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Given that I am a wannabe writer with no real titles under my belt and relatively unknown, what would be a better option for publishing my first book?

  • Should I go for the traditional publishing route?
  • Or should I go for self publishing given that it's easier for me to get my book out in the open via that channel?

Practically, it would seem that going for the traditional publishing options seems to be more sensible, albeit very difficult given the fact that no established publishing house would be willing to give a chance to a wannabe author. But if it clicks, it gives a better chance of having my book noticed.

Self-publishing would be a good option to have my book out in the open immediately. But given the fact that it there are a plethora of self-published books out there, there's all probability that my book would get lost in the crowd.

What would be a better option, all things considered?

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  • "As a first time wannabe writer, should I consider going in for Traditional publishing or Self Publishing?" In all honesty, probably not. Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 15:35
  • @DM_with_secrets, but where do you start then? Writing for the wardrobe and trashcan? I suggest the best way is to be professional about your writing even if you're not yet published or even represented by an agent. For sure fake it till you make it. So questions and plans and dreams about making the book reach its readers is, in my opinion, the way to go. Sure, as a first-time wannabe, there's a lot to learn, but that shouldn't prevent one from aiming for the stars...
    – Erk
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 17:41
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    @Erk Fair enough - perhaps I was being too much of a downer. My suggestion would be write it, and then write something else, and repeat until you've got something that seems publishable. For the vast majority of people, that won't be their first novel. Too many people go for self-publishing just because they can, and don't seem to worry about whether they should. Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 12:30
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    @DM_with_secrets, yeah, then I caught myself writing an answer just along what you're saying. But for me, the target is almost as important as the hard work getting there. And about self-publishing... I'm thinking it is turning into (or already has turned into?) the equivalent of having a web page... you need to sort, filter, and search to get to the good stuff...
    – Erk
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 15:02
  • Author David Gerrold said something like, "Your first million words are practice." Learn all about self-publishing for your first few books like I did. (DO NOT create books with crappy covers. You DO NOT want a bad rep from the get-go.) Learn about traditional publishing on the side. When you finally discover the Big One, you'll be more ready and have an idea of how to prepare from the get-go.
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 15:01

5 Answers 5

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Traditional publishing will only hurt your pride (but that's not a bad thing):

The discipline, focus, and work quality to publish in the traditional market are all things that you will want to have to have a successful book. You may believe your book is amazing, but there can be glaring deficiencies in things you are only vaguely aware of. Besides rewriting, editing, the beta reading/rereading, getting editors to re-edit, the rejection letters of agents will suggest you need to fix something (especially the intro to your story, where you are most likely to lose a reader's interest anyway) and will pressure you to get your work really perfect.

The relentless rejection you will receive from the traditional publishing world is also soul-crushing. You will doubt everything about your book, despite you loving it passionately. I've given the advice that the first novel you will publish will suck as you develop your skills. Don't write the story you are in love with as your first, as it will potentially be a less publishable work. I'd also suggest the first should be a standalone novel. There is lots to figure out as a writer on how to write/publish. Legitimate publishers don't demand you give up rights to your work or pay them fees to read/print/etc. your work.

But if you have gone through all that perfecting pain and still can't get your book published (and you really believe in it passionately), then you can always self-publish then. The extra hard work will result in a better novel, and the traditional route should never COST you money (except possibly if you hire editors or someone to review your pitch, which I'll admit is helpful).

So if your ego can't survive rejection, don't become an author. Otherwise, trying to traditionally publish shouldn't have a downside, and you can always go the other route later.

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  • Submitting to publishers and agents is certainly one way to get feedback, and you need feedback, but there are probably better ways. This is also something where things like writers groups, creative writing courses, public readings, and talk with people who have more experience comes in. Without feedback both on what's good and what will sell, it's almost impossible to accurately assess your own work. You can get feedback from self-publishing, if you are proactive, although self-publishing is also a good way of disposing of a manuscript where nobody will ever read it.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 11:15
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Every successful writer was an unpublished unknown "wannabe" at one point.

I've done both trad and self-publishing, so here's my advice.

  1. Self-publishing: Success is based 90% on salesmanship and ability to self-promote, not writing quality. If you are very good at sales, and like doing it, this is a good way to go. If not, leave it alone.

  2. Trad Publishing: It's difficult, but far from impossible. If you learn the process it drastically improves your prospects.

If your book is a specialized niche, meaning it would mainly appeal to a small but dedicated group of fans, find a publisher that specializes in your niche, and query them directly. If your book has broad commercial appeal, and is in a CURRENTLY popular niche/genre/topic/subject then get an agent.

Either way, the way unknown writers get out of the "slush pile" is to learn to write good query letters. These are introductory letters you send out by the dozens to agents and/or publishers. If they like the query, they will ask to read your full manuscript. There are a lot of good tutorials and instructional material for queries online. If you can master query letters, your chances of being published can be as much as 100 times better.

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Research what you have to do to publish traditionally. For instance, many publishing houses are simply closed to unagented authors. Can you get an agent?

Then compare pros and cons.

I will note that traditional publishing is generally slower, and furthermore odd or eccentric works may not have (or appear to have) the broad appeal that a mass market publisher will want. (You need a mass of readers to be a mass market.)

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Short answer: yes!

Longer answer:

Start by honing your writing skills. Here are some suggestions: Write. A lot and every day. Capture ideas. The better reception you give them, the more of them you note down, the more ideas will come. Read a lot of fiction. Watch movies and TV shows. Read books and online resources on writing. Attend a writing course, and/or writing seminars. Join a critique circle.

Once you start feeling comfortable writing, you've absorbed both fiction and non-fiction, maybe for a year or several, once you've written something, edited it and other people read it and gave you positive feedback you have 2½ alternatives:

Either contact an agent or a publisher (it works differently in different countries)...

OR start doing the same journey for self-publishing you did for writing, there is a journey and while it could be shorter than the one for writing, some people are more talented at writing, others at marketing, etc...

OR start with the agent/publisher route, and if that doesn't work look into self-publishing as a plan B.

Oh, and keep writing and keep honing your skills... You will not (almost certainly) write the next Da Vinci Code or the next Fifty Shades... So start writing the second book after the first book and the third after the second and so on.

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  • It's important to realise that self-publishing isn't just about uploading a book to Amazon. As you say, you need to research, know what you're doing, and know how to publicise a book, sell it, and build a relationship with readers. It's work, not an easy option.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 11:17
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First off, as others have advised:

  • Start writing.
  • Write well.
  • Hone your craft.

Decide what kind of a writer you are and what style(s) you want to develop.

Writing is a discipline - some use it as therapy, others for personal reasons. Writing is not publishing. One leads to the other.

Publishing depends on writing, but it is a business - it could take the form of an entertainment business, an informational business, an educational business.

And if you are getting into publishing, you need to hone your business sense as well as your craft. It takes time to build a fan base and find your market. Short-termism doesn't work well long term.

If you write 20 drafts, discard them because you feel they're not good enough, pitch a load of proposals to publishers and agents and get rejected, self-publish a couple of titles and get a few dozen sales and are still keen to keep going, to get better, to keep building, then the real work starts.

You may be lucky and get a break - most don't. Those that do often walk the talk - they use on-line resources, they enter competitions, win prizes, attend conferences, get seen ... their writing has to be good enough for people to want to read it, or the information they are sharing be interesting enough for people to want to invest in it. Ideally both.

As for which book publishing avenue to go down, much depends these days on the book. If it's niche, and designed as a loss leader, then self-publish. If it's mainstream, you could do both options. If it's literary, and you want the kudos of mainstream publishing (which is still there, but things are changing with sales of self-published books outstripping traditionally published ones). Quite a few writers and publishers are doing well with places like KickStarter or Patreon.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned so far on here is the topic of awards - self-published authors are often at a disadvantage here, and established publishers typically have a well-oiled machine designed to feed books into prize selection committees with the hope of boosting sales.

There's a good article on the pros and cons with a quiz you can take on Reedsy here.

The other question you have to ask yourself is whether you're a one-book author (nothing wrong with that - just be clear on that), whether you want to write about a main interest to provide an additional outlet to get your message out there, or whether you want to take up writing as a career. Either way, book sales will be important - and in the latter case, will be useful in helping you decide which route to go.

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