Indie or traditional publishing: what’s right for you?

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I’m on tour with Melissa Foster today! She’s been kind enough to write a post on traditional and self-publishing. Click her name above (for website) or the picture to the left (for blog tour) to learn more about her. Or perhaps you love free books? Yup, she’s giving away books too if you get on over to her blog tour page quick! (click the pic too!)

Read on for Melissa’s specialist, insider info!


I’m a line straddler, and I love it!

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about the lines of publishing.

Those who know me, or have read my blog posts, know that I don’t believe in drawing lines in the sand. An author is an author, no matter how they publish. However, there are definite differences in the avenues to publication.

I’m often asked if authors should query agents or publish independently, and that’s not a question I can answer for any writer. The answer must come from within. For me, I hope to straddle the independent and traditional lines of publishing.

I think there is much to be learned from traditional publishers—and yes, I hear your comments about how independent authors can make more money and sell more books while maintaining control of their product, but I believe there is value in both avenues, and I also believe there are many aspects of publishing that independent authors are not privy to, and might benefit from learning.

I’m not personally fearful of publishers changing my voice—I might learn how to be a better writer from their changes. I’m not worried about the prices being higher than indie books—I believe readers buy what they want to read. The waiting time is a bit painful for someone like me—oh ye of little patience—but I tell myself, perhaps it will be worth it.

If you are deciding whether to query or publish, here you might want to ask yourself.


What are your publishing goals? Do you hope to see your book on brick and mortar bookstore shelves or do you simply hope to sell books?

If you hope to see your book on the shelves of bookstores, what are your other goals? Even independent authors can get their books into Barnes and Noble bookstores. You cannot do so if you publish through CreateSpace, but you have a strong chance of succeeding if you use an independent distributor and are willing to increase your price and give B&N 55% of the revenue.


How patient are you? Querying agents and publishers takes time…oodles of time, and that’s just the beginning of the hurry up-and-wait process.

Most authors will wait 4–12 weeks to hear back from agents regarding their initial query, then there’s another 4–12 weeks of waiting while the agent reads the partial or full manuscript. If you are lucky enough to be offered representation, often there are revisions required before submitting to publishers—and that’s when the real wait comes in. Editors can take 8–10 weeks to read your manuscript, and if you think that once you have an agent, your manuscript is a shoe-in, you’re dead wrong. It simply means you are above the rest—in the preferred read section.

If your manuscript passes muster, you then go through months of revisions—hurry up and wait—before publication. Read this post by Greenhouse Literary to get a feel for the waiting process.


Are you willing to give up control of your cover, possibly your subplots, and your title? Yup, that can happen.


Wow, that seems like a lot of reasons not to try to traditionally publish, doesn’t it? After all, if you self-publish, you can do so in 24 hours and on your own terms.

Let’s look at another set of questions, and you might see why I’m pro both independent and traditional publishing.


Why do you want to publish independently? Is it because you do not want to wait through months of editorial changes? Do you think your book is just fine the way it is?

Is it the work that’s making you say, “No way!”? Is it the idea that a strong editor might redline a 15-page document indicating changes to your manuscript?

Or is it a rush to publish?

Perhaps you have had your book edited and you feel it doesn’t need anything further.

Editors (and hiring)

Many people who call themselves editors have no real editorial experience. They’ve got a degree in English (or not), and they’ve written newsletters for companies, or they’re avid readers and feel they’re capable of “knowing” what’s required for a strong story. Guess what—most don’t. And no, beta readers and critique partners cannot replace a strong developmental edit.

While it’s true that sometimes traditionally published books are too dry, or they aren’t risky enough, a poorly edited book is far worse than a slow story. Don’t judge an editor by their price—some will charge $2000 but have no experience to back it up, while others will charge $1200 and can make your story shine.

Once you’ve worked with a strong developmental editor, you’ll never go back to a run-of-the-mill editor. That alone might be a good reason for some to strive for traditional publication, to hone their craft with experienced editors.

The “rush”

What’s the rush? Books should be the best they can possibly be before hitting the virtual shelves.

All too often, authors finish writing their book, and two days later it’s available on Amazon. Most books should be put down after completion, at least for a few days, then revisited—and professionally edited. There is no rush to the finish line. Take your time, nurture your story. Readers aren’t going anywhere—you aren’t missing sales by taking your time. Several literary professionals critiquing your story might just make it possible for your good story to be excellent.


Marketing is hard to do. However, in some cases having a big name publisher behind your book can help your book find its wings among readers that are not tuned in to the indie connections—there are thousands of readers that are not using social media. There is no guarantee that a publisher will do anything for the marketing of your book, but for some, traditional publishing is a smart marketing move.


Some of you simply want the thumbs up that comes with traditional publication, and guess what, that’s okay. We are all free to dream our own dreams and create our own paths. Don’t let anyone make you feel badly for wanting something on your own terms.

The choice to independently publish or traditionally publish your books is not an easy one, and there is no right or wrong answer. If you are an author, keep an open mind, do what is right for you at that moment in your life, and what is right for your specific manuscript. Some manuscripts are meant to be indie books, while others find homes with publishers.

As I always say, take the path that makes you the happiest. #YouMatter

Why did you choose your publishing route?


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Twitter: @Melissa_Foster

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>> Melissa Foster’s latest release: COME BACK TO ME (Women’s fiction, 116 reviews, 4-star average)

49 thoughts on “Indie or traditional publishing: what’s right for you?

  1. Pingback: Indie Publishing Newsletter | E-BookBuilders

  2. Pingback: Indie Publishing Newsletter « Digital eBook Building and Formatting

  3. Thanks for sharing your post. I like the fact that you embrace both traditionally published authors and indie published authors. Like you said we all have to do what is right for us at the time and who knows what the future holds for any of us and the options we may have. It is good to keep an open mind and look at all your options, then decide what is best for you and your book. Blessings, Deborah H. Bateman-Author

  4. My self-published novella hit the market just this morning(!). I sold it to a traditional publisher in 2008 — and then the project was delayed during the recession. Two years later, publisher said he was definitely still interested, but…. Three years later, the contract expired, and I was left wondering what to do with the manuscript.

    A year later, I decided to self-publish, in part just to be active while I worked on other things. First review today: “Twisty! Turny! Magical! Wonderful!” First reader tweet: “Best $0.99 book around, a thoroughly enjoyable little roller coaster ride.” So yes, I feel it was a good choice. :)

    • How do I reply? Good always comes out of something bad. It may take a while as it did in your case but things will work out if they’re meant to.

      I’m glad to hear you self-published because good stories have no reason to stay hidden in a computer or drawer in this self-publishing environment!

  5. Great post. I think indie publishing is very tempting for many writers. But it also means you’ll probably have to learn a lot about marketing, accounting, social media, website development, etc. These things are all good things to know, but when you are going it alone it can be very overwhelming, and take away from what you really wanted to do in the first place – write.

    • I know what you’re feeling! I set up my social media platform to have a “look at me” starting point if I ever self-published my novel. However, when seriously considering this route, I don’t think I could do it. I am not an expert on marketing and selling books and anything less than expert isn’t good enough for me. I guess it’s traditional or traditional for me. I need the time to write.

  6. All terrific points which have been well discussed here, Melissa. Just a note about CreateSpace. In the UK we don’t have B&N but we can get CreateSpace books into some of the big stores if we register on Nielsen Bookscan. CreateSpace doesn’t automatically register you on Bookscan but you can do so, free, yourself (and they know very well it’s CreateSpace and don’t seem to mind!)

  7. Wonderful informative post. I’m an indie author, with one book already out and another on its way. So far, the indie route has been better for me since agents and editors have deemed my writing ‘beautiful’ and ‘clever’ even but the work too dark for mainstream publishing and the genre a little tricky to categorize. Gotta love the indie publishers who are willing to go with unconventional voices and questionable content :) I haven’t completely given up on the traditional publishing route yet, but being the type of writer I am, I think indie just might be the better option for me.

    • I like hearing that self-published authors gave traditional publishing a go first. It’s comments like the ones you received that make you the perfect candidate for self-pub.

      Readers will give any story a go if they like it. A pitfall to traditional is the “scarediness” toward taking risks. 50 Shades of Grey might be crap to me but millions also think it’s damn good.

      • I think Suzanne hit the nail on the head – hard to categorize or risky manuscripts are very hard to sell through agents, so indie works very well–and thank goodness the route is opened to us!

  8. Thanks for the post. I chose the self-publishing route when I got to around the 50,000 word stage of my first draft. The sheer lack of confidence that had overcome me was impairing my progress on the book. I mean, I KNOW I’m a good writer; I’ve reached degree-level English and have written for various publications. However, the thought of somebody telling me that my story wasn’t ‘good enough’ was almost forcing me to change my work to match what I believed a publisher would like, rather than what I would enjoy reading as a fan.

    Since choosing the indie publishing route, I’ve felt liberated and boosted by the options available. I’m enjoying running a website over at, tweeting useful content, and working with a designer on an amazing cover that really matches my vision.

    Again, thanks for a great post. It’s certainly food for thought. :)


    • It’s a difficult place when you or any writer constantly get rejections. Is it that the writing is bad? Cliched/overdone concept? Too different? Flooded market?

      It’s hard distinguishing if the manuscript is just plain bad or if publishers are making horrible choices.

      Good luck with your career and well done on your effort so far!

  9. Thanks for sharing Melissa’s entry. I sometimes have the same debate, although I always settle on the indie route, since it seems to fit my busy career and lifestyle now. I would eventually desire to be published through a large house, but for now, I am enjoying what I am doing. Again, thanks!

  10. Thanks for the interesting article. I chose the self-publishing route because my work has always been considered borderline and possibly niche. Various publishing people showed great interest in a couple of my novels, reading samples and requesting more before declining to take it any further on the grounds that the debut was extremely good in terms of style and characterisation but just not best seller material in the crime/thriller market. I also had keen interest from another agent who requested the whole thing but didn’t get back to me. Still quite upsetting because loads of people who’ve read the novel think it should have been snapped up straightaway.

    • Wow, you sound like the **right** candidate for self-publishing. Your type of borderline book that publishers aren’t sure about from a “money” perspective is the quality of writing that should still see readers’ bookshelves.

      From your comment, it’s clear it should be published. So why not take the chance? You don’t have much to lose!

        • Lawrence, it’s a funny thing, this business of publishing. Agents didn’t take Chasing Amanda, but I’ve sold over 100K copies of it. Agents represent what they can sell to publishers, and publishers buy what they know (historically) they can sell. That doesn’t mean that our work is not good – it means it doesn’t fit the boilerplate for that agent at that time.

  11. Actually there’s almost a 3-way decision. Self publishing could be split into e-book and/or paper book, though I’m not sure why an author would limit himself to one medium. Is that an option?

    • Yes, you can choose your publication route, but I strongly suggest publishing with both ebook and paperback so all readers can enjoy your work. Small press would be the third option for publishing venue:-)

  12. Thanks, Melissa and Becca. This was a great post. I particularly liked the reference to Lightening Source. It seems there are a number of places to self-publish, as more names seem to pop up almost daily. One blog I read recently noted that print-on-demand is much poorer quality than a traditional type-set book, and becomes more expensive once your book runs to over 300-500 print copies because the cost of printing a type-set piece goes down with volume. What is your take on this?

  13. Thanks Melissa I really enjoyed reading your post – I’m now 2.5 novels down and have spent a lot of time querying through the traditional route. I’ve had many form letter rejections, but it was the personalised ones and a very positive response (although ultimately a rejection) from an agent that has given me the confidence to independently publish. And the increasing disarray in the traditional publishing industry as a result of the e-change which has resulted in noticeably longer response times. Making the decision to drive my own car was not only a relief in many ways (like you say – no more waiting around, things to happen on my terms) but also hugely exciting. A New Project. I’m taking my time though – getting the edits and covers right, giving myself a few months until launch. Hopefully this will work for me. In the words of my mother: “Different strokes for different folks.”

    • If I may sneak in a comment?

      You’ve made my day. I feel so relieved when writers take the responsibility of self-publishing and do things right. Take it slow and triple-check everything. Edit lots and have many people, qualified to do so, help you too to make up for the type of editors publishers hire.

      Okay, you’re right to go, Melissa. :)

  14. Very nice insights. I see your point about patience, but I hate it when people torture their dogs like that! What a control freak. You can tell I indulge my passions. I do agree with you. Whether traditionally published or independent, a good work must simmer and bake and must not be rushed. I’m glad you will try both publishing methods and can share your experiences with us.

    • Lol! How cool is that dog! I feel sorry for it but that act is done for the “greater good”. You watch how that dog turns out. It won’t bark out of line. ;)

      I think a blend of both publishing methods is a great way to get the best of both.

  15. That was a really great post. First time I’ve seen a comparison laid out that way. I really appreciated that : ) Thank you. Originally, I very much wanted a traditional publisher for Gunshot Glitter. Self-publishing was never my original intention, but after being lucky enough to engage with a few best-selling writers and learning the reality and lack of control they have in certain areas, I totally changed my mind.

    This is not to say I wouldn’t ever sign a deal! My ideal situation would be to write books and let someone else manage the output process, I’d just like a greater say in that process that writers from my experience so far seem to get. I’ve had my novel proofed several times and my favourite writer read it and endorse it. I’m delighted about that. I’ve taken a long time getting it ready for public consumption. I appreciate Melissa Foster’s points 100% on that score.

    I need to find out more about distribution though. I didn’t know that being published via Create Space would be an issue, why is that?

    • Hi Yasmin, Amazon is in competition with the brick and mortar bookstores. B&N recently announced that they would not carry books published by Amazon – look at Lightening Source, they might be a good alternative for you.

      • Thanks for the comments, ladies. Self-publishing is much easier for writers these days. It means the manuscripts that were meant to be seen will be.

        And thanks for your help, Melissa!

  16. This is insightful – thanks. I’m as yet unpublished (my fiction, anyway) and I feel that I would like to go the traditional route, even though I know plenty of good writers who are making a great living the indie way. Your point about getting a ‘thumbs up’ is key for me – I guess I need the reassurance! But I’m also relieved that there is an alternative route these days.

    • Do you have published nonfiction? Cool.

      I want to be traditionally published too. I don’t have the reach to launch my book wide enough. Maybe when I have a big platform I’ll self-pub.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Bec, I knew no one when I published. You don’t need a big platform to get your book out there–just dedication to make it happen along the way. When your book is ready, if you self-publish – you’ll make it happen xox

        • Thanks, Melissa, but I suffer from a severe case of low confidence. It means I think I’ll sell ten copies. You might buy one. My family will buy five copies and a few other writer friends will buy the rest.

          See? In my head I wouldn’t sell books by self-publishing!!

    • Jo, yes, I understand completely. I have a manuscript on submission now to publishers through my agent. There is value in traditional and indie–don’t give up your dreams!

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