To Be Traditionally Published, or not to Be… How ‘bout Both?

Many authors debate whether or not to publish their books with a traditional publisher. The alternative, self-publishing, is becoming increasingly popular.

But you don’t have to choose one or the other. More and more authors are doing both.

Authors love to write. And write. And write and write and write.

However, there is a limit to what you can hope to get traditionally published (unless you have a big name that easily commands interest among publishers).

So if you strictly publish traditionally, some of your writing may not get published at all. If you self-publish, you can publish all of your writing (although all of it may not sell).

But you needn’t choose one or the other. Why not both? If you’re deciding which way to go, that probably means that you see benefits and disadvantages each way. Exploring both options will help keep you from wondering about the road not taken.

Choose one or two ideas that you’d like to traditionally publish, and pursue that. Self-publish your other ideas while you try to achieve this.

You’ll run into one problem right away: Should you use a pen name?

If you self-publish books in your name and try to get traditionally published in the same name, the success (or lack thereof) of your self-published books may factor into the editor’s decision. If you become highly successful with self-publishing, using the same name may be a plus; but if your book flops, it may be a red flag.

It’s easier to market a book published in your own name. You may have a following on Facebook, for example, when you first publish. You have friends and acquaintances who may support you. When you meet people and they discover that you’re a writer, they may become interested in your book.

You can build a following and market effectively using a pen name, but there are some advantages to using your own name. This is something to consider.

Personally, I love the freedom, independence, higher royalties, ease, and other advantages of self-publishing. I’m not exploring traditional publishing at this time. But there are attractive benefits of traditional publishing. There are also benefits to doing both.

Some indie authors and some traditionally published authors seem to feel that it’s ‘us against them.’ This isn’t true: We’re all authors; we all love to write. And more and more authors are fitting into both categories. There are many successful authors of both varieties, and both self-publishing and traditional publishing offer value to readers.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

14 comments on “To Be Traditionally Published, or not to Be… How ‘bout Both?

  1. I’ve heard several successful authors have self published now so the trend might be changing – I hope so. I have been lucky to find a local publisher who has aided my publishing dreams. Having said that if at some point in the future I feel self publishing would be a better route for a particular project I have no problem taking it. The same can be said for print book & e-book – there are always options.

    • My feeling is that many successful authors have self-published “in secret,” but more are doing so publicly. I’ve certainly come across several indies with modest success using pen names who said they have also traditionally published.

  2. Great post. I’ve been torn about the traditional and self-publishing decision since I started self-publishing. At first, I thought the goal was to springboard to traditional since I had to prove myself in self-publishing. Now, I’m not sure what I should do if I get offered a traditional contract. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of self-publishing, but I know traditional would have a wider reach. Since I work in the same world for most of my books, I can’t do the pen name route and have some traditional under one name and others self-published under the pen name.

    Do you think at some point in the future, the two camps will merge in some fashion?

    • I feel that there will be more crossover between the two. Traditional publishers are trying to lure indies, though some of the options I’ve seen look sort of like vanity presses. If they can offer an indie publishing channel with good potential to get stocked in bookstores, that would be attractive. At the same time, traditional publishers want their main books to stand out in various ways (e.g. emphasizing editing).

      • That last part is what turns some of this into a competition. I’ve had a run-in or two with authors like that it makes no sense. There may be limited space at ‘the top’, but the writing world seems more of a plateau than a pointy peak. Room for a lot of people up there.

        I read about indie authors being taken on a lot and always wonder about the contracts. I’d love to be given a juicy contract, but with a 15 book series, I might be taking too much of a risk with one. The author that got me started on Amazon told me that he had to wait for the rights to switch back even though the contract had expired. That’s the clause that worries me.

    • I think this competition view is a huge misperception. (I plan to elaborate on this in a future post.)

      I used to dream of the big contract. Now I feel that I would be reluctant to sign one (not that I’m likely to receive an offer, since I’m not looking).

      • Looking forward to that post. Personally, I think it’s being pushed by a minority and a few rabid fans. For example, I’ve seen a reviewer that puts a 1-star review on a book with no real feedback. It seems to be more about getting hype about his/her favorite author. I’ve met a lot more authors that believe it’s a team sport where one person succeeding opens the door for everyone else.

        I’m in the same boat with the big contract. I’m waiting to see if anyone comes to me, but I’ll be fine with it not happening.

  3. I love your POV shared here. We’re all in this game together, and thank God retail markets, like Amazon, set the trend of allowing us equal representation early. I have also been considering the pen name thing because I am writing now in a different genre. I am leaning heavily in the direction of keeping my name. I think about someone like Anne Rice, who was traditionally published and wrote four or five books (a couple under the pen name of Anne Rampling) that were well written but had soggy sales before she skyrocketed with her Vampire Chronicles. I am not writing in that genre either, but it is food for thought. Doesn’t really seem to matter whether you are traditionally published or are an indie author, it is all a matter of getting recognized for your talents and that takes work effort.

    • The main reason I see to use a pen name is when an author writes some books geared toward adults and others geared toward children, where it wouldn’t be desirable for the children to read those adult books. Otherwise, even if the genres are considerably different, there still may be some cross-interest.

  4. Agreed on all accounts. I have titles both ways. I support myself under a traditional contract and a pen name and then self published under another pen name. I really don’t have a preference, but I do like the freedom that self publishing gives.

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