Gini Dietrich

Traditional Book Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

By: Gini Dietrich | October 3, 2012 | 
108

On Inside PR, Martin Waxman, Joe Thornley, and I took what was supposed to be a one month summer break.

Two months later, we got the band back together to get back in the groove and restart our weekly recordings.

One of the questions they asked me yesterday was how six months of book tour travel and speaking had gone and whether or not I’d self-publish my second book.

I tell this story when I speak so you may have already heard it.

Book Publishing

Book publishing is fascinating. In today’s immediate gratification, fast-paced world, book publishing is on its own time.

Geoff Livingston and I signed the contract for Marketing in the Round in May 2011. It took us a few months to outline, research, and write the book. Then, during the holidays last year, we edited the bad boy. It was all due to the publisher the first week of January.

The book came out in May of this year. So it took a full year to hold something in our hands. It took another couple of months for people to read the book and write reviews. And, of course, we’ve both been speaking and selling books everywhere we’ve gone this year. It’s been a 17 month project (to date). No small feat.

But what’s even more interesting is, if I publish a blog post at 8 a.m., I know by 8:45 whether or not it resonates. If I write a book (granted it’s a bigger project), it takes more than a year to determine whether or not it resonates.

But the thing that gets me? We have no idea how the book is selling. Sure, Amazon gives us stats (10 days delayed) on Author Central. But it only includes hard cover sales, no Kindle or bulk sales (which is the majority of our sales).

And the publisher sends reports. Quarterly. The last report we received was in June.

As a business owner (and someone who loves to see efforts tied to results), this kills me.

Digital Age of DIY

But is having a publisher the only way to go?

This was my first book and I would say yes. Sure, we’re in the digital age of DIY, but having a publisher has given me a ton of credibility in speaking and has afforded me the opportunity to increase my fees. It also serves as an amazing leave behind in business development meetings. Who doesn’t want to hire a published author ahead of someone who is not?

But there also is a slow creep toward self-publishing, like indie rock musicians and food truck restauranteurs have discovered. It’s not happening as quickly in our world as it has in those, but it is happening.

E.L James self-published Fifty Shades of Grey and, just yesterday, Emma Watson said she’s considering playing Anastasia Steele in the movies. Imagine that! A movie deal from books you self-published.

Perhaps fiction is different. You have mass appeal with a novel. Something you can’t achieve with most business books (particularly PR or marketing ones). I think I’ll ask Terry Fallis to weigh him, having just published his third novel (one self and two with a publisher).

A Fickle Bunch

But the reality is…we’re just a fickle bunch.

The instant gratification world we live in requires something new constantly. That’s why blogging and social media work so well. It’s why YouTube stars are made. It’s why half of the new titles published in 2011 were self-published.

Either the public will love you and reward you or not.

But you’ll know in an instant; not in 17 months. And, if they don’t love you, the time and effort spent can be better invested elsewhere as you figure out what’s next.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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108 responses to “Traditional Book Publishing vs. Self-Publishing”

  1. RebeccaTodd says:

    Thanks for this honest post Gini. In my industry, I think a lot about these issues. The traditional role of the publisher is to provide vetted content, but these days people seem to prefer immediacy, even if that means sifting through more sources of information to find the one you trust. I am really interested in seeing if there will be more action like on Mark Schaefer’s Tao of Twitter- McGraw bought the second edition rights to a self-published novel. That certainly caught a lot of industry attention. 
     
    And oh Emma Watson, please don’t do that to yourself…

  2. Old_Jrice says:

    @ginidietrich @SpinSucks n Agent, Editor r Publisher don’t weigh the work of self publishers different than unpublished authors.

  3. bdorman264 says:

    I haven’t heard the talk, but I think I did catch the re-runs on Bones……….
     
    Good questions because I can certainly see where going the traditional route having a book published gives you some tangible credibility; and therefore, more opportunities to take advantage of it. However, we have seen successes the DIY route too.
     
    Is it ok to play both sides of the fence? Because of the time lag in getting the feedback, do you think the traditional route will start stepping up their game to be more relevant? 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @bdorman264 I don’t know if they will. It’s fascinating to me that it’s so hard to get sales numbers in today’s digital age. I mean, you can’t even get ebook numbers from Amazon in real-time. It seems so backwards.

      • RebeccaTodd says:

         @ginidietrich  @bdorman264 I’m not sure how much traditional publishers can up the time line without a complete restructuring. One of those legacy industries where there will really have to be a paradigm shift (to use a terrible buzzword) before we see real change. Hopefully reporting will get quicker…that lag while I await my distributor results is a killer! Because you know I check numbers every damn day. 

      • rustyspeidel says:

         @ginidietrich  @bdorman264 They don’t really want you to have them. The more you know, the more they pay.

  4. KenMueller says:

    It’s funny, but in my mind, I’d buy a self-published non-fiction book before I purchased a self-published work of fiction. In my mind, a fiction work that is self published just seems…lesser. But that’s me. 
     
     

    • ginidietrich says:

       @KenMueller Talk more about that. Why do you have that perception?

      • KenMueller says:

         @ginidietrich Well, I was just out driving around and thinking about this. I think it’s because I’ve seen good non-fiction books self-published by reputable authors (or ones with whom I’m familiar, and trust) while most of the self published fiction I’ve seen is crap. People who never could have gotten a publishing deal.
         
        Let me take this another step further, as we look at both publishing and music. I think the indie music scene has been around a lot longer. Go back to MySpace. It was filled with a gazillion bands, most of whom sucked. But there were plenty of gems in there. Sampling was easier You listen for a few minutes, and you can determine whether they are “good” or not. Or, you might know them by their reputation, having heard them live. Plus, a lot of bands jumped from labels to indie, giving credence to the self-releasing concept. 
         
        Plus, in the music world, there is an entire system, with public radio stations like WXPN, KCRW, KEXP, WFUV (and some commercial stations, like WXRT was in Chicago, though they might have changed) that gives support to indie artists and introduces people to their music. And with music licensing, top TV shows and commercials are now featuring this sort of music (i.e. the Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, etc) and giving them an audience.
         
        With books, you can’t sample them as easily. Just reading a paragraph or two doesn’t tell you whether they can write or whether the book is any good. It takes more of a commitment to “sample” and judge the written word. There is no system like public radio in the publishing world, per se. At least not on that scale.
         
        Also, I think a lot of it is based on the source. For instance, if I self-publish a book, I’ll most likely have a very small audience, mostly friends. If a Bill Gates, or some other famous, top-selling non-fiction author self-publishes, they will still do well. In terms of fiction, if you or I self publish a work of fiction, we might be perceived as hacks, but if Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or another top fiction writer were to self-publish, it would work. And it would lend credibility to the concept of self-publishing.
         
        And I think in many ways, there will need to be a top-down defection. The music label system is already in trouble, but if big bands like U2, Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, etc were to jump ship and self-release their music, it would change things more quickly.. The same could happen in publishing if bigger names were to do that. I’m not sure they would sell as many books, with lesser distribution, but they’d get more of the money on each book. A lot more. And add to that the fact that your self published works can be sold on Amazon, well, things are definitely changing. We’re just not there yet. 
         
        I have more thoughts on this, but I’m still processing it.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @KenMueller I think you just wrote a guest post for us as a follow-up!

        • KenMueller says:

           @ginidietrich Yeah, which is why I stopped. haha. I’ve started several posts, all of which would be along these lines, and lengthy, but I’m sitting on them until I have time to really work through them. Might do a week long series and scare all my readers away.

        • katskrieger says:

           @KenMueller  @ginidietrich Did you just put Dave Matthews in the same category as The Boss?

        • KenMueller says:

           @katskrieger  @ginidietrich OK, here’s where I make a confession. I dislike both DM and Springsteen, though I have more of an appreciation for Springsteen. Matthews drives me nuts. I’m actually surprised I put either of those in the same category as U2. I was merely trying to come up with 3 names of artists who are big that people would recognize. If I mentioned Phil Collins, Gini would ban me from here. Oh…oops.

        • RebeccaTodd says:

           @KenMueller  @katskrieger  @ginidietrich Didn’t Radiohead self- release their last disc with a pay-what-you-can model? Or Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarted disc? And Seth Godin’s Kickstarted book collection? The shift is already happening. 

        • KenMueller says:

           @RebeccaTodd  @katskrieger  @ginidietrich Radiohead has done this a few times, and some folks are moving to Kickstarter, but more needs to happen. Godin has tried to help the shift happen, but with mixed results. In the end it will happen. The problem with the shift is then knowing which ones are worthy. Under the old label and publisher system, being on a label or with a publisher would lend you some level of credence. But we all know that a lot of crap is put out on major labels, and a lot of bad books get released by major publishers. So there needs to be a filtering system. 
           
          And that’s where our social networks come in. If you think about it, many of us choose the books we read, or the music we listen to, based on word of mouth. Once the shift takes place, either in part, or fully, we will have to rely more heavily on that word of mouth; the friends we respect and trust for their musical taste, or literary tastes. If Gini tells me a business book is good, whether it’s on a major publisher, or written on the back of a napkin, I’ll trust her judgement. Though I may not trust her on music recommendations….but that’s a whole other conversation!

        • ginidietrich says:

           @KenMueller  @katskrieger I FREAKING HATE PHIL COLLINS!

        • KenMueller says:

           @ginidietrich  @katskrieger But what if Phil Collins LOVES PINTEREST???

        • ginidietrich says:

           @KenMueller  I don’t care.

        • KenMueller says:

           @ginidietrich It’s a shame. I happen to know that Phil Collins purchased at least 10 copies of Marketing in the Round.

        • katskrieger says:

           @KenMueller  @ginidietrich How can you dislike Springsteen? Seriously?! Disclosure – our wedding announcement may have contained a Springsteen lyric.

        • katskrieger says:

           @ginidietrich  @KenMueller I can feel it coming in the air tonight OH LORD…

    • katskrieger says:

       @KenMueller I have the exact same impression. Non-fiction self-published does not bother me. I have read and enjoyed plenty of self published non-fiction books, and my mom just self published her first book a few months ago. Self published fiction…hmm seems to belong in the delusional talent pool. 

  5. belllindsay says:

    Oh boy. I’m not sure where I stand on this one. I love the whole DIY thing, when it comes to music, art, fashion, etc., – so rebellious, so gritty, so ‘ef the man!’ – but for some reason it doesn’t resonate with me in the same way when I think of publishing. Somehow, when I think of self published books I think “minor league” – now I need to try and figure out why that is?? Book snob? Maybe. Something so attractive about the haughty’ness of the publishing world?? Perhaps. Great post Gini – you really got me thinking!!! 

    • RebeccaTodd says:

       @belllindsay Ef the man! I love you. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @belllindsay I’ll admit I feel the same. Someone asked me at a speaking gig last week if I would do it differently and I said, “No way!” We went on to discuss how the perception of having a published book lends more credibility than self-published does. But I’ll tell you what…you can self-publish and have a hard cover book and, unless someone digs, you can’t tell it wasn’t done in the traditional way.

      • belllindsay says:

         @ginidietrich “you can self-publish and have a hard cover book and, unless someone digs, you can’t tell it wasn’t done in the traditional way.” – True – and if I didn’t know, I probably would be all “Wow, this is the BEST book I’ve ever read!!” – but it’s in the knowing. I shouldn’t judge – but it just feels lesser than. Suddenly I feel dirty.
        Actually, I didn’t know that 50 Shades was self-published. That boggles the mind. 

  6. rustyspeidel says:

    The trend in the music business is to do all you can to develop your own audience and products before ever, IF ever, engaging with a record label. The model of the past is over. Granted, the need for hard copy product in that space has never been lower– in fact the first thing most people do with a CD now is convert it on iTunes. Most people (read: kids) just doen load singles now anyway, so writing, recording, and paying to produce an album just doesn’t pay anymore. 
     
    I agree with @belllindsay that books are different, in a way that I miss with music. Somehow, if it takes that long to produce and it STILL resonates, then it was truly a quality effort. The screening processes that have to occur in order for the book to actually ARRIVE implies excellence and commitment.
     
    Does that make sense?

  7. megan_g says:

    If I played a role in the movie version of Marketing in the Round, I would like to be the person (fine – heroine) who breaks down the silos and gains the respect of all!  Although, I need to study up quite a lot for that role…

  8. ginidietrich says:

    @janthonyrivera Everybody’s friend might be a slight exaggeration

  9. JoKelly09 says:

    @MonicaMRodgers @SpinSucks Indeed! Thank you for sharing this info.

  10. So many different directions to go in here. I plan on self publishing my fiction and using my blog to promote it. Part of that is because it is fast, easy and I’ll have access to metrics. Some of it is because of the learning opportunities.
     
    All of this leads to the discussion about the value of “hiring” or “using” professionals. Company XYZ can do all of their own PR and save the money they would spend on hiring an agency, right.
     
    The question is are they really saving money. Is their an advantage to letting the man/woman who is good with people and a strong writer figure out how to handle PR on the fly.
     
    It could go either way, couldn’t it.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @thejoshuawilner It really could go either way. We really considered hiring a PR firm to help us with the book marketing, but decided it wasn’t an investment either of us were willing to make. In retrospect, it probably would have helped to have someone helping us…even if it’d been our own teams.

  11. I think there could be a fascinating study done on the perception of value and worth with self-published material vs. traditionally published, especially with fiction.  Some literary giants self-published their work: Upton Sinclair, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandberg, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, Henry David Thoreau, to name a few.  Joyce’s magnum opus “Ulysses” was self-published, as was Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style”. 
     
    Of course, the Kindle self-publishing platform does make it easy for mindless dreck to make its way into the market. In some ways, it’s exactly what has been said of bloggers. The ease of launching a platform makes it an incredibly competitive space, so you need to understand how to connect with an readership and stand out. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @jasonkonopinski I agree, but it also makes it easier for us – the masses – to determine what is good and what is not. A publisher likely (hopefully??) would have denied Fifty Shades of Grey, but look how popular that was…the masses spoke!

      • RebeccaTodd says:

         @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski Once again, proof of why I happily self-identify as an outsider…

        •  @RebeccaTodd  @ginidietrich Sure, but there’s a real difference between high literature and pulp fiction, both of which have equally dedicated readerships. 
           
          Matthew Arnold wrote about this in an indirect way back in the 19th century. His argument then was that it was the responsibility of the cultural critic to filter out the crap so that the reading public could be assured of quality in some way.  However, there’s no accounting for individual taste or standard for excellence, right? 

        • ginidietrich says:

           @RebeccaTodd  Those books made me want to bleach my eyeballs.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @jasonkonopinski  @RebeccaTodd I go back and forth between wanting to write “pulp fiction” because I have a super good idea that I think people will really like to read, and high literature because I’m a snob.

        • HowieG says:

           @RebeccaTodd  @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski yes Rebecca is an honorary Alien.
           
          Here is the real discussion. Can you get distribution self publishing. Being on Amazon is not distribution. It is just being available. There are 500,000 Android apps and 750,000 Apple apps. How many do you have? 20? 50? Good luck having your app downloaded. I bet 90% of the ones on your phone have VC support or Name Recognition.
           
          How does one get their book found on Amazon if self published? Self promotion? You blogging ‘I have a book’? 
           
          That said in music when CD’s were $14.99 the artist got $1 and the writers of each song I think $0.10. Sell your book for a $1? But if no one can find it what good does that do you? (offer it with a happy meal!)

        • RebeccaTodd says:

           @HowieG  @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski YES! Honourary alien! 

        • RebeccaTodd says:

           @ginidietrich Have you seen my new twitter background? 

        • RebeccaTodd says:

           @ginidietrich  @jasonkonopinski I really don’t think it has to be either or. Write both! Ooo you could have multiple noms de plume…

  12. Jill Tooley says:

    Amazon doesn’t inform you of Kindle sales? That’s so bizarre. You’d think they would be all over that since the Kindle is their product… How do you see the number of e-books you’ve sold, if you don’t mind my asking?
     
    I’ll more than likely do self-publishing whenever my book is ready, because I like to have control and there isn’t much in my budget for a traditional publisher. Hiring a professional editor is a different story, though! I couldn’t get away with doing everything myself.

  13. Old_Jrice says:

    @ginidietrich Ur kickin this dog around a bit! What’s the deal?

  14. TerryFallis says:

    Hey Gini,
     
    Congrats on the book! It’s a great read. But I feel your pain. It was easier to keep up to date on book sales when I was self-puiblished back in 2007. But since then, I’ve had a mainstream publisher Random House/McClelland & Stewart and have the same challenge getting timely sales information. But in the end, I much prefer being with a major publisher.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @TerryFallis Ah ha! First, thanks for stopping by to talk about your experience from both sides. It says a lot about the publishing industry if you prefer being with a major publisher. That’s my gut, as well, but I haven’t self-published so that’s all it is right now. 

  15. (Semi)Serious question. Could it be that you can’t access the kindle data because the publisher set up the account? Just wondering out loud here. I have to think there is no way in hell Amazon would not provide that data in this day and age. I smell a channel/silo issue. Perhaps the publisher prefers to provide that data as part of their quarterly update? Or maybe someone didn’t press the right button when the account for the book was created?
     
    Again, just wondering out loud, since I’m not published and have never seen an Amazon report before.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @Sean McGinnis I don’t think that’s the case. They are pretty clear they don’t give you the Kindle sales totals. It’s in the fine print so I can’t imagine they change that based on the publisher. 

      •  @ginidietrich Well then…color me igronant. How surprising. Is it because they don’t want to give up the % shared – is that private info? Is that the issue?

        • ginidietrich says:

          @Sean McGinnis I don’t know. It makes no sense they’d give you hard cover numbers and not the ecopies.

        • ShennandoahDiaz says:

          @ginidietrich  @Sean McGinnis The author percentage on ebooks/kindles is factored differently. For hardcover (esp through non-Amazon channels) returns and other issues affect final quarter sales totals, which is why the average sales cycle is 120 days for books. The key is having a book for direct sales and for securing high paying speaking engagements. A book is a marketing tool nowadays, and less of a revenue stream.

  16. HowieG says:

    Unless you hand write on Papyrus really I mean why would I read anything anyone writes. Must be on Papyrus. And not some synthetic version like @jasonkonopinski writes on. Or that imitation birch Paper @Sean McGinnis uses for his law documents.

  17. NetMinds says:

    @mgrimme there is a middle ground… Team publishing. You don’t need to sell UR idea or go it alone.

  18. I always marvel at your ability to do all this and still be as responsive to your community and pingbacks and comments elsewhere; your business; your team; your family…and, uhmm, yourself. 
     
    The chicken and the egg is, however, how do you know your content is good enough for a publisher? 

    • ginidietrich says:

      @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing And then it took me a day to get back to you. Oy.
       
      You know, I’ve always wanted to write a book. It’s the reason I minored in creative writing in college. But I didn’t have the confidence to do it until I began blogging and people began reading. So that’s how I knew it was good enough, but I also was scared to death they’d read the proposal and tell us we were out of our minds. Sometimes you just have to take the leap.

  19. JimKukral says:

    My first big book was trad published too. But not having the stats absolutely killed me. You can’t tell me how many Kindle books I sold at least? Really? Forget it. I am self-pubbing now and haven’t looked back. 7 books later.
     
    Jim F. Kukral
    http://www.authormarketingclub.com

  20. Collin Canright says:

    I may be late to the party on this one, but it’s a great post and discussion, and here’s my 2 cents against and for self publishing, as I do play both sides of the fence. We produce books for authors to self publish, but guess what. . . The main reason we do it is so that an author has something–sales–to take to an agent or major publisher. Yes, major publishers are slow. Yes, their business model is archaic to say the least. Yes, they require most authors to do their own marketing. Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, yes, but: major publishers know how to get books in stores (still relevant) and libraries, and they know their business. Yesterday I saw back-cover copy written by a major publisher for an author I work with. It was great, perfectly tuned and targeted. The author could not have written it that way, nor could I have. I may decide to do my own book, and I likely will self publish. But I’ll do it to ultimately get the credibility and support of a major publisher.

  21. ShennandoahDiaz says:

    Hey Ginnie, 
     
    Great post! There are many things to consider and both traditional and self-publishing come with their own pros and cons. Despite its many downfalls, traditional publishing does come with a great deal of credibility as well as some pretty high standards in terms of content and production. Self-publishing varies greatly in both quality and distribution reach. Instant gratification aside, we still want quality and we still expect traditionally books to be more thoroughly vetted than self-published books. Not to mention as a self publisher you are in charge of everything–editing, book design, printing, distribution–the works. That’s often more than the average writer–fiction or nonfiction–can handle. So its important to do one’s homework, weigh the options, compare each option to your unique needs and goals, and go their direction that fits best. There no “right’ answer and certainly one size does not fit all. Congrats on getting your book out (a feat in itself). I look forward to the next!

    • ginidietrich says:

      @ShennandoahDiaz You’re absolutely right. When I think about all the work we did to get Marketing in the Round out and then add on top of that everything else we’d have to do, I get nauseous.

  22. […] to widespread publication. Independent of what’s between the covers, consumers still connect traditional publishing to the legitimacy of the author and implicit perceived […]

  23. […] Traditional Book Publishing vs. Self-Publishing From Gini Dietrich at Spin Sucks […]

  24. robercart says:

    I have subscribed the feed and looking forward for the followup subscriptions.
    http://www.designeroffices.com/about-us.html 
    http://www.designeroffices.com/about-us.html

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