Hybrid authors: Which first — self or traditional?

Many writers have heard that being a hybrid writer — one that traditionally publishes some work and self publishes other work — is often where the most money is made. So, coveting that seemingly lucrative strategy, they ask, “Which should I do first — publish traditionally or self publish?”

This is absolutely just my opinion, but my opinion is very firm: traditionally publish first. I believe this for several reasons.

Reason #1

Self publishing well takes a fair amount of money, excellent craft, and a LOT of business knowledge.

I . . . don’t have the energy to explain how jumping into self publishing as a beginning writer with little industry knowledge and little marketing skill isn’t a good way to start a career.

If you’re self publishing books and not getting great sales, you’re hurting your traditional publishing chances. Publishers don’t care that the book was self published. They see one thing: low sales.

If you have books out with low sales (no matter how you were published), it’s very likely you’ll have to traditionally publish under a different, unrelated name — which means any existing fan base won’t find you. You’ll be starting at zero anyway.

Reason #2

If you self publish first, you’ve blown your debut status.

Traditional publishing values debut writers and top sellers. Those in the middle, not so much. This goes back to sales numbers. Unless you show some pretty amazing sales from those early self pubbed books, you’re back to being asked to change your name and start over.

This bit of info actually contradicts some commonly heard (and incorrect) beliefs.

  • “Oh, I’ll get several titles published, and then I’ll be more attractive to publishers.”
  • “Traditional publishing doesn’t look at nobodies. I have to make a name for myself before they’ll sign me.”

Both of those statements are demonstrably false. Let me repeat: Traditional publishing LOVES debuts. Debuts don’t have a sales history. They have POTENTIAL. Agents and publishers love potential. Potential means this new person might be the next big thing!

Don’t blow your debut status.

Reason #3

Traditional publishing gives you a wide fan base that you can leverage for self published books in the future.

It’s really, really, really hard to build a fan base with self publishing, especially if you don’t know how to do it. Again, I’ll repeat, coming into traditional publishing with low sales and a small fanbase isn’t a strong selling point.

Traditionally publish first, and have their publicists help you learn how to market. Let their big reach help you get a wide readership. Have that in your back pocket when you self publish to give your new book added visibility.

Reason #4

Traditional publishing will introduce you to the business side of publishing, and do so with a much easier learning curve than you’ll face if you self publish first.

Seriously, being professionally edited — developmental, line, AND copyedited — is a master class in the craft of fiction. Few writers can afford to pay for that level of editing when they self publish, especially for every single novel!

But, but, it takes so long!

Yep, traditional publishing is slow, and there’s a LOT of rejection, especially at the beginning. I know. I’m in the query trenches myself.

If you covet the career of a hybrid author, deal with it. Slow down, build your craft, and then traditionally publish FIRST.

Write the other books and put them in your back pocket if you want (for a publishing blitz after you’ve fulfilled your traditional contract). But trad publish under the name you want, use it to build a wide reader base, and THEN leverage that existing base when you self publish.

traditionally publish first

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