Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?
These days, I’m sensing that many authors are gung-ho to write and publish as much as possible. Now that the term “hybrid author” has been coined, referring to those who are both traditionally and self-published, everyone thinks they want or need to be one. As one author put it, “It seems like the time is now! It’s time to be prolific!”
I am not sure what makes people think “the time is now” as if we are in some kind of awesome bubble that is going to burst soon. We’re not.
We are in a long, slow transition period of our industry, in which people are experimenting with different ways of doing business. Some will work, some won’t. More importantly, different things will work for different people.
More does not always equal better. More books in the marketplace might mean more money in your pocket, but it also means less time available to pay attention to high quality writing, and less time available for giving each book the full weight of your marketing efforts.
If you are contracted with a traditional publisher, you may have restrictions on your ability to self-publish “on the side.” And this is not because publishers are overly possessive, or “dinosaurs,” or “just don’t get it.” It’s because they have an investment to protect, and it’s their responsibility to ensure nothing you do will interfere with the saleability of the brand they’re building (you).
Here are just a few considerations, from the publisher’s perspective:
1. Branding issues.
The publisher is working hard to position you in the market a certain way, and to maintain a level of quality for which they want you (and themselves) to be known. If you self-publish, they lose their ability to have input into the quality of your work, or the branding. This can not only reflect negatively on them, it can create confusion in the reader (who sees different kinds of books with your name on them) which can lead to lower sales.
2. Quality issues.
Publishers spend considerable money on several rounds of editing, copyediting, and typesetting. They also have expensive, experienced designers for your cover as well as the interior design of the book. It’s risky for them when an author self-publishes and leaves the publisher without the ability to ensure a certain level of quality. If the quality of the self-published effort is lacking in any way, it can reflect poorly on the publisher and it can lead to lost readers, not just on the self-pub books but also on the trad-pub ones.
3. Time issues.
When a publisher contracts with you, they’re not only buying the rights to your books, they’re expecting you to devote the proper amount of time to the whole endeavor. This includes taking the time to write the best book you can, and it also means spending some time on the marketing of your book. Publishers are rightfully concerned that your efforts in self-publishing will take away from your ability to give your best to the books you’ve contracted with them.
4. Promotional issues.
Publishers don’t want your promotional efforts on your self-published books to eclipse their promotions on your contracted books. If they allow you to self-publish, they may lose their right to set boundaries on what you’re allowed to do promotionally, and this can be disastrous. What if you are working with a self-pub company who wants to put two of your books on a special “free” promotion… the same week your publisher is doing a big launch for your latest front-list release? Readers may be exposed to both promotions and choose the “free” books over your new release. You have just undercut your own sales.
All of this adds up to competition, i.e. situations in which your self-pub books are competing with your traditional-pub books for the reader’s attention. That’s why the paragraph in the contract that covers this is called the non-compete clause. The publisher has a right to protect themselves from their contracted authors competing with the publisher, thereby potentially harming the publisher’s sales of your book(s).
What if you’re self-publishing as a way to help promote your traditionally published books?
This can definitely work. If you are only publishing once a year, maybe getting a novella or some ancillary materials out there “in between” can help keep you in your readers’ minds, and whet their appetite for your next “big” book. It has to be done right, in such a way that it doesn’t compete but enhances sales, and usually will need to be done with your publisher’s permission. Sometimes the publisher will even want to be involved. If they see you’re capable of increasing your productivity, they may want to contract you for those extra “in between” books rather than have you do them on your own.
As I said up above, we are in an age of experimentation. Publishers have a lot to lose in terms of investment, so it behooves them to move cautiously when trying new things. But take heart—most of them are trying new things!
Have you thought about trying to become a “hybrid” author? What are your thoughts now that you have a glimpse of the publisher’s side?
Update: This post unleashed a storm in the comments from those who found it offensive and angering. I wrote a follow-up to clarify what I was trying to say. Click here:
A publisher has to protect their investment in the brand they’re building—you. Click to Tweet.
Will your publisher let you self-publish too? @RachelleGardner tackles the thorny question. Click to Tweet.
Publishing isn’t in a bubble that may burst—we’re in a period of transition. Click to Tweet.