Let’s face it, publishing is not like it used to be. Thanks to innovations in ebook and marketing technology, literally anyone can upload a book and become a published author in hours or even minutes—but not everyone wants to do that, and frankly, not everyone should.
Whether or not the relative ease of self-publishing is good for the industry is a can o’ worms for another post. What we’re going to talk about today are the three broad categories of authors that the rise in self-publishing has created: traditional, indie, and hybrid.
Disclaimer: for the purposes of this article, I’m referring to publishing a novel-length work. Practices differ for other forms, therefore I advise that the writers of such works research accordingly.
If you’re a traditionally published author, that means that after you finished your manuscript you queried agents and/or publishers directly, sent submissions, bit your nails to the quick while waiting for a response, and eventually signed a contract to have your work published. There are many pros to being traditionally published, including broad distribution, bookstore placement, professional editing and cover art, and possible marketing assistance.
But with the good comes the bad, or at least the inconvenient. Since your publisher is bankrolling this project, they (usually, check your contracts for exact wording) get final say on all story decisions, including characters, word count, and cover art. There can also be communication issues; depending on the size of your publisher and it may be difficult or nearly impossible to get answers about your work, where you are in production, and even when you can expect your first royalty statement.
At the other end of the spectrum is the indie or self-published author. The best part about being indie is that the author controls everything about their work, from initial edits to cover art to marketing. The worst part about being indie is that the author controls everything, as in no one is helping you fund this literary masterpiece. And publishing isn’t just expensive, it’s EXPENSIVE; it’s not unheard of for edits to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and that’s not including formatting, cover art, and the bazillion and twelve other things you need to pay for. Suddenly, sending out queries doesn’t seem so bad, huh?
Having said that, when you’re indie you have the freedom to write whatever you want, with no editors or agents telling you it’s not what the market wants, or that such-and-such genre just doesn’t sell any longer. For many authors, indie is the only way to go. If you have a good head for business, and aren’t afraid to invest time and money and do the work, indie publishing might be right for you.
In the middle of the road we have the hybrid author. This can mean one of two things: an author that has some works traditionally published, while others are self-published, or an author who has signed on with one of the smaller ebook publishers that have been popping up like dandelions. If you’re considering an ebook publisher, bear in mind that while they will assist you with editing, formatting, and cover art, you won’t have a large (or any) presence in bookstores, and their marketing assistance tends to be limited to a few social media posts. However, some works are well suited to ebooks (romance in particular), so if you’re willing to take on the brunt of marketing, but aren’t quite ready to round-up your own editor and cover artists, a hybrid publisher might be your best option.
There you have it, a very high level overview of the three main forms of publishing. Clear as mud, right? No matter how you choose to publish your work, I encourage you to do your research. Read industry news, follow agents on Twitter, get out there and talk to other authors. If you’re presented with a contract read it thoroughly, ask for assistance on any and all unfamiliar terms, and for all that is holy do not sign anything you don’t fully understand and agree with. Believe me, I understand the desire to get your work out into the world, but no contract is a million times better than a bad contract.
And after you’ve successfully navigated the minefield that is modern publishing, take time to celebrate. Getting published is a huge deal regardless of what road you took to get there. Cheers!