Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Career Choices in Publishing

Somehow in the past few months I’ve gotten a reputation (at least in certain small circles) as a self-publishing expert. Which is pretty funny, because I’ve been doing this for less than a year and I’m learning as I go. But I’ve been willing to share what I’m learning, and I guess even my minimal experience puts me farther along the path that a lot of people who are in a “wait and see” pattern or still completely dismissive.

Since people seem to be curious about this journey, I thought I’d share some of the decisions I’m making now. I can’t guarantee that these are the right decisions, but I’ll explain the logic behind them. Maybe we can check back in a year and see how they look in hindsight. I’ll be posting and explaining a decision each week, on Wednesdays.

On Fridays, I’ll be reposting some of my craft articles. (Yes, for a while these will mainly be repeats, but craft doesn’t change much, and even if you’ve heard it before, it often helps to hear it again.) So, on to the career decisions.

Decision #1: I’ve committed to self-publishing for my adult genre novels.

I first switched to writing romantic suspense thinking that I would submit traditionally. I’d hoped the market would be better than for middle grade novels. Adult novels aren’t quite as influenced by market trends, since each genre and subgenre has devoted fans. And advances were supposed to be higher.

But the more I heard, about both traditional publishing for adult genre books and about self-publishing, the more I questioned that path.

With traditional publishing, it’s harder than ever to sell a book, and advances are down. It can be easier to sell to a smaller, digital-only or digital-first publisher, but many of these offer no advances, only paying royalties. Genre publishing can have fairly strict guidelines for word count. With romance, each line even has different standards for how sexy they can be. Some imprints won’t allow first-person narration or multiple viewpoints, or else require you use both the hero and heroine’s viewpoint. You could spend a lot of effort targeting one publisher’s imprint, and if they reject the book, it won’t be suitable anywhere else. Authors can also find themselves trapped into writing a specific style determined more by their publisher than by their own tastes.

Traditional publishers can help with marketing, but you never know how much promotion you’re going to get. It takes a couple of years to get a book published, which means you’re not building name recognition yet. Many publishers are unwilling to experiment with pricing or free offers to increase sales. And if the book is suffering from a lousy cover or poor description, they are more likely to go on to something else than to make changes.

And worst of all, traditional publishers are offering increasingly worse contracts, trying to take more rights while holding down royalties. This will change – it has to change – but signing a contract now may mean you suffer financially for years.

Self-publishing has many challenges, but also a lot more flexibility and freedom. You can release books on your own schedule, starting to build name recognition and a least a few sales quickly. You may not sell large numbers, but you make a lot more per book. You can experiment as much as you want with different covers, descriptions, pricing, and promotions, seeing what works best.

And best of all, you retain all rights. Different formats, foreign translations, movie/TV rights – it’s all yours. Granted, you’re unlikely to ever sell most of those rights, but if you do, you won’t have to split the income with a publisher. (Please note, some publishers aggressively sell subsidiary rights, which means you’re more likely to see income from them. But some just sit on the rights and don’t do anything with them until an outside company asks. In that case, they are taking a percentage for doing nothing.)

I waffled over my decision for a while. I even sent Rattled to my agent. An advance sure would be nice. But ultimately, I decided that I don’t have time to wait months to hear back from publishers, when there’s a good chance the answer will be “No.” By publishing independently, I need to do a lot more work on promotion, and of course there’s a learning curve just figuring out how to do all this stuff. But I’m not spending time researching publishers and agents or altering my work to fit specific guidelines.

My decision won’t be right for everyone. Either way, it’s a lot of work. Either way, it’s a gamble. But now that I’ve started down this path, I’m determined to give it a great try. My goal is to get two more books published this year, and then to focus on promotion – but that’s another decision. More on that in a future post.

[I just want to add that my decision to focus on self-publishing only applies to my books for adults. There are additional challenges for self-publishing children's books, in particular when it comes to reaching teachers and libraries, an important part of the market.]


  1. This is great Chris! That's for sharing your experiences and thoughts on this. I am sharing this to my independent publishing group page.

  2. We enjoyed your take on which road to go down with regards to publishing. No decision is easy, especially one which involves the pros and cons of time waiting as opposed to taking the reins by the hand and making things happen. Kiss my Kindle would like to post this article on their blog/website ( with your permission, highlighting its origin (credit) and a link back to your page. You can email us back at

  3. There's the rub. My book is upper middle grade. I need a traditional publisher until parents start buying self-pub books for their kids.

  4. Yes, Sher, I think you're right. I just did a long guest post on the differences in self-publishing for adult genre books and children's books (but it's not posted, so I can refer you to it). I do think in 2 to 5 years, many more young people will be reading on electronic devices and things may shift in that market. But right now, the school and library market is still too important for children's books, which means you need reviews in the professional journals. Better, if possible, to get your work out now traditionally and start building a reputation, while keeping an eye on publishing changes.