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A Dream Come True: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

I've done it. It is done. I've published a book. Well...I've self-published a book. Which isn't real publishing right? Because anyone with internet access can self-publish a book. Right?

But hold on a minute here. Let's think about this. Has every traditionally published book

you've ever read been a work of art? A masterpiece written by a genius? No? Yeah me neither. My dad used to have boxes and boxes of Sci-Fi books in his closet (probably still does), and when I was a kid I would go through and read some of them. Some of them were good. But a whole lot of them were complete garbage. Like seriously. I could have done better at the time I was reading them, which would have been when I was like in 6th grade. So is the fact there are many self-published books out there that are virtually unreadable mean that self-published books are inherently inferior to traditionally published books? I think my dad has several boxes full of proof that it doesn't. (Sorry Dad).

In fact, more and more I hear about authors who choose to go the self-publishing route. They don't even bother trying to go through a literary agent or publishing company. And why would they? When you're a self-published author (which I will henceforth refer to as an indie author, simply because it sounds way way cooler), you have all the rights to everything, you have much more creative control over your work, and you get a much greater percentage of the profits. Now one could make the argument that said profits will be much smaller without the support of a hugely major publishing corporation. But that may or may not be the case. Not every traditionally published book makes the New York Times Bestsellers list, or makes its author a millionaire. I've also been reading lately that it's a myth to say that indie authors have a whole lot more responsibility for advertising their book than traditionally published authors do. From what I understand, publishing companies and literary agents are still expecting their authors to do the lion's share of the work when it comes to getting the word out. So why wouldn't you want to be an indie author as opposed to a traditionally published author?

So this means of course, that I, A.J. Tamko, said HELL NO to the man, deciding that I don't need no help from no dirty rotten publishing corporation that want to cramp my style, and stick their noses where it don't belong. A.J. Tamko is sticking it to the man, I said THE Man! Right? Right? Weeeeellllllll, not exactly.....

I'm not going to lie. I tried to get published the normal way. I sent out countless queries to literary agents. Actually, let me take a step back here for a second and explain something. The typical way to get your book published is to hire a literary agent who then pitches your book to publishers. It's pretty rare for an author to just go directly to a publisher, despite what Hollywood always make it look like. But getting a literary agent is not easy. You must send them a query letter via email, and you must make sure you are following exactly their specifications for submission, and you must find one that is interested in the genre you are writing. And then you must somehow make yourself stand out in what is known as the "slush pile", and hope that an agent chooses to represent you, out of the hundreds and hundreds of unsolicited queries they get every day.

I submitted to- I don't even know how many agents- who were interested in fantasy. Typically I would get a form rejection letter, or no rejection letter at all (many agents will say on their website that if you don't hear from them, it means they are not interested). But every now and again I would get a more personalized letter as to why I was being rejected. And the common theme in those: marketability. The closest I got to landing an agent was when a rookie agent wrote me and said she loved my work, but she didn't feel confident that she was experienced enough to sell my book to a publisher. Most others who wrote me a personalized response would point to one little characteristic of my book- its length.

Now I know that the length of things can be an enviable quality in some situations, but not when it comes to publishing books. You see, when you are a no-name author, publishers don't really want to commit to publishing a longer book, because the longer the book, the more paper and ink they need to publish it. And the more paper and ink they need, the more money it costs them. When you are a no-name author, publishers don't feel confident that they are going to get any kind of return on their investment. Now if your name is George R.R. Martin, then go ahead and write all the thousand-page books you want. You can do that, because your name is George R.R. FREAKING Martin. Publishers know that they will be able to sell your books. This is also why, as you may have noticed, the seventh book in the Harry Potter series is at least twice as long as the first book. Because when J.K. Rowling was an unknown author struggling to get noticed, she had to keep her book short if she wanted any hope of getting it published. But after she became J.K. FREAKING Rowling, and her publisher knew they'd make a gazillion dollars off her books, she could make them as long as she wanted.

So in doing my research in querying to literary agents, everything that I ever read, all the advice I had ever gotten, any website that had anything at all to say on the matter, would always say to keep your book to within 50,000- 70,000 words. (It's measured in word count rather than page count, because page count can vary drastically depending on the format, and word count is more consistent). They usually said that maybe you can get away with 80,000 words, but for GOD'S SAKE, whatever you do man, don't even try to submit a book that is 100,000 words. You'll never make it.

So how many words is my book, Daughter of the Sun? Well, when I very first finished the first draft all the way through, my total word count was.......approximately 300,000 words. Yes. 100,000 is crazy high for publishers, and mine was 300,000. So I slashed the living hell out of it. I slashed out chapters and characters and story lines, Slash! Slash! SLASH! I got a friend to edit it for me, and she helped me slash it some more. Then after she was done with it, I slashed it even more. After all that slashing my word count waaaaassssss.........

130,000 words. Even though I cut my book more than in half, it was still more than twice the recommended length for publishers.

I tried to find an agent anyways. Don't ask me why I tried. Maybe I thought someone would be so impressed by my book that they'd be willing to overlook how long it was. But eventually I did have to accept just how foolish that was. So I came up with a plan to cut my book down to a more reasonable word count. The only possible way I could think to do it was to cut out even more major characters, events, and story lines. For those of you who have read the book, that means Jabe and Jerrica, Gregor, Calella, and all their stories would have had to go. If I did that, then maybe, just maybe, I could get the word count down to acceptable levels. But here's the problem with that, I didn't wanna!

Not only would that have completely changed the story I wanted to tell until it was no longer the story I wanted to tell at all, but also at that point I was well into writing Book 2 and planning Book 3. Cutting out all that would have meant starting from scratch with the sequels. Again. I don't wanna!

So I had a decision to make. Completely and irrevocably alter the story I wanted to tell, or tell MY story as an indie author. After reading some testimonials from indie authors, watching some of them on youtube, and talking to people on message boards, I realized, actually, being an indie author really ain't that bad. And in fact, it's probably actually better.

I'm at the point now where I was asked the other day by a friend of mine: "If you sell enough books through self publishing, would you be able to get a publisher to pick you up?", and my answer was, "Why on Earth would I want to do that?" If I sell enough books through self publishing, if I am successful at self publishing, then why in the world would I willingly give up control and profits of MY book to some corporation. Cause here is the thing, one can be successful as an indie author. It happens all the time. And what I mean by success is not becoming J.K. FREAKING Rowling or George R.R. FREAKING Martin, not becoming a multi-kazillionaire. What I mean by success is simply this: having the luxury of being a full time author. That's it. That is your job. You are living comfortably off your book sales. You do not need a day job. THAT is success, and it happens more often than you might think with indie authors.

So that would be my ultimate goal, my pie in the sky dream, to just be an author and nothing else (well except maybe for a youtuber and blogger). For those of you who work with me who may be reading this, do NOT fear, I will not be quitting my day job any time soon. But if it could happen in two, maybe three years from now, well now, that would just be a dream come true.


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