There are a lot of articles across the interweb (and if it’s on your computer, it must be true!) about which is better – traditional publishing or epublishing.
Oddly, they seem to come down across party lines: people who are traditionally published, or who work for large publishing houses, tend to say that trad-pub is the way to go; people who have their work primarily on Kindles and Nooks and iPads and Smashwords scream about the future of epub and the death of print.
I know. Weird, right?
I wanted to set the record straight.
First of all: I am primarily epub myself. I have a few olde-tyme print books, but I’m one of Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Writers, a #1 Kindle bestseller, and a repeat bestseller on almost every one of Amazon’s major fiction genre lists (sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.). I write everything from kids’ books about magic to grown up books about evil things that go bump in the night. My most recent novel, Strangers, has spent months on Amazon’s various horror bestseller lists, and I anticipate my next book will do even better.
I make a living writing, and a huge chunk of it is digital.
I also used to be a lawyer. And in good lawyerly fashion, I will render my verdict. Which is better, epub or trad-pub?
Awesome lawyer answer, huh?
But it’s the truth. Because the reality is that each offers goods and bads. So let’s talk about each:
The Good here is that you have complete control. You get to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
The Bad here is largely the same. You have to do everything. Which is why there are a lot of drecky, poorly-edited books with ugly covers on epub.
I spend a lot of time and effort working on my books. Not just the drafts, but the edits, the layout, the covers… everything. I taught myself image manipulation (meaning, Photoshop-type stuff) so that I could produce good covers. I taught myself conversion principles so that I could make sure I did a good job getting my book to your Kindle without sacrificing layout. A lot of writers aren’t willing to do this; they slap a product together… and it shows. I would invite you to check out the differences between my covers (just go to michaelbrentcollings.com) and the ones at my friend Nathan Shumate’s lousybookcovers.com. Sadly, you often can judge a book by its cover.
Now, if you’re looking for “fast” then epub is the way to go – you can write fast, put a cover together fast, and get it to market fast. You might also hear crickets chirping exceedingly quickly as there is a concerted rush of absolutely no one to buy your book. And that’s not because the audience is bad. It’s because (more often than not) your book is. The cover is lousy, the layout is unprofessional, the story is been-there done-that.
Listen up: I firmly believe that everyone – everyone – has great stories in them. Stories worth telling. Stories people will gladly buy. But I also firmly believe that everyone has to practice to get to the point where they know how to tell those stories properly.
Think of a doctor: how many of you would go to a doctor who, when asked about his qualifications, shrugged and said, “Well, I went to a doctor once. And he sucked so I was, like, ‘I can do that!’ And then I, like, became a doctor. And stuff. That’ll be a hundred dollars.”?
No, you want a doctor who a) studied, b) graduated top of his/her class, c) practiced at an amazing hospital/medical practice, and d) preferably has been doing this for at least a decade. And that last is important, because practice and experience matter. No matter how smart the doc is, until he’s been around the block a few times, he’s not going to be all that good a doctor.
Writing is the same way. Most writers just suck until they’ve treated their writing with the seriousness of a PhD program, spent years honing their skills, years more practicing before trusted audiences, and then maybe they’ll be pro-level.
And epub will not shortcut any of that process.
Epub is faster. Faster to market. But if you’re marketing crap, or if you’re marketing your unprepared skills, it just means a faster failure, too.
The Good here is that you have help. The Bad here is that you have to give up control. You will have editors, you will have layout artists and cover artists. You will have other people giving input.* You will then have to actually listen to that input. And you will have to wait on it. Epub is a matter of writing the book and then uploading it to the outlet(s) of your choice. Boom. With trad-pub you:
1) Write the book.
2) Send query letters to agents.
3) Wait for two to twelve months.
4) Have an agent request your book (this is best-case scenario; most often you get rejected and have to start again from scratch).
5) Send in your book.
6) Wait another two to twelve months.
7) The agent accepts your book (again, best-case scenario here).
8) The agent sends your book around to publishers.
9) Someone accepts it after two to twelve months (do I even have to say the best-case thing again?).
10) The book gets plugged into their production scenario for sometime in the next year (very fast) to three years (not unheard of).
Total wait time from end of book to book on shelves: one to five YEARS.
Yikes. That’s time you’re not getting paid, by the way. You’ll get an advance (see my footnote below – if not getting an advance, why are you doing this?), but no money being actively earned in that time. There’s also the chance that during production the editor who loved your book and championed it will get fired or quit and your book will become an “orphan” with no one to champion it and will never see the light of day (this happens), or the company itself will go bust or get bought and the same thing will occur (this happens, too).
The upside is that trad-pub books have a tremendous amount of access to the market: they get into bookstores, libraries, WalMarts, Costcos, etc. They are in airports and liquor stores. They get foreign market rights and sell movie rights more often. They are more likely to end up making the extreme big bucks than epub. That’s changing as epub becomes more and more of a force to be reckoned with, but as of now if you want to get to the very top of the heap, you have to work with trad-pub at some point.
Also, because you do have a lot of talent at the top, your books are more likely to look and be presented better. I like my books. A lot. Could they look better? Sure. Would I love to see them at the checkout aisle at my local supermarket? Heck, yeah!
But, for me, I would prefer to get my books to market, make my fans happy, and put money in my pocket. And that brings me to…
Be aware: you will be choosing. If you epub, that book is dead to the trad-pub world. No big traditional publisher wants to take Amazon’s sloppy seconds, unless that ebook has sold in excess of something like 100,000 copies at around five bucks a copy. Then they’ll talk. (But if that happens, why do you really need them?) So if you’re hoping to parley your ebook success into a publishing contract with Penguin for that book… yeah, good luck with that. In fact, for a lot of agents and publishers, the fact that you’re epublished at all will be a black mark against you. Because how dare you!
Silly? Maybe. But true.
It’s something to be aware of. I think that’s going to keep changing more and more, but then if you do make a successful career for yourself you run into the problem of outgrowing agents and publishers: I regularly have offers from publishers I have to turn down because they can’t afford me, and most agents won’t touch me because they won’t be able to meet my expectations for the next phase of my career.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to epub. I think Shakespeare said that.
Epub and trad-pub are both awesome. I have books – real and electronic – all over my house. I love them. Some are traditionally published, some are indies. There is a place for both. You can choose either.
Just know what you’re getting into. And have the sense and courtesy to do a professional job no matter where you go.
* And if you don’t, RUN. This is the type of thing you should be getting at a traditional press. A lot of newer authors I know are signing deals that basically make them do everything, and they end up signing away a percentage of their profits in return for someone basically submitting their files to CreateSpace. Why do that? If some “publisher” is just a glorified self-publisher and you’re going to do all the work yourself, you might as well cut them out of the loop and keep all of whatever profits there are! Read your contract, find out what they’re going to do, and hold their feet to the fire! (Back to text)