Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

My Experiences with Traditional Vs Self-Publishing

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This past spring I launched two young adult books, Touch by Lorimer SideStreets and Boiled Cat by CreateSpace. Lorimer is a traditional Canadian publisher who puts out Hi/Lo books for kids and teens. CreateSpace is a print on demand publisher for those interested in putting out their own work. Many people I talked to earlier that year were surprised that I, a published author, was dabbling in the self-publishing market, then they wanted to know which was better. Coming out the other end – more or less since promotion never seems to have an end – I would say they are both unique experiences and choosing one over the other would greatly depend on what you want from your book and how much money, time, and effort you are willing to spend on it.

Boiled Cat cost me something in the order of two thousand dollars once I was done with everything – cover art, hiring formatting help, buying the website name, commissioning the comics for the website, the book launch, etc. I haven’t made that back yet. Touch cost me nothing. In fact, I got paid. Schizo, another book of mine put out by Lormimer SideStreets a few years back, cost me about a hundred or so dollars for the book launch and that was it. I still came out ahead. With a traditional publishing house, the author gets money. I receive an advance and then a percentage of sales after that is paid off. Is it enough to live on? Well as my daughter so succinctly put it – “I don’t want to be a professional writer because I don’t want to get married.” Yeah, that’s the reality for a good chunk of writers. You will starve unless you have another source of income or loads of best-selling books, traditionally published or not. Per book, I make more money off of Boiled Cat. Selling the book myself I make more than fifty percent profit (since I set the price on the cover). Having someone else sell it, I still don’t do too bad. The same goes for Touch, when I sell it myself I make more than when Lorimer does all the work. But Lorimer has contacts and gets Touch into more places than I can get Boiled Cat. So long story short – unless you’re working you’re butt off selling your self-published masterpiece you are probably not going to make as much money as having your novel with a traditional publisher.

Creating your own book takes more time too. Whereas with Touch, I did two substantive edits and a copy edit, with Boiled Cat I did lots more edits because I didn’t have professional people to rely on. I also spent hours on the phone, made an interactive website (three months spent there), created a book trailer (another month), agonized over cover art – and still had relatives sending me e-mails, once the novel was on the market, saying, “I found three mistakes, want to know where they are?” ARRRG!!! Like I said, when I work with Lorimer I help with the copy edit, but no one blames me if a mistake gets through – even though I sign off on the manuscript too, when you self-publish, they do.

Effort in creating a good, readable book with an amazing story and solid characters is about the same for both traditionally published and self-published writers. I don’t make money unless I sell books. Sure I get the advance on my traditionally published books, but I would like to make more than that. I guess don’t have to work quite as hard to get my Lorimer books into the hands of reviewers, bloggers, and readers. Lorimer does a lot of that for me. They also have a reputation I don’t have on my own. With Boiled Cat, I have to convince people to read my book and review it. I don’t have the same pull so I have to work a bit harder on that front. Plus all book review requests have to come out of my personal stack since I am the publisher.

So why did I self-publish Boiled Cat in the first place. Well for one, I knew it was good. The manuscript had been picked up by an agent (a rather ineffective agent who promptly retired and dropped all her clients rather suddenly) and a publishing house asked for the full manuscript but didn’t end up taking it in the end. So I had a few bites. Second, I wanted to keep it mine and make all the decisions. I wanted the freedom that comes with creating a project beginning to end and the control of being the last person to have a say on every decision. Thirdly, Boiled Cat is a punk rock book and punk rock is a very do-it-yourself kind of culture. So, I did it myself. Will I do it again? Who knows? I don’t have any plans right now but I may delve into that stream again sometime in the future. It was kind of fun.

So there’s my answer to: Which is better traditional publishing or self-publishing? It depends on the project, and how much money, time, and effort you are willing to spend. Doing one doesn’t mean you can’t do the other.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kim Firmston

Kim Firmston is a writer and creative writing instructor in Calgary. Her teen novels Schizo and Hook Up were Canadian Children's Book Centre Best Bet Selections. Her short story "Life Before War" was shortlisted for the 2008 CBC Literary Awards. Her most recent novel for teens is Touch, about a teenage hacker with a troubled family life.

Go to Kim Firmston’s Author Page