Why One Author Chose Traditional Publishing--And How to Decide if it's Right for You

Roni Loren's blog Fiction Groupie has been one of my favorites since I first began reading blogs. I was so happy for her when she signed with her agent, Sara Megibow (who is with one of the classiest, most pro-author agencies around, the Kristin Nelson Agency.) Then I was even happier when she got her book deal. 

As most of you know, I turned down an offer of representation last fall and decided to go the small publisher route so I could keep more control. It's working very well for me and I'm about to launch book #5, THE BEST REVENGE--the prequel to my comic Camilla Randall mysteries.

Ruth Harris has happily gone from the Big 6 (as an editor as well as author) to self-publishing, and we've talked a lot about the indie Kindle revolution. We had a popular post from Rick Daley in October, "When Landing an Agent Lands You Nowhere" telling what it's like to be represented by an agent who can't sell your work.

But lest Ruth and I seem to give too much weight to the "Self-Aggrandizing Self-publishing Monarch-persons," I decided it was time to hear from an author who is comfortable with the traditional publishing process. There's a lot of snarky "us vs. them" talk that goes on in the blogosphere, so I wanted to offer a positive view of traditional "legacy" publishing for those of you who are still holding onto that dream. If you read Publisher's Lunch, you'll see that deals are still being made for debut authors every week, and New York publishing is still alive and well. Not everybody is cut out to be a "wrublisher" or deal with the seat-of-your-pants world of small presses. So here's Roni with a great "can't we all get along" message for the Holidays. She is so right: don't let anybody criticize your dream!

Why I Went Traditional and 
7 Reasons Why You Should (or Shouldn't)
by Roni Loren

First, I want to thank Anne for having me over here at her fantabulous blog. I always learn something new when I stop by, and I love her philosophy of slow-blogging (even though I have yet to take it up myself, lol.) And Anne and I are both traveling on similar journeys with our books coming out, yet we've gone about it different ways. So Anne asked me to talk a little about the journey to debut authorhood from the perspective of someone who chose the traditional route.

There is some polarizing going on in the writing world lately. People in general like to take sides on issues and writers are no exception. Plotter or Pantser? Fast Drafting or Edit-As-You-Go? Literary or Genre Fiction? Man, we love to debate.

And most recently the topic on the docket is Indie vs. Traditional publishing. Both "sides" are guilty of hocking loogies at the other. Traditional pub people complain about the lack of quality in self-pubbed stuff, they fuss about Amazon, they lament about ebooks and missing the smell of paper. (Dude, WHY is everyone smelling their books?)

Then indie pubbed people talk about how traditional authors are letting themselves get totally screwed, they refer to Big Publishing like they're evil overlords, and they talk about how so many horrible books get published traditionally every day. "Look a typo! In a Big 6 book! Gah, the crap that makes it out! Editors aren't editing anymore!"

I'm not going to go into the whole debate because that's already been done well by Bob Mayer--read his post Writers For Traditional Publishers=Slave? Indie authors=f**kwad. Come on!.

But here's the thing I want everyone to hear: WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM

Writers are writers. Day to day we do the same things. And unless you're one of the BIG TIME multi-million dollar deal writers, we're ALL underdogs. We all have an uphill battle trying to sell books in a crap economy to a public who is reading less and less every year and who would rather a new app than a new book.

And you know what? How we do that is just a detail. Yes, if you go indie, you're going to have different challenges than if you go traditional. But the reverse is also true. Each path has it's own pros and cons. And the beauty of this whole thing is...

Your dream doesn't have to be the same as my dream.

So stop wasting time with these debates on who's right, who's better. Worry about what is best for YOU and your career. What path is going to fit your needs best?

Not sure what path is better for you? 
~Some key things to consider~

1. Validation - How deep is your need for validation from professionals?
This was a component for me. Part of my dream was to hear from an agent and a respected editor that my writing was good enough and that they believed it was worth paying money for. I found it enormously validating to know that Nelson Lit got 36,000 queries in 2010 and only signed 9 clients and I was one of them. Maybe that says something negative about my self-esteem, but that was part of my dream. Indie publishing would not have given me that. 
However, if you don't need that kind of validation. If you only need to hear from readers who love your work, than that part of traditional publishing doesn't offer you any additional benefit, so maybe indie is the way to go.
2. Deadlines - Do you find them motivating or restrictive?
Working on a deadline can be stressful. And working on someone else's time table is WAY different than your own self-imposed deadlines (like Nano or something). Self-imposed deadlines don't have true consequences beyond a little disappointment or guilt. But deadlines with traditional publishers are part of a legal contract. They are a big deal. 
I do get stressed knowing I have a deadline, but I also find it very motivating. It's taught me to reaarange priorities and not to slack. But if your creativity shuts down under a deadline, then this is a con of traditional publishing. If you indie pub, you set your own schedule.
3. Marketing - Can you balance this with writing?
Let's face it, even in traditional publishing, a lot of your marketing is up to you. I am fully responsible for building my online platform, for blogging, tweeting, getting the word out, blog tours, etc. But there's no denying that I get in some doors that would be much tougher if I were indie pubbed. My book automatically gets reviewed in RT Book Reviews magazine because they review all Berkley Heat books. I was in the Breaking In feature in Writer's Digest magazine this month because I have an agent who helped me with that. I get into the bookstores. I have a publicist through Penguin. My book was selected for Rhapsody's Book Club. I have someone working to sell my foreign rights. All of those things are possible for indie authors but there would have to be a lot more hustle and work for an indie author to get those things.
So I see this as a big pro for traditional publishing. I want to have time to write. I'm not an overly aggressive person, so trying to get my foot in the door for promotion doesn't jive with my personality.
4. Genre - Do you know where you would be shelved in the bookstore? 
I write erotic romance. It's a clearly defined subgenre that sells well. I know exactly where I would be shelved. And that's what a publisher wants. They want to know when they read your book exactly how they would market it and to which kind of readers they would sell it to. When I queried Sara, I said in my query "This story would appeal to readers of Shayla Black, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks." (Note: I didn't say mine was just like theirs or better than or any such nonsense. I just told her who my market would be. Incidentally, I sold to Berkley Heat who publishes all three of those ladies and I now share an editor with Shayla.) 
So if your book crosses a few genres or doesn't seem to fit in a specific spot in the bookstore (or is in a genre that has been declared "dead"), then indie might be the better option because you have a lot more leeway. You can be more experimental. I think this is one of the most exciting things about indie publishing. My own genre started in the small digital publishers before it went mainstream. I love the idea of having new genre options to read like romantic horror or m/m romance (which is now becoming mainstream because of experimental digital publishers.) 
5. Flexibility - Do you want to write in one genre or many?
In traditional publishing, at least when you're getting started, it behooves you to stick to one genre. You're trying to build a readership and your publisher wants to do the same. So, they don't want to sign you for a three book deal where one is horror, one a western, and one sci-fi. They want you to do one thing really well. Then, once you build up a fan base, you can get the flexibility to branch out. (Just ask those authors I mentioned above. They all do much more than erotic romance now.)  
But writers often have ideas that genre hop. I know I do. I don't only get erotic romance ideas--I'm not a hussy ALL the time. ;)  But I'm happy putting my energy into this right now because I love my series and want to build momentum. However, if that feels overly restrictive to you--indie affords you options. You can publish what you want. You can see which genres sell best for you.
6. Speed - How prolific are you?
Indie publishing favors the fast writer. The more backlist you have, the better chance you have for making a good living. If you can bust out a quality novella in a month, then the thought of waiting 12-18 months (the normal publishing turnaround time for publication) may seem interminable.  
I am a slow-ish writer--though I'm steadily improving. My deadlines are set up to have me finish a 90-100k book in 4-6 months. And that's a fast schedule because my books are going to be released every six months instead of once a year. If I was indie publishing, I wouldn't be getting anymore than two books out a year anyway, so the traditional publishing schedule doesn't hinder me any.
7. Control - Are you a control freak?
In traditional publishing, you still have a lot of control--at least in my experience. They haven't made me change anything I didn't want to. I had input on the covers before their development and after. (In fact, they scrapped my second book's cover when I pointed out an issue and gave me a completely different one.) I had full permission to rewrite the back cover blurbs. I wrote my tag lines on the front. They didn't like my original title but I'm the one who came up with the new one. However, they didn't HAVE to give me all that control. And I'm sure with some publishers, they're a lot more restrictive. And there are definitely things I have absolutely no say in like pricing, print runs, etc. 
So if you know you will have trouble not being in control of some of those things, indie may be the better route. However, remember with all that control comes LOTS of responsibility. My work on my cover involves sending an idea of what I want and photos of my character inspirations. That's it. Then the professionals take over and I don't see it again until they send it to me for final approval. So I've spent maybe 20 minutes working on my cover. If you indie pub, that is going to be a much more extensive process.
So based on all those things, I chose to pursue traditional publishing. And I'm happy with that decision. But you may come out with a different conclusion when you ask yourself those questions.

Figure out what path suits you best and strive for your dream. Don't criticize anyone else's. And remember that dreams can shift. You may find yourself on the other side of the coin one day. In fact, I think the hybrid author who publishes both traditionally and indie is going to be the one best poised for success. So don't go poo-pooing the other side. You may be one of them one day. ;)

So what do you think? What does your dream look like? Are you as tired as I am of people making this a "taking sides" thing? What made you decide on your own path? Which of the issues above are big sticking points for you?

Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Her debut erotic romance CRASH INTO YOU will be released January 3, 2012 by Berkley Heat/Penguin. If you want to read more posts like this one or follow her journey to debut authorhood, you can visit her writing blog Fiction Groupie or her author blog. She also tweets way too much for her own good.

Next week, in preparation for your New Year's resolutions, Ruth Harris will blog about PROCRASTINATION. Yeah. That thing you're going to worry about tomorrow.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,