I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Natalie Whipple, one of my former clients, who is now a “hybrid” author with experience with both traditional and self-publishing. She is the author of Transparent and House of Ivy & Sorrow, which comes out today, and Relax, I’m a Ninja, which will come out in June!
Here’s Natalie’s post:
There is a lot of talk online about legacy versus indie publishing and which is better. People seem to spend so much time focused on defending one side or the other, that the details of what each path actually entails get skewed or lost entirely.
To me, arguing which is “better” is a lot like fighting over whether basketball, baseball, or football is the superior sport. They are all sports, they all have a fan base, and they all bring enjoyment to the people who choose to participate in them. Is there really a “better”? Well, no. They’re just different. Same with legacy and indie publishing.
Maybe I see it this way because I’ve chosen to venture into both legacy and indie publishing. I’m what people are now calling a “hybrid” author. So since I’ve been on both sides, today I want to give out neutral, practical information on the difference between Legacy and Indie. I’ll leave it up to you guys to decide what you think is more advantageous or preferable or whatever.
Most people think of authors selling their books, but really it’s more about selling your creative rights in legacy publishing. A publisher wants to buy your rights to reproduce your words in a certain form—usually a book form. There are also other rights you can sell, like electronic (ebook), cinematic, audio, and translation. In the legacy model, a writer usually obtains an agent who specializes in selling and drawing up fair contracts for these various rights. You get a percentage of profit, your agent gets a cut, and of course so does the publisher.
In indie publishing, a writer keeps all their rights and uses them as they see fit. You could say an indie sells their books because of that. That means they get almost all the profit to themselves, but also have to do all the work themselves as well. Indies effectively become a small publisher of their own work. If they want to sell in audio book format, they have to hire the voice actor and make it happen (yes, you can do that). If they want to translate their novel into Spanish, they can hire someone to do that. Their rights are in their hands, for better or worse.
As alluded to in the previous section, indie publishing is all about control. The writer is in charge. While most authors hire out editors and designers, it’s still the writer who chooses who to work with and what the final product looks like. The writer controls price, marketing, design, everything.
In legacy, a writer gives up a lot of control when they sell rights. Your publisher will decide your cover, the price of the novel, the marketing scope. They will decide when your book releases and when they want to put it out of print. You can argue, but they don’t have to listen.
Legacy authors receive payment in two ways—advance against royalties, and then royalties if the novel “earns out its advance.” Your contract will contain royalty rates for each book format they purchased rights for. Advances are usually paid in segments upon contract signing, D&A, and publication. If you earn royalties, you may see a check every 6 months, sometimes once quarterly.
Indie writers do not receive advances, but begin to immediately make “royalty” on their work. The royalty received is much higher—usually 60-70% (as opposed to 6-25% legacy depending on format). Online distributers usually pay monthly if a threshold of income is achieved (from $10-100 depending on the place), otherwise it will be held to the next month.
Cost To Author
Legacy publishing has very little upfront cost to an aspiring writer (unless you consider time a cost, which is something to consider). Agents don’t take payments, but receive commission upon selling rights to your work. One you sell a novel, you may be paying for your own travel or marketing materials, but overall the cost can be almost zero if you don’t choose to do those things.
Indie publishing does have an upfront cost. The average for a quality product is around $1500 for a first novel, most of which goes to a freelance editor. Other costs can include interior and cover design, ebook formatting, ISBN purchasing, business license, marketing, purchasing hard copy inventory, etc.
Indie publishing can reach many markets it couldn’t previously, thanks to online marketplaces and reduced cost of production in the digital age. An indie writer can make their book available globally without having to own a lot of costly inventory. Legacy publishing still has a leg up in the bookstore and library area, having deep connections and filters that are easy for store/library buyers to use. Though the stigma on indie is slowly lifting, there is still a trust built between established publishers and store/library buyers.
Legacy publishing, in theory, gives an author a marketing plan they wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own. At minimum, they submit their novels to trade reviewers, make them available in the publisher’s seasonal catalog, and make them more visible to store/library buyers who then champion those books to customers. At best (if you are very lucky), legacy publishers send authors on tour, get them big ad spaces in movie theaters, have features in well-known magazines, get radio and TV spots, etc.
Indie writers are responsible for their own marketing, and it’s really a matter of how much money and hustling they want to put into it. An indie can get ad space—it’s just very pricey. They can get trade reviews and other visibility. They can plan their own tours. They just have to foot the bill for everything. So it’s about maximizing visibility at a reasonable cost.
I hope this clears up some of the differences with legacy and indie publishing. But more than that, I hope it helps people see that both avenues have their pros and cons and aren’t necessarily against each other. Publishing is a hard business, no matter how you decide to tackle it. But I personally have found things to love in both methods, and I hope more writers begin to see that they have options and they don’t need to be afraid to explore them.