Never keep all your eggs in one basket.
The adage has become more of a philosophy I’ve adopted to navigate various aspects of my life, including my publishing career. So, what or who is a hybrid author? A writer who avails herself of all the publishing opportunities available to her, such as traditional, self and paid publishing, in various combinations, is a hybrid author. She is not turned off by the ever-shifting landscape of the publishing industry, but rather, she slams open doors for herself and charges across the altering, often turbulent publishing landscape, very much a captain of her own ship.
In the eight years since I tumbled down the rabbit hole of storytelling, I’ve been both traditionally published and self-published, internationally. Before I even wised up to the realities of publishing and its connected travails ofprocuring and signing with a literary agent, getting a contract and a few thousand readers, I was offered a contract for my first ever manuscript, which soon became my debut romance, It’s Your Move, Wordfreak! This was with an Indian publisher. At the time, I felt that as a South Asian expat my books would resonate more with Indian readers and publishers. Soon, I’d secured a literary agent in India and a second book contract with Harlequin India. My ship had set sail for the high seas and I wanted my next port of call to be at a US publisher. Ha! I still lived in a bubble then.
With my third novel, I changed genres, venturing into the world of fantasy based in Indian mythology. I was looking at US publishing in earnest, because while my publishing experiences in India had been wonderful and painless, I wanted an international presence. I wanted to be published in the country I called home now. Plus, I was more confident of my craft and my knowledge of the industry had expanded. I thought it would be easier to get an agent in the US or a contract with a New York publisher now. After all, I was twice published internationally.
But it wasn’t. There were plenty of rejections. I knew enough to ignore the form rejections, but I paid attention to the constructive critiques I received from agents and editors I’d come to know either online or in person. They showed me where I was going wrong and what I was doing right. I focused on the rightness of my work, and of this industry. And I focused on my love of storytelling. I still do. All I want to do is tell stories. Does it matter how they’re brought into the world? Thinking this, I decided to self-publish both my fantasy novel and my women’s fiction novel. And once again, I had to expand my knowledge of the industry.
My women’s fiction novel, My Last Love Story, was briefly self-published before it was picked up by a US publisher, one I had previously submitted to. It seemed as soon as I stopped trying to force open one door and stepped through another, the first door swung open on its own. And sometimes it happens that way, where one door leads to the other.
Both doors and paths have their pros and cons and, based on my experiences, I’m here to walk you through them.
The benefits of traditional publishing
With traditional publishing, your work must catch the eye of an agent or an editor—the gatekeepers—first and foremost. It’s not easy, but it’s achievable. You get an advance—that’s money upfront. You get access to a great editing, book designing, and book marketing team. You’re part of a publisher family. You get shelf space in brick and mortar book shops if you have a print contract. You are more likely to be reviewed by prestigious news outlets, get noticed by film developers, and win awards. Your book may be translated into multiple languages. And, because a team of industry professionals has deemed your book worth investing in, it’s easier to accrue respect for your work as a traditionally published author.
What to be aware of when considering traditional publishing
The challenges are plenty too. You may never get past the gatekeepers. You may never be happy about your advance or your royalties. You may not have a say in anything, from cover design to how it’s marketed or edited or where and how it’s promoted or published. You may have to man your own publicity anyway. Traditional publishing is a slow process; it takes anywhere from a few months (if you’re lucky) to two years to get a book on the stands. And this is after you’ve spent maybe a decade of your life trying to write that fabulous book, then get an agent, and then a contract. It will test your patience.
And one more thing about traditional publishing…
The one thing that I learned the hard way about traditional publishing is that writers should never—unless they are lawyers themselves and understand contracts and fine print—sign with a publisher without a vetted agent at their backs. The bigger publishers won’t even accept un-agented submissions. A good agent finesses the best deal for the writer, making sure the writer retains as many rights as possible to their work. There are so many rights to play with—foreign language, movie, audio, international territory rights. A good agent will negotiate each point or clause in the contract to benefit the writer.
Now, how do you find a good agent? That too is a long, grueling process—hey! No one said publishing a book was easy. There are agent databases and blogs filled with knowledge and guidance about querying. Conferences are a great place to meet with and pitch to agents, as are online pitch sessions such as #PitMad on Twitter. The most important tip is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
The benefits of self-publishing
In comparison, self-publishing is a piece of cake, at least until the book is baked. You are the ONLY gatekeeper. You control everything from concept to creation and there’s a great satisfaction in the process and its result that is absent in traditional publishing where very few decisions are in your hands. You are the publisher, designer, marketer, promoter—all rolled in one. You can—and you should—hire professionals for cover design and editing, maybe even for publicity and marketing, and all that is money out of your own pocket and up front. But then, all the money you make on the self-pub is yours alone.
What to be aware of when considering self-publishing…
You may not be able to get your print books into bookstores as easily, or it may not be feasible to do it, so keep that in mind. The biggest stressor for self-published books is what happens after your book baby is published. Discoverability is hard because of the sheer number of self-pubs in the market. Your baby must float above the rest or it will drown. To do that you need to wield social media like a boss, which is the number one publicity and marketing platform available to self-publishers. It’ll be your job to stay abreast about the constant changes happening in the publishing industry, and adapt to them instantly.
And one more point to consider about self-publishing…
The one thing I realized after self-publishing was that the idea of being the captain of my ship was in some ways a myth. It was true insofar as the creation and production of the book, but for its distribution, my fate rested in the hands of the distributors—mainly Amazon. If Amazon changes the rules, the royalty structures—heaven forbid, it shuts down its publishing arm altogether and no one steps in to save the day—then where will I be? So much for having full control of my baby.
The bottom line
There are many ways to publish, and each writer must find her own way. If you want to simply create and not think about the business of publishing, go the traditional route. If that route is road-blocked, try and moonwalk down the self-publishing route. But before you do, learn as much as you can about the industry. Neither path is risk-free or bump-free or the right path or the only path. However, both paths demand one thing above all—that you write a bloody great book in the first place.
Falguni Kothari is the author of unconventional love stories and kick-ass fantasy tales. Her four novels, most recently My Last Love Story, are all flavored by her South Asian heritage and expat experiences. An award-winning Indian Classical, Latin and Ballroom dancer, she currently spikes her endorphin levels with Zumba. She resides in New York with her family and pooch.
Article was Originally written for Pub Crawl