Indie vs Traditional – Which Would You Choose?

By: Jenny Kate

Are you on the fence?

Traditional publishing is still considered the holy grail to many a writer. It validates you as a bona fide author. There is definite street cred to getting an agent and a book deal.

But … there seems to be a growing movement to “just go indie” when the traditional route takes too long or isn’t panning out quite the way writers had hoped. Going indie may sound super easy – write a book, slap on a cover, post to Amazon. Done.

And believe me, I just heard this version at a writer’s conference back in the fall and just about fell out of my chair.

Before you decide, weigh the pros and cons of traditional versus indie.

Indie publishing isn’t that easy. It takes a crap-ton of work. Before I decided to indie publish my nonfiction, I weighed the pros and cons of traditional versus indie.

For nonfiction, indie won out for a couple of reasons but mainly because I wasn’t all that concerned about wide distribution and I’m comfortable marketing.

For fiction, on the other hand, I’m still holding out for a trad deal.

Before you decide which direction you should go, I really, really, really encourage you to do a pro-con list because publishing indie isn’t for the feint of heart.

The factors below helped me decide, and I hope they help you before you decide.

Street Cred.

  • Although Jeff Bezos told Amazon shareholders in his annual report that more than 1,000 authors hit the six-figure mark, there is still a stigma around indie publishing as not being of the same quality as traditionally published books. Is it as deeply ingrained as it used to be? No. And if you are confident in the quality of your books, then you can build your own street cred. But that brings me to marketing.

Marketing

  • Regardless of which method you decide to publish, you will have to do upwards of 80% of your own marketing. Yes, even with a traditional deal. Former Writers Digest Publisher Guy LeCharles Gonzales led a publicist’s panel at Writers Digest conference in August and all agreed with this. This means you will need to know how to sell yourself and your books online and in person.
  • However, the traditional houses have ins with the major networks and news outlets you would have a hard time busting into as an indie.
  • There are a million ways to market a book and the information available is overwhelming and doesn’t all work. You’ll have to do a ton of testing to find which works for you.

Timeline

  • If your books are not time sensitive, then traditional publishing will work for you. It takes one to two years to get a new book to market.
  • With indie publishing, you’re on the timeline it takes you to write, edit, design and publish. It took me 10 months from the start of the first page, through the edits, book designers and uploading to Amazon. It’s taken five for the second book.

Editing

  • Traditional publishers want a clean manuscript, so having beta readers or a critique group or even a freelance editor review it is smart before you query. That being said, they will still edit it a million times for you.
  • If you indie publish, you’ll have to hire an editor (developmental, content, line, proofreader). I found mine on Reedsy and scored with the first one. I’ve had friends go through several before finding the best one for their work style.

Book Cover and Design

  • For the book cover, traditional houses will determine that for you. I’ve heard repeatedly that even authors with a stipulation in their contract to have final say on the cover never actually get that final say.
  • With indie publishing you’ll certainly have final say, but you’ll also have to do the market research to ensure your covers are industry standard and then hire the designer. It took me four before I found the right chemistry with a designer.

Distribution

  • Traditional publishing has the upper hand here. They can get your books into brick and mortar stores and yes, those are still a thing. Indie bookstores are rising and the Big Five have the contacts.
  • However, with IngramSpark, you can now pitch your books to libraries and bookshops.

TV and Movie Rights

  • Traditional publishing has the contacts to sell your book to Hollywood and get your story on the small and large screen.
  • If you indie published, you’d have to find an intellectual property attorney or a hybrid agent to help you do this.

International Rights

  • Selling your books overseas is lucrative. Period. A traditional agent again has the contacts at the London Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair, BookFest Singapore and others. It takes money and time to get to those, make contacts and get you an international deal.
  • That being said, you can sell in other countries on Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books and Google Play Books. You can use an aggregator/distributor like Smashwords and Draft2Digital to help you.

Audio Books

  • Audio is simply exploding this year and with a trad deal, you won’t have to pay upfront costs or find a reader.
  • As an indie, audiobooks can be cost prohibitive as it can cost upwards of $3000 to produce an audiobook and you’ll have to find a reader using ACX or Findaway Voices.

Jennifer Lovett

Jenny Kate is the founder of Writer Nation, an online space dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 19 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebook, and  Instagram