Traditional, Indie, or Hybrid?
Which Publishing Model Should You Choose?
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Welcome to this week’s episode of the Indie Author Biz Guide podcast. In this episode, I talk about the three business models currently within the publishing industry. I share the pros and cons for going the traditional route, self-publishing, or hybrid to help you decide what model is right for you and your author business.
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Hey fellow Indie Authors! Welcome to this week’s episode of the Indie Author Biz Guide Podcast. In this episode, I talk about the three business models currently within the publishing industry. I share the pros and cons for going the traditional route, self-publishing, or hybrid to help you decide what model is right for you and your author business. Listen to the end for a free resource you can download to help you in your Indie Author business.
Welcome to the Indie Author Biz Guide Podcast. I’m Tora Moon, genre-bending fantasy and sci fi author, Indie business author and entrepreneur. Here we talk about the business of self-publishing, or as I prefer to call it, indie publishing.
As an indie author, you have entered the wonderful world of entrepreneurship! On this show, I guide you through the rocky waters of the indie publishing industry. I share business basics and principles you can apply to your author business, really, any business.
Other indie authors share their experiences and expertise to give you insight in your career and build your business. You can download your free indie author business checklist, find additional resources, and the show notes at IndieAuthorBizGuide dot com. And now, here’s today’s episode.
Currently in the publishing industry, there are three business models that you can choose from.
One is traditional and going with one is the big publishers. Two is to self or indie publish, and three is to do a hybrid of the two. Do some of your publishing as indie and some of your publishing at with a traditional publisher.
MODEL 1: TRADITIONAL
Now, the first model, Traditional, is what those of us, especially those of us who are older, that were raised to aspire to because that was the only thing available to us, or at least what we believed was the only thing available to us was to get a contract with a traditional publisher. That was the way things were done. And that’s just what you did.
And with the traditional model, you send out a query letter to agents and hope you get an agent, and then that agent pitches your story or your book to different publishing houses and the editors and the purchasing editors that they know.
And part of this is sending the query letters to agents or even just sending your manuscript to publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts. You’d be mailing off hundreds of copies of your manuscript and get hundreds of rejections. And if you were lucky, you would win the lottery and get a contract, and then you would sell your rights away for a book advance. And if you were lucky, that book advance was a decent amount.
And the traditional model is a long publication process. It usually takes at least 1 to 2 years after signing your publishing contract for your book to be published. And with this model, most midlist authors, who are doing okay, their books are selling okay, only make less than $5,000.
And you can kind of tell which model I don’t like or which I don’t follow. But the traditional model is still available to us. It’s still a viable model for some authors who aren’t business savvy, because if you’re self-publishing, you are creating a business. Then traditional publishing may be what’s good for you.
So some of the pros of traditional publishing is you don’t have any upfront costs to pay. You aren’t paying for book cover design. You’re usually not paying for editors and proof readers and ARC copies and all of that, that is necessary for publishing a book.
However, not all of this is the case anymore. Quite often, traditional companies, from small publishers on up to the great big, huge ones we’re talking about, all of that is part of the traditional publisher, quite often, they now expect you to send in an edited, polished manuscript. Then they may do more editing on top of that so that your manuscript meets their writing styles and what they want, they want, from your book.
Another pro is that you get a team of marketing personnel that will market and sell your book. And these are people trained in and know the book industry, and they have contacts with the booksellers to get your books listed in their catalog and on their bookshelves.
Now, that was one of the pros of traditional publishing. The way the market has changed, you as an author, are quite often, depending on what your contract is and where you are, and how much the publisher thinks they’re going to sell your book. You may have to fork out money for the marketing. They’ll only give you a really, really small budget, especially if you are midlist or lower. So if you want more marketing done on your book, you’re going to have to pay for that.
Another pro for going the traditional route is quite often you’ll receive an advance. They’ll say, ”Oh, we think your book is great and it’s going to sell and we’ll give you money ahead of time, that will help you finish your book.”
In the old days and the old model of traditional publishing, that advance would be enough that the author could focus on writing their book. However, because of the changes in the publishing industry, most new authors, that amount is less than $10,000. And quite often, especially for new authors, $1000 to $5000 is typical, if you’re lucky. And part of your advance, and that’s exactly what it is, it’s an advance. You’re getting prepaid for your sales. So until your book sales earn out or are enough to cover what your advance are, you’re not going to get any additional money for your book. If your book does well, you could earn out quickly. If it doesn’t do well, there may be provisions in your contract that says you owe that money back to the publisher.
And that’s why when you’re doing a traditional publishing route, you have a good agent, and you have a good lawyer specializing in entertainment law and specifically book contracts. Because if you rely on just the publishing company to write your contract, all of the terms are going to be in favor of the publishing company. That’s how they make their money.
So you need to have an advocate on your side that knows the law to make sure that the terms are in your favor, that you include terms of what happens if your book doesn’t sell. How long does it take for you to get your rights back? Or how much do you have to pay to purchase those rights back later, if you so choose? How do you get paid? How are your royalties calculated? Because how the royalties are calculated if you don’t have an advocate, may not be in your favor.
Another pro of why people would go the traditional route is the prestige of having a big publisher, or a publisher, putting out your book. Because your book has gone through those gatekeepers and therefore it must be a good book because somebody says it was a good book. They bought your rights. At least the lead editors think that your book is good and what the market wanted.
But I know I have read many traditional published books in the past. I don’t read traditional published books much now. I’m indie, so I support indie authors by reading Indie books. But we all know we have read traditionally published books that aren’t any good. The editing is bad, the story is bad. The writing style is just atrocious.
Just because a book is traditionally published, doesn’t mean the writing, and the book itself, is good. And when they’re looking at the market and that’s what a publisher is looking at because they are a business and your book is a product, they are looking at the marketability of your product. And what they’re looking at the market may not be the actual market because who they market to and who they have relationships with are the booksellers, not the readers.
So think about that when you’re thinking about and ticking off of the pros and cons of thinking about going the traditional route.
When you publish with a publishing company, whether that’s a small press or one of the large companies, and especially this applies to the large companies, you have a better chance of getting your best seller letters, especially now that the USA Today has suspended their best seller list. All the other bestseller lists are determined by your sales in a short period of time. And some of them, we don’t even know what the criteria is for getting that best seller. A best seller isn’t necessarily that it sold a million copies, may have only sold 5000.
So some of the cons and for me, I consider this one of the biggest cons and one of the reasons I did not choose, once I had the option, to not go the traditional route. The loss of ownership of your intellectual property. What you are doing with the publishing contract is selling your rights to your intellectual property. That publishing company now owns the rights to your book.
Number two, no control over the final product. Quite often, and in most cases—even the big bestselling names—complain about they have no say whatsoever on the cover, the title of the book, the marketing blurb, how it’s marketed. Quite often, you may not even have a say in the final content of your book, because remember, you’ve sold your rights away to that book. So the publishing company may request and withhold publishing if you don’t change your book to meet what they want it to be. They may want you to take out certain sections of your book not to make the story better, but because they think it might make it not marketable or meets the market.
The third con is you get lower royalties and lower payments, especially if you are just starting out or a midlist author. Typically, that’s 5 to 18% of the net of your book. Often these are really complicated calculations, and many authors don’t earn out their advance because the publisher only gives your book 90 days to earn out, typically, especially a print book. Bookstores only have limited space on their bookshelves.
And because the way that book publishing works in bookstores, which is really old and outdated, it comes from the Depression era, is book stores have 90 days to hold that inventory of your book and sell it. And if they don’t sell it, they have the right to return it for a full refund. This is the only industry where that happens.
You can tell that’s one of my vent points. You need to think about that.
Number four on the cons is it’s a long production time. You’re looking at least 1 to 2 years, maybe more, for your book to be published. And by that time the market trends have probably changed.
Five, your contract can be terminated. You need make sure to look at your terms in your contract and how your contract can be terminated. Your publisher may decide not to publish the rest of your series because “that type of book doesn’t sell anymore.” Part of it is you had a really long production time and you’ve missed the wave. Or, some of the things that I’ve been hearing from other women, “Oh, you’re over 40. You won’t do well on TikTock or some of these other platforms, so therefore, we’re not going to publish your story.” Men don’t get that.
But that’s something to consider is, the publisher, because they control your intellectual property, because they bought it, can decide, “Nah, we’re not going to do it now.” And unless you have it in your contract, you may not be able to buy your rights back for those books and you may have a non-compete agreement in your contract that says you can’t write a book similar to that in case they decide not to print it or publish it.
And lastly, a big con that I consider and what you might want to consider is you have no direct contact with your readers. This is changing a little bit as authors are taking the initiative to build their mailing list, whether they’re traditional or indie published. But in the past, and I can remember, and I can probably open up a dozen books that’s has it in the back, “If you want to contact this author, contact the publisher.” Your readers could not directly contact you.
Most of the time, you weren’t building up your mailing list and publishers are not going to do that for you. So if you want a mailing list where you can contact your readers and tell them about, talk up your next release and other things, you’ll have to do it on your own. And check with your contract to make sure that that’s not in violation of your contract.
MODEL 2: SELF-PUBLISHING OR INDIE PUBLISHING
So the second model in publishing is to self-publish or indie publish. And in this model, the author is the publisher, and as such, we bear the burden of costs to produce the book, and market the book, to get it into stores. Everything is on us. The quality of the book, what we write, what you know, the covers, who we hire, the blurb, the marketing.
Everything is on us. And some of us like that control.
And I want to make something really clear, self-publishing is NOT vanity publishing. As a self-publisher or indie publisher, and I prefer the term indie publisher, you have a business. You are hiring contractors like editors, book cover designers, proofreaders, formatters, just like any other business, and just like a big publishing house does. They hire and have book cover designers and editors, and formatters, and marketing people. We can hire the same type of people.
Whereas, in vanity publishing, you pay an outrageous amount, usually, for someone to publish your book, and they usually don’t do a very good job. They usually don’t market your book the way that they say they do. They might put it up on Amazon. That’s their publishing, at a price that is higher than what the going rate is for books. I had a nephew who did this. He wrote a poetry book and got snagged by a vanity publisher–scammed by a vanity publisher–paid several thousand dollars, and they were charging $25 or $30 for his poetry book. And of course, it didn’t sell.
And there is a difference between a vanity publisher and a company that offers author services. And we’re not talking about the vanity publisher, Author Services. We’re talking about service providers who provide things that we need as authors. Vanity publishers take your rights, and instead of a true publisher, which is buying your rights, you’re paying the vanity publisher to take your rights.
So a good red flag is that when somebody is saying, “Oh, I’ll publish your book, do all these other things, but you have to pay me an outrageous amount for it,” that may be a scam and a vanity publisher. Now, someone who is an author service provider, may say, “Okay, I’ll help you with the various steps of what it takes to publish a book.” Because there are a lot and they’re complicated, and some people may not want to learn that or may not be tech enough to learn it or whatever, or don’t have time. So they’d like to hire someone to do that. And some people do offer done-for-you programs, which they’ll say, “Okay, I’ll help you–some of them may even ghostwrite–I’ll help you take your book to market.”
The biggest difference between a vanity publisher and an author service provider is the service provider doesn’t take any of your rights. You’re still maintaining all of your rights. When your book is published, they wash their hands and walk away. Unless you hire them to help with the next book. They’re not taking a portion of your royalties. Whereas a vanity publisher, not only are you paying them to publish your book, but they’re taking the lion’s share of your royalties. Whereas an author service provider, isn’t taking any of the royalties, they’re just providing you a service.
Now, I am an indie author and this is what I chose that was best for me.
INDIE PUBLISHING PROS:
Some of the pros of being an indie author are, you are the publisher. You determine what is marketable what you write, what you publish. You have full control over your IP. You can make decisions what you do with it, what book formats that you offer.
You can decide, okay, I’m going to start with just e-book. Okay, that’s doing okay, now I’ll add some print books. I’ll add a paper book. Ooh, people are really liking and wanting large print or hardback. I can add that to my product offering. Okay, I can do that. Oh, audiobooks, people really like that, maybe I’ll do an audiobook version of my book. I can decide whether I’m going to do the narrating, hire it out.
I have those choices and those decisions that I can make with my IP that I would not have if I sold my rights to a publisher.
One of the second greatest pro is you can earn a greater sales percentage of your sales. Now, I’m not going to call them royalties, even though the distribution platforms call them royalties, they are not royalties. They are your wholesale percentage that they as the distributors are paying you for the sales of your books.
Now, remember, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, whatever the platform are distributors of your books. They are not publishers. You are the publisher when you are indie publishing. They simply give you a platform to sell your books. For offering this service, to sell your books just like any other product, if you were selling it on another platform, a third-party platform, that distributor would take part of the sales as their fee for providing you the service of distributing your books. That’s what Amazon and Apple and all of those are doing, they are taking a portion of your sales for providing you that service of being able to put your books up and sell them on their platform. And I think they call it a royalty because it’s part of the publishing industry, and that’s what authors were used to hearing it called.
Another huge pro number three is faster publication. It’s up to you how fast or slow you publish your books. Now, if you’re a fast writer, like I know, one of my favorite authors is Lindsay Buroker.. She’s putting out books like this. She has a system down of working with her editors and her beta readers and her cover designers, where she can put out books as quickly as she writes. And I know other romance authors–she writes fantasy–I know romance authors are also quick writers, a lot of them are. And they’re publishing quite frequently. You can’t have that publishing schedule with a traditional company. They just don’t have the infrastructure for that.
Now, if you are a slower writer, like I’m a slower writer, I have to think about my stories, and I have to think about what I’m writing. You know, I may publish only one or two or three or four books a year, and that’s okay. That’s part of my business model and my business structure is writing what’s comfortable for me, and I can do that. I can make those decisions as an independent publisher. Whereas with the publishing contract, you may have those hard deadlines that if you don’t meet them, you’re screwed. And I don’t do well with deadlines. So that’s another reason why I didn’t choose to go the traditional route.
Another really great pro, especially with e-books and even print books. If your book doesn’t sell immediately, if you’re tweaking and finding your market for your book–and I believe every book has a market and there are people who want to read your book–you may not have just found that market yet. Well, you can leave it up. It’s not costing you anything to leave your book up on Amazon or Apple or whatever. It’s not costing you anything if you have a print version to have it available. So you can leave your book available for readers to find it later.
You may write another series that takes off, and now you’ve got your backlist that readers can find you. Quite often with the traditional, those books may be pulled and you don’t have any say about that. So you can build your backlist and market to your backlist. And a lot of Indie authors, that’s where we make our money is on the read through from our first book through the series and then on to other books we’ve written.
INDIE PUBLISHING CONS:
So I’ve mentioned some of the cons of indie publishing already, but I’ll go through a few more, a little bit more detail on those.
One con is that you are the publisher and therefore you are responsible for and bear all of the publishing costs of your book. Sometimes you may not have the money for an editor or for the cover that you really want. Sometimes you do what you can and then reissue the edition when you have funds for a better cover. And part of this being the publisher and bearing the brunt of all the expenses is you’re responsible for the marketing expenses as well as doing the marketing and figuring out your marketing strategy and where are you going to market.
Are you going to do Facebook ads? And you have to pay for those. Are you going to do Amazon ads? Are you going to try for a BookBub ad or put your book on some of these other newsletter book promotion sites? You can do TikTock. You have to figure out what marketing strategy is right for you and your books, because not every marketing strategy available is right for you and your books.
A third con is it’s difficult to get into bookstores, even indie bookstores. Indie bookstores don’t always support indie authors. Often as an indie author, you are limited to online sales, which that can work. There are authors who sell very little to bookstores and are making good money.
And a fourth con is you have to figure everything out for yourself and you may make costly mistakes. And for those who like figuring things out, that can actually be a pro. I like figuring things out. I like, you know, figuring out what processes work for me and how to do things so that actually for me is a pro. But if you’re not that way, that might be a con that might tip you over on another side.
So there’s lots of things to consider in choosing to go the indie publishing route.
MODEL 3: HYBRID PUBLISHING
And the third business model that we have available right now in the publishing industry is a hybrid and that combines aspects from both traditional publishing and self or indie publishing. As a hybrid, you may have some of your books with a traditional publisher and some of your books you may indie publish.
Now, I know one of my favorite fantasy authors, Ilona Andrews, they did this. They had a big traditional publishing contract with their Kate Daniel series, and then they wanted to do another series, their Innkeeper series, and they decided to self-publish that. And now they’ve actually moved to where they’re more and more self-publishing than traditional publishing, but they still have that series, and the Kate Daniels series is still traditionally published.
You may have an opportunity to where a publisher approaches you and you sell only portions of your rights, such as because they have the distribution system and the contacts that you may sell your print rights to your book, to a traditional publisher. And you keep your electronic and audio book and movie rights, you keep all your, and foreign rights. You keep all of those, and you’re only selling a portion, and that’s just your print rights.
That is a pro of the hybrid route is your only selling certain rights and you can control which rights you sell and which ones that you keep and which ones that you want to exploit and which ones you don’t. You keep the rights that you want and can take better advantage of, such as your electronic and your audiobook rights while selling those rights like print, that I talked about to a traditional publisher which has a better print distribution system.
Another pro of a hybrid is you’re kind of sharing the publication costs. So if you’ve sold some of your rights to a traditional publisher, then they’re taking on the costs for that aspect of your book and you’re doing the cost and are responsible for the cost of the other things.
And there is a possibility of selling a greater volume of books than you could on your own.
The cons of being a hybrid, is the opposite side of the pro. If you are giving up certain rights of your intellectual property and you may have a difficult time getting those rights back. So say you have sold your print rights to a traditional publisher and both of you thought your print book was going to sell like gangbusters and it didn’t. And now you might want to try selling that. You’ve got a better system down now. You might want to sell it direct on your website. You may now have a difficulty getting that right back or it may be expensive to get that right back.
Another con is that the contract that you have with the traditional part may not be in your favor. You’ll have to make sure to hire an entertainment lawyer to help you with those contracts.
And you may have an additional cost of hiring an agent to handle selling those rights that you choose to sell.
And a third con is that you have a potential loss of income from a lower percentage rate, and especially if sales don’t meet expectations.
In conclusion, each author has to decide for themselves the model they’re going to choose. What’s right for me may not be what is right for you, and vice versa. When you’re deciding which model to choose, evaluate the cost benefit and the pros and cons of each model to determine what’s right for you. Look at your personality. Look at what you like doing and what you don’t like doing.
Some of the costs that you need to look at are monetary, and some of them are non-monetary but are what you value.
Such as, for me, one of the things I value, one of my core values is control and independence. For me to go the traditional route would be giving up that control and that independence that are part of my core values.
My personal choice, and what I like, is being indie. I like having full control over my intellectual property. I like that my success or failure is determined by what I do and I’m not dependent on someone else. I’m not dependent on someone else to market my books or someone else to do the covers for my books may or may not be on point. That’s up to me, and that’s my mistake to make if I don’t have my covers on point. But it’s something that I can rectify as well.
I can publish my books as quickly or slowly as I need to. Sometimes I write quicker, sometimes I write slower, so I can publish on a schedule that works for me. I care-give at this point in my life for my elderly parents. So my time is not always my own. I have to take care of taking my parents to doctor’s appointments, go do the grocery shopping, run errands for them, fix dinner, so my time is not my own. Having full control of my business works for me and my life situation.
And that’s also something to think about when you’re making your decision. What is your life situation like? Are you a caregiver for children? That makes it really difficult to write. You know, I have a two and four year old grandkids. When I’m watching them, my writing time goes from here to here, you know? So I really hats off to authors who are writing full time that have children, small children. Maybe you’re ill and have a chronic illness and that writing is only part time for you. You can make that choice as an indie publisher.
Another thing that I really like about being an indie publisher is I can build a relationship with my readers. I can send out my newsletters as often and frequently as I want, or sometimes not as frequently. And I can tell my readers what’s going on in my life, what’s going on in my writing, what books I’m working on, what projects I’m working on, and just share with them and build that relationship.
And freedom is one of my core values, so I have the freedom to write whatever I want to write. I write genre bending fantasy and sci fi. So my Legends of Lairheim series doesn’t fit the mold. It’s a epic science fiction fantasy book, there’s even some elements of urban fantasy in there with shapeshifters, and there’s an alien invasion. It was what this story needed, and I was able to write that, and it’s up to me to find the market for that story. And I think that is a market for that story. I just have to find it and I can choose to change what I write.
So my second series Sentinel Witches, is a contemporary urban fantasy, it’s set in Southern California in today’s time, totally different type of story, and I can choose to do that as an independent author. I also write nonfiction. I can do that because I have the freedom and independence to choose what I do with my business.
If you need help deciding which model is right for you or if you have questions about the indie publishing industry, I now offer micro coaching. You receive 10 minutes of coaching for $10. Woo! That’s an amazing price and it’s amazing how much we can accomplish in just a short time. And I use a really great system called Volley. So it’s like text messaging, only you can send an audio or video. You send me your question and then I answer it, send you back a volley, so we can have this conversation and get your problem solved in a much quicker time. You don’t have to wait for us to find a time that’s good in our schedules for you to get your question answered. You have a question, you ask it, you get an answer, if I have one. You can find out more about that at my website at, Indie Author Biz Guide dot com forward slash micro.
I hope this helps you in making that decision of whether to traditionally publish, or indie publish, or be a hybrid. And we’ll see you next episode when we’ll talk about multiple streams of income.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Indie Author Biz Guide Podcast. I hope you found value in it. You can get your free business checklist, find more information, and any downloads mentioned at Indie Author Biz Guide dot com forward slash podcast.
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