Choosing the Right Route

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Today, I am pleased to bring you this post from the North American side of the Atlantic. I’m chilling out with my family in Nova Scotia, stuffing my face with lobster and blueberries. For this reason, I may be somewhat tardy responding to comments, but I’ll try my best between the mouthfuls!

Many of us are at different stages of our publishing journeys, from contemplating self-publishing to being experienced indie writers. As I posted previously, I recently gave a presentation on the pros and cons of taking the route towards traditional publishing or deciding to self-publish. I thought I’d give an overview here, and I’d love to hear your input, too! Although I realise both sides of the spectrum stir up a lot of emotion, I tried my best to present an objective view based on numbers.

Agent/ Bigger Publisher:

PROS: Chance of greater print distribution; more marketing support; professional editing and cover design team; career advice from industry professional (agent).

CONS: May not get agent; agent may not sell MS; publisher may not secure distribution; novel may not get marketing support; low royalties; long timelines (at most, one book a year).



  1. Pay a one-off fee to editor/ cover designer and keep the profits, as opposed to getting a royalty on every copy
  2. Formatting ebooks is simple once you get the hang of it: not worth paying royalties to avoid the hassle.
  3. Control over timelines: ability to publish when I want without waiting for: a. An agent to possible sell my book; or b. A publisher to fit it into their schedule.
  4. Ebook sales are now overtaking print sales: print distribution is becoming a moot point.
  5. Stigma towards self-publishing is changing as more and more mid-list authors previously traditionally published decide to go it alone.
  6. Self-publishing and traditional publishing not mutually exclusive: many self-published authors now being signed by publishers on the basis of their success. Many traditionally published authors do both now.

CONS: Finding editor and cover designer; learning to format;  getting educated on electronic distributors; little to no print distribution; dealing with the prevalent stigma; stepping away from ‘the dream’.

The Current State of Self-Publishing

  • Taleist survey of  1,007 self-published authors says the average yearly earning in 2011 was 10K
  • Half of writers earned less than $500
  • Romance writers earned 170% more than peers
  • Worst earners were science fiction and literary
  • Highest earners wrote 2,047 words a day
  • Traditionally published authors earned 2.5 times more when self-publishing than rejected authors or authors who went straight to self-publishing
  • Self-publishers who received help with story editing, copy editing and proofreading made 13% more than the average.
  • Help with cover design upped earnings by 34%.

The Current State of Traditional Publishing

Website ‘Show Me the Money’ uses author-provided data to track publishers’ advances

◦       Avon/ Harper Collins: Average advance (first book): $18,600  Median: $9000. Print: 8%; Ebook: 25% (net).

◦       Grand Central (Warner/Hachette): Average advance (first book): $7100  Median: $6000. Print: 8%.

◦       Kensington/ Zebra: Average advance (first book): $3500  Median: $3000. Print: 8%; Ebook: 25% (net).

◦       St Martin’s Press: Average advance (first book): $18,500  Median: $7500. Print: 7.5-10%; Ebook: 25% (net).


2012 Survey of 300+ traditionally published authors by Writer’s Workshop:

◦       75% rate their editorial input as good or excellent

◦       3/5ths were satisfied with cover and jacket design

◦       33% weren’t consulted on marketing; 31% were marginally involved.

◦       38% – the highest percentage –didn’t even notice a marketing campaign.

◦       Half felt communication was poor or tailed off abruptly after publication

◦       45% (highest percentage) says their publisher never solicited feedback.

◦       40% said if another reputable publisher offered the same advance, they’d move.

So… should you self-publish?

  • Do you have a novel you believe in? Is it a practice novel, or something you (and others besides friends and family) feel is ready for the light of day?
  • Are you willing to invest financial resources into editing and cover design?
  • Are you willing to invest time to promote on social media?
  • Are you prepared to educate yourself about the industry?
  • Are you independent and open-minded? Flexible and able to move quickly?
  • Are you looking at self-publishing as part of a career plan, and not just a get-rich-quick scheme or because of frustration?

What have I missed? In hindsight, would you change the path you’ve chosen?

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  1. Julie Day says:

    My answer is yes to all of those, esp the last one. I still want to be tradi pubbed for children’s books, and am working on that now, but for romance, I am starting to think I want to go with a publisher who does ebooks as well as print books, like Choc Lit. I am very happy to continue with the way I am working now, as I feel happiest working with my own publication timelines etc.

  2. D.D. Scott says:

    Excellent overview of “The Choice,” Talli! I bet your class totally rocked!!! :-)

    The only thing I would change about my journey is that I wish I’d “stepped away from the dream” of being TradiPubbed sooner. (It took me 10+ years to find the courage to go the Indie Epub Route.)

    Nothin’ beats creating your own destiny instead of waiting on other people to determine it for you.

    Because I found that courage, I’m now making over $100,000 per year as an Indie Epub Author.

    And I should mention, that I’m making that far above the Taleist survey average because I do treat this as a business and use professional editing services, professional cover designers and format gurus as well as crank out a bunch of LOL books each year at great prices. All under my control and with my final say…which, I’d never have had if I’d gone the TradiPub route.

    With today’s multi-media world, writers no longer need gatekeepers to connect with readers. In fact, I will go on record to say that I’m not convinced that TradiPubs even know how to reach readers (as evidenced by the fact that a healthy percentage of authors reported above that once their book was pubbed by a TradiPub House, they got no support whatsoever to get that book off the shelf).

    Today, it’s about connecting with readers…and Indie Epublishing offers a great path straight to readers! :-)

    • Talli Roland says:

      DeeDee, I couldn’t agree more. Treating your business professionally and taking the time to learn about the industry will certainly put you on the right track to earn far more than the Taleist survey – there are many SPers out there who simply don’t have the skills (or the time to invest), in my opinion, to really have a proper go at it.

      I count myself fortunate that I had people like you and many others to take as examples as ones who have been a success in self-publishing.

  3. carol hedges says:

    I agree with Julie – self publishing is not a get-rich thing. But the spinoffs in meeting people, learning new skills and just having control over all aspects of your work is great.

    Slightly worried about the amount of words you quote as the daily word count. oops!

  4. Thank you for this post Talli. There’s so much interesting info here-must have taken you ages to put together those stats! Hope you have a good time in Canada.

  5. Lots of good information here. Thanks for sharing!

    I’ve been pleased with indie publishing, which I took up in 2009 after one of my two publishers dropped me (the second one dropped me afterward). Not only am I making money (I already had an audience because I’d traditionally published 16 novels), but I enjoy being in control. Gotta up my daily word count, I see, but for the time being 1000 new words while self-editing before submitting to the editor is working nicely.

    • Talli Roland says:

      I love being in control, too, Bettye! Honestly, it’s such a great feeling. So pleased to hear it’s going well for you! And I think everyone needs to work at a pace that’s right for them.

  6. Ruth Harris says:

    Oooh, Talli, I didn’t know you’re from Nova Scotia! It is soooo beautiful there & gorgeous at this time of year. Please have some MORE lobster & blueberries for me (can never get enough)!

  7. SK Holmesley says:

    Your self-publishing PROS #3 – not having to wait for a publisher to fit it into their schedule: I had a publisher (or actually didn’t have :-) back in the mid-nineties who responded to a submission I made for their Regency Romance category. They said the book was fine, met all the requirements of the genre, and was acceptable to them, but that they only published 10 regencies a year and already had their schedule filled. I did appreciate the feedback. It was nice to know that I was on the right track, but never followed the woman’s suggestion that I resubmit the next year to see if I had better luck. I could foresee years of being too far down the pile based on where the book landed when the mail room carried it in to ever get one of the coveted 10 spots. One of the myriad of reasons that I prefer indie publishing is the ability to control when books and what books get published. It does require more planning and work, but I know that the only roadblock to getting before an audience is myself.

  8. deniz says:

    Wow, thanks for breaking down the numbers, Talli!
    But 2000 words per day? I can barely do the 1667 required for NaNo, and that’s in between a full time job and dropping all housework and dinner making (not to mention knitting, etc.).
    Unfortunately, as long as I have to write around full time work, I’ll be seeking traditional publishing for a while longer…

  9. Dana Delamar says:

    Great round-up, Talli. One thing I’d mention if you self-pub is that you have to be prepared to make a lot of decisions and do a lot of research. I’d also mention that you should definitely do a print on demand version too. Many people don’t have ereaders yet and aren’t eager to get one. About 8% of my sales are from print, and that would probably be much higher if I wrote YA.

  10. Mary Campisi says:

    Hi Talli:

    Excellent post. I’ve been traditionally published and once thought that was the only option. I watched my books go of print, sadly too soon, and resigned myself to ten years of waiting for rights to revert. The books were basically ‘dead’ during that period and readers could only get them from used sites and bargain bookstores. Not exactly a great way to grow your business. About a year and a half ago, I ventured into self-pubbing and am absolutely loving it!! Lots of books on virtual shelves, new readers, and the delightful ability to control my own destiny!

    Thanks again for the timely post!

  11. Sibel Hodge says:

    Fabulous stats, there, Talli. I bet the presentation was a great success.

    I think the key thing is now that writers actually have a choice in what to do – whether they trad or self-pub, and all their other business decisions. We don’t HAVE to rely on anyone else anymore – we are the key to our writing! And a big woo hoo to that :)

  12. Tamara Ward says:

    Good post, and fantastic stats. I recently attended a conference where an agent spoke. She was asked why writers should get an agent. Her first response was: so that us agents will still have jobs. After the chuckling died down, she went on to say that agents can get authors in the door to those bigger publishers and lobby for those bigger advances (which us writers would get after subtracting 15% for the agent).

  13. Love the statistics and clear pros/cons. A well laid out and thoughtful article (whew! and a ton of work, too, compiling all those numbers!) I’m downloading a copy of this to incorporate into my next years business plan.

  14. Talli, thanks for sharing your survey results. They support much of what I’ve been hearing the past year. My first book came out in May, so I can’t see the results of my effort for eight months. By then, I hope to have at least six books published.

    A little more than 2,000 words a day? Mmm, I’ll probably reach that during the winter months. At the moment, I write a minimum 1,000 new words a day, regardless (when I’m on a roll, I write more). As soon as I finish one story, I move onto the next one, writing a new 1,000 words a day and spending the other time editing the one I just finished. I believe that’s the only way to make a dent in this business. One book a year will take you no where fast.

    Ah, Nova Scotia. I love it…here. Besides the heavy rain, this fall has been beautiful. The geese started flocking and flying ‘V’ over the house on the first day of autumn. It’s like they have a calendar.

    I hope you enjoy your trip.