Updated: Aug 12, 2019
I’m the author of two books. My first book was a collection of essays that was self-published. It ranked number one in its category on Amazon, won the gold medal for humor from the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and was named a "Book of the Year" from Foreword Reviews.
My second book is a professional development book for women, which comes out this December and was published by Seal Press, an imprint of Hachette Book group, one of the largest publishing houses in the world.
I want to share three insights I’ve had as a writer who has self-published and traditionally published a book. To understand these three lessons, it’s important to give you an image in your mind to visualize the difference between a self-published book and a traditionally published book.
For a writer to become a published author, it is essentially the same as a person traveling to a different country for the first time. Neither knows what to expect, except for what they’ve seen and read on the internet, and the traveler has two main options for sightseeing everything this new land has to offer.
1) Buy a map and go it alone, or
2) Get a tour guide
So keep that image in mind as I share my insights.
The first is:
YOU CONTROL THE ITINERARY WHEN YOU TRAVEL ALONE
When you self-publish, you can decide mid-morning that you want to sell a book and have it available for purchase by lunch time. It’s the kind of trip where you just eat when you’re hungry, and sleep when you’re tired, and no one stands in the way of you getting to do what you want to do when you want to do it.
When I decided to self-publish a book of my essays, my concerns were only about which essays I wanted to include, what I would title it, and who I could get to design the cover. I was never concerned if I would get the opportunity to be a published author—that was a trip I could take any time I wanted.
Of course, if anyone and everyone could plan a trip at any time they wanted, many if not most people would cobble together a terrible itinerary. But a few will be thoughtful and diligent and plan a trip worth taking. With traditional publishing, you get to be a tourist; with self published, you are your own tour guide. So if you don’t know where you’re going or know the terrain all that well, you’re not going to have a successful journey.
The second insight is:
YOU SEE MORE SITES ON A GUIDED TOUR
Much like a guided tour gets you efficiently around to more sites than you could do alone, traditional publishing helps authors hit way more landmarks than they could with self-publishing. One great example: self-published books don’t get counted in the New York Times Bestseller list, no matter how many copies are sold. To visit that site, you need a guided tour.
With traditional publishing you have a much more rigid and packed itinerary. You need an agent who will help polish your manuscript and get it into the hands of an interested editor who will need full approval from the editorial board. The manuscript will undergo rounds of edits from multiple editors, the book will get professionally formatted, the cover will be highly debated, publicists will work on a sales and marketing strategy, and legal will review as a precaution. Traditional publishing demands writers visit all those sites, though some authors argue all of those sites aren’t worth seeing.
All of those steps, by the way, still can’t guarantee a book’s success any more than a guided tour could guarantee your trip’s success. But it certainly feels as if there's an advantage when a team of field experts are guiding you on your journey.
The final insight is:
IT’S YOUR JOURNEY
No matter how you choose to travel, it’s still your journey. The writer and the traveler are ultimately in charge of the experience. The attitude you bring, the effort you put in, the detours you are willing to take. If you’re on a guided tour, you still have to be participating. You still have to constantly observe, raise your hand when you need a break, and speak up if you feel the tour is veering off course.
One thing I was worried about when I got a book deal was that I would lose some control over my own writing. But this just hasn't been the case. It’s true that more people have to buy into my ideas—I've had to defend some ideas that were ultimately worth defending, and concede other ideas that I ultimately agreed weren’t the best. But to me, that isn’t the loss of control. It’s the addition of support.
In the end, whether I go it alone or have the backing of a publishing house, that is my writing. These are my books. This is my career.
With self-publishing I built muscles around promotion. I was in charge of securing every single book sale and that made me learn the value and importance of marketing myself as a writer, and promoting my book well. With traditional publishing, I built muscles around my craft because I was getting constructive feedback from so many people, like my agent and various editors. Both forms of publishing got me into shape for this industry in different ways.
The important thing to understand is that whether the tour is self-guided or you have experts helping lead you, the site you are trying to see is the same. If you come up on the Coliseum in Rome after walking for miles with a tattered map in your hands, it is the same Coliseum others might glide up to on a Segway with a tour guide using a microphone. The path is different, the experience is different, but the destination is the same. And for the writer, that destination is seeing your book in the hands of an engaged reader.
Everything is Negotiable: The 5 Tactic to Get what You Want in Life, Love & Work comes out December 4. Click HERE to pre order now!