Self publishing vs traditional

Published on Sunday 12th August 2012 by DJ Kirkby

I started writing The Portal series because my youngest son read my short story about Max, Laura and their dad’s box of broken things and asked me what happened next. I had intended to answer his question by writing just one book (Realand) but am now almost finished writing book 2 (Treasure Island), and have plans for at least 3 more (Queendom, Spacetrain and The Library of Lost Books) in what has now become The Portal series.

I sent Realand (book 1) out to lots of 8 – 12 year old beta readers (and some adults too) because I think my writing style for children makes me sound like the literary love child of  Enid Blyton and Spike Milligan, and I wasn’t sure it would make the grade. Much to my surprise the feedback has been overwhelmingly favourable despite the fact that none of these people are related to me and they all read the book for free.

My plan is to self publish Realand as a digital book and sell it for under £1 so that children can buy it for themselves with their pocket money if they wish. I have set aside money for editing, commissioned a cover and an illustrator. All very exciting indeed.  I like the idea of having control of the whole process, especially the price as I think digital books for children tend to be very expensive and I can’t understand why.

However, some of the writers who have beta read Realand for me are strongly encouraging me to go the traditional publishing route with it rather than self publishing it. Not because there is anything wrong with self publishing in their opinion but because they think The Portal series has the potential to be ‘the next big thing’. I say if it is the next big thing then it will be so whether it is traditionally or self published.

What would you do?

24 comments so far

  • What do YOU want to do? There are pros and cons to both routes – and you know that. So I think this is one of those circumstances where you need to think about what you feel most comfortable with, and then go for it. Without looking back and wonderful what might have happened if you’d taken the other route. And without taking any notice of those who said, ‘If only you’d listened to me you’d be rich by now…’

    So what I’d to is irrelevant. But I’ll cheer from the sidelines whatever choice you make.

  • I know I am self-publishing Gunshot Glitter but I am not anti-orthodox-publishing! I just didn’t want to sit around waiting for the perfect deal to land in my lap that gave me my terms, which right now are probably not industry standard! I think you need to be really clear on your reasoning for why you’re self-publishing it over pursuing the ‘orthodox’ route. You could always put out feelers in publishing while cracking on with self-publishing?

    The thing that frustrates me with the route I’ve chosen is lack of print distribution, not having fiscal backing or storage for the volumes I’d like to print and not being eligible for big awards as I wouldn’t have the back up to supply bookshops if my book was shortlisted, and just how time-consuming it is wearing all the hats!

    I’d love to work with the RIGHT publisher to off-load some of that, so I’d say keep your options open. I’ve not published a children’s book so I don’t know if the marketplace operates that differently to the one for adults, but either way, well done on having such positive feedback! I did say on FB my friends have a 10,11,12 year old who’d be happy to Beta read, give me a shout if you’re interested : )

    • Thanks Yasmin, I will need beta readers for book 2 soon so your friend’s children beta reading would be helpful, if they are interested in doing it. This is my first experience writing for children despite always wanting to do so and I have only had books for adults published to date. My agent doesn’t rep children’s books either! What have I done? It would have been a lot easier to stick to writing what I already know….it’s all N3S’s fault for asking me what happened next!

  • I agree with both Yasmin and Jo, and would add that if you *do* go the self-publishing route, and put out feelers for a trad. contract, then you will have the advantage of illustrating (a) that you believe in your work (b) your ability to get the job done and (c) your platform, all of which I’d imagine would have a publisher rubbing their hands with glee.

    But, yes – the upshot is to do what you feel is right for you and your books. GOOD LUCK whatever you decide to do. 🙂

  • Hi Joanna, thanks for your comment. A happy publisher would be a lovely thing indeed. What would be even lovelier would be one who decided to sell digital books for children at a price they could afford to buy out of their pocket money.

  • Why not query a few agents that DO handle children’s books, just to see what their reaction is and to get some feedback? You’ve nothing to lose. Even if you ultimately decide to self-publish, their feedback may help to make your books even better.

    • Hi Averill, thanks for your suggestion. I did consider this but the whole submit / reject without feedback cycle is so tiresome….though you are right about feedback being helpful. I’ll see what the ending of book 2 is like and consider following your suggestion then if it seems the right thing to do for The Portal series.

  • I’m the last person to know!! But yay for another best seller in the making!! Whatever you do – I wish you all the best!! Take care

  • The advantage of traditionally publishing is that you receive an advance (always welcome!) and benefit from the expert guidance of your publisher, editor, production team, proof readers, designers, and so on confident that they will be professional (and your publisher will pay for everything!) But if you are prepared to oversee everything yourself and pay for an excellent team, then go for it! There are many excellent and successfuly self-published books, and not all traditionally published books go on to become bestsellers. Please comment on my blog – discussing what is happening in bookshops.

  • Hi
    I have just been reading your posts to catch up as I haven’t been around blogland much.
    It is all very exciting, whichever route you choose. I have been thinking a lot about self publishing myself lately as I feel downhearted, not getting anywhere with traditional publishers. I don’t expect to be a best seller, but I’d love to just see my children’s book in print, that is an achievement in itself.
    I always think try the traditional route first, but if that comes to nothing then, why not do it yourself? I’m asking myself the same question 🙂
    Congratulations on the positive feedback you’ve had, I wish you all the best with your series which sounds terrific!

    • Hi Pen, that makes two of us. I can’t seem to keep up lately. I am considering taking a short internet break just to recharge and focus on family and writing instead of all the other demands the internet puts on the time I want to spend with them. Thank you for your comment and good luck if you do decide to go down the self publishing route.

  • I heard children prefer physical books over digital. It depends whether your self pubbing plans include physical copies or not. Agree maybe give the traditional route a try first?

    • Hi Cath, after paying for editing, cover and illustrations I would only be able to sell the book inexpensively (so children could buy it with their pocket money) if I publish it digitally. The availability of digital books for children is increasing day by day so I can only think that more and more children are now reading digital books. I think that I would like to self publish book 1 and then make a decision about book 2.

  • What would I do?

    *steps into your shoes*

    Well, I’d send the first book out to agents now while I was finishing the second one. Since I would be thinking of self publishing anyway after the second book is finished (in this scenario!), there is nothing to lose. Even if I never hear back / get form rejections, it doesn’t matter. If I do get a bite, then I would be in a better decision to decide what path I want to go down.

    *steps out of your shoes*

    I am biased towards trad publishing mainly because I work in libraries, and it is a very rare thing to get me to put self published books into the collection. Not because they are bad or lesser quality (I can think of three self published books in the collection that are awesome, but that is it), but because I don’t have time to check out individual titles as it is and rely on distribution catalogues / ARCs / trade shows, etc, to chose books. If your goal is to reach as many kids as possible, then personally I would aim for trad first, mainly because you should never underestimate the influence of the distributers.

    Whichever path you go for, though, I wish you lots of luck and success 🙂

    • Hi Gemma, thanks so much for your double sided comment! It was helpful to look at things from both angles. You also reminded me of something I forgot to mention which was that I would like to purchase a digital recording of book 1 to donate to UK libraries for use in their audio book section.

  • There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. As you do the research and figure out which one is right for your book, keep in mind that the categories can be fluid. Authors have attracted the attention of traditional publishers after self-publishing and proving there’s a market for their work. Authors have also self-published their out-of-print traditionally published books.

    • Thank you Susan, for reminding me about the fluidity of the two types of publishing. I am going to think of this, smile and relax whenever I begin to question myself.

  • I think we are all different and no matter what we would do, it is never going to mimic what you truly want to do. You have to do what feels right to you. I think you are an amazing writer and can do whatever you want to do. The traditional route is just more time consuming and a bit of a rollercoaster so maybe write yourself some lists of the pros and cons of each? And wishing you all the best with whichever route you take!

  • Hello my dear

    I just wanted to add to this because as you know I have self published and indie published 2 books for around this sort of age group.

    What stood out for me above is your comment about the submission/rejection cycle. The time that takes and the feelings you get from it are exactly why I decided to self publish my second novel. A traditionally published author (mutual friend of ours) once said to me that the whole process takes a long time. But personally I don’t have much patience for that.

    There is the marketing backup you would get from a traditional publisher but personally I only think this would make a difference if it was a BIG publisher. The sort of publisher you’d need another agent to land. So that would make the whole process take even longer.

    I wonder if it is worth doing some submissions of your first in the series while you work on the second and subsequent books. Maybe get to the middle of your third before you start self publishing. Because I will tell you one thing for certain, children fly through books and their next question will be, “what else have you got for me to read?” so you will be better off having a chunk of your series ready for your readers in advance.

    My 9 year old informs me that a lot of her friends have Kindles. Scary stuff, but I don’t think the paperback carries as much weight as it used to any more, and in years to come it will be less and less about paper. (I hate this but it seems to be true!)

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do.


    • Thanks Rebecca, nice to know your 9 year old has lots of friends with kindles as that is the same as N3S and his friends. Digital reading is increasing amongst children and will probably continue to do so.

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