For the past 35 years I’ve been a professional writer and have published more than two-dozen middle-grade and young adult novels for traditional houses: Harcourt, Scholastic and Holiday House. And as of last November, I’m also a self-published author. From big signings and national tours to now managing the whole thing myself, I can say there are joys and stresses to both routes:
Time: With several books I’ve waited at least two years between acceptance and seeing them in print, and often have already turned in the final manuscript before receiving the contract. With self-publishing you just click a button. It’s instantly gratifying to publish right away, but the time it takes with a traditional house isn’t for naught (points below:).
Support: Editorial, sales and marketing is a huge plus with regular publishers as is Production. This is the cover design, copyediting, formatting, and adding the title to their catalogue. It’s a team effort getting a book out to libraries, schools and stores. When you’re on your own, all this is up to you.
Economics: Okay, here’s the money part. An advance with traditional publishers is actually a loan against your future earnings, which may or may not blast out of the park like J.K. Rowling. If your works don’t sell, the advance is it, probably gone by Christmas, and it’s time to start the process of submitting and waiting—and waiting—all over again. Publishing with, say, Amazon Kindle, there’s no up-front money but you’re guaranteed 70% of sales if your title is priced at $2.99 or above.
Royalty statements: Traditional publishers send these in the Spring and Fall, reflecting earnings from the prior nine months. I spent two years writing and editing my recent novel, STALKED, then my artist son did the cover. I published it on Amazon Kindle in November and have already received a check! Monthly royalties, wow!
Trends: Success with traditional houses often depends on fads and inflated expectations for profits. I was invited to create two paperback series for young readers, which the publisher initially loved but soon cancelled. The reason? Despite mountains of fan mail from kids, parents and teachers, sales weren’t as brisk as hoped for. Now out on my own, I can directly reach my readers with new adventures.
All this to say, there are benefits to both approaches. I’m deeply grateful to my former editors and publishers. They put my stories into the hands of so many children, many of whom are now adults reading to their own kids—and many of these kids have e-readers! What a great time in history to be an author.