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Self-publishing vs traditional publishing: Editor's Notes #332
February 03, 2021

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.
The fears are paper tigers.
You can do anything you decide to do.
You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.

—Amelia Earhart

In this issue:

1. Self-publishing vs traditional publishing
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt
5. Letters to the editor
6. My Covid-19 offer to you

1.Self-publishing vs traditional publishing
Lately I find myself being asked again and again about self-publishing vs traditional publishing. There is no one right answer. In each case, the best answer is, "It depends."

Here are some things to think about. Decide which are most important to you, and pursue the way your book gets to its audience accordingly.

Time: It usually takes at least a year to get a book published with a traditional publisher. It’s possible to self-publish much more quickly. Speed can be a trap because you can be tempted to skip important steps, but if you are committed to get a book out quickly, you are better to self-publish.

Credibility: Because traditional publishers choose only a few books from thousands they are offered, readers and book-sellers reasonably assume that traditionally published books are of better quality. On the other hand, if you are already an expert in your field, you may have all the credibility you need to sell to your niche market — IF you know how to market a book. In general, if credibility is a priority, choose a trade publisher.

Money: There is money out and money in. And in writing, no matter how you publish, the money goes out before it comes in. With the costs of publishing going up, traditional publishers are cutting back on editing, so whether you go with a traditional publisher or you self-publish, you will need to spend some money on editing, so that’s a wash when it comes to choosing how to publish.

Another close call when it comes to money is marketing. No one can market your book as well a you can. A traditional publisher will do some marketing for you, but usually not enough to really make a lot of money. If you know your audience well, you can learn enough about marketing to do your own, and with social media, you can do so without a huge outlay of cash.

When you self-publish, you bear all the costs. Besides editing and marketing, that includes the cost of design, printing (if you want to have hard copies), software (if you want an e-book), bookkeeping (you are running a business and need to deal with all aspects of that in your jurisdiction), and distribution. If you self-publish, it can be difficult to find someone who can distribute your book to your target market. On the other hand, if you self-publish, you may know of places that would sell your book that a traditional publisher would overlook. I made this work for me when I wrote a book with three distinct markets. No one would take my book on, so I did the work myself and managed to sell about 2500 copies. (That, by the way, is an impressive number for a self-published book.) More commonly, expect to sell under 1000 and closer to 100.)

You get to keep more of the money when you self-publish AFTER you make back the money you spend on the items listed above.

Awards: There are specific awards for self-publishers. Most prestigious awards are not open to self-published books. If you want to win a prestigious award, go with a traditional publisher.

Seeing your book in print: If this is all you need, and you don’t care how many books you sell, you can self-publish a small print run using a local printer. At the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, where self-publishers are kindly welcomed to sell their wares, this was the case for most of the self-publishers. They had tiny print runs and little expectation of going beyond breaking even, and some were happy to do not even that as long as their book was "out there".

Choosing a means of publication is a huge decision, one to think about long before you finish writing your book.

2.Tickled my funny bone
Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

3. Interesting Web site
This time I’m sending you to a much longer page. It’s a Ted talk about decision-making. If you can’t, or don’t want to, listen to a long talk, use the link to see the transcript. It’s just below the video.

4. Writing prompt
Write about your basic decision-making process. The Interesting Web site link above may be grist for your mill.

I’d love to see your result.

5. Letters to the editor
Here are two pieces written for a writing prompt a very long time ago that were overlooked due to a technological problem. Because is was so long ago, I am including the prompt as well as the two replies.

First, the prompt…
Prunella was sad and lonely.

The sentence above tells. Sometimes, telling is fine, but in this exercise, I want you to show that Prunella is sad and lonely. You could take a whole novel to do this, but for this exercise, you get a maximum of thirty words (because it’s November 30).

Now the two replies in the order in which they were submitted…

Spoon in hand, icecream bucket on her belly, Prunella watched Titanic, sound down, yet again. As a tear slid down her cheek she remembered how much her grandmother loved it.
—Zoe Younger

Prunella lay on the grass, head on paws, her long ears drooping, and stared through the fence at the kids bouncing on the trampoline, their laughter filling the air.
—Sheila Weaver

5. My Covid-19 offer to you
I feel a bit like a horse being reined in. Vaccines give many, including me, hope that something more like normal life is on the horizon. How about you? I have begun to think seriously about when to close this offer. Don’t worry, I don’t expect to spring that on you suddenly, which is why I’m telling you now that I am thinking about a closing date. If you want to guarantee a half-price-full-value edit, read on, and submit your writing sample as soon as you think it is your best work.

What follows is a copy and paste from issue number 309. The offer is still in force for you and anyone you choose to tell about it.

Along with the health threat hanging over the world, we are facing a huge financial hit. I’ve decided one thing I can do is to make quality editing less expensive during this trying time.

For subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends, I am suspending the fee for the sample edit to anyone using the code EN19 until I cancel this offer. I intend to keep this offer open as long as the world is in crisis with Covid-19 and its aftermath, so watch this space. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer. You can submit your writing sample at Be sure to click the link below the heading "Promotion Code" to get to the special form for a free sample edit. If you find yourself at a form before clicking the special link, scroll slowly back up the page, and you should see the link for the code (EN19).

But it gets better…

When I return an edited writing sample, I include quotes for the full range of my editing services. Until further notice, I will give a true quote, but I will not charge writers the full amount. I am discounting my services 50% for subscribers to Editor’s Notes and their friends. I will give a warning here before I pull this offer.

Feel free to pass this offer along to any writing friends you think may be interested. As long as anyone uses the code, I’ll honour the offer.

This is what I can offer you in this time of crisis. I hope it encourages you as you face possible illness and financial uncertainty.

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