Traditional vs. Indie Publishing: why not do both?

This time last year I had just signed my third contract with a traditional (small press) publisher for EDUCATING ETHAN, a sensual romance. I had also completed the first two novellas in an erotic fantasy romance series featuring non-mainstream characters – an older married couple in a bisexual menage a trois with a Greek god, and a post-surgery transsexual heroine searching for identity who meets an ancient god on the edge of burnout.

These unusual heroes and heroines didn’t seem to fit easily into a traditional market. So, what to do with them? It was around this time that I joined a Yahoo group called Indie Romance Ink, a chat/support group for romance writers either independently published or considering heading down that path. I realised my characters were crying out to be independently published, and I made the somewhat scary decision to dip a toe into indie waters with PLATINUM PASSION (GODS OF LOVE #1) and then APHRODITE CALLING, the second in the series.

If I had known then what I know now, I may not have made that decision. Not because it hasn’t been an incredible and satisfying journey. It has! But there has also been a learning curve so steep that it would have given me pause, had I known about it in advance.

But I’ve survived the journey – so far at least – with PLATINUM PASSION released as an indie story last December and APHRODITE CALLING in June. Book 3 is in its final stages of completion.

Why go indie?

The steep learning curve is the reason I would encourage anyone who is contemplating indie publishing to give it a go – at least once. It might be scary steep, but getting hands-on, behind-the-scenes access as a publisher rather than an author is the quickest way I know to build detailed inside knowledge of the publishing industry.

From the most basic skills such as working with a designer to create a great book cover; how to format and upload an ebook to Amazon; how best to tag and categorise your books; how to set up a wordpress website or blog; right through to more complex things such as which distribution channels work well and which ones don’t – and why; what to do (and how to do it) if you want to produce a print publication in addition to an ebook; which promotional sites do (and do not) support indie authors/books; and how best to use social media, author interviews, blog appearances, book review sites, virtual book tours and media releases among many other marketing tools to build and maintain a reader following.

I knew none of this stuff a year ago. I was naive in the sense that I thought the book would upload to Amazon and I could sit back and watch the sales roll in. Well, I wasn’t that naive, but I didn’t have a clue how hard I would have to work to get my author name and the book titles out there in the market, and how important it is to build and maintain a reader following.

When you’re indie, you’re doing it alone, and without a following the sales do not simply roll in!

I was also unfamiliar with just how many decisions – about every aspect of the publishing process – need to be made at each step along the way to publication.

Therein, for me, lies a key advantage of going the traditional route.

Traditional publishing advantages

As an author, all of those decisions around the publishing process are made for you, so in that respect it is easier time-wise to manage the rest (the rest being marketing, followed by more writing!).

The support from a publisher “family”, and the authors in that family, also can be just as encouraging as that of any indie network.

Another thing that going traditional offers is an outside validation of your work as truly “publishable”. You’re not going simply on gut instinct. Instead you have someone trained and experienced in publishing telling you that, yes, they do believe readers will like your work. There is definitely a small part of me that enjoys that part of traditional publishing.

Advantages of indie publishing

In addition to what I’ve listed above for indie, this arena has thus far been more lucrative for me than trad-pub. Beyond the financial rewards, though, it is the act of doing it yourself – all of it – that brings a real sense of personal and professional achievement. Control over your own work from start to finish is a wonderful feeling! Tapping in to indie support groups and websites/blogs that encourage indie authors provides a wealth of information, knowledge and has brought many new online friends my way.

Why not do both?

In my view, there is significant benefit to keeping a foot in both camps, for all of the reasons listed above. We work damn hard to create our little masterpieces – why limit our publishing options? I do intend to sub some – but not all – of my work to traditional publishers in future, but I am excited for now to continue on the rollercoaster journey of indie pubbing and see where the next 12 months takes me!

Basic advice for anyone considering indie publishing
  • Join online indie chat/support groups for your genre, such as Indie Romance Ink for romance writers
  • Follow the blogs of successful indie authors, such as JA Konrath, Lindsay Buroker and Joan Reeves
  • Get your finished work professionally edited
  • If you are not great with formatting documents, get your work professionally formatted
  • Work with a professional designer to get a top quality book cover
  • Create an author website/blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook author page as a minimum social media presence
  • Keep writing!

For a peek at my current indie works, check out PLATINUM PASSION (GODS OF LOVE #1) and APHRODITE CALLING. (GODS OF LOVE #2).


  • Hi Mona, thanks for stopping by! I agree, not all small press/trad publishers are supportive, and there are definitely pros and cons to every decision, whichever way we choose to go. Good point!

  • Jennifer, thanks for the good information. We have so many choices now, but we also need to be very aware of the limitations of those choices. Not all small presses are supportive but they are a good way to get started. For that matter, not all traditional publishers are supportive!

  • Hi Elyse, that’s one area where I think indie is great – for those projects we can’t find a market for the traditional way. Congrats on deciding to go indie, and good luck with your release!

  • Great article – I’ve got one novel published with a small press, but I’ve decided to jump into the indie world with a fantasy novel that just doesn’t seem to fit standard genres. I’m so scared and hesitant, but I’m going to do it – cover is already done and it’s getting professionally edited (again) right now. I want it to be GREAT! Thanks for a great article.

  • Hi Nancy
    That’s a great analogy – comparing trad to football, with a team behind/around you, and indie to tennis, where you’re out there on the court alone. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Hi Mary
    I’ve been doing this (indie) for a year now, and I have so much more to learn. I still consider myself a “newbie” in the indie arena but I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. I’ve had great experience going the trad route, too, and met some wonderful people along the way, hence my desire to keep a foot in both camps! Thanks for commenting :)

  • I’m still in the learning process of being an Indie author while waiting for my book to return from the editor. I have learned so much from the Yahoo Group mentioned and value their knowledge. I’ve been with a small press publisher before, but with Indie, you control it all, and just think of all the new things you get to learn!

    Great post!

  • You summed it up very well. I view traditional vs. indie as football vs. tennis. In football, there’s a whole team working toward a single outcome. In tennis, there’s just one player on your side of the net (assuming, of course, you’re not playing doubles). With traditional, if you’re not a big-name author, there’s not much your publisher will do for you. With indie, you may have to do it all yourself, but you can do as much or as little as you want.

    For me, after years of being trad. pubbed, I opted for the indie route mainly because my agent passed away and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of finding a new agent. It was the best decision I ever made. Last week I rec’d a check from HQ for royalties. It took them 5 months to get that check to me! As an indie, I get paid every month.

  • I know, Cindy! I broke my own rule of not doing blog posts that are too long, as there was simply too much info to include here – and I only touched the tip of the iceberg in relation to my indie journey. If you have any tips that I haven’t included here, please feel free to include them in the comments :)

  • Great information! I also just co-presented a segment on indie publishing at a writing workshop. With limited time, it was difficult to narrow the topics to those most important. There is so much involved with self publishing!

  • Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Roxy, thanks for stopping by! It is an interesting topic, isn’t it? I’m sure your workshop went really well :)

  • Coincidentally, I just gave a workshop today about going indie. You’ve summed it up nicely.

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