NY Published Author Successfully Transitions to Self-Publishing: The Amazing Story of Cheryl Holt

After Writing 24 Books for New York Publishers, Cheryl Holt Adds 24 More by Self-publishing

This amazing, inspiring author success story needs to be shared throughout the indie publishing community.

I was very fortunate to interview Cheryl Holt, who had written 24 books for New York publishers and then successfully transitioned to self-publishing.

You can hear Cheryl’s story straight from her, and there is much that you can learn from her answers to my questions.

(1) What have you done to help market your self-published books? Was this a viable option when you were traditionally published?

When I wrote for the NY companies, I was “just” a paperback romance writer, so I got very little marketing assistance from my publishers. The biggest thing they did for me was to always buy me an ad in a romance trade magazine, Romantic Times, when I had a book released. Otherwise, I was pretty much on my own as far as handling any marketing. So from the very beginning, I had to devise my own marketing strategies, and I’ve continued to use those old tried-and-true ones as well as latching on to new ones that technology has made available.

I market my self-published books in exactly the same way that I marketed my books that were published by the NY companies. My biggest marketing tool, and the one I spend the most time on, is growing my mailing list. I started my mailing list with my very first release, and I constantly work on it. I have sign-up forms posted all over my web site, and I run contests several times a year, where I give away autographed print copies of my novels as the prize. The entrants’ email addresses are added to my mailing list. I work on the list constantly; I work on it everyday. The number one way to sell something (in any field) is through direct marketing to your dedicated customer base. So I keep track of my readers, and when I need to notify readers about a new release, that’s where I start. They’re loyal and voracious, and they’ve been very kind to me in sticking with me through all my career ups and downs. I’m always so grateful to them, and they’re the first to hear about everything that’s happening with me and my books.

There have been changes to my marketing that have come over the years. I have a Facebook fan page, and a Twitter account, but I don’t use them for personal postings. I simply post about my books, what’s coming, and what’s happening. I’ve always had a web page, ever since it became a “thing” that people could have (around 1999). I’m meticulous about keeping it updated. My readers like to know what’s coming next and when it’s coming, so I try to make it easy for them to log on and quickly see what’s happening. If you’d like to take a peek, the URL is www.cherylholt.com.

When I have a book coming, (in the month before the release date) I do a ton of promo to get myself noticed. I do blog tours at the big romance reader sites, I run contest giveaways, I do interviews, I buy banner ads, I buy spot ads, I do reader promotion at reader sites. I’ve even hosted Facebook parties with lots of guest authors and prize giveaways.

The main problem for self-published authors is that we’re being buried by a wave of content that’s swept over all of us. So it’s a hundred times harder to get noticed than it was ten years ago. There are so many books out there now, and even with my name recognition and dedicated fan base, it’s an enormous and exhausting challenge to get people to notice that I have a book coming.

For example, this was the first year since 2005 that I didn’t produce a book trailer for my new series. The web is so overloaded with video content that it’s just about impossible to justify the expense of creating a book trailer. Even with expanded distribution by a video company, any video is thrown into a sea of millions of other videos. So I’ve stopped doing them.

But otherwise, each and every year, I do more promo. It’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the game, and that hasn’t changed with self-publishing. I’m doing more and different types of promo, and I’m using more intense marketing than ever before.

(2) What advice would you offer new authors who are just learning the self-publishing ropes?

My biggest advice would be to read all about self-publishing and to learn as much as you can about it before you jump into it. And once you get going, keep reading and keep learning. The publishing industry—both on the NY end of it and in the self-publishing world—is changing so fast, and you have to keep up, or you’ll get crushed in the wave of what’s happening.

I heartily advise people to join a writer’s group (both a local one and a national one). At the local one, you can hang with other writers once a month and listen to how they’re working and adapting to this strange, new world we’re in. There are also big national groups you can join in various genres, such as Romance Writers of America or Sisters in Crime. You’ll get a monthly newsletter that contains articles about markets, trends, and changes.

If you can afford it, try to attend a big national writer’s conference. They’re always held once a year. Take all the classes and chat with other writers so you can absorb some of what they’ve figured out.

There are publishing companies, such as Writer’s Digest Books, that publish tons of “how to” books about writing, publishing, and book marketing, particularly e-book, self-published marketing. Start buying them and reading them.

Go out on the web and find some good blog sites (how about Chris McMullen’s blog?!) and other sites where authors provide guidance and advice. If you’re a tech dummy, as I am, find companies that can help you figure out how to format and publish on your own. I always use BookBaby to format and distribute my novels. I met them in the vendor’s room at a national writer’s conference, when I was first trying to figure out how I could start publishing my own books. I had no idea how to do that, and it seemed really complicated. I’m not much of a computer person, and all the processes seemed beyond my ability to figure out. At one on-line site, I was told to read their 85-page formatting manual before I tried to post anything! It was all so bewildering.

When I talked to the Book Baby book rep, he said, “We can do all that for you.” I about fainted. It had never occurred to me that there were companies out there that could provide exactly the sort of services I needed.

There are all kinds of companies now that help authors get their books published. When I first started writing novels, the web wasn’t a “thing” yet. I lived in a little town in rural Oregon, and I staggered around for years, trying to figure out how to start. It’s so much easier now to get information. Join a writer’s group! Attend regularly! Find several good blog sites, read them religiously, and absorb every bit of advice that’s offered! Read books about marketing and trends! Do some research and find companies that can help you. Read, read, read. Learn, learn, learn.

That’s always the best advice. Learn—and get smarter and better.

(3) When you made the switch from writing for NY publishers to self-publishing, what changes (if any) did you make to your writing?

I started writing manuscripts in the late 1990s, and my first books were published in 2000. For a decade, I wrote for various NY publishers, and I was a genre paperback writer. When I started out, paperbacks were really long. I’m dating myself, but do you remember books like SHOGUN? They were massive in length. So my first novels were really long, but “book length” was a factor that changed significantly in the decade that I wrote for those NY companies. And that’s precipitated the biggest changes to my current writing.

Book length is measured by word count, and my early novels were around 110,000 words. But starting about 2004, the price of paper shot up dramatically, so the NY publishers responded by shortening the length of books that they published. This caused a significant abbreviation of the size of novels, but it also caused authors to adopt major stylistic changes in our writing as we had to be able to tell much more story in a much shorter span of pages. Authors had to cut descriptive prose and tell the story using more dialogue. This brought us fast, fleet stories that were much easier (quicker) to read, but for many readers, they’ve gotten much less satisfying.

My early paperbacks were around 110,000 words, and when I finished writing for those NY companies a decade later, my books had to be between 80,000 and 85,000 words. That’s a considerable drop in book length, which brought about significant changes stylistically, so my early NY-published books are very different from the later ones.

I liked writing longer novels, and my biggest NY sales came in the beginning of my career when books were much longer and I was able to write long, emotional stories. I’m great at using emotion and drama, and I feel like I’m better at a longer length—and that my readers enjoy a deeper, more satisfying emotional story. So I’ve gone back to writing long books. With my self-publishing of e-books, I don’t have to worry about the price of paper or of page length. I’m typically writing books that are 120,000 words now, and my readers seem to really enjoy the longer length. I’m able to give them a “bigger”, more involved story with more in-depth characters and interesting plots.

My longest books, the ones I’ve published on my own, have been my biggest sellers in my career.

Cheryl Holt’s Story: The Transition from NY Publishers to Self-publishing

BookBaby author Cheryl Holt made a name for herself, as well as a respectable living, writing historical romance novels, first for a dedicated paperback publisher, then for several big mass market publishers. Her books did well, though Holt often had to come to terms with market forces beyond her control, that didn’t light her creative fire.

Holt had started writing as a young mother in her 40s. At home with small children, she wanted something to do, something that earned some money. She landed on novel writing. “I was clueless about how the money worked, or how the business worked,” she admits. Inspired by stars like John Grisham, she drew on her legal training to craft her first books. Her forays into suspense didn’t pan out, so she decided to look elsewhere.

“The romance companies back then used to find their new talent among moms who were at home and writing to earn a bit of extra money. They were essentially paperback mills who ran romance book clubs. They bought straight from the writer. ‘I’ll sell these romances,’ I told myself, ‘then I’ll go back.’”

Her seventh manuscript, a Regency-era romance, finally sold. Holt didn’t go back, but dug in, writing and editing steamy tales in the car, at soccer practices and swim lessons, whenever she had a few spare moments. She discovered something she never suspected: She could write really, really good love stories.

At the time, romances ran longer and readers devoured elaborate storylines. “When I was starting and reading, historical romances were just massive,” Holt recalls. “They had wild love stories, when the heroine was, say, taken to harem after being kidnapped by pirates. I’m not a particularly romantic person, but I got hooked on them. Romance readers have certain things they love, but I didn’t know what they were. I had no preconceived notions. Readers loved that.”

Holt’s unconventional takes on the genre led to her selling book after book to publishers. One of her early books sold out nationwide due to a hot cover that connected with fans, and soon she built herself a sizeable following. As tastes changed, Holt learned the hard way to adapt. By 2000, erotic romance was the rage, and Holt wrote what publishers asked for. But her readers longed for the sweeping romantic tales that had launched her career.

“Books were getting shorter, more erotic,” Holt says. “It was leaning toward pornographic really fast. I wasn’t into that. My sales were starting to fall. My hardcore fans kept asking why everything was vampires and erotica, instead of real love stories.”

Then 2008 hit, the economic downturn that kicked the legs out from under many mass publishers. Holt had a deal in place, but her publisher faced a daunting reality: the overwhelming majority of bookstores closed as the economy faltered, stores where her publishers had banked on selling Holt’s work. “They wrote me off as a loss,” she sighs.

Holt found herself unemployed, with a family and a mortgage in Los Angeles, one of many workers in their 50s looking for a job, any job. She was so discouraged, she thought she’d never bother with writing again, though writing had been her profession for years. “The recession cut a swath through the ranks of paperback writers,” she says. “I took it personally. The universe was telling me to go get a real job, but there were no jobs.”

Time passed, however, and Holt noticed that fans were still out there, hoping for new reads from their favorite authors. Kindle came onto the scene, and Holt began to reconsider. “I asked myself if I should start over. I was good. I was popular, but the companies didn’t really care. We writers were a dime a dozen in their eyes. There was no chance to go back that way.”

Self-publishing beckoned. The project management and production side of things still seemed daunting, however. Then, at a romance conference, she ran into some people from BookBaby, who helped her see how simple publishing her work independently could be.

After writing 24 novels for publishers, Holt has put out 24 of her own, letting her own interests and fan response determine when and how she publishes her work. An example: She gave her readers all three books in a trilogy at once, where a traditional publisher would have doled the books out over several years.

Like love, an independent career is not as easy as it seems at first. It takes work. Holt still struggles to find the right supporting team, and income isn’t what it once was during paperback publishing’s heyday. But Holt is glad she’s still able to write and reach readers, now on her own terms. “It’s a blessing to be on my own. My best sellers are ones that the publishers rejected,” she laughs. “My Lord Trent trilogy, for example, have been best-selling books of all.”

You can find out more about BookBaby and their recent Independent Authors Conference.

More about Novelist Cheryl Holt

CHERYL HOLT is a New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon “Top 100” bestselling author who has published forty-eight novels.

She’s also a lawyer and mom, and at age forty, with two babies at home, she started a new career as a commercial fiction writer. She’d hoped to be a suspense novelist, but couldn’t sell any of her manuscripts, so she ended up taking a detour into romance where she was stunned to discover that she has a knack for writing some of the world’s greatest love stories.

Her books have been released to wide acclaim, and she has won or been nominated for many national awards. She is considered to be one of the masters of the romance genre. For many years, she was hailed as “The Queen of Erotic Romance”, and she’s also revered as “The International Queen of Villains.” She is particularly proud to have been named “Best Storyteller of the Year” by the trade magazine Romantic Times BOOK Reviews.

She lives and writes in Hollywood, California, and she loves to hear from fans.

Visit her website at www.cherylholt.com.

Follower her on Facebook.

Check out her latest series:

Forever Yours by Cheryl Holt

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Self- or Traditional Publishing?

Image from ShutterStock

Image from ShutterStock


This is one of the perennial questions authors face, even long after first making the decision. Once you choose, you question your decision, and wonder if the grass is greener on the other side.

But that first decision is important. More important than you realize at the time.

It seems intuitive that if self-publishing doesn’t work out, you can try traditional publishing later. Or vice-versa.

You can, but there are some complications that you don’t tend to realize at the time of that critical decision.

So before we discuss the pros and cons, and consider which option may be the best fit for your needs, let’s examine some of those complications.


Many authors self-publish first because that path seems easier to take. Then later, if their books aren’t selling, they wonder if they should switch to traditional publishing.

But there’s something they should know before the decide the first time:

First Rights vs. Reprint Rights

Traditional publishers and literary agents prefer first rights.

That is, they prefer to publish books that have never been published before.

Once you self-publish, you can no longer sell the first rights to your book.

Now you’re selling reprint rights, which are much harder to sell.

If your self-published book isn’t selling, why would a publisher want to invest in it? You need to convince a publisher that your book will sell. That’s nearly impossible when a simple search on Amazon shows the publisher that your book isn’t selling.

Even if your self-published book is selling, it has to really sell like hot cakes to interest a traditional publisher in reprint rights. And if that’s the case, why would you stop self-publishing? If you can sell thousands of books per week, you might interest a publisher in picking up your title. But why on earth would you do that if you can sell in large volume all on your own?

If you have moderate sales, that’s not attractive for reprint rights. Maybe those are all the sales you’ll get. The publisher has missed out on the initial splash. Why pick up the leftovers?

Switching from traditional to self-publishing carries its own challenge.

In this case, the difficulty lies in getting the rights to your book. The details lie in your contract. If and when rights do revert back to you, that doesn’t mean you’ll receive a copy of an editable file with all the editing and formatting built into it. Rather, you’ll probably start over with the formatting. And you’ll probably need a new cover.


There are a couple of ways that you can make the switch successfully.

The trick is to realize this before you first make the decision about whether to self-publish or publish traditionally.

Shop your book to an agent or publisher first.

This may even have its advantages if you’re already leaning heavily toward self-publishing.

If your book doesn’t wind up getting published traditionally, you’ll be able to self-publish instead. What’s the rush? If instead you self-publish first, you’ll lose your chance to sell the first rights to a publisher, which makes it hard to switch to traditional publishing.

Therefore, if traditional publishing is important to you or is something you’re strongly considering, you might explore agents or publishers first, and then self-publish if either you don’t find an agent or publisher or if you land a deal, but don’t like the terms.

While you’re shopping your book proposal around, you can write more books and get your online author platform going. This way, if after several months you decide to switch to self-publishing, you’ll be much better prepared to do it. Plus, the process of writing query letters and book proposals and thinking about the business side of your book will help you when it comes time to preparing your book description, back cover text, biography, marketing, etc.

You learn some valuable skills in the process. It may be worth going through even if you had been leaning toward self-publishing.

Write multiple books and use a pen name.

The alternative is to self-publish one book in one name, and if you decide you want to explore the traditional publishing route, write a different book in a different name.

There are actually many authors who do both—self-publish and traditionally publish.

Even if you do land a publishing deal, most authors write many more books than they can get published traditionally, so self-publishing offers a way to publish all of your books.

You get the best of both worlds by creating two brands as an author—one brand as a self-publisher, and another as a traditional publisher.

You’ll probably find it easier to market your self-published book using your own name (or a nick name).


The main differences are:

Do you have a book that’s particularly well-suited for library use or bookstore purchases?

If so, if you can get your book traditionally published, there is better library and bookstore potential.

It’s not about hoping that it will sell in bookstores.

It’s about knowing that your book will thrive in that environment. If you have a great marketing plan for sending customers into bookstores across the nation, that will help a lot. Certain kinds of books sell this way.

Your book won’t wind up on an endcap. It won’t appear on the top shelf with the front cover facing the customer. It won’t have a dozen copies on the shelf.

Your book will have limited visibility. It will be buried among many others on some shelf. It will have a limited shelf life unless you succeed in driving sales in bookstores.

Certain kinds of books attract library use. Again, if you have a great marketing plan for how to send people across the nation to their local libraries to inquire about your book, that’s a huge plus.

Otherwise, what is a publisher really doing for you? Many publishers don’t do many of the things that authors hope they will do.

Unless you’re already a bestselling author or celebrity. And if you are, I can’t believe you’re over at my humble blog reading this article. 🙂

Even if you have a book well-suited for sales to bookstores or libraries, you need to convince a publisher or agent of this. If not, you can still sell books to libraries and bookstores as a self-published author. Distribution isn’t as easy, especially on a very wide scale, but there are self-published authors who’ve done their homework on this and who do sell many copies this way, especially to local and regional stores (not necessarily bookstores).

However, note that bookstore distribution isn’t guaranteed even with a traditional publisher.

Are you an author of a textbook or other academic resource?

There are advantages of publishing textbooks and educational resources through major textbook publishers.

For example, if you can get classes around the country to adopt your textbook, that can be huge for sales—especially if they are fundamental courses that most students take. Many textbooks are peer-reviewed and heavily researched, which appeals to teachers. Most instructors adopt textbooks that are traditionally published. It’s much easier to get a traditionally published textbook adopted by a college bookstore.

Whether or not you can land the deal is another question. Textbook publishers will likely scrutinize your resume. The strength of your resume, and current position, may weigh much higher than your content knowledge and communication skills.

Supplemental materials can sell quite well even if they are self-published. Your resume is more likely to impress a customer at Amazon than an editor for a publishing house (where all the proposals come from professors).

Do you have a scholarly or more literary fictional work?

This gets a little tricky because publishers want to publish books that are most likely to sell.

But publishers also need well-written scholarly and literary works to help build their brands and show customers that they have quality material to deliver.

No matter how you publish, many literary pieces may find sales hard to come by, but you might find your market more easily with traditional publishing.

Still, landing the publishing deal and finding readers in the more scholarly, literary market can be tough.

Do you have a resume that will appeal to a traditional publisher or literary agent?

Are you a celebrity? Celebrity status can help to land a publishing deal. But if you have a huge following, that can help you as a self-publisher, too.

Are you a nonfiction author with an impressive resume? That may appeal to traditional publishers. Though again, that resume can be a marketing asset even as a self-publisher.

Are you the perfect person to carry out your book idea? If you can convince a publisher that you have a book idea that will really take off, and you’re the perfect person to write that book, this can help you get published.


Do you have a great book idea, but you might not be the best person to carry it out?

Then here is what may happen.

You might submit your book proposal to a publisher.

The publisher thinks, “That’s a great idea. But we need someone with relevant expertise to write this book.”

Guess what’s going to happen? Your proposal gets rejected.

Then a couple of years later, you see a book in the bookstore very similar to your proposal, written by someone with expertise on that subject.

No, it’s not plagiarism. They didn’t copy your book word for word. They took the overall idea, which you can’t copyright, and did something similar. Not so similar as to get sued for plagiarism. They probably changed your idea and made it even better.

Do you have some other goal or need besides reaching readers and selling books?

Maybe you just want to see your book on a bookshelf in a bookstore or library.

Maybe you just want to see a major imprint’s name on the spine of your book.

Maybe you want the status of being published traditionally.

Maybe you want to experience the feeling of getting accepted through a process that has a huge rejection rate.

These are reasons to favor traditional publishing, even if sales might be better otherwise.


Maybe you want to write a unique book that’s not likely to have much of an audience.

Maybe you have a time-sensitive topic that needs to reach the market quickly.

Maybe you have an idea for a series of books that you intend to publish once every month or two.

These are reasons to favor self-publishing.


A few things are equally tough no matter how you publish:

There is no easy path.

Traditional publishing requires learning about query letters, book proposals, and possibly approaching an agent. It takes much patience, persistence, and many queries. You must think about the business side of writing, as this interests the publisher. There is a lot of extra work that you must do besides just writing.

Self-publishing isn’t an easy alternative. Sure, you don’t have to worry about rejection letters. But do you actually want to sell books? If so, you need a marketable idea, you need to research your genre, you need to learn about your audience, you need to edit, you need to format, you need to design a cover, you need to package your book, you need to learn about marketing, etc.

No matter what, it takes self-motivated diligence to succeed as a writer. Neither self- nor traditional publishing offer an easy way to do it.

Marketing is your responsibility.

No matter how you publish, marketing is up to you, and it generally takes good marketing to sell books.

Publishers invest most of their marketing budget in bestselling authors and celebrities, i.e. books that they feel are most likely to sell.

Many new authors have the unrealistic expectation that publishers will market their books for them. You might benefit a little, but in general it’s largely up to you.

If you want to improve your chances of getting a second book published, you need to help your first published book sell very well.

Personal interactions can be a new author’s best asset. Nobody else can do this for you.

A writer’s life comes with challenges.

If you explore the traditional published route, you’re likely to receive many rejection letters.

No matter how you publish, your book will eventually receive public criticism in the form of reviews.

Criticism is a challenge that all authors face. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Earning good money from royalties won’t be easy.

It’s hard to sell books whether your self-publish or traditionally publish.

Even if you breakthrough and land a publishing contract, most authors still make much less from book royalties than most people realize.

However, you can get a decent advance (say, $1000 to $5000) if you land a publishing deal. You might not earn anything beyond that, but at least you have a chance to earn something up front.

With self-publishing, you can earn up to 70% royalties (via Kindle), compared to a typical 5 to 15% for traditionally publishing. A traditionally published book sometimes commands a higher price point, but self-publishing royalties can be lucrative. Either way, the challenge is to sell books. If your book doesn’t sell, it really doesn’t matter what your royalty percentage is.

Self-publishing pays you as your books sell. There is no advance. And there is no guarantee of sales.


Except for the special cases I noted previously that may favor traditional publishing…

Your best chance of succeeding as an author is:

  • to self-publish multiple similar books with a very long-term plan and marketable ideas
  • to self-publish multiple similar books and also traditionally publish under a pen name

If you happen to win the traditional publishing lottery, selling hundreds of thousands of your first book so that you become one of the very rare bestsellers that will gain premium bookstore exposure and publisher marketing, then traditional publishing can be very lucrative.

Or if you plan to only write one or two books and then quit… This greatly limits your chances of success no matter how you publish. You might get the most out of it by traditionally publishing.

But most authors who get traditionally published will be midlist authors, in which case it will take a lot of books to generate a lot of sales. And self-publishing is best-suited for publishing several books. You can publish some traditionally and others with self-publishing, or you can self-publish all of them, but your best chances of succeeding as an author are to include self-publishing at least as part of your long-term plan.

The key is that no matter what you need to:

  • think very long-term
  • have self-motivated diligence
  • be very patient
  • do your research before you write
  • be willing to learn and apply marketing strategies
  • produce quality content

But if you’re willing to write several similar books, figure out what your audience wants, gradually develop a professional author platform, focus on long-term publishing goals, and learn how to market your book, such self-motivated diligence naturally lends itself to self-publishing and gives you a healthy long-term edge. Things may start out very slowly, but there is much potential for the author who does his or her homework, produces quality content, and write several similar books.

These same skills can help with traditional publishing, too. But you may find it difficult to get all of your book ideas traditionally published, so even if you publish traditionally, you probably want to self-publish on the side, too (probably under different names).


You can win my 4-books-in-1 paperback book on Self-Publishing with Amazon.

This is an Amazon Giveaway hosted by Amazon. If you win, Amazon will fulfill the order and ship your prize directly to you. Click the following link for your chance to win. Every 300th entrant will win. Up to two winners.


NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Mar 25, 2015 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See the Official Rules at http://amzn.to/GArules.


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Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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Should You Self-Publish?


For most authors, the decision of whether to self-publish or search for a traditional publisher is a tough one. I wrestled with this decision (it fought like a crocodile) in the years leading up to 2008. Even after self-publishing multiple books in 2008 (I had one completely written and the material for several others already well-prepared), I continued to wrestle the crocodile for another seven months. Then sales of two of my books erupted and later the next summer I launched a series that became popular enough that I no longer questioned my decision.

That’s what you hope for, when you’re wondering which route to take. You’re hoping that a day will come when you no longer look back over your shoulder, wondering about the other road (that road you didn’t take is such a clichéd road, it really isn’t worth any anguish).

Not an Easy Way Out

Self-publishing isn’t the easy way out. It might seem that way at first:

You don’t have to find a publisher or an agent, you don’t need to write query letters, you don’t need to put a book proposal together, you don’t need to buy Writer’s Market, you don’t need to meet the right people, you don’t need to write sample chapters for a book that might never get published, you don’t need to make marketing commitments, and you don’t need to wait years hoping to get lucky.

You also won’t have to deal with a pile of rejection letters:

Self-publishing is a sure thing, baby! (Well, at least as far as getting published is concerned; whether or not you’ll sell a copy to anyone other than your grandma, that’s another question.)

But self-publishing is still a lot of work. You’re the writer (so you still need to learn the craft), you’re the editor (which means a great deal more work once the book is written), you’re the formatter (which means learning a new art and how to use the software to pull it off), you’re the illustrator (can you draw, too?), you are your own marketing department (put Executive on your name badge), and you are your only public relations specialist (if you fail at this job, you can kill all your hard work faster than your favorite speedy cliché).

That’s a lot of work for someone who just wants to write. It might just be easier to find an agent or publisher after all.

And you don’t really escape the pain of rejection… because anybody can post a critical review right in plain sight where the whole world can see it (stock up on thread to mend your bleeding heart).

You’re not Really Alone

It really isn’t self-publishing. It’s indie publishing.

You only do it all yourself if you choose to do so:

  • There is an abundance of free information available to help authors learn writing skills, editing skills, cover design skills, marketing skills, and publishing skills.
  • The CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing community forums have many knowledgeable participants to help out if you have a question.
  • You have the option of joining a writing group or organizing a focus group from within your target audience to help provide valuable feedback.
  • You can recruit extra pairs of eyes to help you proofread.
  • Services are available for editing, formatting, or cover design if you need to hire help. You may find affordable service at high quality if you do your homework well.
  • What you lack in financial resources you can make up for in time (it’s money, right?). You can choose to take your time to get it right.
  • You can find support from others, such as this wonderful WordPress community.

Changing Tides

It wasn’t long ago that self-publishing equated to hundreds of books piled in an author’s garage (though somehow I still have hundreds in my home office…).

For most authors, it was either traditional publishing, vanity publishing, or no publishing (and too often, the latter was the case).

Print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and e-readers like Kindle have revolutionized the publishing industry. Now anyone can  publish (and, believe it or not, there are even some authors who have their dogs publish, so if you hear this expression, there is a little truth to it—a photo book about dogs, surely; why shouldn’t it be written by, narrated by, and published by the dog?).

And hundreds of thousands of indie authors are publishing.

Self-publishing was ripe when it first came out. Many readers weren’t aware of the new concept in the early years. There were fewer authors and books, too. E-readers were new and quite appealing. The market was growing rapidly.

Then word started to spread about books with editing, formatting, and content problems. Many customers discovered these problems firsthand. Some review abuse from authors didn’t help the image (fortunately, Amazon has made great strides toward limiting this in the past couple of years). There were also some people (perhaps the extremists we will not label as authors) who had heard of amazing success stories, who were hoping to make a quick fortune with little effort (you can easily spot them because they have deep scars where they continue to scratch their heads).

Yet the number of indie authors and indie books continued to grow, and support for them grew with it. Take tens of thousands of authors, add their families, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, and you can see that there is ample support for the concept of self-publishing. Many indie authors read indie books; many more people who know indie authors read indie books (and not just by authors they know). It’s not uncommon to search Amazon for “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform” to try to find a good self-published book to read.

Amazon and traditional publishers both did indie authors some huge favors. Amazon’s role is obvious: Thank Amazon for the beautiful red carpet. Every big traditional publisher must yearn badly for a time machine. How has indie authorship come to take so much of the current market share? Would the publishers change their e-book pricing strategies if they could dial the calendar back several years? Would they focus more of their efforts on the advantages of digital books? Would they try to get to market faster? Would they encourage their authors to utilize more marketing strategies that top indies have come to thrive on? You might sooner solve the Tootsie Roll riddle…

Traditional publishers have responded to the effects of print-on-demand and e-books. But they also have the disadvantages of being big business: especially, s.l.o.w. response time. Things continue to change, though. They are looking ahead, they have a great deal of publishing experience, and they have many resources. They haven’t disappeared; they just haven’t dominated the market like they once did. Definitely, don’t count them out.

Several bookstores, especially chains, might wish they could turn back the clock, too. So many indie books selling each year. Some bookstores have taken advantage of this opportunity; some have avoided it at all cost. It may have been silly for them to blindly stock several copies of every indie book. But there were some good opportunities to get some of this traffic.

The image of indie publishing seems to be rebounding. Customers have realized that they can filter out what’s good to read by careful study of the product page and Look Inside. Excellent content is good to read regardless of how it is published. Some indie books have exceptional covers, wonderful editing and formatting, and great stories, too. Indie authors have the freedom to provide content that traditional publishers would never have published in the past. An indie author can choose to write to a smaller audience; that smaller audience may appreciate this. Many indie authors provide personal experiences with their marketing, which helps to attract new readers. The best indie books are competing with the best traditionally published books.

Successful indie authors are opening doors for everyone else. Some are even turning down lucrative offers from traditional publishers (check out this article, recently referred to from the CreateSpace community forum). If you do sign with a traditional publisher, you risk having your digital or other rights tied up for a very long time (if you can get a little success, by that point in time you might do much better than the advance offered up front).

Success Still Isn’t Easy

Amazon and other companies are giving indie authors the opportunity to publish. But everyone won’t be striking gold. You might not even strike dirt.

There are millions of books available for sale. Only the top 200,000 or so sold one copy in the past day. Most books don’t even sell a copy per day, on average.

You put so much time into writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing (what you don’t do yourself, you still put time and money into arranging). You invest months, perhaps years of hard work, and you may also invest good money along with it. But sales aren’t guaranteed.

Sales are still hard to come by.

Traditional publishers and agents do have benefits to offer (you might also wonder if they are receiving fewer submission: are your chances better now?). They may be able to help with editing and formatting. They might help a little in the way of marketing, like getting your foot in the door for television or radio interviews, hooking you up with an effective publicist, sending out advance review copies, and listing your title in their catalogs. You’ll probably still be expected to market. You might receive an advance, though it may be $5,000 or less, not the big number you’ve always dreamed about. You have better prospects for getting your book stocked in a chain bookstore (then you get to learn the reality of returnability and big discounts).

No matter how you publish, the key to success is hard work combined with marketable content.

In the end, to the customer it’s the quality of the book that you’ve produced that really matters, not how you got it published.

Option Three

It isn’t indie publishing versus traditional publishing. Both have merit, not just to authors, but to readers, too.

Some authors are choosing both.

Traditional publishers can only produce books so quickly. Some authors write books faster than they can be published. Other authors write a few books that interest big publishers, but several other books that may not. One way to publish all their books is to traditionally publish some and self-publish the rest (sometimes, with a pseudonym). More and more traditional authors are exploring self-publishing.

On the other side, many authors are starting out with self-publishing, hoping to attract traditional publishers.

This can work two ways. If you self-publish a book that scarcely sells, it will be hard to convince a publisher to take up your book. But if you grow a large following and gain frequent sales and many reviews, a publisher may be interested in publishing a subsequent book (or even republishing the same book). They’ll want to be impressed with your success and your marketing platform, and it won’t be easy, but the potential is there.

Yet if you can build a large following and earn frequent sales on your own, why would you want to sign a contract with a publisher, tie up your rights, and take a big cut in royalties (even though a large sum up front would be enticing)? If you can be self-made, why give that up? It’s easy to fantasize about receiving a lucrative offer and turning it down, but if you wind up wearing these shoes, it might not turn out to be so easy. It would sure be a nice problem to have, though, wouldn’t it?

Other authors wonder if the grass may be greener on the other side. Some authors try self-publishing, then try to find an agent or publisher when that doesn’t pan out. Some authors land a contract with a traditional publisher, but don’t make what they were expecting, and switch to self-publishing.


There are a lot of opinions out there on whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is better.

Personally, I think it’s the wrong question to ask.

What’s better for you may not be the same as what’s better for someone else. Other people’s lists of advantages and disadvantages can help you collect ideas for your own list, but your list of pros and cons will be unique.

I believe both options can be good, and so is “option three” (i.e. both).

Nothing beats the feeling of holding your book in your hands, knowing that you gave it your best, believing it to be done professionally. That’s what you should strive for. Whether you do this yourself, with help as an indie author, or via a traditional publisher or agent, the end result is still the same—you shared your passion with readers.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

What Are Your Writing Goals?


How you define success, establish expectations, and prepare a marketing plan depend on your objectives.

So as you plan the new year and make writing resolutions, take a moment to consider your objectives as an author.

Here is a sample of writing goals:

  • To master the craft of writing. Spend more time writing, of course. Also, spend time reading classics and the kind of writing you wish to master. Seek feedback from readers. Search for writing tips.
  • To share your writing with others. Post writing on your blog. Publish a book. Publish poetry, short stories, essays, or articles online or in print. Market your written works to your specific target audience.
  • To support your writing hobby financially. Research which kinds of books you are a good fit to write, where there is a significant demand. Perfect your book to improve your prospects for good reviews and recommendations. Seek a traditional publisher or design a highly marketable cover, blurb, and look inside. Learn how to market your book effectively. Look for related jobs that you may excel at, such as editing or cover design.
  • To have fun. Write in your spare time as a hobby. Enjoy it. Be creative. Devote more time to writing and less time to marketing and other related activities. Find fun and creative ways to do those other activities so you can keep the focus on enjoying your writing. Don’t get caught up in stats or reviews.
  • To leave a legacy for your children. Involve your kids with your books. Make up stories for them at bedtime. Write special stories or poems just for them and publish them privately. Encourage your kids to assemble books and publish those privately. Mention your family in the acknowledgments or dedications section of your book. Specify how royalties will be awarded and distributed in your will, and provide information that will help your heirs understand and manage your books and author platform.
  • To gain accolades. Master the craft of writing and storytelling. Focus on perfecting your book idea and the book itself. Enter contests. Learn from your experience and enter more contests. Create a fan page and include a link to it at the end of your books. Interact with your fans. Attend writing conferences. Build connections among writers, agents, and editors. Develop a very thick skin because there is much criticism on the road to praise.
  • To try out a new genre or writing style. Don’t view it as an experiment. Have fun with it, but also take it seriously. Research what you will be writing thoroughly. Motivate yourself to master the new art. Do your best, as if it’s the only way you will ever write.
  • To share your knowledge or help others. Master the material you wish to share. Master the art of explaining ideas clearly. Master the art of teaching effectively. Research your specific target audience’s learning styles and background level. Perfect your article or book. Post relevant free content on your website. Post relevant content on other websites to reach people who aren’t already in your following. This can be an online article or a YouTube video channel, for example.
  • To get published traditionally. Research books that are highly marketable which are a good fit for you to write. Master the craft of writing your book in a way that will please a specific target audience. Make connections with agents, editors, illustrators, cover designers, and publicists. Receive advice from experienced, successful publicists and agents at the outset of your project. Subscribe to magazines and newspapers that are a good fit for your writing. Read and study those articles for several months, then submit your own articles for publication. Research how to write query letters and book proposals. Find a literary agent. Post your rejection letters where you will see them every morning to fuel your motivated self-diligence. Strive to improve. Never give up.
  • To become instantly rich and popular without any effort. Don’t write at all. Get a full-time job. Be frugal. Spend every spare penny on lottery tickets. Hope. Pray. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t pan out.

Publishing help

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

“Pretty Good for Being Self-Published”—Insult?


There are many comments out there about self-publishing, both good and bad.

Let’s look at a particular back-handed compliment: “Your book is pretty good for a self-published author.”

Halfway through this remark you feel flattered. As you prepare to express a simple thank you, your cheeks turn red, your blood boils, and you think to yourself, “Hey, what are you trying to imply?”

It’s like a husband telling his wife that she did pretty good for a girl (a great line if you want an excuse to sleep on the sofa).

On the one hand, a self-published author is challenged with many tasks: writing, editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. It’s no easy task for one person to master all of this, or even to perfect a complete book after paying for some services. An indie book that’s well-written and has a good storyline, but has a few extra typos and good-though-not-perfect formatting is a pretty good book. If one of the big publishers had picked this book up, it might have only a couple of typos and perfect formatting. So wouldn’t it be fair to say that it’s pretty good for being self-published?

Now we switch hands. If you read a book, it’s either pretty good or it isn’t. A customer shouldn’t expect to make allowances and settle for something less. If the customer sees an issue and deems it to be minor, it’s still a pretty good book; if the customer sees an issue and views it as a problem, it’s not a pretty good book. Ultimately, it’s each customer’s opinion that matters. After investing money on a product plus the time to use it, you have expectations for what to receive in exchange for your investment. The value of the product depends on the quality of the product in relation to the investment. (Making allowances for where the product came from is purely psychological on the part of the customer. If you try two colas blindfolded, you might be surprised at which one you prefer.)

Of course, it would have been less hostile to say, “I really enjoyed your book. Would you mind if I offered a minor suggestion?”

You can see the cup as half full: “It’s a pretty good book.”

Or you can see the cup as half empty: “For being self-published.”

Really, the choice is yours.

By the nature of the statement, the person is obviously biased toward traditional publishing. If you get someone who favors traditional publishing to call your self-published book “pretty good,” maybe you should smile about this instead of getting frustrated about it.

Another thing you can do is use it as motivation. If you already have a pretty good book, some extra motivation might lead to a really nice future. 🙂

The last thing you want to do is look unprofessional. Don’t let a remark like this lure you into looking amateurish. Building a reputation takes time and patience, but it can be lost as quickly as losing your temper.

There is plenty of negativity out there. Find the good in it. Find some motivation in it. Learn to cope with it. Learn to stay away from it as much as you can.

There is plenty of positivity out there, too. Seek this. It’s easy to find, especially if you look for it.

* * *

Follow me at WordPress, like my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

A Different Kind of Book Marketing


Authors are trying to market their books. Yet this is only a fraction of the book marketing that occurs daily:

  • Many publishers, bookstores, and literary agents are trying to brand the notion that traditionally published books are much better. And why not? Many feel that it’s in their interest to reinforce this perception.
  • Many editors are striving to advertise common editing mistakes and the need to correct them. Indeed, editing is important. Exactly what is good enough?
  • Many cover designers wish to reinforce the importance of a good cover and to negate the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But will the benefits outweigh the costs?
  • Publicity consultants, e-book formatters, PR services, advertising agencies, professional review specialists, font licensers, contract attorneys… So many individuals and businesses have products to help you with your book. Which ones do you really need? You may need some, and it’s a tough call to make.

Do you see frequent remarks online pointing out problems with self-published books? That’s exactly what many businesses and individuals want. Some of the people pointing this out don’t have anything to gain by it; others believe that they do. The indies who point this out are shooting themselves in their feet; the overall perception of indie books does have an impact on sales.

Those in the traditional publishing industry, or who are closely tied to it, may also be shooting themselves in their feet when they blast indie books. For example, when they paint a picture of e-book formatting problems, it may deter sales of e-readers and e-books to some extent, affecting traditionally published e-book sales, too.

There are some indie books with formatting, editing, cover, or writing issues. The worst offenders aren’t selling much; they aren’t even discovered much in search results, since the bestsellers tend to be much easier to find. We know about them from customers who bought them by mistake and learned their lesson from not reading the blurb and checking the Look Inside (probably a more common occurrence with freebies), and it’s been reinforced by many people who, for whatever reason, like to point this out.

Nearly everyone in the book industry would benefit, whether they realize it or not, from painting a positive image of the best books, rather than focusing on negatives. Just knowing there are problems out there weighs on a reader’s mind. People like to shop for products where the experience seems positive. Indies, especially, should point out features of quality indie books. Marketing to help spread news of the best books helps everyone.

Just like authors need to market their books, editors need to market their services. The better way to go about this is to focus on the benefits of good editing, rather than describing the problems with poorly edited books. Here’s the difference: Painting a positive picture of books helps a little to stimulate book sales overall, whereas a negative picture deters book sales a little. The better books sell, the more demand there will be for editing and other services.

Similarly, cover designers should focus on the benefits of hiring a graphic artist, instead of pointing out the problems with lousy covers.

Authors shouldn’t just be marketing their own books, they should also paint a positive picture of books, e-books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, Kindle, traditional publishing, self-publishing, editing, cover design, and all things books.

Create a positive world that will attract and please book lovers of all kinds. This will maximize sales and services all around.

There isn’t a true distinction between traditional and self-publishing. Many traditionally published authors also self-publish; it’s becoming increasingly popular. What? Are they awesome at the same time as they are lousy? That’s ridiculous!

What counts, ultimately, to any reader, is how positive the reading experience is. A traditionally published book that provides a reader with a not-so good experience isn’t better than an indie book that wows the reader. Perhaps traditionally published books, on average, tend to impress readers more often. (Maybe not. Many indie books might be read mostly by their target audience with great pleasure, while some traditionally published books might be read by many readers outside their target audience. A personal marketing experience and fewer sales might, just might, on average result in a better reading experience. The pleasure of meeting and interacting with a small-time author has its benefits.)

But that’s not the point. The point is for everyone to sell more books by focusing on providing the best possible reading experience, and not for everyone to sell fewer books by focusing on the negatives.

Books that provide better reading experiences are inherently going to sell more. Advertising the negatives isn’t really helping anyone; books with those negatives tend to deter their own sales, as soon as word spreads. Rather, giving attention to those negatives is just hurting everyone, including those at the top.

The book industry is changing. Many publishers, bookstores, and agents don’t like it. Many fear it.

What they need to do is adapt; not complain about it.

The book industry is becoming inclusive. It used to be exclusive.

Publishers might still be inclined to play the exclusivity card. The proper way to try this is to market the benefits of publishing traditionally, not by marketing the negatives of self-publishing. Again, a positive experience for buyers helps everyone overall. This actually affects big businesses much more than it affects the small guys. If everyone loses 5% as a result of painting a negative picture, this hardly impacts the indie author at all, but 5% is huge for a big business.

There are benefits to publishing traditionally. Each author and book is unique. Some will benefit by publishing traditionally, others won’t.

Publishers could adapt toward inclusivity (and to be fair, some are moving toward this in small ways).

Amazon played the inclusivity card in a huge way: With CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), everyone can now publish a book.

Smashwords played the inclusivity card. Several other companies have, too.

This seems to be working well for them.

Imagine winding back the clock. What if Barnes & Noble or one of the big five publishers had played the inclusivity card before Amazon did? How might things be different today?

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe there is a way for big businesses to become more inclusive without sacrificing too much quality. There may even be a demand for it. There are authors who would like something in between traditional and self-publishing, where you could get some benefits of both.

We can’t control what the big companies do.

We can be grateful for the opportunities that companies like Amazon, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Smashwords, and many others have provided.

And most of all, we can remember to market a positive image for books in general in addition to marketing our own books and services, realizing how creating a positive reading experience for buyers may have a significant impact on book sales overall.

Love books? Check out Read Tuesday, a Black Friday event just for books (all authors can sign up for free): website, Facebook page, Twitter

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volume 1 (formatting/publishing) and Volume 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

Traditional & Indie Publishing: A Symbiotic Relationship?

I’m borrowing the word ‘symbiotic’ from biology, which is used when two different types of organisms live together (rather intimately) to their mutual benefit.

For example, there is a rather brave bird (called a ‘plover’) which shares a symbiotic relationship with the crocodile. Incredibly, the crocodile opens its mouth and lets the plover pick meat out of its teeth, not harming the plover. The plover gains a meal, while the crocodile gets its teeth cleaned.

Perhaps this wasn’t the best example. I’m not implying that the traditional publisher is like a crocodile and indies are bravely picking its teeth. I am implying that the relationship may be symbiotic, but not quite that way. 🙂

In biology, the relationship may not always be mutually beneficial, but that’s what I have in mind by applying this concept to the publishing world. I believe the relationship between traditional and indie publishing to be mutually beneficial, not parasitic.

Here are some ways in which traditional and indie publishing are mutually beneficial:

  • Authors have the opportunity to avoid possible rejection letters by self-publishing. This benefits traditional publishing by reducing the number of proposals that need to be filtered.
  • Self-publishers provide ample business to print-on-demand publishers like CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. Traditional publishers benefit from this service, too, keeping titles ‘in stock’ which would otherwise be retired. The combined use of this service helps to keep the cost low for everybody.
  • Small publishers have increased their business by offering formatting, editing, and cover design services to self-publishers. This helps self-publishers improve their books.
  • The presence of indie authors significantly enhances the population of authors overall, which helps boost participation in author support groups – like writing groups, blogging communities, and social media sites. Many traditional authors in these communities have much experience to share.
  • The combined number of books – i.e. indie plus traditional – has led to an increased number of writing contests, review sites, magazines, etc. This increases the opportunities for all authors to improve their exposure and branding.
  • The combined number of e-books – i.e. indie plus traditional – impacts the price of e-readers in a positive way for consumers, and the availability of e-book publishing services for authors.
  • Both types of authors draw readers, especially when the books are very readable, enjoyable, or informative. I personally buy and read many more books now than when there only used to be traditionally published books available, and there are many others like me in this regard. Both types of books may generate sales for the other type through customers-also-bought lists.

Let me take the analogy a step farther.

The crocodiles could eat the plovers. They would gain some meals in the short run, but their teeth would be dirty in the long run. Even worse, the plovers could bite the crocodiles’ tongues.

Now imagine traditional publishers marketing negative things about indie books or vice-versa. If successful, this would be bad business for everybody. Many customers buy Kindles not just to read traditional e-books and not just to read indie e-books. If marketing efforts portray a lousy image for many e-books, it makes the e-reader itself less attractive.

If you could put a huge dent in either type of publishing, that would reduce the usage of print-on-demand services and e-readers both, which would impact pricing, competitiveness, and availability of services. It would also put a huge dent in readership.

The relationship between indie and traditional publishing may not be ‘obligate,’ meaning that survival of one entirely depends on the existence of the other. However, if either form were to vanish, it would have a major impact on the other.

From a marketing perspective, it makes sense to say good things about books, e-books, readers, authors, and publishers of all kinds. Putting time and effort into marketing your own book would be partially negated by also spreading a negative image for books at large. That negative image would decrease sales overall, which would come back to haunt you, statistically. Spreading a positive image of all kinds of books helps to reinforce your own marketing.

Similar books may also share a symbiotic relationship. Customers usually don’t buy one-or-the-other, but buy several similar books (if not all at once, spread over time – thinking, “Where can I get more like this?”).

Foolish authors who blast the competition shoot themselves in the foot. If successful at hurting the sales of similar books, they also hurt their own books.

When instead similar books are thriving, they all tend to thrive together – e.g. through customer-also-bought associations.

It’s not like there is only one book at the top and nothing else sells. There is plenty of room for readable, enjoyable, or informative books. Similar books can thrive together in symbiotic relationships.

It used to be that a paperback book selling about once a day had a sales rank around 50,000 at Amazon. Now it might sell once a day and have a sales rank well over 100,000. This shows that the total number of books selling frequently has increased. Much of this may be the result of symbiotic relationships among similar books, plus the increased number of good books to read and an increase in readership, as well as an increase in e-readers and e-books.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Traditional vs. Indie Publishing: Which Is More Rewarding?

The rewards of traditional publishing include:

  • If you get traditionally published, you can experience the euphoria of acceptance. This can be especially gratifying after receiving several rejection letters. You get a stamp of approval.
  • There is much better potential for getting stocked on bookstores’ shelves, getting large-scale media coverage, and receiving editorial reviews that have wide circulation. Seeing your book in a bookstore or reading about your book in a newspaper can be quite satisfying.
  • You should expect to have a book with a professionally designed cover and professional editing. The better the quality of your book, the more you appreciate the result of your hard work. (Of course, professional cover design and editing are options with self-publishing, too.)
  • The top traditionally published books have many potential benefits. For example, they may be more likely to sell paperbacks in some genres, which may help with some bestseller ranks, and they can arrange for e-book preorders at Amazon. A highly successful book can be very rewarding. If you’re able to become one of the bestselling traditionally published authors, you can achieve very high levels of success. It’s not easy to achieve this, which makes doing so very rewarding.
  • There is a self-publishing stereotype. Through traditional publishing, you can escape this, and you’re more likely to receive praise from the critics of self-publishing. People are more likely to be impressed if a big publisher accepts your book or if they can find your book in a store. It’s satisfying to have friends and family praise your success.

Indie publishing has some nice rewards, too:

  • Self-publishing offers independence and freedom of expression. A traditional publisher may want you to change ideas, style, or wording in order to broaden the potential audience or to avoid offending anyone. It can be satisfying to exercise freedom and independence.
  • If you achieve success (at least mildly), the feeling of being self-made is very satisfying. The more challenging path offers the potential of a greater reward. I hold a great deal of respect for the indie authors who have made their own success.
  • The indie author whose book cover and editing rival those of the top traditionally published books has much reason to be proud of the finished product. For a traditionally published book, this is expected; but for indie publishing, it’s an option – it’s also an investment, which carries some risk. Therefore, it’s more rewarding for the indie author to produce a professional looking book.
  • There is a strong sense of community and a great support group available to indie authors. Being part of the WordPress community, for example, is a great feeling. (Of course, traditionally published authors can take advantage of this, too.) Experienced indie authors may also enjoy the feeling of helping newbies out.
  • It’s more rewarding to get a bookstore to carry an indie book, to get the local media to feature an indie book in the paper, or to get a serious reviewer to cover an indie book. Access tends to be easier for traditionally published books, which is a benefit of traditionally published, but at the same time it makes the achievement more rewarding for the indie author.
  • Being part of the indie movement has its rewards, too. Indie publishing is growing stronger with modern technology and support from major businesses like Amazon. It’s a revolution in the book industry. Publishing a professional indie book helps to break the stereotypes. Succeeding as an indie author helps to open doors for others.
  • There is a great deal to learn just to self-publish: writing skills, editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, public relations, and more. Learning can be very rewarding.

It’s not a war. It’s not traditional authors against indie authors. All authors are in it together.

It’s not a choice between traditional or indie publishing. Either way, you write a book and share your ideas with readers.

The fact is that many authors are doing both. Many traditionally published authors are self-publishing, too. They may accomplish this using a pseudonym for one or both. The author who publishes both ways definitely can’t knock self-publishing! There are many benefits of publishing both ways – e.g. maybe some of your ideas are more suitable for traditional publishers than others. You get all of the rewards from both lists when you publish both ways.

Some authors also self-publish hoping to make names for themselves and eventually become traditionally published. If you succeed as a self-published author, maybe you will find this to be highly rewarding. Perhaps you will want to continue to be self-made. Or maybe you will want to prove to yourself that you could also succeed as a traditionally published author.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

To Be Traditionally Published, or not to Be… How ‘bout Both?

Many authors debate whether or not to publish their books with a traditional publisher. The alternative, self-publishing, is becoming increasingly popular.

But you don’t have to choose one or the other. More and more authors are doing both.

Authors love to write. And write. And write and write and write.

However, there is a limit to what you can hope to get traditionally published (unless you have a big name that easily commands interest among publishers).

So if you strictly publish traditionally, some of your writing may not get published at all. If you self-publish, you can publish all of your writing (although all of it may not sell).

But you needn’t choose one or the other. Why not both? If you’re deciding which way to go, that probably means that you see benefits and disadvantages each way. Exploring both options will help keep you from wondering about the road not taken.

Choose one or two ideas that you’d like to traditionally publish, and pursue that. Self-publish your other ideas while you try to achieve this.

You’ll run into one problem right away: Should you use a pen name?

If you self-publish books in your name and try to get traditionally published in the same name, the success (or lack thereof) of your self-published books may factor into the editor’s decision. If you become highly successful with self-publishing, using the same name may be a plus; but if your book flops, it may be a red flag.

It’s easier to market a book published in your own name. You may have a following on Facebook, for example, when you first publish. You have friends and acquaintances who may support you. When you meet people and they discover that you’re a writer, they may become interested in your book.

You can build a following and market effectively using a pen name, but there are some advantages to using your own name. This is something to consider.

Personally, I love the freedom, independence, higher royalties, ease, and other advantages of self-publishing. I’m not exploring traditional publishing at this time. But there are attractive benefits of traditional publishing. There are also benefits to doing both.

Some indie authors and some traditionally published authors seem to feel that it’s ‘us against them.’ This isn’t true: We’re all authors; we all love to write. And more and more authors are fitting into both categories. There are many successful authors of both varieties, and both self-publishing and traditional publishing offer value to readers.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers