Self-Publishing versus Traditional – Which is Better?

My Book CoversSelf-publishing or traditional publisher – which is better for you? That’s a question I’ve been asked and have asked myself, and since I’ve done both Sir Lance insisted that I share my experiences. My first two books, A Boy and His Dragon and A Matter of Time, were self-published, but by different companies. My latest book, Children of the Knight, which stars Sir Lance, himself, was picked up and released by a “real” publisher, Harmony Ink Press.

With A Boy and His Dragon, which I had initially written years ago and which failed to interest a “real” publisher, I decided to go with Amazon’s Createspace to finally release it in 2011. Createspace is relatively inexpensive to use, especially if, like me, you can create your own cover art. That in itself can run you some money unless you take all the photos yourself, but if you do and own those photos, programs like Photoshop make creating the cover fun and easy. If not, there are tons of stock photos sites you can go to for images. Createspace will give you the template for your cover that will fit your eventual book size (if you want a paperback release.) Obviously, eBooks are much simpler to format. Again, Createspace makes that process rather painless.

My main problem with formatting Dragon was Microsoft Word, which always seems to have a mind of its own (and the mind of a psychopath, at that. Ha!) Createspace gave me a template to download for my book size that would double-side the pages, etc, and all I had to do was cut and paste my Word document into that template. Except, it didn’t work. Word would change fonts and font sizes all through the entire book and I eventually had to copy-paste the manuscript one chapter at a time and check over each chapter for Word changes that I didn’t want. Very annoying and time consuming. However, once I had it right the finished product looked beautiful and very professional. Being an Amazon company, the book was made available in Kindle format, but not Nook (if that is of concern to anyone.) The paperback version is available on the Barnes and Noble website, however.

I decided for A Matter of Time (which I wanted released by April of 2012 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking) to go with a “package deal” from Outskirts press, which I’d read about and which seemed good for a number of reasons. As I was working a lot and didn’t have as much available free time, this option fit my schedule because they pretty much did everything for me. I designed my own cover and uploaded it, but they formatted the book and got everything set and converted it to epub and mobi formats and prepared the paperback from the bottom up.

I didn’t notice at the time, however, that, I suppose as a way to compress the number of pages, they removed all my transitions and ran those paragraphs together, which some readers complained about because it made the flow of the story confusing, especially if the scene shifted from one time period to another. I recommend to every writer, no matter how you publish, to put several non-letters or characters (like ***) in between important transitions – don’t just leave extra space. Otherwise, you might find yours all run together, too. Overall, however, the finished product looked good. What wasn’t good were their marketing services (which cost extra, of course.) I wouldn’t recommend any of these because you’d likely get more results doing all the marketing yourself and you can save money in the process.

My newest book, Children of the Knight, was released by a real YA publisher, Harmony Ink Press, and the pre-publication process was an amazingly positive and joyful experience. These people were fantastic and creative and incredibly helpful all along the way, from the executive director to the art department to the cover artist to the editors and I can’t say enough good things about the company or the people who produced the book. I happened to find them through another writer on Goodreads. I read his book and thought it outstanding. I reviewed the book and then he and I got to chatting on Goodreads about his experience with Harmony Ink. He said they were amazing to work with so I checked out their requirements for YA submissions and my manuscript seemed to fit those requirements, so I submitted it. While my book was clearly different from what Harmony Ink normally published, they decided to take a chance on it anyway, for which I am grateful.

You can make more money self-publishing because all the royalties come back to you since there is no “publisher” that needs to make its money back. In that regard, Createspace is the cheapest way to go for you as an author as you lay out the least amount of money up front. The value of a real publisher, at least in the case of Harmony Ink, is not only did I not spend any of my own money but they actually paid me an advance! Sure, I get no royalties until the amount of the advance has been exceeded, but it’s still cool to know that someone thinks your work is good enough to pay you money (which means they have confidence it will earn them money.) Again, the people at Harmony Ink were so amazing and affirming I may be spoiled to find other publishers aren’t like them. Still, there are some smaller publishing houses like this one that will read books not submitted by an agent, so I recommend checking them out.

So here’s the bottom line, even with Harmony Ink: most of the promotion is up to you. A real publisher like Harmony Ink has more access to media outlets and can have your name on a list of “new books,” but I’ve found that unless your book is noted for being controversial or you’re an author readers or other authors already know, yours is just another title for review sites to ignore. And your book is considered a failure if the publisher cannot generate any interest in your book pre-publication. E-book copies or even galleys, are made available to reviewers three-four weeks prior to publication so there can be reviews right on “opening day.” But, of course, a publisher cannot force any site to review your book. It’s strictly up to the reviewers who populate those sites. However, and this is key, the pre-release buzz from those reviewers snapping up the offered e-books will likely determine if the publisher will  promote your book at all once it’s released, or just dump it out there and move on to the next book, and author.

Despite Harmony Ink having a long list of review sites that, as a rule, love their books and generally post a large number of reviews right when the books comes out or shortly thereafter, Children of the Knight generated no such interest. I think I got maybe three reviews from those sites shortly after the book debuted. Obviously, my story didn’t interest them enough to even give the book a chance. As I said, it’s different and I guess among reviewers who are set in their ways, “different” isn’t good. Oddly enough, the storyline involves kids who are “different,” whom society disdains and who are not given a chance to prove themselves worthy, and here we have reviewers not giving the book, or its author, a chance, either. Life imitates art. Very ironic.

So, on all three of these books, it’s been me generating most of the reviews and pushing the books on Facebook, Twitter, by email and on Goodreads. Goodreads, which put me onto Harmony Ink, is a great place to interact with other authors and most of us are willing to let our brains be picked for insights or experience. However, even offering free books in exchange for a fair review might generate no interest whatsoever.

There are subgroups for virtually every genre and subgenre out there, and you can promote your work there, but I haven’t seen tangible results yet from Goodreads. I’ve gotten a tiny handful of people interested in my books, even the last one, despite my targeting the “right” groups that should embrace the story. Also, a lot of people may add your book to their “wants to read” shelf, but never actually buy it. As I said, offering free copies in exchange for reviews could be a good way to get reviews, and here’s hoping you have better luck in that arena than I. Subgroups who love everything Harmony Ink publishes haven’t been too responsive to reading my book, even when I offered it for free. Having said that, the reviews it has gotten have all been excellent, mostly four and five stars. But again, I had to do all the legwork to get those reviews and you might have to, also.

There are Virtual Book Tours available from various online companies and they can help you with blog stops and interviews and even reviews, and I’ve done a few of these for Children of the Knight. I haven’t yet seen tangible results from those efforts, either, but time will tell. Let’s face it, I just suck at self-promotion. Get good at that and you’ll be the next Stephen King.

Well, that’s it. My publishing journey so far. If you’d prefer a “real” publisher and don’t mind smaller royalties, see if your specific book meets the submission requirements for small publishing houses that don’t expect you to pay anything. If you want complete control and all the returns, I’d say go with Createspace and avoid the vanity publishers – they may cost you more than you’ll ever get back.

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