I have been trade-published and self-published several times. I now have a talented literary agent. Although I have self-published three books, I feel more comfortable publishing fiction with a traditional publisher, especially a large, distinguished publisher. I realize that this is not an author decision. Publishers require talent and a marketable book. If you have both, it can still take months or even years to obtain the best publishing offer. You need to know how to construct a winning publishing proposal and agent query; and you might need to submit well over a hundred proposals to obtain the best publishing contract. It’s true that the top level of publishers will only accept a proposal from a trusted agent. HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Shuster, etc. will not open your submission unless it comes from a well-connected literary agent. The good news is that there are now literally thousands of small, independent publishers. Many of them have learned how to be successful within one or two genres. They might be small, but they often have a talented and motivated staff. Plus they can be well-situated to garner reviews from the most compelling and persuasive sources – just like their full-size publishing kin.
A TP author does not need to worry about hiring the best editor, graphic designer, printer and promotion/marketing specialist. The publisher will do it for you, while they proffer a nice advance. Your publisher will also obtain powerful and compelling reviews from the best organizations in your genre, because they already have deep connections with those reviewers. It’s not likely that a novice author could obtain reviews of that caliber. Nor does the TP author need to worry about distribution, sales, stocking and restocking bookstores. We can devoted that time to producing new books.
I have never felt compelled by my publishers to accept editorial changes. I think that’s a myth – an urban legend. In each case, my publisher’s editing changes made perfect sense and enhanced marketing potential. But the decision to accept those changes has always been mine. My publishers have never told me what to write; nor does my agent.
That being said, there will always be a time and place to self-publish, especially when testing a new market, when you write non-fiction as a subject matter expert and when you have a large fan base to shift to your SP books. However, you can count best-selling self-published fiction authors on your fingers and toes. As of 2-3 years ago, the average SP author spent about $2K and sold a few dozen copies (could never recover expenses with sales), while the average TP author spent nothing and sold several hundred copies. Self-published books are almost never reviewed by the most compelling and persuasive review organizations. Maybe it’s not fair, but as a reviewer for two major review organizations, I know this is true. Nor do SP books appear on many retail store shelves. That is a huge sales market to give up, just to SP your book. Many retail and on-line stores are making money hand over fist with print books, including Walmart, Target, Amazon and B&N.
With an even distribution of my TP and SP books, I have a foot in each market. I’ve discovered that at least for fiction, I’m much happier with a major publisher or a small, independent publisher. I’m happy to let their team of professionals handle all aspects of editing, graphic design, printing, distribution, marketing, sales and stocking retailers and buyers. This gives me more time to write which is, of course, the fun part. For that, my publisher can reap most of the profits and my agent can acquire her 15%. Doing their job in a professional manner allows me to write, rather than publish, distribute and market.
Finally, if you’re serious about earning a living as an author, you’ll need an accomplished and impressive author profile. That means you’ll need to produce several books that have either been trade-published or SP with high sales volume. You will need to write published articles and appear on the best Internet interview sites and blogs. You will need newspaper and magazine articles supportive of your books. And when a publisher decides to Google your name, several pages of professional writing accomplishments must appear. Being trade-published is likely the best anchor for your platform, especially for fiction.