Self Publishing and Traditional Publishing – Which Is Better?

I’m kind of fascinated by the debate over traditional publishing vs self publishing. Some authors are saying that traditional publishers aren’t offering enough marketing help anymore, and that they end up having to do a lot of marketing themselves. If they were to self publish, they’d have to do all of the marketing but they’d make much more money on each sale. But I have to wonder if this is just coming from authors who haven’t been able to get a book accepted by one of the big publishers.

I also keep reading about authors who self-published and became extremely popular and made a ton of money. But real examples of this seem hard to find. It’s usually just “I heard about …” rather than actual examples. When Fifty Shades of Grey first became popular, I thought that it was book only available on Kindle, but it turns out that author was published by an imprint of Random House, one of the “big six”.

For example, in this recent article on the Huffington Post:

It used to be enough to be published by one of the big six publishers to sell your book. Now, a published author has to be an online marketing machine, just like self-published authors. And traditionally published authors are turning to self-published authors for tips to reach readers.

As Pittis wound down with her workshop, a woman turned to me. “I just met two women who self-published, and they are each making $40,000 a month,” she told me in a whisper. “Debut authors,” she added.

This is a good moment to explain that most romance authors — traditionally published or not — don’t make a lot of money. Many multi-published romance authors have day jobs and hope for the moment they can make a living with their books.

The same article then continues:

As we shuttled out of the luncheon on our way to more workshops, a woman got my attention. “Screw the Big Six!” she said to me.

“I’m published by the Big Six,” I said, sheepishly. … What was wrong with me, I worried. Was I stupid not to self-publish?

The woman’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes grew large. “Really?” she asked. “That’s fantastic. How did you do that? I’ve been trying for ages.”

I think this is probably a pretty universal thing. The feeling of acceptance an author gets from being traditionally published is a pretty large pull, whether or not that author still has to do some marketing on her own.

But what is an author to do? The standard advice has been to have a website, a blog, and be really active on social media. But now there are articles coming out saying that this might not be the answer. I found this article at The Guardian interesting. It’s kind of long, but this is the part that really stood out for me:

Self-styled eSpecialists such as Penn often invoke the 80/20 rule which advises that, as a sales person (in this case an author), you should spend 20% of your time writing and 80% of your time networking through social media. In tune with this, self-epublishing author Louise Voss recently informed me that the success of her ebooks came about as a result of spending about 80% of her time marketing.

And if that seems like a limitation on your creative time, consider the case of San Diego-based “book publicity and promotions expert” Paula Margulies, who is taking the 80/20 rule even further. She claims that when tweeting and Facebooking you should spend “80% of your time posting about things other than your book, and 20% selling. That’s right – 80% of what you post should not be a sales pitch.” Why does she recommend this? “Because readers are human beings, who long to make connections with others … They join social networking sites not to receive non-stop reminders to buy, but to develop relationships.” Margulies advocates that authors blog and tweet about hobbies and personal activities: things you like, and which you think will draw other people to you. Essentially, 80% of your tweeting should be about cats, food, sport, what’s happening outside your window – all the things that millions of non-writers tweet about. This theory is backed up by many other self-appointed social media specialists.

Let’s look at the stats. If we take Margulies and Penn seriously, how much time does this leave for actually writing? Most self-epublished authors hold down a day job, so let’s give them three hours a day, after work, for author activities. That’s 1,095 hours a year. Reduce this to 20% (since you have to spend 80% of your time covertly self-promoting online), and you get 219 writing hours a year, which works out as 18 12-hour days to write a book.

So … if you have to promote your book yourself it will be a HUGE job that won’t leave you enough time to actually write a book in the first place. If this is true, then my feeling is that being traditionally published is a better bet, in terms of marketing, at least, because your book will be on your publisher’s website, maybe even in some bookstores, and they will do some marketing for it.

On the other hand, if you just can’t get a publisher to buy your book, ebooks are now popular enough that self publishing isn’t a totally terrible idea. If you do sell any copies you will make more money because you don’t have to give a cut to a publisher, and maybe if you gain even a small amount of popularity a big publisher will take notice.

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About The eBook Reader

I love reading and I love technology. eBooks are an interesting combination of the two.

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