Making the Call: Go Big or Go Indie?

Guillaume Courtois [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
David Beheads Goliath, 1650  by Guillaume Courtois [Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

When you’re nearing the finish line with your cherished work-in-progress, it’s easy to find cause to celebrate. Your hard work is nearly done, and your novel is ready for the world to embrace! But finishing the final draft is only half the journey. The path to publishing is filled with lots of choices, and perhaps the most critical one is choosing how to publish.

In other words, are you with the big boys or agin ’em? Will you go big or go indie?

That’s the question I was trying to answer when I attended the Publish15 Conference, and the first panel of the day addressed it. Called Go Big or Go Indie, four panelists (a self-published author, an author who’s published both ways, a small press owner and an author who began his own publishing house) provided an hour of insights. And over two full days of seminars about the publishing business—hearing from literary agents to reviewers to booksellers to printers to authors who’ve followed each path—I’ve distilled the decision into five questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you a team player or a soloist?

As a self-published author, you call all the shots and make all the decisions. Working with a traditional publisher offers you a learning experience (some might call this a learning curve) for how a book is published by the pros. Choosing the self-published route if you’ve run your own business or been a freelancer gives you an advantage: You already understand what it takes to go it alone. Maybe you thrive on that (so go indie); maybe you’re ready for some help along the way (go big).

Publishing traditionally offers you a chance to learn from experts, but doesn’t prevent you from going the self-published route in the future—with all that hard-earned knowledge under your belt.

#PubTip: “An indie press makes its money by charging (you) fees up front. A traditional publisher makes its money by selling (your) books.”   Tweet:

—Bennett Coles, publisher, Promontory Press

2. How big is your budget?

Have you made a business plan? Once you outline the unreimbursed costs of self-publishing and compare them with your projected revenue, you may find the decision easier.

Not in it for the money? That’s what some writers say, but once they see the out-of-pocket costs they’ll incur with self-publishing, they may reconsider. That’s why creating a business plan can be so persuasive (and if you do self-publish, it’s a necessity anyway, as you’re starting up a business.) Include line items from

  • content development to
  • line editing to
  • proofreading to
  • cover design to
  • cover art to
  • printing and distribution to
  • hiring a publicist to
  • advertising and marketing to
  • shipping and delivery to
  • business taxes to
  • legal and accounting fees.

You’ll need all of those and more. Investigate what the typical self-publishing expenses are before you make the call.

3. How thick is your skin?

Approaching agents and publishers takes guts. You may be doing it over and over again, for weeks, months, years. Got the stomach for it? Can you handle rejection?

The good news is that there are lots of literary agents, and thousands of options for publishing—whether you desire a big-name traditional house, a mid-size press or a small publisher. There are hybrid publishing models as well. Start your research by looking at how books in your genre are getting published.

Don’t be daunted; take comfort in the numbers. There’s somebody out there for everyone. In creative fields, success rewards the persistent.

#PubTip: “You’re going to help us sell it.”  Tweet:

Holly McClure, former agent and editor

4. Do you like to always be promoting?

How much do you enjoy social media, giving book talks, writing blog posts, playing with readers on Goodreads, etc?

You’ll be your own marketing department, whether you self-publish or publish with a small to mid-size or big house. You’ll need to do your own social media, book talks, blog posts and more no matter how you publish. And to a certain extent, it will be on your own nickel; certainly, it will be on your own time.

As a self-publisher, you won’t benefit from the author platform a big publisher sets up on its major website; you won’t benefit from its professional marketing plan and expertise; you won’t have a cheerleader in your corner encouraging you. To be sure, you can learn to do all of this yourself, or even hire someone to do it for you. You may even enjoy it.

5. Do you like wearing a lot of hats at once?

You’ll be the creative department, the publishing department, the marketing department, the accounting department and the shipping department, in addition to being the admin and cleaning staff. Got the energy and drive for that?

You’ll be educating yourself about publishing platforms, the ins and outs of formatting, the best fonts and jpeg sizes for various e-readers, budgeting and interviewing for outside services, handling book distribution, getting an ISBN and copyright, practicing industry standards and many more technical considerations that creative types don’t generally jump at. You up for that? Poke around on a self-publishing platform, like IngramSpark, and see what’s required.

Are there other considerations? You betcha. But they are mostly variants on these five questions. For some a real-life story of a traditionally-published author who moved to self-publishing, start with Self-Publish or Perish: Why I Made the Leap from Traditional Publishing to Indie by best-selling author Eileen Goudge on Jane Friedman’s blog.

And now for some answers from you: What would you do? 

Are you on the path to self-publishing, or eyeing the traditional road? Why?

Read all the posts in the Path to Publishing series HERE, gleaned from the publishing industry experts at the two-day Publish15 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, including:

Find the sources for this post on Twitter: @publish15con      @eileengoudge    @austindetails

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12 thoughts on “Making the Call: Go Big or Go Indie?

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      1. Yes, I have published a few books on the arts (under another name). Also recently i have written articles for journals and recently have written a article for an exhibition catalog, which is a whole other experience. Now I am experiencing some requests for my photographs, which also initiates a range of negotiations.

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  1. That’s so true Jann. Writing doesn’t seem that difficult when one thinks about the journey after that. I wish you all the very best with whatever road you choose. 🙂

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  2. Another insightful read, Jann. Having tried both paths, I have decided to keep my options open and go hybrid. When I finish my first novel, I want to go traditional – if for no other reason than the rich learning experience it will provide. How far along are you with your novel?


    1. Appreciate your comments. Hybrid, eh? I heard some discussion of what that meant at the conference. How did it play out for you? Hybrid publishers seemed to have a mix of business models, from what I gleaned, and authors kick in some of the costs and get royalties. Did it work that way for you, and were you pleased?

      Agreed about the rich learning experience we’d get with a traditional publisher. There’s much to learn. My novel is a few chapters from done (first draft) and I’m scouting out content editors now. If you have one to recommend, please let me know.

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      1. Hi Jann, I mean a hybrid author – a mix of self & traditional publishing, dependent on needs and types of work. For instance, I publish my poetry books under the PaperFields imprint, but I will probably publish novellas and short story anthologies via kindle or similar, and then go traditional for novels.
        I am also looking for content editors, so if you find anyone please let me know & I will do the same.

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