More and more authors are making the most of all the publishing options available to them by self-publishing AND traditionally publishing their books – which we think is a great idea. We caught up with author Frances Mensah Williams, who self-published her non-fiction before signing with a traditional publisher for her new novel, From Pasta to Pigfoot, and asked her what she learned from both routes.
Have you self-published and traditionally published your books? Share your experiences below!
Frances Mensah Williams: ‘5 things I learned self-publishing and traditionally publishing my books’
So you want to publish a book? Well, thanks to all the tools and technology available today, almost anyone can be an author. But there’s still a very important place for the traditional publisher, too.
Having self-published two non-fiction books in the past four years and seen the recent publication of my first novel through the traditional publishing route, I’ve seen first hand the differences between the two approaches. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Trusting Yourself vs. Trusting your Editor
While many self-published authors make a point of hiring experienced editors, too many skip the process or rely on helpful family and friends, either because of the cost of paying a professional or because they don’t know how to find a good editor. A great editor, as I found going through the traditional publishing route for my novel, isn’t simply a proof reader, but someone who will help you craft a better book by helping you improve the content, structure, syntax, characterisation… yes, everything that makes your book what it needs to be.
While I made it a point to get both my non-fiction books proof-read for any errors or omissions, I must admit that I did rely on my own editing skills. But, I made sure that I read over both the manuscripts in painstaking detail several times before sending them off to the printers.
2. Marketing alone vs. with a team
As a writer, you are used to creating your work by yourself. But the business of publishing is about far more than writing.
If you are someone who loves the challenge of networking, public speaking, Facebook-ing, Tweeting, blogging and crafting press releases and partnership deals, you will more than likely find self-publishing to be your natural home. If, on the other hand, you have little interest in understanding all this, you may find you are more suited to a traditional publisher. You will still have to be active in marketing your book and be ready to undertake promotional work, but you will be able to rely far more on the marketing expertise and resources of your publisher.
3. Fact vs. Fiction
My self-published books were a celebration of successful black professionals and a comprehensive guide to careers in Africa respectively. In both cases, the subject matter was factual and based on my knowledge of the issues, which meant I really had no concerns about criticism of the content. In writing fiction, however, I found the total opposite. My novel wasn’t a recitation of facts that no-one could dispute; it wasn’t a compendium of sound advice that no critic could successfully tear apart. It was a creative piece of work that was intensely personal and about which I felt as proprietary as a mother is of her new born baby. So I chose to work with a traditional publisher who would be the co-parent helping me to bring it into the world.
When you are traditionally published, someone else is demonstrating their faith in your talent – which is both exhilarating and daunting. I was really fortunate to find publishers that immediately understood and connected to my novel and who were ready to invest in both my work and in me. In my case, it happened through a chance conversation between a friend who knew about my manuscript and the Commissioning Editor of my publishers. This led to an invitation to submit my novel for review and, subsequently, for publication.
4. Money Talks
Publishing – whichever route you decide to take – is a business. You have to put your money where your words are and make an investment in your book. When I decided to self-publish, I researched the different options available and decided that rather than print-on-demand, I would invest in printing a run of books. I also invested in paying a fulfilment company to deal with collecting money and dispatching books – all in all, a significant up-front cost. With a traditional publisher, the costs of book production, design, proofing, editing, printing and marketing rests with them, which was a good incentive for me to go down this route.
5. A Second Opinion
With traditional publishing – from choosing a book cover design to developing a sales and marketing strategy, it’s nice to have someone whose opinion you can trust. After all, it’s their investment and they are looking to recoup it and more.
When going it alone, your well-meaning supporters often don’t know which book covers sell, everyone has an opinion (and not always a reason why) and it leaves you either confused or making impulsive decisions based on your own personal preferences rather than market insights. It’s really important to have an expert on hand for as many parts of the publishing process as you can – or at least do enough research so that you are confident that your decisions make sense for the current market and your book.
Ultimately, there’s no one way to publish and it all depends on your preferences, skills and the kind of book you plan to publish. In the end, whichever route you choose, the truth is that you’ll have to be involved in both the business of publishing and the writing – and if you are anything like me, you’ll learn a lot!
Frances Mensah Williams is the author of the novel From Pasta to Pigfoot (Jacaranda Books) and of the non-fiction titles Everyday Heroes: Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals and I Want to Work in Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent Want to Work in Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent. She is the Managing Editor of ReConnect Africa.com, an online publication and resource for African professionals globally.