Yes, it is the usual quandary. Should one choose representation, assistance, recognition, and maybe an advance on the one hand? Or total control with lots of work (or great expense) on the other?
But wait. After months of weighing and considering each approach, I’ve come across a rather compelling argument for a third. It comes from CJ Lyons courtesy of Jane Friedman‘s blog. CJ Lyons has been down both paths, with success. Why not try both?
What are the downsides of traditional publishing (beyond finding an agent and publishing house to take your book)? Lyons notes that 80% of publishing through standard houses will never reach enough sales to cover the advance. The result? No royalties. Advances are usually paid out in three installments over two years. And yes, those advances must be earned first – only then come the royalties, if you manage to sell enough books in that two-year period. And consider that most traditional contracts are in effect for decades. You often have no rights once you’ve signed it.
But once published as a self-publisher, you get money every time your book is sold. Year after year. Your book never comes off the shelf and the potential for sales remains. And with each new book you release, sales of the first will increase. And if fortune should find you, you have exclusive rights.
So what to do? Why not both? The idea that agents are less likely to contract a self-published book has been discredited. In fact, in some ways it may be to the agents’ advantage to do so. The author’s commitment is proven, his readership defined, the quality of his work apparent. Much of the groundwork is already laid. And for the author, the self-publishing journey is an excellent learning experience. It is helpful to know what the agent and publisher must go through. And anyway, ultimately, the marketing is up to the author in all but the most exceptional cases.