Should You Self-Publish, Traditionally Publish, or Hybrid Publish? | #16

There are many ways to get a book published and, if you're new to the process, all of them can seem overwhelming.

In this episode of the podcast, I’ll discuss the difference in the three main publishing types: self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid publishing. You'll learn:

  • The differences in self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid publishing
  • Pros and cons of different publishing types
  • 5 questions to ask yourself to help you decide which publishing type is best for you

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Should You Self-Publish, Traditionally Publish, or Hybrid Publish?
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You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and more. Find links to all the apps here. If you like listening to the audio on video, you can also watch via my YouTube channel, or just read the transcript for the episode, too (you'll find it at the bottom of the page). You can also support the podcast (and me!) on Patreon

After you listen, join our podcast community on Facebook or comment below and let me know: Which publishing path are you interested in pursuing or are currently pursuing? 

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[00:00:00] In this episode, I'll discuss the difference in self-publishing, traditional publishing, and hybrid publishing, and I'll share five questions to ask yourself to help you decide which publishing type is best for you.

[00:00:11] You may write alone, but you are not alone. Inside the Writer's Soul focuses on how personal experiences can inform your writing and help you speak from the soul to really connect with readers and other authors as well. Your writer's soul doesn't need to take the writing and publishing journey alone. Join me, your host M. Khan, and let's move forward together.

[00:00:37] Hello and welcome! Today I'm going to be talking about the different types of publishing there are out there for authors, I'll be talking about the pros and cons of each, and I'll also give you five questions you should ask yourself before deciding which publishing path to take. So let me first talk about a few definitions.

[00:00:56] So self-publishing is where the author themselves will publish the book. They'll get the file together, they'll get the cover, they'll get everything together and publish it themselves. They'll either upload it, say, through Amazon directly, or they'll use an aggregator that could help you publish across the other platforms like Apple and Barnes and Noble, Nook and Kobo and Google.

[00:01:19] If you are traditionally published, that means that you have a publishing deal with a publishing house. Now, this could be one of the big publishing houses like Random House or Simon and Schuster or HarperCollins. Or it could be one of their imprints, which is maybe one of their smaller presses that tends to focus on maybe a specific genre or subgenres. There are also a lot of smaller independent presses out there, but this would also be considered a traditional publishing deal if you got it through them.

[00:01:46] Now, if you are hybrid-published, that means you're doing a combination of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. So you have some books you publish on your own and then you have other books through a publishing deal with a publishing house. So now I'll talk about the three publishing types in a little more depth and I'll start with self-publishing, which is what I do under my pen name.

[00:02:07] So there are a lot of challenges and rewards to self-publishing. Some of the biggest challenges are that you can make a lot of mistakes along the way. It is really overwhelming, especially because you need to learn so much and learning everything takes time. I'm six years in and I'm still learning. I know I've made a shit ton of mistakes along the way and I've put bad covers on books and bad descriptions and I've had grammatical or formatting errors in my books. But that also leads to one of the greatest benefits or rewards of self-publishing, and is that you can change things really quickly. I can update a description or keywords or the book file anytime I need to. I have control of that. And I could also run price promotions or sales anytime I want to as well. I can create marketing graphics on the fly to post or schedule for social media. I have full approval of the cover. I create my own, but if you use a designer, you usually will get a couple of rounds of edits, so you do have input on the overall style and look of the book depending on the designer you're working with. You can get your data more easily and even daily if you need it. And by data I mean sales data, I mean traffic data, I mean all kinds of fun data that tells you - well, I call data fun because I like data - but it just tells you how your books are really doing, how well your promotions are actually doing. Because if I run a promotion, the next day I can log into my Amazon KDP account, I can log into my Apple books account, I can log into Kobo and Nook and see just how many sales I got from that promotion. You also get paid more regularly, whether you sold one book or 1000 books, whereas it's a little bit different with traditional publishing, and I'll get into that in just a minute.

[00:03:53] So I love self-publishing. I love everything that I can do with it. I love having the control. One of the greatest benefits for me is that I am in charge. This is both a pro-and-con because you are doing everything, you're managing everything yourself. But, on the other hand, you can make those quick decisions to move your book and your business forward. You are absolutely in charge, in control, and you have the final say for things. Now, you do do almost everything yourself except what you outsource. So I like doing my covers, so I don't outsource those, but if graphic design is not your strong suit, then you can absolutely have find a decent-priced cover designer out there to help you or you can learn how to do it yourself. It's not as complicated as it was when I started because I basically learned on Photoshop. Tools like Canva weren't really around, and even other tools similar to that that were around weren't really made for book covers. But these days you can do a lot with tools like Canva so you could potentially take that on if it was something you're interested in, though I do recommend Photoshop for book covers. So there are a lot of pros and cons to self-publishing, and I'll talk a little bit more about why I love it in just a few minutes.

[00:05:08] So now I'll talk a little bit about traditional publishing. So just like self-publishing, it has its pros and cons and challenges and benefits. So some of the greatest rewards you get is that your book can get more easily into physical bookstores and libraries, and it can get into the hands of lots of advanced readers for reviews. Along those same lines, traditional publishing houses can get advertising that you may not be able to get on your own, such as placement in national magazines like Real Simple or Good Housekeeping on one of their 'upcoming books to read' lists or even in newspapers in similar lists. Traditional publishing houses will also handle the cover design, they'll handle copyediting, they'll manage that whole process and maybe even help with marketing in other ways, too. But there are a lot of challenges to working with traditional publishing houses as well. One of the biggest is that you may have less control over your book. They may even want some edits that you don't want to make, and you will have to make a decision whether or not you're going to move forward with those edits or not, even if that means not publishing your book through them. You may not have final approval or even any consideration of the cover that they choose for your book, or even smaller things like the interior formatting of the book as well. Your advance, if you got one, is likely to be pretty small and would mostly be used then for marketing. You may not get help setting up signing events either, which means you would need to do cold calling to local bookstores and set those up yourself. Now, as a self-published author, you'd be doing that anyway, but there may be a few larger signings that a traditional publishing house could help with. But for anything else, I know some of the traditionally published authors I know have told me that they've had to set up the signings themselves.

[00:06:57] Another big challenge in traditional publishing is just the waiting. After you send out query letters to all of these different agents or editors that you want to work with that would help you get a traditional publishing deal, you have to wait for a response from them. There may also be traveling involved and travel costs if you're going to conferences where you can then pitch to different editors and agents, if you don't want to send out query letters, that's another way to go.

[00:07:22] Another thing that you have to worry about with traditional publishing is the rights for your books. P.S. I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice or any of that, but you do have rights for print publishing, you have rights for digital or e-book publishing, you have rights for audio publishing. You even have other things like movie rights or film rights to your books. So as a self-published author, you hold all of those rights, but in a traditional publishing deal, you may have to waive some of those rights. So it's pretty common that the print or the e-book or even the audio rights will then go to that publisher for a set amount of time, and the term for those rights is set up by the contract with the publishing house so it varies depending on who you're working with. But you may not get those rights back for several years depending on the terms, and that could be a challenge down the road. Some smaller publishing houses that have then closed down-you're trying to get rights back, even though they're closed down is difficult because it's hard to get a hold of anyone to confirm that your rights have reverted back to you. Sometimes there are clauses in the contract that state that, but not always and that can be a challenge, and there are authors out there right now struggling with this. In other cases, they may be seven-I've heard some people say that it was seven years before they got their rights back, I've heard others say it was even longer, some others say it was shorter than that. But you just need to look closely at the terms of your contract to see how long before you get your rights back. And once you get your rights back, you can then go on to maybe self-published that book yourself. Just refresh the cover, refresh the interior and just do it yourself, or you could pitch it to other agents or editors to get it published at a different publishing house.

[00:09:06] Another challenge of working with traditional publishing is that you likely won't get detailed reports of how your book is doing. You won't be able to see that daily sales data, and it may even be a struggle just to get a number to see how many books you sold at all. And it may also be more difficult to see or get any money past your advance. Again, the publishing house is going to hold all of that data, so you can't even confirm whether or not they should be paying you out if you, say you sold more books past the advance. So there are pros and cons to traditional publishing as well.

[00:09:39] So now let me touch on hybrid publishing. This is where you will to both self-publishing and traditional publishing kind of in tandem. And it has the best and the worst of both self-publishing and traditional publishing because you'll basically being doing both. So all of the pros and cons I've mentioned so far kind of apply to hybrid publishing. I know several authors who have gone this route, so they've either started as a traditionally published author and then branched out to self-publishing with other books or series, or they started out and grew a reader base as a self-pubbed author, and this proved that they had that built in audience and so they were able to secure a publishing deal afterwords to expand the reach of their existing books or to even write new books.

[00:10:25] Now, one of the downsides of traditional publishing that I did not talk about, but that I'll mention now, is that they don't always live up to the promises that they made and, usually, especially if you're a debut author or an author early in their career, you usually just need to find a way to live with that. Now, let me just share a quick story about a hybrid author that I've heard. I don't know this author personally, but she has shared this story in a sort of public forum, but I'll keep her name out of it just for anonymity's sake. So she was self-published for several years and she eventually got a traditional publishing deal for a new series. Now, as part of that deal, the publisher was supposed to release the e-book and the print and the audio book all on the same day. I don't think it was the first book, it was a few books into the series when the publisher just did not publish the audiobook-for whatever reason, it was not published on the same day, and I don't think this was the first time that that had happened. And this author decided that she was just going to pull out of the rest of the deal. And I don't think these were the only issue she had with that publisher, but she decided that she did not want to publish any more books with them. So she pulled out and she then went on-because the publisher owned the rights to that series name, she then just created a new series with those same characters and sort of continued the series with other characters in the world that she had created, and self-published it instead. Now, at this stage of career she was at, where she's a best selling author, she could afford to maybe pull out of that deal. But if you're a younger author - and by younger, I just mean younger in their career; I'm younger in my career - you know, you may make a different choice. It just depends where you're at. But there are options out there for hybrid published authors.

[00:12:12] So there is a trade off no matter which route you choose. Even with hybrid publishing, traditional publishers are generally not as flexible and don't always keep up with the changes to the publishing industry as a whole. They were reluctant to move into e-books, for example, and this rigidity can be frustrating to deal with as new trends and ideas emerge.

[00:12:33] Now I am self-published under a pen name and I love that. I love the control. I love the freedom. I love being able to manage my business and my career as I need to. Now, because I do have a day job, when I sit down to work on my author business, whether that's writing or whether it's doing admin or something behind the scenes, I need to know that I can just get to work and I'm not waiting on anything. So those are some of the reasons why I just really love self-publishing.

[00:13:02] But for the fiction I'm writing under my own name, I would like to be traditionally published for various reasons. One of the things I'm writing is a fantasy series that would appeal to young adults as well, so I'd like to see that published more broadly and internationally distributed. Now you can absolutely get your books translated and distributed internationally as a self-pubbed author. But I am only one person right now in my business, and I think to really grow and branch out for some of the things that I'd like for that fantasy series, I really need to have more people working on my team or working for me. Now, maybe if I didn't have a day job, then this wouldn't be an issue. But I do. So I need to be realistic about my time and how I want to spend and manage that time.

[00:13:46] Besides my customers - which includes my readers, the authors I coach, my course students, you podcast listeners and others - besides customers, the greatest thing I value is MY TIME. I am always looking for ways to maximize my time and to better manage my time, and I'll be sharing some of those ideas and some of those concepts on the podcast coming up in future episodes.

[00:14:10] So now that I've gone over some of those pros and cons and the differences in each of those publishing types. Here are five questions to ask yourself to help you decide which publishing type is best for you. Question 1: How much control do you want? If you really like control than self-publishing or hybrid publishing is for you. In the scale of control, self-publishing gives you the most, then hybrid publishing falls in the middle, and traditional publishing gives you the least. Really think about how much you want to manage and how much you feel like you need to manage.

[00:14:44] Question 2: Are you willing to learn? There will be a learning curve no matter which route you take. You will need to dive in and face the fear of the unknown, just as you do the first time you try anything new. If you're willing to learn then any of these paths will work for you. Self-publishing probably has the most technical knowledge you'll need to learn because you'll need to learn how to create digital book files, create covers, and do marketing, and learn how to upload to different retailers, and things like that. But even with hybrid and traditional publishing, you'll need to learn how to craft the best query letter to submit to publishers or how to refine your pitch for an in-person pitch session at conferences. That's a different kind of technical knowledge, but it's still important and it's still something you'll need.

[00:15:32] Question 3: What is your emotional and physical energy level? Are you willing to invest the physical and emotional energy needed to succeed? As a traditionally published author, you may need to get used to the frustration of dealing with a publishing house that may not take your opinion into consideration, and that can be really tough and emotionally draining. Even as authors or creators, we don't always think about the physical energy we need to create. But even if we're sitting at a desk, we still need physical energy in order to do the work that we do, in order to manage the admin for the books that we're doing, and for the business that we're running. So really think about how much emotional and physical energy you have to give.

[00:16:14] Question 4: Do you have patience? Personally, I have a lot of tolerance, but no patience whatsoever. When I want something done, I want it done right away. So in that sense, traditional publishing is going to be more difficult for me to navigate because you need a lot of patience with that process, whether that's waiting for a response to a query letter or just dealing with the launch of a book after you've been signed. If you have a lot of patience than traditional or hybrid publishing could suit you more.

[00:16:44] And finally, Question 5: What is your main goal as an author? What do you really want from your career? An author friend of mine said her goal was just to see her book in print in a bookstore. That was all she really wanted and she got that when her debut book was released in December through a traditional publisher. She doesn't necessarily want to be a full-time author. I'm different in that I do want to do this full-time. So how we define success for our careers is entirely different, but both are completely right.

[00:17:16] Let me state clearly that there is no wrong answer when it comes to what you want from your career as an author or creator, but you do need to have a clear vision of what it is that you want. I'll have some upcoming podcast episodes that walk you through how to define what you want if you don't know already. But, in the meantime, start thinking about the vision you have for your career.

[00:17:39] Now I want to hear from you. Which publishing path are you interested in pursuing or are currently pursuing? Why or why not? Head to the blog or join our community on Facebook to let me know. The link is in the show notes. I'd also be very grateful if you could leave a review for this podcast wherever you like to listen. Thank you.

[00:17:58] Thank you for listening to this episode. Check out the show notes for links to my blog and our community where you can get involved in the discussion and support others. While you're there, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter to get to free and powerful tools to help you. One: access to my growing library of free resources for authors; and Two: you'll also get access to my exclusive writing challenge "How to Write Faster in 14 Days" where I share all my tips and techniques that helped me finish over 20 works in five years. Check out the show notes for all the links and thanks again for being part of this community.

M. Khan

M. Khan has authored over 20 novels/novellas/short stories under a pen name, and is now working on a fantasy series under her own name. She teaches others how to plan holistically to get all the things done, and provides guidance and coaching to fellow authors.
Should You Self-Publish, Traditionally Publish, or Hybrid Publish?
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