Years ago, I had aspirations of writing a book but didn’t know what to pursue: should I attempt to figure out how to write a book proposal and pitch to “real” publishers, or should I go the self-publishing route with a service like Westbow or Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing?
Since I first expressed a desire to write one, I’ve released books through both traditional and self-publishing options. Two books were published by Cruciform Press, Awaiting a Savior and Contend, and am continuing to pursue opportunities with traditional publishers. I’ve published one book using Kindle Direct Publishing (so far), Everyday Theology, and will almost certainly do so again.
But when I started, I didn’t know what to pursue—or even how to do it. So today, I thought I’d share some advice for aspiring authors based entirely upon my experience with both. This should not be seen as definitive or authoritative, as I’ve no doubt I’ll probably change my mind about some of this in the next five years.
My experiences with both forms of publishing
When it comes to self-publishing, the stigma, if it has not completely gone away, has certainly lessened. I’ve seen a number of people—including a number of friends—embrace it as their preferred publishing option. They love the freedom this approach offers, the ability to create what you want when you want. Because these friends understand that for too long self-published material has been pre-judged as poorly written, they’re determined to write, really, really well (and usually make sure their work is properly edited, too).
My experience with self-publishing has been quite good, overall, but to be fair, I’ve only done it once to date. Creating a book was easy with the tools out there. The content was already in existence, though in need of a few light edits. All I had to do was make it available. The one thing I’ll do differently with the next self-published book I release is make sure I invest a little more money into the project and pay for some additional outside editing (it’s worth it).
Then there’s traditional publishing, which I absolutely love. For me, what I love best about it is the collaborative side between me as the writer and my editor. Awaiting a Savior would have been a very different book had it not been for two people: my friend and co-worker, Amber Van Schooneveld, and my editor, Kevin Meath. Both challenged me to think through what I was writing in different ways, offered critique on the ideas I was presenting, and caught more than a few grammatical errors. Likewise, Kevin’s efforts on Contend were part of made that book worth reading (in my opinion, at the least), helping me keep the book focused when it was getting scattered in early iterations.
So, what, really, is the difference between the two—and is one really better than the other?
As I see it, the difference between the two is control. With a traditional publisher, provided you can even get in the door (which is no easy feat these days), there is a degree to which you lose control over your ideas. Someone is working with you and helping you shape what you want to write into something that’s a. coherent, and b. marketable. There are some traditional books that are a scattered mess, but those tend to be the ones where the author is resistant to feedback or just shouldn’t be writing a book (despite having a massive platform). In self-publishing (CreateSpace, KDP) and partner publishing (Westbow, Lucid), you determine how much input someone else has on your material. Sometimes it’s none, other times, it’s almost to the degree that you’d have with a traditional publisher.
But is one better than the other? Not really. In a lot of ways, I prefer the experience working with a traditional publisher, simply because I appreciate and need feedback if I’m going to communicate well. But self-publishing is a lot of fun, too—and it can also be more lucrative for you as an author (at least in the short term).
Which option should you choose?
That’s up to you to some degree. Which do you want to do?
Choosing to pursue traditional publishing (in which there is no guarantee of having a book picked up, keep in mind) or self-publishing really comes down to what’s best for you and for the project. A book like Everyday Theology, which is a reworking of existing content from this blog, is best suited to self-publishing. Another small book I’m working on in my (barely existent) spare time is best suited for this option as well. But I have a number of ideas I’m in the process of pitching to traditional publishers, and these are books that I’d simply feel better about pursuing in partnership with another entity.
That’s what I mean when I say it’s up to you to some degree. There are other factors, of course. But in general, if an idea has grabbed us and won’t let go, we’re going to find a way to get it out into the public. Whether that’s through a traditional route or self-publishing doesn’t really matter so long as it sees the light of day.
So, aspiring author, that’s what I’ve got for you (at least for now). What options have you explored and which do you have an affinity for?