Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

This is a topic I am sure I will come back to, but I read a couple of posts over the weekend that I want to share today. One is the “coming out” blog of the indie darling, Amanda Hocking (in case you haven’t heard, she made over $2million selling ebooks through Amazon’s Kindle channel). The other is a great wrap-up of a couple SXSW panels from Ali Luke of Aliventures.

The first time I heard about Hocking’s wild success, I stopped and cheered.  As a marketer, I understand the value of a strong platform and the huge potential of new distribution channels like Amazon’s Kindle ebooks, but I had never seen the theory in action until reading about Hocking’s multi-million dollar sales figures. Her popular writing, loyal fan base, and the new digital self-publishing tools came together in a perfect storm of literary success. I was inspired by her story.
This weekend, after surviving our move to a 300 year-old house, I was catching up on a little blog reading and came across Hocking’s post titled, simply, “The Blog.” In this open letter to her fans, Hocking explains why she has decided to take a deal with a traditional publisher for her next series.  Her reasons are smart, logical, and without apology. She is clearly an author who can handle the creative and business sides of her writing. And that, I think, it what her choice boils down to – she realizes that this is a business. Though she loves the art of what she does, she sounds to me like a very pragmatic player when it comes to making decisions about distribution. Her goals are to get her work into the hands of more readers and to ensure that the quality of her work is as good as it can be.

In her wrap-up of two SXSW sessions on indie publishing, Ali Luke notes several times that – like Hocking – the panelists agree that this is not an either/or situation. Indie and traditional publishing are not two warring factions. They can and should be complementary halves of a successful writing and publishing career. My takeaway from Ali’s great summary is that first and foremost, you have to have a good book. Taking the indie route is not a silver bullet for success. You still have to put in the time and effort to create a great product – one that people want. Once you have that great product, how you leverage indie and traditional publishing is up to you. The panelists made it clear that the two paths are not mutually exclusive, and – in fact – can support each other. A successful indie novel, for instance, can attract the attention of a traditional publisher. Likewise, popular ebooks can boost sales of traditionally published hard copies by driving awareness and interest in the author’s whole body of work.

I am not yet close to having to make decisions about publishing options. By the time I am ready, the playing field probably will have changed quite substantially. However, it gives me a great deal of hope to see that the options seem to be expanding and coming together to create a vibrant, literary ecosystem. Though people in the streets may cry out that traditional publishing is dead (which, by the way, it’s not), I’m not worried. People will always need stories. Whether those stories are delivered in hardcopy book format, as digital ebooks, or as audio, people will continue to love and consume stories. As writers, we need to do two things – keep writing great stories, and keep up with how to get those stories to readers.

What are your thoughts on traditional and indie publishing? Do you feel there’s still a stigma about self-published work? Do you hold onto a desire to be published by one of the big houses?

Image Credits: letterpress by Nick Sherman; Kindle by daz smith

2 thoughts on “Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

  1. I think it’s much easier in today’s day and age to WRITE a book with all the technology available. That said, it;s more difficult to publish a book, and much more difficult to SUCCESSFULLY self-publish an indie book. I think we are just starting to see the potential and possible shortcomings of ebooks. I’m dabbling with them myself and try to keep my hands in both cookie jars.

    Good luck to all prospective writers!

  2. I disagree with Andy! It has become so easy to publish a book that the catalogs (indie and legacy publishers, alike) are filled with titles that are mediocre at best. ePublishing has made it easier for books that are poorly written, poorly edited and poorly designed to hit the market too soon. At the same time, ePublishing has brought us titles that the legacy houses turned down despite how wonderful they are. I don’t think there’s a single clear pathway here except for this: great stories well told will prevail!

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