Self-Publishing Vs. Traditional: My Decision

Nat RussoOpinion, Publishing 50 Comments

[UPDATED 05/10/2014]

Those of you who have followed me here and on my other media outlets for some time will recall how adamant I’ve been about traditional publishing. Until the end of 2013 I was absolutely convinced I would be querying agents and publishers for an indefinite period of time, collecting rejection slips like they were going out of style.

Not anymore. My thoughts on the subject have completely changed, and I’d like to tell you why.

Defining Success

I’ve long held that you should never allow another person to define success for you. What it means to be a successful writer, to me, has changed dramatically over the last two years. I’ve been writing for decades, but I didn’t “come out” with my writing until 2012, and I did so with a lot of fear and trembling.
Fear I wouldn’t be good enough.
Fear I wouldn’t be accepted because I had no publications under my belt.
Fear my stories would never be read.
But at the core of all of this was acceptance. All my life, for one reason or another, I sought activities that placed me in the spotlight (community theater, singing in a barbershop quartet, high school choir, playing guitar in a country band). Many thought this was because I was a showoff or an attention seeker. But they didn’t see what was going on inside. 

Yours Truly in ’86/’87

I was trying to feel accepted, even if only for the moment in time when the music would stop and the applause would reverberate.
I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I wasn’t the most popular kid growing up. Queue the violins, I know. But it wasn’t the “fade into the background” kind of unpopular. It was the “school is a combat zone” kind of unpopular. Until I was thirteen I was terrified of going to school in the morning. That all changed when I got involved in the martial arts, but the damage had been done. My self-image had already been determined. My worth . . . my success . . . was now based on how other people perceived me, and would remain so for quite some time.
Flash forward twenty years.
As I put myself “out there” with my writing, an amazing thing happened: people accepted me with open arms. Not only did an entire community of writers accept me without hesitation, but they openly encouraged me. I could feel them cheering for my success!
Then I realized something: My need for industry approval (i.e. a publishing deal with a major publisher) was no different than the need for peer acceptance that had defined most of my life. So I tried a thought experiment. I asked myself “how would you define success if industry acceptance was taken out of the equation?” This was my answer:
I would gauge success by the degree to which I failed or succeeded on my own terms.
That, in and of itself, was enough to sway me toward self-publishing. But I didn’t stop there. I started researching more quantifiable reasons.

Book Stores Have Clocks . . . And They Tick.

The large brick and mortar book sellers can’t afford to keep your book on the shelves forever (and that’s if they buy it from the publisher at all, which isn’t guaranteed just because you have a publishing contract). It takes up space that could be reserved for a best seller.
You have, in most cases, 30 days to prove your book will sell well. At the end of that first month, the book seller packages up all of the books he/she can’t sell and sends them back to the publisher for a full refund. That’s it. You’re done.
The problem is that no one knows how to sell books. You heard me right. The only thing we know for certain is that word-of-mouth sells books far better than a display at a book store. But word-of-mouth takes time. And time is something a major book chain can’t afford to give you.
Self-publishing removes the clock from the equation. It costs you nothing to leave your book on the virtual book shelf. Over time people will read and review your book. They’ll mention it to friends, who will in turn buy it and recommend it to their friends. You are now in control of your own destiny, because writing a good story . . . a story that will generate word-of-mouth . . . is under your control.

Traditional Publishing ≠ Money

We’re artists. We shouldn’t be doing this for the money. I’ve heard the arguments, and I get it. While I place my art and creativity above any price, I’m not allergic to money either. After all, enough of the green stuff would mean I could potentially support myself off my writing. That’s a dream of most writers, isn’t it? Who among us wouldn’t want to spend the lion’s share of their time writing?
So let’s talk money for a moment. [Note: I’ll be taking numbers from David Gaughran’s wonderful book on publishing, titled Let’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish And Why You Should. If you’re struggling with this decision, I strongly recommend you read this.]
If you do manage to land a publishing contract, and your book is printed in hardback (the highest price of the lot), you’re going to see about 12.5% royalties from each sale. Now, take into consideration that your agent is going to get 15% of that and you’re now looking at slightly less than 11%. Don’t get me wrong, the numbers are justified. I’m not suggesting anyone is being over or under paid here. Publishing is a business, and business has costs and overhead that can’t be avoided.
You’ll see a little more from a trade published e-book (approximately 17.5% royalties).
But here’s the thing many writers don’t consider when they’re looking at these numbers: Only 20% of all books published ever earn out their advance. 
Let that sink in for a moment.
As a new writer your advance will hover somewhere around $5k, and definitely under $10k. (Sure, there’s a chance your manuscript will be SO amazing that it will spark a bidding war. There’s also a chance my next lottery ticket will allow me to call in “rich” the next day.) You only have a 1 in 5 chance of publishing a book that earns enough in sales to justify paying you royalties. That means the most you’ll ever see off your work is probably going to be whatever advance you got. And don’t forget to give your agent his/her 15% of that advance, by the way.
And before I forget, whatever the amount of your advance, you’re not going to see all of it at once. That $5k advance may come to you in three payments spread out over 18 months.
Let’s contrast this with self-publishing. A $2.99 sale on Amazon will pay you a 70% royalty amounting to $2.09. That $25 hard cover from a traditional publisher, on the other hand, will pay you a net $2.66 royalty (after agent’s cut), and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have had your book earn out its advance.
The numbers for mass market paperback and other editions are even more dismal. Check out David Gaughran’s book (linked above) for the details. There’s far more covered in his book than I could ever hope to tackle here.
Will you make more from a traditional publisher? The hard cover number seems to indicate that. The answer is “it depends”. If you’re sitting on an absolute blockbuster, then chances are, right now, you’ll make more from traditional publishing. If, on the other hand, you think your book is more likely destined for mid-list, I believe self-publishing may be more lucrative.

[UPDATE 03/08/2014] This assumption is no longer correct! I strongly urge you to read Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report when you have more time. What we once thought was true about the self-publishing financial landscape has proven false. The financial reasons to traditionally publish are growing fewer and fewer. As it turns out, even if your book is a potential blockbuster, self-publishing will earn you as much and often more than traditional publishing.

What Will the Publisher Bring to the Table?

If you’re a “no name” writer who hasn’t sold a bunch of books, the answer to that question is “very little”.

Get visions of book signing tours in exotic locations out of your head right now. That doesn’t happen unless you’re willing to take off work and pay for it yourself. (And don’t forget you’ll have to do all of the event organizing yourself).

Get visions of dozens of copies of your book sitting in a large display in the center aisle at Barnes & Noble out of your head. Those spots are reserved for names people recognize, and names the book seller can usually guarantee will sell very well.

So, if you have to do all the work anyway, and you have to pay for your own events (including travel and lodging) are you still ok with taking a fraction of the royalty you’d see from self-publishing? Only you can answer that, because as I said above, money is not the only consideration.

Don’t Hold Your Breath

As always, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, if you’re going down the traditional publishing road, you’d better settle in for the long haul. When you begin the query process, it may take you upwards of a year or more to find an agent that’s a good fit. When you find that agent, it could take him/her upwards of a year or more to find a buyer for your manuscript.

At that point, one of two things will happen:
1. Your agent may decide he/she can’t sell your book due to “market conditions” or some other business reason. Maybe your manuscript doesn’t quite fit into the acceptable pigeon holes and no one knows how to market it. Maybe the print market is saturated with your kind of story. Who knows? The end result is the same. You’ll get a phone call saying “thanks for the memories”, and you will have wasted 2-3 years where your story could have been finding its audience.

2. You sell your manuscript. Yay! At this point it gets slated for publication, which could be as much as 18 months or more from the date of sale. You’ll get a third, or so, of whatever advance was agreed upon. Maybe half. Then, eventually, the book finds its way to book stores (if book shop owners agree to purchase it from the publisher’s catalog). From here, in 80% of cases, that’s it. You’re done. Write something else and start submitting again. If you’re in the uncommon 20% that earn out their advance, you’ll start seeing some royalties.

Coming Full Circle

No matter what the dollars and cents say, don’t let the dollars and cents dictate your course unless that is how you define success. Start asking yourself some difficult questions. Get to the bottom of why you’re even doing this.
When I think about being in control of the process, from the writing, to the cover design, to the publication and marketing process, I’m filled with excitement! Not only excitement that comes from the adventure of starting a new business, but excitement for writing even more!
On the other hand, when I think about getting a publishing deal, it doesn’t light me on fire like the other idea does. It falls flat. If I was approached by a traditional publisher, they’d have a lot of convincing to do. Could they succeed in swaying me? Of course. But they know what they’re up against, and they have their work cut out for them.
Above all other considerations, I implore you to weigh the pros and cons and follow your heart. You already know what you want to do, deep inside. You just need to convince yourself.

[UPDATE 05/10/2014] I published Necromancer Awakening on April 9th, just over a month prior to this update, and I’m happy to announce that my suspicions were accurate. It has taken a while for the story to find its audience, and now Necromancer is on 5 different Amazon bestseller lists! Had I begun the query process, I suspect I would be writing blog posts showing you examples of rejection letters. Take a look at an article I wrote that details the lessons I learned after selling more than 1000 copies of Necromancer Awakening.

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 50

  1. I disgree that the share publishers take is justified, but its been the system so long people don’t even blink an eye. Usually the talent gets the lion’s share of the profit, and that’s how it should be, but in publishing they get crumbs swept off the table by the agent and publisher.

    1. When I say “understandable”, I mean from purely a business perspective. A large publisher (the ones with the lowest royalties, from what I’ve seen), have a LOT of overhead they need to cover (staff, printing, marketing, utilities for the brick & mortar offices, shipping, and on and on). It’s well worth the lower royalties if you’re one of the lucky handful that gets actively publicized by the publisher. The reality, however, is that’s not going to happen for most of us.

      So while I understand it, I also understand that it’s a raw deal I don’t need to settle for. Not when I can do as well or better on my own. If a traditional publisher loves my work and approaches me, but they think the market is saturated with my current titles, no problem. I have no shortage of ideas. And any success I achieve as an indie writer places me in a much better bargaining position.

  2. Self-publishing has worked out better than I ever imagined and I think we’re going to see more and more of that. There is a lot of pressure when you have to do it all yourself (or find ways to pay for others to do things like covers and promotion), but it’s basically like being a writing entrepreneur and taking both the opportunity and the risk. We’re just lucky to live in an era when the price of entry has become low enough that most of us can decide to go it on our own.

    🙂 Sue

  3. Awesome article Nat! I agree completely. Writing shouldn’t be about the money or the sales or even how many people will read it in my opinion. I write because I want to write. I only want to publish my book in order to share that which I have worked so hard on and am proud of. If I earn any money it will be merely a bonus. Besides, I love using adobe photoshop etc and I’ve already been working on my own cover and think I’ve got online marketing down. Why on earth would I consider going traditional? Ha!


    1. We’re of the same mind, Scarlett!

      I look forward to just getting my story out there. I’ve spent too much time with it. It’s time to release it into the wild 🙂

  4. As a writer, I find myself struggling with the same dilemma: to self publish or traditionally publish? It’s always interesting to get another writer’s take on the matter. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Keep researching and looking at the state of the industry, Sloan. Things are changing rapidly these days, and the reality is that there is no objectively “right” or “wrong” path to take. It’s much more important to decide what YOU really want, and go after it!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Melissa! The landscape of the industry is changing daily, so I’m keeping my eye on things. My attitude on the subject might change if traditional publishers figure things out. Although there’s one thing they’ll never be able to change: the gatekeepers.

  5. It’s a balance. You should never consider money as a final sign of success, but you have to recognise that getting money from your writing is what will allow you to continue writing full time. If you need a second job to finance your writing, then that is time spent not writing.

    But I agree that self publishing via e-book is the way forward. In fact, for 95% of authors I think it is the first step. Traditional publishers don’t want a book that they don’t think will be a guaranteed success. They want the author to do the grunt work.

    1. Exactly, Thomas. It’s not so much the pursuit of money as it is the pursuit of freedom to do what I want with my life. The unfortunate reality is that money happens to be the thing you need to accomplish that (well…if you want luxuries, like food/shelter, etc 🙂 )

  6. Great article! Last September I self published my first book; it is on Amazon but how to make anyone BUY it?! The sole purpose of writing the book was not to make money though I need it to progress in my chosen field. Your article gave me great relief that I chose self-publishing. Thank you very much.

    1. Thanks, Surangika! I mentioned in the article that authors wanting to publish traditionally need to settle in for the long haul. I failed to mention that this is equally true of self publishers. The best thing that will sell your book is word of mouth from the folks who’ve read it.

      Think about a social media strategy. Do some research on how to leverage social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc). If you haven’t started blogging, consider doing so. You can use social media to drive traffic to your blog, then use your blog to drive traffic to your work for sale.

  7. I shared your post, which I like a lot. I’ve read many self-published books and wished at times that the quality was better. I’m not talking about the occasional misspelled word. I’m talking about pace, content, underdeveloped characters and things that could be sequenced better, all things that an editor would watch for. Thank you for your post.

    1. I’m right there with you, Peggy. Lately it seems as if the majority of the self-published books I’ve read have been in serious need of editing! It’s crucial to make sure the quality is high before hitting the Publish button.

  8. I love David’s book! The thing for me that really got me shooting to self publish was the fact that the only reason I would ever want to be published traditionally was because it was good for my ego. I didn’t see any financial benefit and to be honest my ego really isn’t that important when it comes to my writing.
    Finishing my first draft is important to me right now. When eventually (after I rip it to shreds) I am ready to publish, the idea that I have full control over the process – ie. the cover, the price, where it sells, whether I print paperbacks, all of that is what appeals to me the most. It is really FULL CREATIVE CONTROL. Will I make a whole bunch of mistakes? Yes. Will my first book sell well? Probably not. But I don’t care. Success for me is about getting my work out there. I intend on taking every step possible to make sure that my book is top-notch, don’t get me wrong. But there is no race to the finish line. The most important thing is the learning process and getting to the finish line… eventually. 🙂

    1. I think you’re definitely doing the right thing, Alison. There is so much self-published garbage out there that the authors should have spent *at least* another several months editing. When we finish that first draft, we’re in love. We just gave birth to something, and like God in the Book of Genesis, we look upon it and declare it to be “Good”. I know many self-published writers who, while in that period of infatuation with their own work, throw together a cover in Photoshop and publish it. I’ve read books on self-publishing that *actually recommend* this practice! So I think you’re really doing yourself a favor by taking the attitude that your’e not in a race.

      I spent 90 days writing Necromancer and more than 2 years rewriting and revising. Using the models I’ve seen recommended, I probably could have written several more books in that period of time. But like you, I want to make sure what I release is indistinguishable from a traditional publishing house. What a publisher has over us is a team of professionals and a lot of resources. That means dozens of eyes on the project, each finding different problems here and there that can be corrected long before it goes to print. Our challenge, as independent authors, is to replicate that process as much as possible.

      David’s book was a real eye-opener for me. Talk about persuasive!

  9. Very interesting and relevant post. And I completely agree with the sentiment that’s emerging in the comments: with self-publishing, quality is key. Thorough revision and editing as well as professional cover design will help your book stand out in a crowded field.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Bookfly! While it is true that the more prolific you are as an independent author, the greater your overall income stream will be, it is VITAL to produce quality work.

      No amount of expertise at marketing will save a bad story in the long run (and neither will an author platform of any size).

  10. Thanks for the post Nat. The more I read about self-publishing (when the author comes at it professionally, ensuring quality writing, revisions and editing), the more I start to think it is a viable option.

    1. To paraphrase James Scott Bell, this is a wonderful time to be a writer! Writers have more choices now than ever before. If you’re a writer who produces quality work (quality on every level, from the writing to the internal formatting, to the cover design), your work will stand out and rise to the top.

  11. Very interesting article Nat. I self published my first YA fantasy novel on the Kindle store recently after rewriting and editing it for at least 2 years and then paying for the book to be professional edited and illustrated. I am a stay home mum and it was a big outlay from savings, but I totally agree that as a new unknown writer if you want to gain credibility with your readers you must put in both the investment of time and some capital if possible to produce a quality piece of work. I see other self published authors producing their next book very quickly, which I admit, does make me feel more pressurised, but I have to fit my writing around the rest of my commitments and refuse to compromise on the standard of my writing just to get it out there more quickly.

    Years ago I sent my manuscript out to a few UK publishing houses which came back months later with the standard rejection letter and most times had not even been read. For me it was about the validation of a publisher acknowledging that they liked what I had written and fundamentally that I could write well. Self publishing does makes it possible for your work to be enjoyed by a wider audience, and as a writer that is the most important thing. Having complete control over the entire process was also very appealing as much as it was daunting. My husband is the techy one not me, so there have been some aspects of publishing & marketing that have been a great learning curve. It is not for the faint hearted and there are plenty of highs and lows along the way, but if you are determined, keep writing and don’t give up when things aren’t going well, maybe you will breakthrough. Publishing your book is just the first step. The hardest part for me so far has been the marketing side. Building a profile when you have not previous track record and getting your book noticed is no easy task, and once you become involved in social media it seem to take an exhausting amount of time. More recently, I made a conscious decision to keep this to a minimum as I could easily spend several hours a day promoting my book on social media or book review sites, but as my time is limited I need to focus on writing the next book in the series. Also, I know how annoying it is when your twitter feed is constantly full of spam from other authors, and that’s not the way I want to be perceived as an author in the longer term. Time will tell if I can generate greater interest in my work and ultimately sales.

    Really enjoying your blog posts so far with some useful tips. Good luck with your own book launch.

    1. Wendy, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think my readers are going to benefit quite a bit from it!

      You’re doing the right thing by pulling back on your social media marketing (or by limiting it). There are only two things about book marketing that I can say with certainty after my research:

      1. Nothing sells a book better than word-of-mouth.
      2. Writers who endlessly self-promote do not generate the word-of-mouth they think they are, and in fact are probably generating less.

      Social media can be a black hole when it comes to your free time, which is why I really like automated tools to push out my #writetip (and #HorribleWriteTip) posts on a schedule. But as much as those tools can be used for good, my timeline is full of writers who push out automated self-promotions several times per hour. These are the writers who never make it onto one of my “short” lists of people to track regularly.

      I’m sure I’ll push out a self-promotion or two around the release of my book. But I suspect the impact it’s going to have on sales will be negligible. I’d much rather pull readers into my blog, I think, and share some useful info with the writing community. Then, if they decide they like it, I suspect they’ll be more likely to give my fiction a try.

      At least I hope they do! 🙂

  12. You’re welcome Nat. I appreciate the advice as the whole social media thing is a minefield and I was beginning to think I was doing something wrong when I saw other followers endlessly self promoting and have amassed thousands of followers themselves. I personally think it’s more engaging to share genuine thoughts, interests and humorous tweets with followers, allowing you to connect with them on a more personal level. Also, a blog is a much more sensible approach to engage with readers and raise your profile as a writer, and is on my to do list this year along with placing my book on other platforms outside Amazon. Good to see we’re on the same page. I was beginning to feel a bit lonely out there in cyberspace.Thanks again and happy writing 🙂

  13. Funnily enough, I’m dealing with this on a blog next many people think once they have an agent, or a deal with a big publisher, they are ”made”. I had both ..and walked away from both …. but that’s my story…

    1. I’ve heard quite a few similar stories, Carol! More and more traditionally published authors are walking away from mainstream publishers when they realize they can do better on their own.

      The publishing industry needs to wake up. They need to lead, follow, or get out of the way.

  14. To me, the most exciting thing about indie publishing is that I choose whether the whole series gets published – and how quickly. I’ve had traditional deals with two different publishers, and in both cases my titles bounced around the publication schedule. That is, until – with both publishers – my final books on the contract bounced off the schedule altogether.

    I’d be interested in another go with traditional publishing – with the understanding that I also get to continue publishing my own titles. That way, even delays at the publisher can’t stop me from releasing something on schedule.

    Recently, one publisher told my agent that I should self-publish, so they could watch how my books do! (i.e., “Prove you don’t need us, and then we’ll talk.”) They now think of indie publishing as the farm league.

    Which is fine with me – at least now I get to play whether they choose me or not. I can choose myself.

    1. I’m hearing more and more, from traditionally published authors, about how little traditional publishers are doing for them. Hugh Howey’s recent data mining of indie vs. traditional book sales is an incredible eye opener. It was once believed that only the top sellers were making more from independent publishing, but now the data is in, and the numbers are revealing: mid-list independent authors are earning more than mid-list traditionally published authors.

      It’s an ever-changing landscape, and as traditional houses do less and less for their mid-list authors, I think there’s going to be a mass exodus. Then, what will separate the wheat from the chaff is quality of writing, investment in editing and professional cover design (something many indie authors are doing already anyway).

      It’s a brave new world! 🙂

  15. When you say you get excited at being in control of the process, is that explicitly what you mean? I’m wondering if it may be more accurately describe as being excited about the freedom from being controlled by the publisher.

    My perspective on writing generally leans more from the community where people collaborate on homebrewed role-playing game rulebooks (Dungeons & Dragons style stuff) than novels. The rulebooks often take dozens of contributors to complete, almost like an anthology. Lots of people regularly get excited to work on those, even when they aren’t expressly in control of the direction. They’re in control of their individual contributions though, so I can see a matching interpretation there.

    My question boils down to; do you feel collaboration is something writers should get excited about and pursue as an additional future-oriented self-publishing alternative to traditional publishing?

    1. Based on what I’ve seen over the last couple of years, I think collaboration is alive and well in the self-publishing world. I see more and more anthologies announced every month that are being self-published..

      I believe, in general, that most novels are great collaborative works, even those which have a single author. They are nearly always the writer’s vision (after all, it’s their story), but there are many people involved along the way. For example, Necromancer Awakening had the following people involved:

      – Me, the writer, from beginning to end.
      – A close friend who read the first draft of every chapter and provided feedback.
      – Two close colleagues who read the 2nd or 3rd draft and provided feedback.
      – 4 beta readers who read another early draft and provided varying levels of feedback.
      – 1 beta reader that I worked with through subsequent drafts.
      – Family members who read and provided feedback.
      – Pre-publication reviewers and copy editors.
      – Countless authors of craft-related books who contributed without even knowing 🙂
      – Cover artist and designer
      – Colleague with CreateSpace experience.
      – Numerous friends and colleagues who have published through KDP.

      And that’s just off the top of my head. Even though it’s my name that will appear on the final published book, there were perhaps a dozen or more people involved. I suspect that’s the case with most books (except the ones where the writer belches something onto the screen, saves the file and immediately publishes it with a stick-figure drawing on the cover…an exaggeration, but pretty close in some cases, from what I’ve seen/read).

      That was a long-winded response to ultimately say “I think they’re both sides of the same coin.” I discovered that I have an entrepreneurial spirit. This leads me to get really excited about forging my own path ahead. I enjoy being able to create a strategic roadmap for both my publishing and writing business. I enjoy deciding which stories I’m going to write, and which I’m not going to pursue. I enjoy being able to decide if such-and-such story is a standalone or actually a trilogy.

      All of those statements are simply another way of saying “I’m glad no one else is butting in and forcing me to do something against my will.” But I think it’s about focus. My focus is on what I’m able to achieve, rather than what someone else is not capable of exerting on me.

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  17. I wrote a post similar to this one a while back (after reading the same book. Even if you never plan to self publish I still suggest it.) But I’m still agent/publisher hunting. Why? Partially because of what I write. Self publishing works best for certain types of books. Romance is #1 followed by mystery and fantasy (I think) and I have a few books I think could do well there, I’ll consider it when the times comes. Until then I have an issue drive YA contemporary coming from a great small press and a MG book that I’m agent hunting with (self publishing doesn’t work well with MG and younger. You can sell but the margins for success are very small)
    In my opinion, self publishing is a great avenue and its going to continue to grow but traditional publish isn’t dead (yet) and it shouldn’t be over looked. They BOTH have their places. I’ll take each book I write and decide where it fits best. Hybrid can easily be the best way to go, anyway.


    1. Post

      It makes sense that MG titles don’t sell as well in self-publishing when you think about the business model. Everything about self-publishing, from a sales perspective, is about making it easy for your potential readers to make an impulse buy. It’s why we set our prices far lower than a large publishing house, and it’s why Amazon has a “Buy Now With 1 Click!” button. Trouble is, it’s not the MG reader who is making the purchase decision! So they have the extra burden of convincing mom and dad, and as soon as that process starts, impulse is taken out of the equation.

      I very much agree that legacy publishing isn’t going away any time soon. I would definitely accept a good legacy publishing contract. By “good”, however, I mean a contract in which I would retain all digital publishing rights. I simply have no good business reason to turn those over to someone else. They’d also have to “up their game” in the marketing department. I’m not going to sign away rights and take a lower royalty only to have to do the lion’s share of the work myself anyway 🙂

  18. Hello, Mr. Russo!

    My name is Terrick Heckstall, and I am an author as well. After a laundry list of rejections, I too have decided to self-publish. Made the decision some months ago, and right now am gearing up to do a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds.

    I wanted to say that your blog on traditional vs. self-publishing was quite illuminating; it reiterated that I am truly on the right path for me. I just want to thank you for putting things up like that, so writers who desire to self-publish can have validation and support.

    Also, congrats on the ongoing success of Necromancer Awakening!

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  19. Just curious … do you feel Amazon is accurately tallying sales? I just received a cheque for my Kindle sales and according to what I know from readers on the Kindle launch, it appears inaccurate.


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      From what I can tell so far, after some 8k+ books sold, Amazon has been accurate. Their reports aren’t quite as real time as they’d have you believe, but I’ve never had a problem with the payment not matching my expectations.

      Many readers will tell me they’re going to buy a book (or have bought a book), but as far as I’m concerned it didn’t happen until it shows up on my KDP report. Knowing people as well as I do, I know sometimes what they tell me is…less than accurate. 🙂 Often for good reasons, but not true just the same.

  20. You’ve really given me something to think about. I have been adamant about NOT self-publishing, for pretty much ALL the reasons you noted. Credibility, Acceptance,… blah. Meanwhile the labor of 4 years of my life languishes… Seriously reconsidering after reading your post.

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      I know the internal struggle you’re going through, CH. I’ve been in your shoes. I won’t sugar coat it and tell you that you’ll be held in the same esteem as some of your favorite legacy published authors. Not right out of the gate. I have a couple of [recognizable name] legacy published friends in my genre who look at me with that little smile that says “how quaint…he thinks he’s a published author.”

      But I can tell you this: deciding to take control of my writing career has been the most liberating experience of my life. I can also tell you this: I’ve made far more bank on my first book than either of those guys I mentioned above. And as time goes by, they’re starting to ask more and more questions about what’s it’s like being an indie author. I remind them that until the 20th century, most authors were indie authors. 🙂

      Do I sell as many books as they do? No. But from a purely financial perspective, I don’t have to. The harsh reality (for them) is that I keep 70% of my earnings, while they get 25% on a *good* deal. …And those “good” deals are few and far between these days.

      If you don’t already follow Joe Konrath, I *strongly* recommend you take a look at his blog, titled “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing”. You can find it here:

      Joe is a model of what’s possible as an indie author, and he has a wealth of information to share. He began his career as a legacy published author, but broke away from the old model when Kindle Direct Publishing came on the scene. I didn’t find Joe before I made the decision to self publish, but I wish I had. I wouldn’t have struggled with the decision near as much as I did.

      Best of luck in your discernment process, CH! And if I can ever answer any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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      The good news is that writing is the most important piece of promotion you’ll ever do. The best way to sell your older works is to create new works. There’s a “lifting” effect on your backlist whenever you publish new work. So keep writing!

      That being said, whether you’re an independent author or a traditionally published author, you’re going to have to come to terms with marketing. It’s a necessary evil, I’m afraid. However, there are steps you can take to make it easier.

      Always remember that you’re not selling books. You’re selling yourself. Keep your book ads to a minimum, but maintain an active presence on your various social media outlets. People who get to know and like you will seek out your work.

  21. My decision to self-publish(in the near future) has more to do with me than anything else. I am not an established writer nor a celebrity. Sending out countless query letters got me a few nibbles but no bites. I simply don’t have the time to wait for a miracle. I am determined to blaze my own trail.

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  22. Pingback: Lessons Learned from 1000 Books - A Writer's Journey

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