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On the Great Self-Publishing v Traditional Publishing Debate

13 Aug

As one of the more professional self-published novelists out there, I am often asked by potential authors: should I self-publish? And is it better than traditional publishing?

Technically, anyone can self-publish. However, not everyone can edit their own work; typeset and format it so that it looks as professional as possible; design an eye-catching book cover; and have it conform to international standards, as well as market their work effectively.

Many choose to hire others to edit their work, which I actually encourage. However, make sure that the individual is experienced, with a proven track record of editing novel-length manuscripts, as it is far too easy to hire an inexperienced or disreputable editor who quickly ruins that book to which you have devoted so much time. By then, of course, you have already paid him, so he is laughing all the way to the bank. A cliché, but true.

Above all, though, the advice I would give any budding author is to study their craft. Research how to do everything, because this is the knowledge which will prove invaluable in the years to come. Before I published my first novel (“The EDF Chronicles”), I spent two years looking into every aspect of publishing.  I have learned more since then, but even now I still make the occasional mistake.

Join a writers’ group, a great help to any author; get people besides friends and family to look at your work, and ask for feedback – the best advice is objective. Make contacts: not just with editors, and people who can help with the layout of your work, but other writers, too; they will prove a great help, and a brilliant source of inspiration. Learn from their experiences.

Above all, remember that self-publishing is a huge learning curve, a great deal of work, and that not everyone will love your work. It can also be a minefield, with unscrupulous companies who will fleece you of hundreds if not thousands of pounds if you let them. This is where researching the industry comes into play, as I mentioned earlier.

But is self-publishing better than traditional publishing?

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Self-publishing can be great, because the author has 100% control of his own work, something you don’t have in traditional publishing. However, self-publishers lack the editorial and marketing departments of traditional presses, and the ability to get books into the major bookstores. And, of course, with self-publishing you have to do the whole thing yourself: from writing the manuscript, right through to the finished book.

Traditional publishing, on the other hand, is very difficult to get into these days. All the major publishers have had their profits severely squeezed by the economic climate, as well as by competition from the likes of Amazon, and supermarkets offering cut price books. Also, there is less money around for new talent and, if your book is not the success you or your publisher thought it would be, expect to be dropped by that publisher. That said, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and, more recently, EL James, were all picked up by agents acting for traditional presses.  All three have enjoyed phenomenal success, so it can happen.

Be under no illusions, though: for every Stephenie Meyer or EL James, there are thousands of other writers out there, just waiting for a big success.  Be aware, too, that publishers looking at a manuscript nowadays cares about one thing, and one thing only….will it make money! They are not interested in the story per se, or the strength of the writing: first and foremost, they are interested in what sells.

This, in my opinion, has led to a blurring between self-published works and traditionally published ones. I have read some wonderful self-published works, and some hideous ones, too. Likewise, I have read some magnificent traditionally published books, and some horrendously written ones. As an author, and someone who works very hard at my craft, this leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

So, it is by knowing the advantages and disadvantages of both, and how to use them, that you will succeed.  In either case, it is a long journey, fraught with peril and joy. Whichever path you choose, my best wishes go out to you!

–  Ian J. Smethurst

Local author of the best-selling “E.D.F Chronicles”, a series of sci-fi novels available on Amazon.


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