But the tough question was whether to pursue traditional publication or self-publish, and that was HARD. I have been hearing for a while that hybrid authors make the most money in general...but on the writer forums I follow, there is definitely still a whiff of "last resort" to self-publishing. It's a choice you might make with sad resignation after shopping a book around for a while. And if you've had books traditionally published, there are experiences you tend to expect and enjoy from the publication process, like seeing a deal announcement in Publisher's Weekly, working with a great editor who fell in love with your book, and seeing your books at BEA or ALA, that you may feel sad to give up.
Then I started poking around some self-publishing forums and got a very different picture. The first thing I noticed was that self-published writers seemed less depressed. I'm sure there are sad, unsuccessful self-published writers who end up not really participating in forums and just give up, and there is surely commiseration in more private spaces. But...I definitely noticed a change of vibe, especially with the more successful writers. Traditionally published writers are...kind of depressed a lot, even when they're hitting bestseller lists. I also noted that some people were making a lot of money, and they weren't always writing romance or erotica, as I had previously assumed.
However, the self-published authors who are doing well seem to have many of these elements in common:
--Good covers and descriptions (obviously)
--A long series of books, at least three but oftentimes more
--Writing in a popular genre
--A romantic element in the story (unless the genre is very masculine)
--The ability to put out more than one book a year (sometimes WAY more)
So I can see why it's not for everyone. But if you do have these elements in place, it seems to me that success might be just as likely with self-publishing as it is with traditional publishing, given a particular boost by the fact of higher royalties and control over publication schedule. I can certainly write two books a year and maybe even more, but I haven't published two books a year, because it's been hard enough getting publishers to put out one book a year from me, and I have also sometimes been contracted for projects I was less enthused about, and therefore wrote more slowly and reluctantly, while passion projects were set aside.
If I published twice as many books, for twice the royalties, then I would only have to sell 1/4 the copies...in a theoretical world.
In the real world, many ebooks are sold at a huge discount in 99 cent sales and the like, and my advances have been much higher than the amount of copies sold, BUT, I can't expect that to continue.
Still, I wrestled with the decision. I had a hard time letting go of traditional publishing. It didn't feel to me like a "real book" without it. And yet, what is really more important to me? Putting out the book I want, in the way I want? Or just seeing it on the shelf of Barnes & Noble? (...I don't even live near a large bookstore anymore.) Why should I think this, when some of the stories that influenced me the most were indie comic books/graphic novels? I made some lists to help clarify:
Reasons to Publish Traditionally:
--No upfront expenses on my part
--Working with professional editor/copyeditor
--Potential to be on bookstore shelves
--Potential for reviews in trade publications, starred reviews, state lists
--Greater library sales
--More likely to be invited to events or eligible to apply for book festivals
--Publisher handles formatting, cover, distribution, some marketing
--If book "hits", publisher marketing machine can be amazing
--Sales rely less heavily on Amazon & potentially support indie bookstores
Reasons to Self-Publish:
--Income is more evenly distributed, not a lump sum
--No potential for getting a horrible cover and having to pretend to like it
--Can get books out faster
--Can publish a longer series
--More direct line to readers; i.e., can tell fans "the sequel comes out in fall" and know this is absolutely in your hands, no need to get permission to publish extra novellas, etc.
--Marketing has more of a "long game" aspect
--Can add artwork and "omake" (that's Japanese for extras...and if you've ever read manga you know what I mean)
--No fear of sudden, absurd deadline
--No fear of editor leaving, book getting pushed back, or other common roadblocks
There are some very valid points on both lists. On both lists, a lot are also more theoretical. Traditional publishing has the potential for a lot of cool things: the starred reviews, invitations to BEA, etc. But...it has been very rare that any of that stuff happens to me, and that's true for a large portion of authors. Even bookstore presence is by no means guaranteed these days.
A lot of the pros for self-publishing are simply avoidance of the more unpleasant potentials in traditional publishing. They're only potentials, but they do happen. I've never had a bad editor, but I have had an editor leave...luckily she was great, too, but I've known others that didn't have as much luck. I have had books pushed back. I've had crazy deadlines. It is pretty likely that if you have a few books, you'll end up having some kind of crisis moment. Most of these events are not a huge deal in the scheme of things...but with this book, which is so much a part of me, the dread of some unexpected unpleasantness increases exponentially.
These lists made one thing clear to me: the best thing about self-publishing is the control over the story and its presentation. In the case of this book, it was especially important because I wanted to do something very different with it.
The other factor I considered...what does moderate success look like, in both cases? Let's say I was making $20,000 a year as an author. As an indie publisher, this means two books a year making $10k each over time, or about 4,000 full price copies. I'm a pretty happy girl. I'm not rich by any means, but the mortgage is paid, there's food in the fridge, and I'm doing what I love. As a traditionally published author, this means selling a book a year for an advance of $23,000, to allow for agent fees. This doesn't sound impossible either. Plenty of people manage this. But it does feel more unpredictable. Taxes certainly don't help. You're not on a salary, so if you average $23k a year, it might be more likely to come as, say, a large advance one year and nothing the next, shoving you into a higher tax bracket in that one year, sucking up a larger chunk of your money, and then leaving you with nothing the next year. This happened to me when I made $70k in one lucky year...had to pay $23k in taxes...and then made a mere $6k the next year. If I'd lived in a state with state tax at the time, as I do now, it would've been even worse! I would have kept more money if the amount had been averaged.
At this point, it's all conjecture for me. I have no idea how well my books will do, if I'll sell 4,000 copies, or 400, or 40,000. But I can certainly see how some hybrid authors could enjoy great success...and 100% indie published authors as well.
As for which route is best, I think it is highly dependent on the type of book, your individual skills...such as writing speed or ability to conceive of a cover and/or hire a talented cover designer, and your personal dreams. I have no regrets about my five traditional published books, that's for sure. But I hope I can say the same about this series as well.