Traditional Publishing vs Self-Publishing

I’ve been asked numerous times about the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing debate. Here’s what I’ve learned from my own work, as well as from my mentors.

Traditional Publishing:

So, you’ve finished your novel. Now, you have two options: 1) find an agent, or 2) try to go directly to a publisher. You’ll find a lot of lingo you might not be familiar with. The first to consider yourself with is unsolicited vs solicited manuscripts.

Many publishers won’t take unsolicited manuscripts, which really means a manuscript that isn’t attached to an agent. Smaller presses accept unsolicited manuscripts, but larger publishers will only accept solicited, meaning you’ll need an agent to get your foot in the door.

The way you’ll find an agent or publisher will be through the Literary Marketplace. Yes, Google is a viable source, but the Literary Marketplace houses everything you’ll need. It’ll tell you whether you need an agent, what genres these agents or publishers are looking for, and it’ll give you a correct way to contact them. The Marketplace is a rather large book. I got mine back in 2013 for about $13. I’m not sure what they go for nowadays, but I found it an irreplaceable source.

Once you comb through the Marketplace and make your list of agents and/or publishers, you’ll need to craft a query letter or cover letter. These are basic letters that will haunt you—I mean, be a part of your life as an author. (You can find great templates to follow on Google. Pick the one that feels right for you!)

The other thing to consider is that when you reach out to an agent or publisher, there’s something called simultaneous submissions. Most, if not all, agents and publishers say they don’t accept simultaneous submissions, which really means you can only send your query to one agent or publisher at a time. Then, you’ll have to wait three months before you can send your info to the next person on your list. This can seem tedious, but it’s because the agent/editor/publisher wants the exclusive right to offer you a contract if they like your work.

A thing to remember is that your manuscript MUST be complete before you query anyone. Otherwise, you’ll get shut down. You’ll need a complete wordcount, which shouldn’t be 10,000 words above or below the average wordcount for your specific genre. Even if you’ve got the next Harry Potter, agents and publishers won’t want to take that kind of risk with a baby writer.

The best thing about traditional publishing—outside of not spending your own money to bring it to life—is their marketing team. However, my old English professor explained to me that just because you’ve got a crackpot marketing team doesn’t equate success.

For example, if your novel comes out the same time as a Stephen King novel, you could have the best marketing team in the world, and you book would still be put on the back shelves and forgotten.

Another thing to consider is the content itself. You may have heard horror stories about the editing department deciding at the last minute that they want to change the name of your main character. And they have every right to do so. A basic publishing contract gives the company the right to make changes that will make the book better for marketing. You could end up with a story similar to, but not exactly the same as, when you entered.


You have to worry about none of the above with self-publishing. That being said, this is not the easier option. Yes, you have complete creative control. But, you have complete creative control.

You’re the cover designer, the editor, the formatter, the marketer, the distributer, etc. Sure, you can hire most of these people, but that means you’re paying out-of-pocket for services that are readily available for free with a traditional publisher.

That being said, there is nothing that compares to seeing the cover you’ve envisioned come to life. To putting your blood, sweat, and tears into your manuscript and seeing it become a physical book you hold in your hands. The only changes you make are the ones you want, and, in the end, you get the book you wanted.

However, you’re responsible for marketing. You have to be extroverted enough to sell yourself to friends and strangers. You need to believe in your product enough to put yourself out there. You have to be ready to work hard at earning sales. Just because you put it up on Amazon doesn’t mean you’ll immediately make money. You have to beg people for reviews, climb your way to success. But that doesn’t mean self-publishing is the harder path to choose.

I spoke with an author at Florida SuperCon who had been self-published and traditionally published. She said that she preferred self-publishing because of the creative control, the control over marketing, and the higher royalty percentage. Turns out, she made more money through self-publishing.

There are also a number of self-publishing options out there. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (formerly CreateSpace) is the most popular, given its user-friendly formatting and Amazon platform. There’s sure to be one to fit your budget and computer skills. However, it isn’t always cheap. If you want to self-publish right, things will add up.

On average, it costs $350 (for a cover) + $125 (for an ISBN—unless you use one KDP provides, which is free) + $875 (for editing, depending on your editor’s rates and work needed) + your time and sanity = $1,350. Which isn’t counting formatting (if you need to pay for help), marketing, and little things that could pop up along the way.

Self-publishing is a lot of work. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But I feel that it’s worth it in the long run, when you get to look the people you love in the eye and share your dream with them. Because, as Capital One used to say, that’s priceless.

Advice About Conventions

Back in August, I participated in my very first ComicCon! Ever since I self-published my first novel (check out Call Me Anastasia!), I’d wanted to sell my work at a convention. After reading some blog posts about conventions, and speaking to a few indie authors at Florida SuperCon, I made sure I was completely prepared.

What I forgot:

FOOD. Bring some food with you, outside of granola bars. It’s a long day and unless you have someone along with you that can go get you something, you’re going to be starving.

Plan raffles and giveaways beforehand, so you don’t look like a putz scrambling around. I found I garnered a crowd by offering a free copy of my book at two separate times throughout the day. It made people stop and look at my booth. Plus, everyone that entered gave me their email, which will come in handy when I eventually get my mailing list together. Those people could turn into your trusted followers! Keep track of them.

Have a grab-bag of things to write inside peoples’ books when they ask you to sign them, again, so you don’t look like a mindless putz. Ideas: “I hope you enjoy!” or “Keep writing!” or something that pertains to the content of your novel.

I had someone ask me who I was and what I was selling. They didn’t realize I was an author, and my name wasn’t visible on my banners, as they were behind my table. Some conventions will provide you with a banner, showcasing that you’re an author. If not, be sure to put it up yourself. That way, when people walk by, they know exactly who you are.

What I did:

I made sure I packed all my books, and got my banners and accoutrements packed in the car beforehand. 

I made myself a thermos of coffee and a bottle of water. Though the convention was only one day, I knew standing, smiling, and conversing with people all day would be exhausting. And I brought my author mug, which earned me a couple chuckles.

If you have a special tablecloth or something, make sure you iron it beforehand. There’s nothing worse than a creased tablecloth. It makes your display look hastily thrown together and not professional. Same goes for your banners. Make sure they’re not wrinkled.

Bring some knickknacks to decorate your table—as long as you have the room. Don’t crowd your table, but also don’t make it cluttered. There’s a fine middle ground.

Make sure you have a “booth babe” or someone with you so you can escape—I mean, use the restroom in peace. Same goes for eating breaks. Plus, these people tend to help sell your books, and can attest to the quality/relate to the potential readers.

Order some jazzy book stands and make your display look nice and neat. Need some inspiration? Check out indie authors’ instagrams. They usually post photos of their booths online. And because they’ve done it before you, they know what works and doesn’t work.

I was told that as a vendor, you should never sit during a convention. You need to be extroverted and open to draw people in. If you sit, or seem like you’re closed off, people will treat you as such. Therefore, wear some comfortable shoes and hunker down for the long haul.

Greet EVERYONE. It can get tedious after a while, especially when the same four people continuously walk past you. However, a guy told other people that I was the nicest person at the convention, which drew in customers. I also had a young woman tell me that she finally stopped at my booth because I greeted her and complimented her on her shirt. It costs nothing to be kind.

Overall, it was a great first convention. I really connected with some great people, and I earned some loyal readers. Plus, three months later, someone recognized me by one of my books, remembering me from the convention!

Advice about KDP Formatting

One of the most time-consuming things when working to self-publish a book, outside of the writing itself, has to be formatting. It’s not that the task is particularly difficult, per se, but every little change you make alters the format, which could throw the entire document off kilter. I’ve discovered a few things that make it all easier, for when you’re finally ready to sit down with Kindle Direct Publishing and do the damn thing:

1. Instead of using a page break when you finish writing a chapter, use the next page option. In Word, just click on Layout, then breaks, and scroll on down to where it says Next Page. This makes the next chapter a new section, and, in turn, makes it a lot easier to format headers and footers when you finally get around to numbering your pages and adding titles to the chapters.

2. Speaking of headers and footers, I find it a lot easier to completely format a manuscript before you decide to add page numbers and headers. That way, you’re not throwing off the numbering or section headings if you end up changing chapters. If you have a little checklist, make the page numbers the next to last thing you do.
3. In the past, I self-published once every year-and-a-half, which makes it difficult to remember exactly what I did previously formatting-wise. So, instead of bumbling around every time, trying to remember exactly how you made it so the text wouldn’t bleed onto the next page when formatting an eBook, create a document and keep track of things you do. Just in case.
4. Following that line of thought, the upmost important thing when self-publishing, regardless of what platform you use, is to be organized. Keep track of everything you do, so if something goes wrong, you know exactly what happened.
5. And finally, just have a good time! Self-publishing can be taxing and time consuming, but at the end, you get to see the fruits of your labor. Keep that in mind for when you’re squinting at your computer, feeling like you’d like to punch KDP in the face if they make you launch the previewer one more time. It’s your baby, and totally worth it.

Monday Writing Blogs

Welcome to the first Monday blog of 2019! Over the years, I've been asked advice about self-publishing and writing. I once held a seminar-type meeting for the creative writing club at UF dedicated to discussing the inner workings of novel writing.

I figured it would be a good idea to start writing some of that advice down! So, peruse the blogs every Monday for some good, old-fashioned advice. But remember, everyone's way of working is different. If you have a better way of doing things, let me know!

Happy writing!