Indie v. traditional publishing: a comparison of the process

My new life chapter one concept for fresh start, new year resoluAfter publishing fifteen books with five publishers over a five year period, I am going rogue and going indie. This is part two of my self-publishing journey.

One factor that caused me to hesitate to self-publish was my perception of the amount of work required. Writing and promotion consumed all my time. How could I possibly find the time to publish too?

What I learned was that the additional wordload is negligible. Initially, it takes some legwork to find an editor, a cover artist, open vendor/publisher accounts with retailers, but once you do that–it’s smooth sailing. Once you have those connections established, the only extra thing you have to do is email your contacts to say “start the process” and then upload your formatted manuscript to vendor sites.

(Caveat: If you design your own covers and format your own manuscripts there is a little more work involved).

This is how indie publishing and traditional publishing have worked for me (note: by traditional, I mean an e-publishing company). There is variation in the publishing world, depending on which publisher you’re working with–but I’ve worked with five of them.

Indie Traditional e-publishing
I write a book. I write a book.
I decide to publish. Thirty seconds later, give or take a few, I move to the next step. Send email, synopsis, & MS to a publisher. Wait for acceptance. (Typically takes 2-4 weeks if one has an existing relationship. Can take 2-6 months if one is new to a publisher).
I hire an editor who begins editing Wait for the publisher’s editor to contact me to begin the process. Can take 2-4 weeks.
Book is edited Book is edited.
I hire/pay a cover artist. I start this early in the process, before editing. Wait for the publisher to ask for the cover art form.  Cover process occurs after editing is complete.
I have complete input into cover. If I don’t like it, I change it. Limited input into cover. Publisher has final say over cover.
I get the cover well in advance of release so I can use it for promotion I may not get the cover until a week before the book release—maybe not until the day before release.
I set the book price. Publisher sets the book price. I have no input at all.
I hire a formatter. Publisher does the formatting.
I decide when to publish. Publisher sets the release date.
I upload the book to vendor sites. Publisher uploads the book to vendor sites.
I do the marketing and promotion. I do the marketing and promotion.
I get real time sales information that tells me exactly how well my book is selling. I can see sales trends, and I can see effects of promo efforts. No access to actual sales figures until I get the royalty statement –  3 to 6 months later. Only info is Amazon rankings.
Production process from decision to publish to actual release takes 2-4 weeks (depending on freelance editors’ availability). Process from submission of manuscript to publishing takes 2 to 6 months. Four months has been typical. (Note some publishers are faster or slower).
Amazon pays 60 days after royalties are earned. (Amz accounts for 95% of my sales). I get Amazon royalties 3 to 6 months later (depending on publisher schedule). (Amz accounts for 90% of my sales).
I foot the cost of production – about $600 per book Production costs me nothing.
I collect 100 percent of the royalties. Publisher gets half the royalties.


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17 Responses to Indie v. traditional publishing: a comparison of the process

  1. Lisa Medley says:

    Thank you for posting this thoughtful comparison. Going rogue is so worth it!!

  2. Livia Grant says:

    As always, an awesome post full of information. Thanks for paving the way for so many by sharing your experiences. So happy it is working for you.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Livia. For so long the idea of self-publishing seemed overwhelming. But it’s not that hard, and it’s easily doable.

  3. Laurel Lasky says:

    Very good information. What about an author (me) who is a newbie? I have a wip and may collaborate with a much published known author. Would it be better to get published with a known Co. to get established first? Of course for now it’s a rhetorical question.

    Thanks for sharing the difference.myou might consider publishing a book about self publishing vs Indie. Laurel

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’ve seen many successful self-publishers start out indie. But there’s no doubt that you can learn a lot by working with a publisher on your first few books. I would recommend submitting to a publisher first.

  4. Lacey Thorn says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m planning to go rogue next year as well and dive into the pool of self-publishing. I’m nervous but excited as well since I’ll have more control over pricing, covers, etc. I’m more nervous about formatting or finding a reputable formatter. I’d love to hear your take on what self-publishing venues you think are a must and which ones you find optional. Also, thanks so much for sharing a dollar amount as a starting point for what it may cost upfront for getting the book ready! Love your blogs!!!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Lacey. For formatting, I recommend Wizards in Publishing. Having it formatted is actually the easiest part. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “venues.” Do you mean formats, media, sites?

      It all depends on how hard you want to work and how big of an “empire” you think you can manage.

      The only must is an ebook on Amazon. Recommended would be ebooks on Nook, ARe, Smashwords.

      Print is probably nice to have.

      For extra frills you can add audiobooks. If you want the entire enchilada, you can do foreign translations.

      If you’re thinking of going indie, a MUST read is The Naked Truth About Self Publishing by the Indie Voice. It’s available in print and Kindle.

  5. Cara Bristol says:

    What a coincidence. Everyone with “L” names have commented: Lisa, Livia, Laurel, and Lacey!

  6. Rollin Hand says:

    That just about nails it, Cara. I’d add a few details. It takes a few tries to get the formatting right. I use Word set to Times New Roman, 12 pt type, no extra line spacing. It comes out fine. Cover art can be purchased cheaply from Bigstock or 123RF. Use Paint.Net (a free program) to make the covers. To hit all the other retailers besides Zon try Draft2Digital. You give up 15% but they solve all the formatting headaches. Or use Smashwords but a bit more difficult to learn.
    One more thing about some publishers. I found that with Stormy Night my 2 two medieval spanking romances did much bigger numbers than my self pub efforts. Don’t know why, but I suspect they had a method to get it noticed by the Zon search algorithm early on.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You’re a real do-it-yourselfer Rollin. I use Bigstock for a lot of my inspiration photos–and many of them are on my book covers because the artist used them. I’ve heard of Draft2Digital, but haven’t checked them out.

  7. Enjoyed this. Thankfully, I’m with a small publisher, so the process is a lot shorter for me – but on the whole there is a lot to be gained from going Indie. Apart from a few initial outlays such as editing, cover design and perhaps formatting – if the book sells, you stand to make far better returns and in this industry, that’s very important 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      The process is shorter with some smaller publishers. I think Stormy Night Publications, for instance, moves quickly. I think Samhain is much slower from my observation.( I haven’t been published by either of them). Loose Id is kind of in the middle.

  8. I used Wizards in Publishing, too, Cara. What a professional operation. I loved working with Kate Richards there.

    Self-publishing isn’t too expensive, considering the control and the profit margin. I can’t say I’ve had more overall success with it than I have with the niche publishers I work with, but it is good experience and quite enjoyable. I plan to do it again next year.

    Good, helpful article, Cara.

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