Traditional publishing vs. self publishing

Happy New Year! I know I’m a little bit late, but I hope 2020 brings you lots of happiness and success, especially if you’re querying or plan to self publish a novel this year.

2019 was a particularly challenging year for me, for so many reasons, and some of the struggles aren’t quite over yet, so 2020 should be a pretty interesting and exciting year. I’m hoping to be in a completely different place by the end of this year (physically and mentally), I’ve got some big plans that I’d like to pay off in the next 12 months, and I’m going to need some accountability. Which is where you come in!

I’m not a huge fan of resolutions, but I do have a few intentions for the coming year, and the main one relates to my writing.

In 2020, I’m going to publish my first novel, The Fair Queen.

I’ve decided to self publish instead of pursuing traditional publishing any further, for several reasons. I haven’t decided on an exact date yet, as I need to complete another round of rewrites, send the manuscript to a professional editor, and give it a good polish before it’s ready for publication. I’m aiming for September, but as we all know, things happen and plans change, so I won’t announce an official release date until I’ve at least engaged an editor, in case their schedule doesn’t quite fit with a September launch.

So, I thought I’d explain why I’ve decided to go down the self publishing route. I’m going to weigh up the pros and cons of both self publishing and traditional publishing, as there are definite benefits to both, it’s just about personal preference and circumstances really, so don’t worry, I’m not just going to try and convince you that self publishing is the best option for everyone.

Let’s get started, shall we?

What’s the difference between traditional and self publishing?

In a nutshell, traditional publishing means a publishing house buys the rights to your book, and then they take on the cost of printing and (some) marketing of your novel. The publisher pays you an advance, which they then recoup from sales, and once that’s been paid back you start to earn royalties. Your agent gets a cut too, usually around 15%.

With self publishing, the upfront costs of printing and marketing your novel all fall on you, but once the book starts to sell you won’t have to split the profits with anyone – except perhaps your sales agent, e.g. Amazon.

And that’s pretty much it. Except, obviously there are a million and one other little things that tip the scale in either direction, depending on your specific circumstances and needs.

The pros and cons of traditional publishing

The number one benefit of traditional publishing is access – access to the best editors and cover designers in the business, access to a much larger market of buyers thanks to a big marketing budget/team and contacts in every major bookstore. Access to information and knowledge that takes years to amass, and thousands of pounds (or dollars, euros, etc.) spent on degrees and courses, membership to professional organisations, and everything else it takes to be at the top of your professional game.

The other main benefit is, of course, the money, as you won’t pay a penny up front and will actually be paid a lump sum for your hard work, before any books have even sold.

Unfortunately, book advances aren’t quite what they used to be (what industry hasn’t had to make cuts?), and they’re normally paid in 3 instalments – the first on signing the contract with the publisher, the second on delivery of the completed manuscript, and the third on publication. And, as we all know, publishing is a very long process, so these payments could be a year or more apart. So even if you were lucky enough to receive a £50,000 advance, you won’t receive it all in one go, and if you’re a full time writer or decide to quit your 9-5 on receiving your book deal, you might struggle to pay your usual outgoings if you rely on your book advance alone.

But, on a positive note, once you outsell your advance, you’ll start to receive royalties. Only a small percentage of books ever actually outsell their advance, and when they do, royalty cheques are usually only paid twice a year, so there could be a six month stretch between each payday. (Here’s a great article on book advances and royalties.) In short, until you’ve published several books and can command large advances, and are bringing in a good amount in royalties, you might want to keep your day job to make sure you can afford to eat and pay the bills.

Some authors are very open and honest about the publishing industry and the money they receive for their books. Mackenzi Lee (author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) often does Q&As on her Instagram Stories where she answers questions from readers and writers looking to publish, she’s definitely worth a follow (and if you haven’t read her books, I’d 100% recommend them!).

Even if you do get a book deal with a major publishing house, and they decide to invest some of their marketing budget in selling your book, you won’t be guaranteed a book tour, or a stand at YALC, or any advertising. You might find that you still have to organise and pay for these things yourself, if you choose to do them. You’ll likely have to pay for your own travel and accommodation if you do book signings and readings or attend festivals.

If you want to encourage pre-orders (a huge factor in whether a book is successful in its first week, effecting the author’s future advances etc.) you’ll probably have to organise your own pre-order offer, whether that’s a free enamel pin or a postcard with a character portrait you’ve had commissioned.

These marketing methods are all optional, but if you want your book to succeed and outsell its advance, and to improve your chances of selling your next book to a publisher, you will have to play a part in marketing it yourself.

(My day job is actually in marketing, so I’ll do a whole post on book marketing soon and link to it here when it’s live.)

For me, the biggest negative against trad-publishing is that you’re no longer able to write whatever you want. If you planned a trilogy but book one has poor sales, your publisher may not buy book two. You might have a brilliant idea for a space-western-thriller, but if your agent and publisher hate it there’s no point in writing it (unless you decide to do it in your spare time for fun or bonus free content – but now that writing is your job you won’t have as much time to write for fun/free, sadly).

Ultimately, there are some huge pros to traditional publishing, you’ll have the support and assistance of entire teams of qualified and experienced people, and you won’t have to worry about cover design, formatting, getting your book into shops or on Amazon, plus you’ll start earning money almost straight away. If you can get through the query trenches and find an agent, and get a publishing deal, it’s definitely worth taking the offer of traditional publishing, if only for the exposure you’ll receive and the contacts you’ll make. Just remember that it’s not all easy-breezy and wonderful, and you might not make as much money as you always imagined – especially not from your first book. Go in with your eyes wide open, and you could become hugely successful as a traditionally-published author.

The pros and cons of self publishing

Self publishing is the DIY option for getting your stories into the world, and that comes with lots of positives as well as a few negatives. First of all, you have complete control over what you write, your book’s title and cover, how much it costs for readers to buy and whether it becomes a six book series or remains a standalone. You get to decide when it’s released, where it’s available to buy or download, and how it’s marketed.

Unfortunately, this also means that you’re solely responsible for doing and funding all of the above. Which means spending a lot of time reading and researching, whether it’s genre standards your novel will need to fit, such as length and style, or cover design basics (your book should sit well next to others in its demographic and genre, so you’ll need to maintain certain elements of cover style to look like your book “belongs”, whilst also standing out enough to be picked).

You’ll either have to learn how to format your novel and convert it to the right file format, or pay someone else to do it for you. You’ll need to learn about publishing platforms and chose the right one for you, and decide whether to publish just an ebook or offer a print version too, via a Print-on-Demand service. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is probably the easiest and most well-known option, but you may also want to get your book into physical shops, and, you’ve guessed it, that all comes down to you with self publishing.

Ingram Spark, the other well-known self publishing service, will make your book available to book stores and libraries, but they have to know about it and request it, so you’ll still need to get the word out there about your book yourself.

You might have seen other books with cool features, such as maps, custom character artwork, quote prints and enamel pins, book trailers and fancy online ads where elements of the cover art appear to move. And there’s no reason why you can’t have any or all of these things, but unless you learn how to design and create them yourself, then you’re going to have to pay a professional to do it for you, and the cost of design and production can be prohibitive when you’re just starting out and haven’t made a penny from book sales yet. Fiverr is a good place to start, or search on Instagram and ask for recommendations from your online author friends.

You may need to build an author website, create a presence on certain social media (Twitter and Instagram have the biggest bookish communities), maybe even start a blog or email newsletter in order to reach your audience and build a readership. These can all be done completely free, but your time is your most valuable resource and you don’t want to waste it on marketing efforts that may or may not work for you.

Have you noticed I haven’t mentioned writing yet? Let’s assume that you’ve got a pretty solid book written already, it’s got a beginning, middle and end and an appropriate word count for your genre. (Here’s a great blog post on word counts by genre). In order to make it the best book it can be and get it ready for publication, you’ll need to get as many eyes on it as possible, and not just any old eyes, but other writers, readers who know and love your genre, and professional editors. (I wrote a post a while back about alpha and beta readers and critique partners, give it a read if you’re not sure which kind you need.) The only one of these that should cost you money is a professional editor, but I wouldn’t recommend skipping this step unless you yourself are a trained editor, and even then there’s definitely going to be something you miss as the author that another skilled editor will pick up on.

The most important thing a self published author needs is a community, as you’ve missed out on the all-important access that traditional publishing offers – you need to build a network around you of other writers, especially other self publishing authors who can support and advise you along the process. You want to find other writers in your genre to share manuscripts with and offer critiques and feedback, to recommend great editors, cover designers and marketing professionals, to you. To celebrate and commiserate with through the ups and downs, to share each others books and help spread the word to your audiences, and to become lifelong writer friends.

In summary, the biggest pro of self publishing is the freedom – deciding what to write and when to publish it, without falling prey to the whims of agents and publishing houses. And the biggest con is that you’ll have to do it all by yourself, or part with your hard earned cash to get professional help.

What is hybrid publishing?

In recent years, as self publishing has become so much more accessible, there has been a growing trend in hybrid publishing. As you can imagine, hybrid publishing refers to a combination of both traditional and self publishing. For example, an author who has a traditional publishing deal for an ongoing series of crime thrillers may also love writing cosy mysteries, but their publisher doesn’t want to damage the brand they’ve built up in the author’s name, so they won’t publish the cosy series. The author may choose to self publish, possibly even under a pseudonym, as long as it wouldn’t impact on their publishing deal.

Some authors start off as self publishers, but are eventually discovered by an agent or publisher who loves what they write and offers them a contract. They might continue to publish some books themselves whilst also writing for the publisher, or they may leave their previous publications up and go fully trad-pub, having gotten their big break as a self-pubbed author.

Whichever way it works out, hybrid publishing may be the best option for a lot of writers. Say you have an idea you know the big publishing houses are desperate for right now, you could write and query that, whilst self publishing the strange little story that whispers in your head at night, but that you know no agent or publisher will want to touch. There are almost no limits to hybrid publishing (as long as you keep to any contractual terms and conditions), so it’s worth considering when deciding whether to trad-pub or self-pub – you don’t have to choose just one!

Now you know the basics of traditional publishing, self publishing and hybrid publishing and can make an educated decision when the time comes to send your words out into the world. Let me know how you plan to publish, or if you are already a published author then how you decided which way to go!



The one writing podcast you need

I’ve been a podcast addict for a few years now. If you’re sceptical, don’t worry, you’re not alone. I don’t particularly like listening to the radio because I just want to hear my favourite songs, I don’t need all the inane chatter – so when it came to podcasts, I assumed that’s all it would be. That, or dry topics like politics. Nothing that would interest a creative type like me. *flicks hair*

Reader, I was so wrong.

A brief history of my love for podcasts

The first podcast I ever listened to, and still my number one, is My Favorite Murder. If you’re into true crime, with a side of humour and heartwarming honesty, you should definitely give it a listen. It was recommended to me by a friend and after just a few episodes I was hooked. The hosts are incredibly open and honest about their past struggles with addiction, mental health problems, and their advocacy for therapy as self care. They’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes like End the Backlog and helped raise awareness of some really important issues, with their signature mix of humour and heart. I’ve been to see Karen and Georgia live twice now and am the proud owner of a “Here’s the thing” mug and t shirt. (SSDGM to any fellow Murderinos out there.)

The next podcast I came across was the aptly named My Dad Wrote a Porno. I think it was Samantha Shannon on Twitter that first introduced me to this one, and when I saw several other well-known authors tweeting about it I knew I had to check it out. Essentially, Jamie’s dad writes erotic adult novels under the pseudonym Rocky Flintstone (they’re real, you can buy the ebooks), and his son reads them aloud on air, a chapter at a time, while his two friends and co-hosts poke fun at the cringe-worthy writing. It’s hilarious and a great lesson in how not to write, but as the presenter is the author’s son, it’s all in the name of good fun.

Since then, I’ve discovered lots of other favourite podcasts from recommendations by friends and people I follow online, including:

  • Crime Junkie – straight up true crime covering cold cases and under-reported crimes, plus its spin-offs Red Ball and Full Body Chills
  • The Murder Squad – crowd sourced investigations, helping give John & Jane Doe’s their names back and solving cold cases through web sleuthing
  • Happy Place – mental wellbeing and self care chats with Fearne Cotton and other famous folk
  • Ctrl Alt Delete – conversations about careers, business and growing up online with the “internet generation”
  • Is this Working? – a look at the modern day world of work and how it has changed, and how we can make it work for us

But the real reason why I’m shouting in your face about podcasts today is this…

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88 Cups of Tea

Never heard of the 88 Cups of Tea podcast? If you’re a storyteller of any kind, you need to rectify that immediately.

88 Cups of Tea is hosted by Yin Chang, an actress and writer from the US, who interviews authors, screenwriters, agents and other figures from the publishing and entertainment industries. If you have a favourite author, particularly within the YA category, then they almost definitely have an episode of 88CupsOfTea.

All the greats have been on it, including Victoria Schwab (her episode is an absolute must-listen, whether you’ve read her books or not), Holly Black, Sarah J. Maas, Holly Bourne, Elizabeth Gilbert, Cassie Clare, Renee Ahdieh, Marissa Meyer, Maggie Stiefvater, Sarah Dessen, Susan Dennard, E. Lockhart, Angie Thomas, Beth Revis, Marie Lu, Sabaa Tahir, Samantha Shannon, Maureen Johnson, Tamora Pierce. NEED I GO ON???

With over 130 episodes, a fair few of which are with literary agents and industry insiders, there’s definitely something for everyone, even if you can’t commit to listening to every single one. (I still haven’t listened to even half yet!)

The beauty of 88Cups is that it doesn’t matter what genre you read, or write, or whether you’ve even heard of some of the authors interviewed, they all have something to say that you will benefit from hearing. I can’t emphasise this enough, you will learn something and take away some little – or large – nugget of information, inspiration or motivation from each and every episode.

Yin has a way of making you feel like you’re listening to two old friends chatting, and she isn’t afraid to ask the big questions. You’ll hear about the guest’s childhood and upbringing, how they fell in love with books and started writing, what challenges they faced in making time for their writing around work or kids, or the years they spent in the query and submission trenches, and how they got their “big break”.

Ultimately, you’ll realise with every episode that you are not alone. Choosing to live a creative life and making a living from our art isn’t ever the easy option, but the passion we have for what we create makes it worthwhile. If you need a hit of inspiration, or a little reassurance that your art is valuable, or even a kick up the backside to pursue your passion, then just listen to an episode of 88Cups and you’ll soon be back at your keyboard, with a cup of tea in your hand and a fire in your belly.



Killing your darlings

This month, as I’m working on polishing my manuscript in preparation for Pitch Wars, I wanted to talk about something all writers struggle with, and that’s being ruthless in the editing process.

Killing your darlings Lyndsey's Book Blog

What does it mean to kill your darlings?

We’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings”, whether you came across it while reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, or you’ve seen it used in the online writing community. There’s even a film with Daniel Radcliffe as poet Allen Ginsberg, who has been attributed (amongst many others) with inventing the saying, called (of course) Kill Your Darlings.

The basic message is that, during the editing process, writers should cut their favourite and most self-indulgent passages for the betterment of their manuscript. It’s a tough and painful lesson all writers learn when they come to revision time. First drafts are almost never good enough for publication, and even the most famous authors rewrote their works several times before sharing them with the world. Take a look at this post, How many drafts does it take to finish a novel? to see how many times some authors rewrite!

A bit of background…

For those of you who might not know, I finished my first novel recently and plan to submit it to Pitch Wars next month. I wrote most of the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2016, and finished draft two in May. Since then, it’s been out with several beta readers who all really liked the story and gave me a few comments and suggestions which I’ve worked on incorporating into the text. (Check out my previous Author Toolbox post on the ABCs of beta readers).

My beta readers, however, are not fellow writers. They’re friends who love reading and who I trust to give me their honest opinion, but they aren’t familiar with the craft of writing.

Preparing for Pitch Wars

In the run up to Pitch Wars, a raffle was hosted by last year’s mentees – writers who got picked by the 2016 mentors – offering to work with this year’s hopefuls on their competition entry, which comprises the first ten pages of your manuscript and a query letter. I entered the raffle and was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the winners, meaning the amazing Kristen Clouthier would take a look at my pages and query and give me her expert opinion on what I could do to improve them, and therefore increase my chances of getting chosen by a mentor next month.

I pinged off my pages and waited patiently (lies, I was so nervous and anxious!) for Kristen’s reply and her suggested edits. She replied really quickly with a few questions to give her a better idea of my MS and a couple of thoughts she’d had whilst reading. Her advice was to cut the opening scenes and start the story later, as I had started it too early and the inciting incident was several chapters in. She was absolutely right and I think I’d known that all along, having worried my beta readers would find the start boring (it’s a fantasy novel with no fantastical elements for several chapters, what was I thinking?).

Kristen recommended I cut everything up until the action really starts, and then send her my new first ten pages so she could critique those instead. I set about chopping a good 8k words off the beginning of my book, and do you know what? It didn’t even hurt. If that isn’t a sign that Kristen was completely right and my story started way too soon, then I don’t know what is. I polished up those opening pages, readding some of the important information from the cut segment, and sent them off. Kristen loved the new opening, and even though it still needs work and lots of spit and polish, we both agreed it was definitely the right place to start the story.

My dead darling

OK, I lied, one part did hurt, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Kristen said that she wouldn’t be surprised if someone down the road – a Pitch Wars mentor, or future agent – would ask me to cut the prologue. I wrote about my prologue here on my blog, you can even read the original, first draft version when you subscribe to my email list, and I discussed the pros and cons of prologues and reasons why they’re so controversial amongst writers and editors. That didn’t stop me writing it and including it in my manuscript. But, as Kristen said, it was really just a huge spoiler for everything that happens later in the book, so I knew that, with the new beginning being more action packed and gripping, it had to go.

The five stages of loss

So, I killed my darling, I cut my prologue. I saved a copy of my original MS so I can keep it for posterity, and to see how far it has come by the time it gets published, and maybe that took the sting out of removing the prologue and first three chapters. I didn’t delete them and send them into the void, I can still refer to them and use snippets here and there throughout the rest of my MS.

If your manuscript is finished and you’re ready to start the revision process, here are five steps to killing your darlings:

  1. Give your writing to beta readers. You can reread your work yourself, but the bits that need to go tend to be the writer’s favourites. When your betas tell you something didn’t work for them, or it felt clunky and unclear, believe them.
  2. Cut the word/phrase/passage and paste it into a new document, or wherever you keep snippets for yourself. Don’t just hit delete and erase it forever, you never know when you might be able to reuse at least some part of your cut segment.
  3. You now need to fill the gaping hole you’ve created. This will probably either be with a completely reworded version of the original, or a sentence or two that smoothly transitions the reader into the next part of the story. Read the couple of pages before your MS’s new hole to immerse yourself in that part of the story.
  4. Write. Don’t worry that you might not be able to come up with something as brilliant as your dead darling, all of your words come out of the same person, good or bad, and you will write wonderful words again.
  5. Go back to step 1, give the new version to your beta readers and see if they prefer it. If they’re happy, you’re good to go.

Writing is a very personal experience, but ultimately your writing needs to be aimed at your readers and not just an exercise in self-indulgence. That’s what diaries are for. Be brave and ruthless in your editing, and try not to take it personally when readers don’t connect with your favourite passages. Kill all your darlings, and your novel will be the better for it, I promise.



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