Traditional vs. Indie Publishing: A Brief Comparison

Hi Folks,

My first two nonfiction titles were traditionally published. The best royalty rate I received was 10%. So every time my book sold for $12, I eventually pocketed $1.20. That was pure profit, if you don’t count the cost of gasoline and hotels and all the other costs associated with traveling to writers conferences to promote those books. I know whereof I speak.

And the way traditional publishing contracts are written today, I will never go back to traditional publishing. (Note: I am seeking another traditional publishing contract now (no agents need apply). But I still wouldn’t sign that contract without a payday that makes it worth my while. I’m talking at least mid-six-figures.)

Frankly, indie publishing is so wonderful I honestly don’t understand why ANYone is still pursuing agents and traditional publication. But to be fair, let’s take a look at both.

The Traditional Publishing Route

You write a book, then sit on your hands while you rabidly pursue agents, eventually (maybe) find one, then endure endless rewrites until you’ve polished all the originality off your story.

The agent you’ve unfortunately found lands a publisher (maybe), and you endure more rewrites.

Eventually, the publisher finally gives you a contract—in exchange for ALL RIGHTS for the life of the copyright—and your book is scheduled for release three-to-five (or so) years after you wrote it. (If your work has been traditionally published by one of the “Big 5” or “Big 7” (depending on whom you ask) in the last couple of years and you are certain I’m wrong on this, please correct me in a comment below.)

Of course, you receive an advance (maybe), of which your agent takes 15%. And your book appears all over America, mostly in the (now-failing) Barnes & Noble stores.

Then the marketing begins, at your publisher’s behest. Yes, you, not they, do the marketing.

But hey, at least you’ve “made it.”

Frankly, if you’re more concerned with gaining validation from some twenty-something acquisitions editor working for a New York publisher than you are with writing, you should probably quit now and save yourself some heartache down the line.

Or, you can go

The Indie Publishing Route

You write a book, have a first reader and maybe a copyeditor look it over. Then you publish it, and start your next book.

Your book is distributed by D2D and Smashwords. It appears all over America AND in every other continent on Earth, including Europe, Africa, Central and South America, and the Far East. All within a week or so.

You finish your second book, ship it off to your first reader, and start your next book. When your first reader is finished and you’ve applied whatever fixes she found (that you agree with), you take an hour to publish it, then return to your next book.

Following that discipline, say you write only four novels per year. (Writing four 60,000-word novels per year means you’re averaging 658 words per day over that year. Writing four 100,000-word novels in that year raises your average to almost 2000 words per day. Yet in either case, most people will consider you “prolific.”)

When your traditionally published contemporary’s first novel is released in three years, she will have written and published one novel. You will have written and published twelve novels.

If her traditionally published novel is released five years after she wrote it, she still will have written only one novel. You will have written twenty.

As a bonus, during that three-to-five year period while your traditionally published counterpart is sitting on her writing hands, you’ve been learning and practicing your craft. While her writing skills atrophy, yours are growing and improving.

And five years after publication of her one book, she might have earned out her small advance and begun receiving her tiny royalty (4-10%), paid semiannually or annually (if at all). And of course, her agent still takes 15%.

In the meantime, your books have been earning a steady 70-80% royalty every time you sell one from the first book you released through the last.

Any questions?

Seriously, if you have any questions or comments, please share them with me. I’ll respond. I promise.

‘Til next time, happy writing (and publishing)!


Note: This Pro-Writers blog and my Daily Journal will always be free and are funded only by your gracious contributions. If you got something out of it, why not toss a little change in the kitty? (grin)

To make a one-time donation, click the Donate button under the clock at the top of the Journal page. If you’d like to become a patron, click Patronage and have a look at the rewards. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!