Authors, despite the oft-praised “freedom” of self-publishing, would still opt for traditional publishing, given the chance. That statement is based off the results of a Digital Book World 2014 survey.
More than 9,200 authors that took the DBW survey were grouped into four different category types:
- Aspiring (not yet published)
- Self-published (have only self-published and never worked with a traditional publisher)
- Traditionally published (only published traditionally)
- Hybrid (have been self-published and been traditionally published)
The impression the survey gives is that authors crave the experience and sustainability that traditional publishers can offer, but they also want the creative freedom that self-publishing allows. Furthermore, as Phil Sexton, Publisher and Content Strategist, Writer’s Digest at F+W Media, discussed at his DBW14 presentation, authors believe they will receive a higher royalty rate with self-publishing than with traditional publishing. So authors that are seeking to make a career out of publishing not only want creative freedom, but they want more financial control and transparency with their numbers than traditional publishing has previously allowed—something the self-publishing route gives with ease.
As Keith Martin-Smith said, “Self-publishing seems like it offers everything a writer could want. Print-on-demand. Design services. Fast turn-around. Copyediting services. Minimal financial risk. High rates of return per-sale (from 50-85%, as opposed to 8-15% in traditional publishing). The ability to write the book a writer wants to write. No risk of rejection, even for bad ideas and poorly written books.”
But some of those very strengths of self-publishing are also the drawbacks. Martin makes note that while there is minimal financial risk (in regards to money to actually publish), authors still must do all of the marketing themselves and take 100% of that financial risk by paying for marketing, copyediting, design services, etc.—all premium services that are generally included in traditional publishing.
Martin-Smith also notes that while editors and designers can be hired, they “seldom have the breadth of experience” that you’ll find with editing and design services in traditional publishing. As a freelance editor myself, I agree with this statement. Freelance editors and designers that are hired out by self-publishers are generally not as invested in the author’s success as a traditional publishing editor or designer might be. Nor do we possess the experience and foresight of knowing a book’s potential for bestseller success the way traditional publishing editors might.
Another point Martin-Smith makes is that because anyone can self-publish, there is a saturation of self-published authors with “vanity projects and books so poorly written they drag the reputation of everyone else down with them.”
These points, coupled with the fact that it is much harder to get self-published books distributed to bookstores—large, small, and independent—detracts a bit from the self-publishing glamour.
In Sexton’s presentation, he touched on other points in the DBW survey, such as the publishing-related priorities of authors. Divided by the four categories of author types, the survey found that the number one priority of all four types of authors was to publish a book that people will buy, followed closely by the desire to build a career as a book writer and to share their stories with others.
So it makes sense that while authors love the freedom and financial control that self-publishing gives them, most authors (in all four categories), would prefer a traditional publishing route if they were given more control and freedom creatively and financially, because it would allow them to confidently publish a book that people will buy while building a career as a book writer with the backing of experience and knowledge of a traditional publisher. Thus, they would be able to focus on sharing their stories without having to take on the financial strain and work a traditional publisher might offer.
These are author priorities that publishers need to be paying attention to. Understanding author priorities is the only way to give authors what they want…and being innovative enough to do so means disrupting and impacting the current publishing landscape in a positive way.
Most authors just want the experience and knowledge that traditional publishers have—marketing, distribution, editorial support, financial stability—while maintaining that sense of freedom and control over their creativity, their content, and their contracts.
And as Ray Kinsella’s character finds out in Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.”