A debate rages among writers in this new age of instant publishing. On the one hand, we are supposed to reject the paradigm of traditional publishing, where the Big Five take most of the author’s money while his or her agent takes fifteen percent of the rest. No, these people say. Use Smashwords. And Createspace. And Amazon. We hear horror stories of how agents string writers along and rip them off. We’re told stories about shady publishing contracts and untenable social media requirements and loss of control. Go independent! You keep 65-70% of your ebook royalties. No marketing department can make you drop in a hunky firefighter when your protagonist has no need of one.
Those who cling to trad publishing shake their heads. The indie pub explosion is a shit volcano, they say. Poorly formatted books with tacky covers and no editing. Lots of bad writing. You should take the tried-and-true route. Write a good story. Get an agent. Sign a contract with a reputable publishing house and get an advance.
Here’s the real problem with this dichotomy. It’s either/or. In the past, I’ve often talked about politics this way. People want either/or answers to questions where the answer must be prefaced with “It depends.” Trust me, this is how reality works. I know. I do database maintenance for a living, something that’s based on ones and zeroes, binary. The answers to any problems we encounter are always prefaced “It depends.”
And that, my friends, is why you should always consider being a hybrid author.
OK, here’s the deal. I’ve heard the stories about crooked agents and bad contracts. And I totally get that trad publishers take an obscene amount of the pie. I get that. I’ve been there. I published with a small press that had zero financial sense. I had an agent once who could not really be bothered going to bat for me. (Not my first agent. That small press deal poisoned that well, but who has two thumbs and didn’t wait two weeks before signing the contract? This guy!) But most trad writers I know have more money in their pockets for their trouble and usually end up with bigger followings. Why?
Because, in fact, there is more marketing on the publisher’s part. Even if it’s lousy marketing, it’s better than begging people for Amazon reviews, paying for a cover and trying to find an editor. That is why people still go trad. But…
You do lose a lot of control. All good books are a team effort: You, a cover artist (unless you’re blessed enough to be able to do your own. I’m sort of there.), your editor (or beta readers). While all this costs money, it does give you more control. You keep a higher percentage.
Yes, indie publishing is an absolute shit volcano. You have to be an idiot not to see that one coming. But if a book sells, it’s money. And therein lies the crux of the issue: Money. Not the percentage. Not who’s taking what for what. Money. In the author’s pocket. If you have an opportunity to go trad and don’t take it, you’ve forgone an advance. Money left on the table. And yet, if you have a story that is good but doesn’t quite fit the mold, and you decide not to self-publish…
Again, money left on the table.
The only real answer is to go hybrid. Do both.