There are a million posts on this already. As it happens, I’m happy to share my limited experience in the hopes it will help others.

First, I’ll give you a list, and then I’ll break it down.

Traditional Publishing

If you do decide to go traditional, here’s the process:

  1. Finish your book. Make it the best you can. THE BEST you can.
  2. Continue to refine it.
  3. Learn to write a good query. There is an art to this; it’s not back-cover copy, and it can be challenging to explain your whole book in two paragraphs. This isn’t about cliff-hangers. This is actually telling the agent your story succinctly and clearly.
  4. Prepare a good synopsis of your book if it’s requested.
  5. Start submitting to agents. The best way to do this is to start with a Publisher’s Marketplace subscription. That’s because this is where all publishing sales are reported, which gives YOU an edge. You get to see which agents are actively and successfully submitting in your genre.
  6. Submit to an agent. Get rejected. Tweak query. Submit to another. Rinse and repeat.
  7. This stage can take a while. I suggest writing another book while you’re doing it.
  8. Eventually, you’ll get an agent – someone who is as passionate about your story as you are and actually knows how to get your book in front of the people who will want it.
  9. Wait. They will have suggestions for you. On average, from the time a book is accepted by a publisher, it takes a year and a half before it’s published.
  10. Continue writing, listening to your agent’s career advice. Also, market, market, market.

Indie Publishing

  1. Finish your book. Make it the best you can. THE BEST you can.
  2. Continue to refine it. Word of mouth is going to be your MOST IMPORTANT TOOL, so you need readers to fall in love with this story. You said you’ll need an illustrator; we’ll go into that shortly.
  3. Prepare all your materials. This means a website (I suggest Tim Grahl’s advice on this https://booklaunch.com/resources/ ), an Amazon profile, and more. This means figuring out how to create a good ebook (Amazon and Draft2Digital both automate this process for you). If you’re making a print book, join Createspace and learn how to create a PDF the way they want it.
  4. Do your research and decide if you want to go Amazon-only or spread out through various ebook retailers. Note: most of your sales will be ebooks, so you need to consider that for your illustrations.
  5. Prepare your bank account, tax info, and all that. It’s actually very easy to set yourself up as the publisher at Amazon. If you want to go beyond Amazon, I suggest Draft2Digital.
  6. Find a cover designer OR learn to design it yourself. You’d be surprised how easy it is to do – there are templates and more.
  7. When your book is THE best you can make it, and you’ve tested it in various ebook versions, go ahead and plan your launch. How to do a launch? That’s a whole other kettle we’ll discuss at a later date.
  8. Launch your book (which is different from publishing it). Market. Keep writing.

The Truth About Marketing

I keep talking about marketing, don’t I? Here’s why: marketing is going to be on you no matter what. Yes, someone like Stephen King gets the publisher advertising for him, but that’s because the publisher knows they’re going to make money off him. When you’re starting out, you’re not a guaranteed sale – so your publisher will NOT put its resources behind you.

This is a risk in traditional publishing: if you don’t make the amount of money the publisher wants you to make, you could be dropped and your books go out of print.

It happens more often than you think – even with authors who make enough to live on.

HOWEVER, Traditional publishing gives you one thing self-publishing can’t: distribution. The availability of your book is a huge plus, but sales are still dependent on your marketing skills, which makes things challenging. Marketing changes all the time, which makes it a pain to keep up with. Stuff that worked in 2012 doesn’t work at all now, so it’s basically like a whole OTHER job apart from the writing itself.

NOTE: Traditional publishing REALLY requires an agent to protect you. If publishers can screw you over with a contract, they will. I’m sorry to be blunt about that, but I have too many friends who have been screwed over to retain any disillusionment on this point.

You will be protected in traditional publishing if you have an agent. You don’t pay an agent; they make 15% of whatever you make, so it’s in their best interest to get you the best deal possible.

So Why Self-Publish?

So how does self-publishing fit in? If you self-publish, your books will never go out of print as long as you want them to remain in print. Marketing is STILL on you, but you don’t have the pressure of a potentially disapproving boss breathing down your neck, either.

That gives you a lot more control. Yes, you lack the distribution, but you also won’t have to go to court to get your own books back.

Of course, if you self-publish, you’re going to be responsible for things like editing and cover design. (A traditional publisher would do those for you, but the flip side is you also have no control over them. If they give you a bad cover, you’re stuck with it. If your editor insists on a change, you may have to make it.)

There are pros and cons for both traditional and self-publishing, obviously. I chose to go indie for one major reason: agents liked my writing, but they felt my stories were too unique. Several told me they’d be happy to represent me IF I (a) changed the gender of main characters, (b) added a love story, or better yet a love triangle, and (c) possibly changed the whole ending.

I was unwilling to do that. Some folks are fine making changes like that, and there’s nothing wrong with that approach. There’s no wrong way to go, as long as you feel like you’re being true to yourself and the story you’re telling.

Note: don’t go with one of those “We’ll publish you for THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS” companies. You can do most of the indie publishing stuff yourself, and it will only cost you the investment of time.

Conclusion

As you can see, there’s a lot of work no matter which way you take, but IT IS WORTH IT. I really mean this; I’ve been publishing myself since 2012, and I have not regretted an hour spent.

So which is right for you? Whichever one you wish. Either way, keep writing, keep trying, and don’t look back.