to your download or, if you go the print route, getting folks to order or stock your book. That can get time consuming and expensive. Often the message is lost in the loud volume of the net. <span style="color: rgb(93, 103, 106);">However you can get something out in the world fairly quickly. And you get a bigger cut of the sales price. If you do self-publish, pay a professional editor to copyedit it and, if you can afford it or know someone, get the cover professionally laid out as well. Can make a huge difference in sales and reviews. </span>

Getting picked up by a publisher can take a year or more. Even if they accept your book, it can be another year or more before it is available. However, they have a marketing army to get your book designed and seen, as well as distribution to get it out in the world. Definite advantage. And they usually have some small advance on sales when the contract is signed (these days that's often less than 1500 for a unknown or midlist novelist). Just be careful of the contracts.

Check out under the Resources area for lots of information on this subject and sample contracts. While it is aimed at fantasy and sf, the guidance is applicable throughout the industry.

Most authors these days are working both sides of this question to see where the sweet spot is for their careers. So you can <span style="color: rgb(93, 103, 106);">try both to see which works out best for you. </span>

BTW, G. Mark's advice about joining a writer's group for practice and feedback is a great place to start, if you haven't already. It provides a safe space (if not always fun, if it's honest feedback) to learn from and experiment. It also can help by providing deadlines.

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Nadina’s Answer

Hi Trinity,

I'm an editor who's worked everywhere--self-publishers, hybrid publishers, traditional fiction and non-fiction publishers, and academic publishers. Like everyone is saying here, everyone has an opinion, so keep that in mind. That said, I'm adamantly against self-publishing for serious books because I have an insider's perspective, and in fact that's why I don't work with self-publishers anymore.

When I worked at self-publishing companies, I was constantly told "these people aren't writers, so it doesn't have to be that good." Traditional publishers will not tolerate this attitude. It is hard getting accepted by one of them, but once you do, they want to work with you to get your book to be good.

Cost is another thing to consider. Self-publishers want you to pay for everything, whereas traditional publishers pick up the tab and pay you. You won't earn a lot, to be sure, but that's still better than having to pay for a service that is telling their staff that your work only matters so much.

People are also fooled by the high royalties packages that come with self-publishing, which sounds good on the surface. For example, one well known service pays you 70% of sales, whereas a traditional publisher might only offer 10-15%. However, Amazon usually prices your books low, at say $.99. Plus the word about your book doesn't usually get out as much when you self-publish. Not only do you end up getting just pennies from your 70% royalties on the books that sell, you might not even sell any books! Monetary gain is not a great goal for writers regardless, but this is definitely something a prospective writer should know.

With self-publishing, you're also largely on your own for promotion and marketing. Some companies will do this if you're willing to pay a little extra, but they frankly don't have the reach that a traditional publisher would, and as I've mentioned, they are not encouraged to go above and beyond the way employees at traditional houses are expected to.

That said, there are good arguments for going the self-publishing route. Traditional publishing is hard. You need an agent. A lot times, you need to join a writers group. It doesn't pay well, and it takes years and years to build up your skill and your reputation to get to a point where you can even get an agent. And even so, very few people make it to stardom as a writer--those who do often wait years. Some people have found that they like self-publishing better because it's easier to build a portfolio that way; while your book may not get the treatment a traditional publisher might get, it's helpful to show your agent that you can write, and that you have some (usually very modest) sales history.

Some people also aren't terribly concerned with some of the problems I've mentioned above, and that is why this industry has survived at all. I've met dozens of writers who don't mind if they don't have the prettiest cover, higher quality paper, and a few typos here and there, or a generic interior design. I've met some people who didn't mind paying for things and were okay with getting little in return. Some people just want to write and get their work out there, and that's totally fine. Self-publishing is perfect for people who feel that way.

What it all boils down to is your values. What is it that you want from this adventure? What vision do you have for yourself and your work? Does it matter to you if there are typos in the book if your point still comes across? Do you need personal attention with an editor who understands your work and builds a rapport with you, or do you really just need someone to clean things up a bit? If you can answer that, then you'll be able to figure out what the perks are between self-publishing and traditional publishing.

Nadina recommends the following next steps:

Soul search: ask yourself what you want out of this experience
Research self-publishers: are there ones you like? How do you feel about their fees and services?
Are there writers groups you can join? Maybe extra curricular activities you can partake in?
Research literary agents: do you think their values match your own?
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G. Mark’s Answer

I can tell you that selling writing to a publisher or getting an agent to represent you is a tough slog. A very, very few times I've submitted works and had the person reject it but give me solid advice. Most of the time I'd get no reaction or just my manuscript mailed back with essentially a "no thank you". Sometimes it's simply because I'd violated some particular requirement they themselves had at that time or simply did not meet their preferences. This lack of input is unfortunate for a new writer. To that end, for the vast majority of new writers, I would recommend first joining a writing group, honing your work, then self-publishing to hone it more. Getting as much feedback as possible is a good thing. I would warn, however, against taking any one piece of advice or opinion too seriously. Focus on getting lots of input. Once you're satisfied with your accomplishment, pitch. You've covered all the bases.

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Michelle’s Answer

Hi Trinity! The gents have some good advice there. It's not an easy answer and the best path may be different depending on the finished piece.

While you hone your craft by working on your book, don't forget to read and research. I like to listen to a number of different podcasts for writers and following a writers and resources online. Everyone has an opinion about which is best (I'm self-published) but that doesn't mean their right answer is the best thing for you and your work. So you'll want to get a different perspectives to decide.

Even if you start out pitching your novel and trying to get it traditionally published, if it doesn't get picked up, you can take it the self-published route. If you have something to share, get it out there!

Here are some of my favorite resources (there are many more):

Novel Marketing (podcast)

Writing Excuses (podcast)

Grammar Girl (podcast) (And any book on writing by Dean Wesley Smith)

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