I keep waffling between self-publishing and traditional publishing and I'm not sure which way to go.

Oh my, I didn’t realize you read it :flushed: :blush: I suppose I might just be getting the nervous jitters over it. So far I have sent out one query at the end of last month and have been too terrified to send out any more. I’m absolute shit at “selling myself” and just keep thinking that if my query letter isn’t jazzy enough or my first 10 pages aren’t interesting enough or if my synopsis is too long or doesn’t explain things well enough, I’m just going to blow my chances over and over again until I run out of agents to pitch to. I keep getting conflicting advice on how to do this or that, so I keep editing and revising things over and over again and still it never seems good enough.

Sometimes I just want to say “fuck it” and dish out the cash for self-publishing because it seems to have the same amount of hassle and drawbacks either way.

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Hahaha I’ve just started reading but I love it so far! I’m sorry for the silence. When I find a story that I like, my ADHD goes into overdrive and I just zip through it, but I try to remember to go back and show some love (This is probably why a lot of WP people don’t love me. I’m so sorry for being the worst, please forgive me :disappointed_relieved:)

I totally understand that. Writing query letters has been torturous because I am terrible at marketing myself to anyone who isn’t my cat. But from what I’ve seen from your abilities, I think you have a real shot! :smiley:


Lol don’t worry about it. I have no problem with “silent readers”. That’s how most people consume literature after all. I’m just pleased to know you’re enjoying it so far.

And thank you! I appreciate the encouragement! Now just to get up the nerve…

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Surely the “$0 is guaranteed” is a bit hyperbolic, given that according to several studies, the net author income of self-published authors now exceeds that of traditionally published authors. The highest-earning authors are still traditionally-published, but there are certainly self-published authors making millions. I do agree with the rest, and with the general opinion that trying trad first, then self if trad doesn’t pan out, is the safer choice – especially because, once you’ve self-published, many agents and publishers won’t look at the book unless it has been a huge success.

There are cons to trad, of course. One significant ‘con’ is that the whole process is glacially slow. Think a year or a year and a half of querying, with no guarantee of landing an agent. Six months to a year for the agent to shop the story around, with no guarantee of landing a publisher. Then it can take the publisher 18 months to 3 years to actually publish. What’s the statistic? Something like 1 in 10,000 who try to get traditionally published actually do get published. And of those who do, only a small fraction ‘earn out’ - that is, make money beyond the advance, and the advance is typically $5k. Kind of an epic journey for $5k. Better than being $5k in the hole, of course.

If you don’t like the non-writing aspects of production (research, packaging, marketing, accounting, etc.), then trad is probably the better route. But also bear in mind that these days, it’s hard to escape the need to do marketing. Trad publishers now like / expect authors to participate in marketing their own books.

I have the impression that self-publishing has been especially good for niche authors, because trad has ‘condensed’ pretty hard around popular genres that support ‘big books’ - they’re all looking for high earners. I read a quote by the CEO of one of the Big 5 who said the business “is all about throwing spaghetti against the wall in the hope of finding the next blockbuster novel.” (paraphrased)

Nope, not hyperbolic. The vast, vast, VAST majority of self published authors publish books that aren’t ready for prime time and have no idea how to market them. The books sink like rocks and don’t sell beyond friends and family.

Books that are READY for publication, put out as professional products, and marketed well can do EXTREMELY well. But those are rare overall.


I recommend traditionally publishing FIRST, and then self publishing, assuming your books are in a genre that does well self pubbed.

Why? Because publishing is a business with a sharp learning curve. Traditional publishing will let you know your writing is ready for prime time, and the editing done there can be a masterclass for fiction craft. You’ll have someone holding your hand through each step, including the launch – and answering questions about marketing beyond that. Also you’ll have a wider reach that you can then exploit by self publishing.

Post your query in this club, and we’ll critique it. We can critique your synopsis too, though our synopsis specialist isn’t here anymore.

Oh – this might help too:


I Think it all comes down to who you are and how you view it. If you are a person that is fine with someone else making all the decitions then go the traditional route, but you might have to do your own marketing anyway. If you are ready to start your own bussiness and publish yourself do it. View it as a bussiness, hire editor, proofreader and get the cover you want and start building your brand. There is a lot of great opportunities out there for indi Publishers but I don’t Think it is for everyone. Another thing is if you go traditional then they own the rights to your work, they can sell it and do what ever they want. If you go indi, you own the rights, you can sell it to make games, movies or what ever opportunity comes your way, because it is all owned by you. If you publish traditional then you give away some of your rights to what you created. If that doesn’t matter then go for it, we are all different.

I am self published through Amazon. In a nutshell this is what you’re looking at:
Self oubkish- all marketing is on you. Amazon does not charge to publish just takes a % of sale price.
Traditional- all marketing is on you UNLESS they think k you’re 1 of their maybe 3 books “considered” to be a best seller. Therefore traditional still does not guarantee sales and will cost you to go through their system.

Self publish is fast and requires you to put in what you can when you. Also allows you to tell YOUR story without “oh well that isn’t selling in our demographic so change it (overhaul edits)”
Traditional cost you out right but has better markeringnpotential IF they think you’ll make them money.


You keep saying traditional costs. What are you referring to?

This is an exaggeration. Even the small books get some help, especially before launch. Launch numbers are the live-or-die numbers for traditional publishing, so that’s where they put their efforts. Even small books get ARCs sent to reviewers, and there’s generally a PR person assigned who can help with blog tours and other pre-launch marketing.

There’s honestly a lot to learn from their PR people. They’ll help with creating an effective author page and brand, defining targets, and creating a marketing strategy. After launch, yes, you’re largely on your own. But don’t undervalue the initial help.


You can query agents and publishers (not at the same time) first, to see if you can land a contract. That might help you with your first novel. But chose wisely, there are a lot of presses around who do very little for their authors other than a copy edit, a cover and some basic marketing.
That, unfortunately, you will not be spared unless you land a top contract with a top five publisher. And that is - not very likely.
Querying will also help you learn a lot of good skills like writing blurbs and marketing yourself - which is effectively what you need to do.
Plus, you can try Wattpad. Big Orange IS a new player in the market. I’ve gone hybrid - a trad contract, two stories in Paid Stories and another story I will query and, if ncessary, self publish.
The key point is - get content out there. One book alone will get you nowhere. Especially when self-pubbing you need more novels to gain critical mass. That’s the other question to consider actually - do you have the one book only? then self-pubbing is not for you.


I have two books so far, but only one that I think is ready for publication. The other still needs to be revised, edited, etc. But they are both part of the same series. There will be a third book as well, plus a stand-alone novel that I’m currently outlining.

I completely agree.

And the vast, vast, VAST majority of those who try the trad publishing route fail to get published at all. One way of looking at the difference:

Trad: costs very small $ to and a lot of time to try. You pass or fail to pass gatekeepers on the way, so as you pass each gatekeeper, you get validation that you’re on the right track (or you don’t). The catch: once you sell your rights, you can’t change direction and self-publish. You have no control. Use your learned lessons for your next book.

Self: costs much less time but a fair amount of sweat equity and $ to try properly. Your feedback is in the form of amateur reviews and sales (or no reviews and no sales). The catch: once you’ve self-published, you typically can’t turn around and try trad with the same book (yes, it’s possible, but usually only if very successful). But: you can revise your book and try as often as you like with the same book. I’ve had people jump on me for saying that, like it’s kind of unsavory - but it’s a simple fact and I know enough self-pubbed authors who’ve done just that. You have total control.

Twilight zone: Wattpad. You can pseudo-publish here, and for the most part, it won’t prejudice either choice - you can still try self or trad. I mean standard WP, not ‘Paid’ or WP Press.

Note - neither my first post nor this one disagrees with anything you’ve said except for the “$0 is guaranteed”. You and M. J. Sullivan are usually the best sources of wisdom in this forum :slight_smile: I believe he earns very well at both self and trad, so in a sense, he’s proof that $0 is not guaranteed. There are a number other WP authors who’ve also done very well self-publishing.

(By the way, I’m not just talkin’ for talkin’s sake here - I’m mulling the same choice for a few works of my own, so I’m motivated to be scientific about it.)

That was my statement. So, you are guaranteeing that every single person who chooses to self publish will earn $1 after costs? I know people who invested thousands, marketed like crazy, and still lost thousands.

At least with trade press you get an advance. Your agent gets 15% commission on all earnings. So both your agent and your publisher want the book to at least break even and make a decent profit. You have two professionals in your corner trying to make this book work. I don’t know of anyone who was asked to refund an advance. They just don’t get anymore money until they’ve covered publishing expenses and made a profit to cover the advance.

Exactly. And that, honestly, is a good thing in most cases. In self publishing, the slush gets published when it really shouldn’t.

Mostly. If you don’t sell all rights, you still have rights you can exploit yourself. The smart author will minimize rights sold as much as possibly possible. (Trad publishers are notorious rights grabbers, though.)

We might be thinking different interpretations of this sentence. What was meant is that there’s no guarantee you’ll make enough sales to break even, much less make a profit. In traditional publishing, if you get an advance that money is yours even if the book doesn’t sell. In self publishing, you have to invest money, and if you don’t sell enough copies, you can ultimately lose money. No guarantees.




Oops! My bad. Apologies to both of you for the mis-quote.

But I’m just being mathematical about it: it simply can’t be “guaranteed”. It can be likely or probable or average or whatever. It might even be that the total sum sunk into self-pub efforts by authors exceeds the total gross income by those authors (I doubt it, but I don’t know, so it could be). But there are too many successful, even rich self-pubbed authors for failure to be guaranteed. Just as there are too many successfully trad published authors for failure-to-be-published to be a guarantee. Either way, it’s more like lottery odds … but better and more fun than a lottery, because the author does have some control over the outcome.

If failure were guaranteed, why would anyone strive?

That’s not what “$0 is guaranteed” meant. It means you are taking a large gamble and sinking tons of time and money for a very small chance of making it big. “You are not guaranteed to make any money” is what I meant, not that you are guaranteed to fail.


What Alena said. Failure isn’t guaranteed. It’s success that isn’t guaranteed. And failure can be very expensive.

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Since I seem to be in the mood to debate points, let me with great respect debate this one too. I think what has changed is the discrimination model, not the effectiveness of it.

In the trad world, the agents and publishers set themselves up as the arbiters of quality. They did and do a decent job at that, in the sense that if a book is trad published, odds are it’s at least readable, and also classified fairly well. The reader can pick up a random Big 5 pubbed book in a bookstore with far less risk of it being a travesty than if she picks up a random self-pubbed book.

In the self-pub world, the (self-) publisher is not perceived as the arbiter of quality. Instead, the quality filter is. What’s the quality filter? There’s a diversity of them - lots to choose from. Some readers use Amazon’s popularity ranking (that’s a consensus filter), some readers use goodreads reviews (ranked consensus), some use bloggers, some use friend recommendations, some use a combination. Every reader does.

Readers often use quality filters for trad-published books as well. What’s special and different about self-pub, is that those filters are all the reader uses. It’s a fundamental change that many people trying to engage with the industry still don’t fully understand. That it works is one reason Amazon was able to disrupt the industry as much as it has. They discovered that you don’t need any pompous ‘professional’ arbiter of quality. You can use the wisdom of crowds (and, increasingly, the coefficients of AIs) as perfectly effective arbiters of quality.

That fact has destroyed the barriers to getting (self-)published for authors. But it has not removed the barriers to getting read. Only shifted all the barrier’s strength into the quality filter.

So my point in, why shouldn’t the slush get published? That no longer means anything. The important question is: does it get through the quality filters? And the answer it, generally not.

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