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Chapter 8: Being a Novelist: Writerly Life Resources

Publishing Your Work: Traditional or Indie?

Melissa Ford Lucken

While you are writing and building your own community, also plan for the completion of your novel. If you plan to publish your work, two possible roues are traditional publishing and indie publishing.

Traditional publishing refers to the process of publishing a book through established publishing houses. It involves a multi-step process where an author submits their manuscript to literary agents or directly to publishing houses, which then undertake the responsibility of editing, designing, printing, distributing, and marketing the book. Here are some key aspects of traditional publishing:

Selection process

Traditional publishers typically have a rigorous selection process, with literary agents or acquiring editors reviewing submitted manuscripts to determine their marketability and fit within their publishing catalog.

Publishing contract

If a manuscript is accepted, the author signs a publishing contract, granting the publishing house exclusive rights to publish and distribute the book. In return, the publisher provides editing, cover design, printing, marketing, and distribution services.

Advance and royalties

In traditional publishing, authors often receive an advance, which is an upfront payment against future royalties. Royalties are a percentage of book sales that authors earn after their advance has been earned back by the publisher.

Editorial control

Traditional publishers typically have editorial control over the final product, including decisions regarding editing, cover design, and title. The author collaborates with the publishing team, but ultimate decisions rest with the publisher.

Marketing and distribution

Traditional publishers have established distribution channels and marketing resources, allowing for broader book distribution, placement in bookstores, and potential media exposure.

Indie publishing, or self-publishing, refers to the process of publishing a book independently, where the author takes on the responsibility of every aspect of the publishing process. Here are some key aspects of indie publishing:

Creative control

Indie authors have complete creative control over their work, including editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing decisions. They have the final say in all aspects of the book’s production.

Publishing platforms

Indie authors can utilize various self-publishing platforms, such as Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Smashwords, or Barnes & Noble Press, to make their books available in digital and print formats.

Costs and royalties

As an indie author, you are responsible for all publishing costs, including editing, cover design, and marketing. However, you retain a higher percentage of royalties compared to traditional publishing, typically earning 60-70% of the book’s sales.

Marketing and promotion

Indie authors must actively engage in marketing and promotion efforts to reach their target audience. This involves building an author platform, utilizing social media, running promotional campaigns, and potentially hiring professional assistance.


Indie authors can make their books available for sale through online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iBooks, as well as through their own websites or at local events. Print-on-demand services allow for physical copies to be produced and distributed as needed.

Deciding Between Traditional and Indie Publishing: The choice between traditional and indie publishing depends on several factors, including personal goals, creative control, resources, and the desired publishing timeline. Here are some considerations:

Creative control

If maintaining full control over your book’s content, cover design, and marketing strategies is important to you, indie publishing may be the preferred option.

Publishing timeline

Traditional publishing typically involves a longer timeline due to the submission process and publishing cycles, while indie publishing allows for quicker release, enabling authors to bring their book to market faster.

Marketing and promotion

Indie authors must be willing to take an active role in marketing and promotion. If you enjoy marketing, building an author platform, and engaging with readers directly, indie publishing may be a good fit.


Traditional publishing offers access to professional editing, cover design, and marketing teams. If you have the financial resources to invest in these services independently, self-publishing can also provide access to professional assistance.

Distribution and reach

Traditional publishers have established distribution networks and relationships with bookstores, potentially reaching a broader audience. However, indie authors can reach global readers through online platforms and leverage targeted marketing efforts.

Ultimately, the decision between traditional and indie publishing is a personal one. Consider your goals, creative preferences, resources, and the level of control you desire over your book. It can be helpful to research successful authors in your genre who have chosen different paths to understand their experiences and outcomes. Consulting with industry professionals, such as literary agents or experienced self-published authors, can also provide valuable insights to inform your decision-making process.


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