Indie Or Traditional: The Cost Of Publishing

I’ve been going down the road of licensing the rights to print the lyrics to an old Louis Armstrong song from the 1920s. It’s an interesting set of hurdles, and if you ever want to use lyrics in your book I recommend starting with Helen Sedwick’s article How To Use Lyrics Without Paying A Fortune Or A Lawyer over on The Book Designer. Like most things in indie publishing, this will probably cost some money. That’s okay. That’s a part of indie publishing. It’s what I signed on for when I decided to publish my books this way.

I’ve noticed a theme in a lot of writing advice blogs. There seems to be some weird desire to encourage people to go into indie publishing with the assumption that there isn’t any overhead and that indie publishing is essentially cost-free. A vocal part of the community likes to rally behind the idea. I hate it when I see this. Not only is it an outright lie, it does a disservice to the whole idea of indie publishing. When an unfinished, poorly edited, or badly designed book goes to print it affects everyone. The lack of quality control is cited all the time as a major reason why so many readers are very hesitant to read indie titles.

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Men with printing press, circa 1930

Doing It Right™ cost money. There is overhead in everything. When you become an indie writer you become a small business. You can’t do it alone. You need to hire an editor, you need to hire a designer, you need to hire an artist. You’re going to pay for ISBNs. You’re going to pay for marketing. You’re going to pay for print copies. Often, the publishing advice you read online skips over these details. But if you want to make a quality product (and you do) then you have to come to grips with the reality that it’ll cost money.

Traditional publishing does provide a way out. It doesn’t require much in the way out of pocket costs. But instead of money it takes a lot of your time and hard work. You need to write queries, polish synopsis, meet and greet with agents, and submit over and over and over again, and then weather the storm of rejections. It’s hard, but it’s (mostly) free.

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Hoe’s six-cylinder rotary press from the 1860s

The choice for any writer is to decide which path they are interested in. Both provide ways to share your story with the world, but both are hard work and require different types of out of pocket expenses. It’s up to you to decide which path is right for you. For The Bell Forging Cycle, I chose to go the indie route. For me, it was a matter of control. I didn’t want to surrender the control of the cover design and interior layout to someone else. I have a very specific vision for my series from cover to cover and I wanted to see that through to the end.

So, what if you’re not willing to deal with traditional publishers (and there’s a whole slew of reasons why you’d want to go your own route) but the thought of putting down money is terrifying or out of the question? What options do you have? Why not consider one of the following:

  • Kickstarter

    Crowd funding through Kickstarter is a great option. There’re a lot of writers who have had great success kickstarting their project. If you have a decent social media presence this isn’t a bad way to go. In a lot of ways, you can use this to pre-sell your book, and pay for the necessaries, without a lot of out of pocket expenses. Make sure when you put together your Kickstarter pitch you put as much effort into the pitch as you do your book. People want to see you as excited and engaged as you want them to be, a good presentation is important to that end.

  • Partnerships

    This is another option. Instead of paying people up front, why not offer to split the profits with other professionals. So editors could get a percentage of your sales, as would the designers, and artists, and so on. This is a bit more difficult to manage as it requires a lot of transparency and trust, but it’s a good way to have everyone profit from a good book. You essentially build a team of people who want to see a successful book and the more folks you have to help you market your work the better.

  • Crowdsource

    I tend to shy away from crowdsourcing professionally, as it is essentially spec. work for no pay. (See No!Spec for why this is troublesome.) However, I feel like I’d be remiss not mentioning it here as there are a lot of authors who have found success thanks to crowdsourcing platforms like Wattpad, Worthy of Publishing, and Figment. It tends to be a long road, but if you’re willing to put yourself out there and allow a community to give you feedback as you write it’s a good way to work without a lot of out of pocket expense.

Indie or traditional, the choice ultimately is yours. Decide how you best want to represent your manuscript. Know the choices you have and be willing to understand and accept the costs be they financial, chronometric, or both. In the end, I encourage you to focus on quality. Quality matters and your readers will thank you.

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