Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: The Million-Dollar Choice

5 Apr

Self-publishers have been popping up all over the news lately–and this particular story caught my eye.

It’s a story of two authors, two book deals including the phrase “million dollars,” and two different choices.

The first author, 26-year-old Amanda Hocking, has already made close to $2 million on her own. Until recently, Hocking was strictly a self-publisher, selling her books through online retailers such as Amazon.com.

Amanda Hocking’s self-published books were wildly successful–at least I’d call $2 million wildly successful (wouldn’t you?)–but she has decided to go with a traditional publisher for her next series. St. Martin’s Press, part of Macmillan, will publish her next four books, the “Watersong” series. Negotiations for the series have reached seven figures (full story here).

Why the move to traditional publishing? On her blog, she writes,

“I’m writer. I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full time corporation.”

Hocking makes a valid point here–some authors just don’t have the time to devote to self-publishing. Time spent marketing, proofreading, designing, etc. is time that is not spent writing, which is sort of counter-productive.

However, Amanda Hocking will not stop self-publishing. She made it clear that she had several titles lined up this year to self-publish, and would have more in the future, even commenting on one significant downside of traditional publishing:

“I am fully aware that I stand a chance of losing money on this deal compared to what I could make self-publishing.”

While traditional publishing may have been the right choice for Amanda Hocking, when novelist Barry Eisler found himself in a similar situation–with a $500,000 offer from St. Martin–he opted to self-publish instead.

Eisler had previously agreed to a two-book deal with St. Martin for the release of his new thriller, The Detachment (full story here).

In an extensive interview, Eisler revealed his high hopes for the self-publishing industry:

“I mean, it used to be that self-publishing was what you did if you couldn’t get a traditional deal. And if you were really, really lucky, maybe the self-published route would lead to a real contract with a real publisher. But I realized from that one innocent comment from my daughter that the new generation was looking at self-publishing differently. And that the question–‘Should I self-publish?’–was going to be asked by more and more authors going forward. And that, over time, more and more of them were going to be answering the question, ‘Yes.’

Barry Eisler touches on many pros of self-publishing in his interview–especially that he feels authors can be more financially successful on their own. While traditional publishers usually offer an advance (a large sum of money up front), they can be more expensive in the long run. Traditional publishing also means that authors have to relinquish control of their work, and some authors, like Eisler, want to be a bigger part of the process.

So I suppose there are pros and cons to both sides of the publishing world. The choice between self- and traditional publishing must be made on an individual basis, for each unique situation.

However, all publishing pros and cons aside, I have to give Barry Eisler props for turning down half a million dollars. That takes some guts…and a whole lot of confidence.

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One Response to “Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: The Million-Dollar Choice”

  1. Craig April 5, 2011 at 2:30 PM #

    This is a great piece, giving us all a bit more motivation for what we do.

    It’s not all about money, just a sustainable reward for our craft. But if the self-satisfaction of busting your tail all week is worth much more than an advance from a major publisher, then that could be more rewarding in the long run!

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