I mentioned briefly in one of my Writer Diaries a few weeks ago that I had established a pretty intensive publishing plan for the next couple of years. And it wasn’t a decision I came to lightly, but one I ultimately felt worked best for me and the projects I’m writing and I thought I’d explain my plans a little more in case anyone else was firmly undecided.
And if isn’t made clear by the title, I have something I’m really excited to share: I’m publishing my first book!
More specifically, I plan on self-publishing my first book in the first half of 2020, but the whole reason for it arose because I opted to go for the hybrid model. So it made sense that I share my thought process and why I feel it’s the best fit for me, and for my writing.
What is the Hybrid Model?
It’s a fairly simple concept. You can choose to publish one of two ways:
- Traditional Publishing – the most well-known method, where you get an agent and sell your manuscript to a traditional publisher who takes on the cost of printing, formatting, etc and gets your book into traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
- Self-Publishing – you are in control of everything and you are the one responsible for taking on all the upfront costs. In exchange, there is no barrier to entry, but it’s much harder to get into a bookstore.
Rather than dedicate yourself to either traditional route, or maybe even start your own press, you do both. You have books that you have self-published, but also those that go through a traditional publisher, thus you’re a hybrid author.
Traditional Publishing or Self-Publishing
Several years ago, when indie publishing was on the rise, I wanted to be a part of it. Traditional publishing seemed like a crapshoot at the time, and I knew I had some good ideas I wanted to get out there. Slowly the stigma of self-publishing was ebbing away as writers were producing excellent work and making careers out of it. So it seemed like the safer option.
Better that I try to make it work myself than wait years to try and get traditionally published, right?
But publishing yourself is a lot of work and it’s not cheap. If you’re going to take it seriously you need to create a polished product. That means spending money on a good editor and cover design. That means putting in the man hours to work on it and market it.
I wanted to self-publish, but I became unsure about whether or not I could afford it. So I returned to pursuing the traditional method. It was about two years ago now that I decided to work on a novel that I intended to pitch to agents.
I began writing a grimdark fantasy that followed several different characters as they navigated the politics of a crumbling empire. And it was so much fun to write. I really wanted to write a BIG fantasy novel, in the vein of Brandon Sanderson or George R. R. Martin. A behemoth of a book that would be somewhere around 200,000 words.
I got about sixty thousand words into it when I thought I should do a little more research. Especially since it dawned on me that it would be expensive to publish such a large fantasy book. Once I learned that a debut author wouldn’t be able to sell a manuscript over 100k, I had to find something new, so I went back to an old idea that I began in 2014. I knew it had promise, just as I knew I’d grown as a writer. So I gave it another shot.
Fast forward to today, where I’m gearing up for another rewrite, with hopes that I’ll have a query-able draft by November.
Probably sounds like a solid plan. You might be wondering then why I’m choosing the hybrid model.
I’ve never cared about the recognition associated with traditional publishing, nor have I been afraid of the heavy workload should I choose to do it myself. I knew that I would be fine no matter which path I chose but there were also drawbacks to each. Traditional publishing takes a long time. There are a lot of hurdles to cross to get that book on a shelf. And you don’t have the same freedom. It’s a business and they’re going to want a marketable story that will interest the widest possible audience. That way more people will buy it and they can earn back the money they invested in you. Unless I happen to do extraordinarily well in the coming years, there was a distinct possibility that my behemoth fantasy would remain an unfinished draft on my computer.
The ‘Unmarketable’ Ideas
This was where I was distinctly uncomfortable with my choosing the traditional publishing path. I had many story seeds I wanted to write someday. Many would be a good fit for traditional publishing, but there were also many that were not. Many of which I was too passionate about to let them collect dust and hope for a time when the market became more favourable.
And I’ll concede that some of them might become traditionally viable five or even ten years from now. I don’t know the future and I can’t predict that. But what I do know is that I’d have a hard time selling them now and I’d rather start now than wait those five or ten years to find out.
Traditional publishing takes a long time, and I’ve made a schedule for writing new novels that I think can accommodate that, but it still leaves me plenty of time to write some of those other ideas and get them out there. I knew then that I would have to at least consider self-publishing and do it in a way that worked for me.
This was one of the biggest hurdles and the one that required the most research. It costs a lot of money, and I worried about how deep that hole would go if I began the process, so I had to study up on what I needed and how best to budget so that I could routinely self-publish my work in a more affordable manner. There are plenty of things that you can end up spending your money on, including:
- Developmental Editing
- Line Editing
- Beta Reading
- Cover Illustration
- Ebook Cover Design
- Paperback Cover Design
- Book Formatting
- Print Distribution
- Review & Giveaway Copies
- Amazon Ads
- Facebook Ads
- Promotional Services (Bookbub, BargainBooksy, etc)
- Author Website Hosting
- Email List Building Service
- Audiobook Production
I’m sure if I kept at it, that list could grow enormously long. The point is, it’s expensive when you are the one responsible for everything. Of course, this is self-publishing – it’s entirely up to you if you want to give it a go yourself and try and save some money. If you want a good place to start, The Creative Penn has an excellent breakdown of the cost of self-publishing complete with lists of potential resources.
I highly recommend anyone who is interested in self-publishing spend a lot of time looking into the cost and figuring out a manageable budget. There are plenty of resources out there – indies are not afraid to break down how much they spent to get their book in the best shape possible.
Authors Kim Chance and Alexa Donne have great videos breaking down the potential costs for marketing your book. They are both traditionally published, and as they both explain, a marketing budget isn’t always in the cards when you’re with a traditional publisher. The expenses don’t stop after your book is produced after all, and it was important in my decision to go hybrid that I knew what I might expect to spend, whether I was traditionally published or not. Highly recommend giving both a watch.
Another super helpful video which explained things in a really obvious way: Jenna Moreci’s Easy Budgeting for Authors. It breaks down the numbers in a way that makes it easy to understand and entirely doable and I don’t know why it took me so long to try a numbers-first approach. Publishing is a business, after all.
As of writing this, I’ve got my budget set at $1700 CAD (about $1270 USD), I tried to set a realistic goal but also one on the higher end of the spectrum for a book of this length. This will be the first time I publish a book, which is exciting and scary, and I know it can be really easy to just throw a lot of money at my book where it may not be necessary. Research is important, people. Trying to settle on a budget that is both accessible and will help me produce the best possible product is a hard balance to strike, and it’s definitely something you need to explore on your own. See what you like, see what fits your book, get estimates for what it might cost for that book and what you’re willing to spend.
From there, I follow Moreci’s method. If I plan to publish next year, I know how many months and/or paychecks between here and then, and I can calculate how much I need to save to get me to that goal. And that made the idea of self-publishing my book so much more palatable, I guess? It turned what once seemed like a pipe dream into something entirely doable.
The Pen Name Problem
And now we arrive at the final problem: the pen name. Alyssa Flynn is the pen name that I chose for my author persona, and I figured I would begin making my platform around said name. That way when I eventually, hopefully, got an agent, I wasn’t starting from ground zero.
But as I learned more and more about the reality of making a living off traditional publishing, and just the cost of marketing, I was beginning to reconsider my original dismissal of self-publishing. Especially because it was becoming horribly apparent that it was extremely difficult to make a living off of the traditional model. I’m sure with time, you can eke out a somewhat stable lifestyle, but traditional publishing is slow, and quite frankly I don’t want to wait ten years to find out.
I knew I wanted to give self-publishing a shot. Not as a last ditch effort for a novel I couldn’t sell, but because that was the best option for the book. As I’ve mentioned already, I have quite a few unusual ideas that might not be such a great fit for the traditional market.
But the self-publishing one? That’s a completely different playground. Spend a little time browsing the categories on Amazon and there are niches for any type of book. Readers for any kind of novel.
Self-publishing is a viable option in and of itself, and not simply as a backup plan if traditional publishing doesn’t pan out.
But what pen name would I use?
I’d had this picture in my mind of Alyssa Flynn as a traditionally published author, and I knew if I wanted to preserve that image I couldn’t use it for self-publishing my books. At least not initially. I would need to have a solid platform and reasonable success before I could even begin to discuss that with a potential agent.
Again though, the traditional method was not a guarantee. Far from it. There are more books that are never published than are those that are. Self-publishing, though, was dependent on me. It was up to me when and how I put my work out there, and there were no barriers to entry. As much as it might feel a bit uncomfortable, I knew I’d have to come up with a new pen name for either my traditional path or my self-publishing one. The self-publishing path being the more concrete and plausible, meant that Alyssa Flynn would be the name associated with my self-publishing platform and if/when I get an agent and sell a book to a publisher, the problem of pen names will be addressed then.
*As a note, my last name is long and hard to spell which is why I decided to use a pen name with something shorter and easier to remember.
This might seem like something of a shallow problem, but think about it – once you’ve purchased a domain, set up an email and related social media, you’ve spent money and time into creating a brand and a platform. You get attached to it, and the longer you wait, the harder it will get to try and switch, both for you and your audience. This blog is still new, this platform is new – this whole process is still new enough that the best time to make this shift is now. It was important to me that I give that decision some serious thought.
The Inevitable Solution
By now I’m sure you see the pattern. The hurdles that initially held me back found solutions and self-publishing just felt like the right fit. I still have books I want to traditionally publish, and Far North is still going to be hitting the querying trenches by the end of this year. The ‘safer’ ideas are young adult, so I’ll be publishing most if not all of my YA traditionally, and all of my more obscure, niche, adult SFF will be under my current pen name, Alyssa Flynn, starting with the first instalment of Peculiar Casebook next spring!
I’ll have more updates on the book as that release date gets nearer (Yes, I’ve already set one!), so stay tuned if a science fiction story about a spunky, too-clever heroine, Victorian aesthetic and strange machinery sounds like your sort of thing!
Now that I’ve talked at length about why I’m taking this route, has it made you consider becoming a hybrid author? Why or why not? Are you firmly on one side of the spectrum? What made you decide to take that path? Let me know in the comments!