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Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing and The Pro Writer

Once upon a time, not long ago, there was ‘real’ publishing and vanity publishing. ‘Real’ publishing paid the author, and authors paid the vanity publisher. The lines were clear. Few self-published books made it across the threshold into legitimacy. Self-publishing carried a stigma, regardless of how well-written.

My, how things have changed.

The money spent on eBooks and eDevices has seen incredible growth...

The money spent on eBooks and eDevices has seen incredible growth…

Blame or credit ebooks and print-on-demand for creating a seismic shift in how books are created. Ebooks removed the cost barriers for self-publishers, because with a good cover and interior design, a self-published book could look just as good as one from a big publishing house. Print-on-demand meant that do-it-yourselfers no longer had to pay exorbitant prices to get a minimum print run. And with Amazon willing to carry self-published books and the demise of many brick-and-mortar bookstores, the final objection—not being able to get distribution to bookstores—vanished.

It took a while before professional writers, authors who had made a name for themselves with big traditional publishers, made the bestseller lists and won awards ventured into self-publishing. Partly from fear of the whiff of stigma, and partly from fear of publisher discord, professional writers let the indies and the newbies scope out the territory, work out the bugs, and reap some of the initial rewards. Then, like a claim jumper, when the risks and payoffs were known, pro writers (myself included) got into the game.

Why would a writer with publishing contracts for big publishers venture into self-publishing? I can think of several.

An author may want to pursue a project that his/her current publisher isn’t interested in backing. In this case, the author has the alternative of shopping the project to other publishers (always a hassle), or doing it himself.

Continuing a series the publisher has discontinued is another reason pro authors self-publish. The sales volume required to make a profit for a big publisher is a lot larger than the sales volume that will turn a nice chunk of change for a self-published author. Authors with an established fan base and reputation may elect to write the last book or two of a long-running series to satisfy readers, and today’s self-publishing options make that both feasible and potentially profitable.

Bounty Hunter (cover)Writing extra stories that happen before, in-between, and after existing traditionally published books might present a way to make fans happy and provide an extra stream of income. I do this with my Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures series of short stories and my Deadly Curiosities Adventures. These ebook shorts provide additional exploits of favorite characters and present an inexpensive way for new readers to try me out, while developing content that does not violate existing contracts.

Bringing reverted-rights books back into print is a big incentive for authors with long careers to get into self-publishing. Back in the day, giving you back your rights to a book after the author no longer sold enough copies to be profitable was a bitter joke. Now, authors can and do bring beloved out-of-print titles back to life with ebook and print-on-demand versions. I’ve had top authors tell me that they are now seeing income from fiction that hasn’t generated revenue since the 1960s.

Pursuing a pet theme or collaboration is yet another reason pro authors turn to self-publishing. Genre writing is a small club, and many pros know each other. Sometimes anthology projects or shared world ideas are born over drinks in a bar, and pursued because it sounds like fun. In such a case, the authors/editor may elect to self-publish to avoid contract conflicts with rival publishers and to speed the project on its way.

Self Pub vs Traditioinal PubWhat’s clearly emerging is a new professional writing career track, one that is likely to include traditional publishing, small press and self-publishing streams of income. On the plus side for readers, they benefit from seeing more output from their favorite authors, and the resurgence of hard-to-find old titles brought back to life. Authors benefit from creating multiple streams of income, making them a little less dependent should a publisher choose not to renew a contract or make an offer on a proposal. And I suspect that publishers also benefit, because they have a tendency to cherry-pick successful indie projects and offer contracts once the concept is proven and risk is reduced.

Welcome to the brave new world of publishing!

This article was originally posted for Gail Z Martin’s Days of the Dead Tour. The tour is now over, but you can still enjoy many of the guest posts and extracts by clicking here. Also, for more on Gail and her work, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar Ben Galley says:

    Great article, Gail! As a self-publishing fantasy author, who is also a fan of the Necromancer series, it’s great to see trad authors successfully pursuing projects via self-publishing. It’s a move to a form of hybrid publishing that is becoming increasingly popular now that self-publishing is establishing itself. It means more books and more freedom all round, which can’t be a bad thing, now can it?

    Ben

  2. Gail, the doors have certainly been flung wide open. But a persistent problem remains, especially from the point of view of consumers: quality.

    Since the doors are open to everyone… they’re open to everyone! I just finished reading an article on this very site (http://fantasy-faction.com/2014/self-published-fantasy-and-me) that talked about this.

    It can be very off-putting when self-pub isn’t done right. I wonder what effects this is ultimately having on people’s reception to this form of publication.

    Your thoughts?

    —Vic S.—

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