Why I Left Traditional Publishing in Favor of Self-Publishing: Part 1

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Back in 2005, I had written my first book manuscript for a business startup guide, and I attended a writer’s conference where I had the opportunity to pitch agents. Many requested proposals, and in the months that followed, my mailbox filled with rejection letters. Eventually, one of the agents took the time to call me and he said, “I like what you’re doing, but nobody knows who you are. You need to build an author platform. You need to be out speaking to thousands of people each year.”

The Importance of Your Author Platform

This is what it all boils down to with publishers: Platform. And for good reason. When you have an established audience, book sales are practically guaranteed. Publishers want to hedge their bets on authors who have the highest probability of generating sales.

After that fateful call, I decided I would begin building my platform online. I started blogging before blogging was a thing, and I noticed that the more content I added to my site, the more traffic the site received. I built a mailing list, began selling digital products, and before I knew it, I had an audience.

In the meantime, I decided to self-publish my first book and it sold well. A year later I wrote my next manuscript and sent proposals to exactly two publishers. I signed a book deal within weeks—all thanks to the platform I had built.

Navigating the World of Traditional Publishing

I learned a lot from that book deal. First, the contract was over twenty pages long and it might as well have been written in a foreign language. I ultimately hired a publishing expert to help me understand the terms and what I could and couldn’t negotiate (such as wholesale purchase price, turn-around time, and digital rights).

Overall, I had a pretty good experience with that first book. The editor didn’t change a word and though it typically takes most publishers a year to release a title, mine was out within about nine months (still a long time!). I didn’t like the book cover design concepts they produced, but my complaints were ignored, and I was left with a book cover I didn’t care for. I figured if that were the worst of it, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Feeling Forgotten

Within weeks of the release of the book, my editor left the publishing house. I never heard from a replacement editor or anyone there ever again. Nobody checked in to ask how things were going. No book publicity support was offered. I was basically left on my own wondering if anyone at the publishing house even knew my name.

I did the promotion work as I continued to evolve my author platform and the book remained in Amazon’s top ten business marketing books for two solid years. Still, nobody from the publisher’s offices ever reached out to me. Instead, I quietly received my royalty checks twice per year.

Turning Point

A year after that book release, I contacted an agent I’d met back at that writer’s conference I had attended in 2005. I shared with her that I had built an author platform and had sold a book on my own. She signed me right away, and we sold two more books over the next two years to different publishers.

Many authors debate traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. In this blog I touch on the difficulty of gaining initial interest, not liking my book cover, feeling abandoned, and doing a great deal of my own book promotion. In Part 2 of this blog post series, I share how I decided that traditional publishing was no longer a fit for me.


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Stephanie Chandler

Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan: Online and Offline Promotion Strategies to Build Your Audience and Sell More Books. Stephanie is also founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, a vibrant educational community for experienced and aspiring writers, and the Nonfiction Writers Conference, an annual event conducted entirely online. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, and Wired magazine.