One of the reasons many authors want to have their books traditionally published is to capitalize on the publisher’s marketing resources and experience. Traditional publishers such as Thomas Nelson have many people on staff focused exclusively on driving sales through advertising, publicity, and other marketing tactics. They have connections with various media and sales outlets that can help make a book successful—connections that very few self-published authors can even begin to develop.
And yet most books by new authors would sell more copies if they were self-published. Why? It is simply a matter of focus and business decision making. A traditional publisher will have many new books on their list each season. Each book is signed with the expectation of substantial sales, and yet fewer than half will sell anywhere near their preliminary projections. Acquiring books remains as much an art as a science. Publishers acquire the best titles they can find and then give each one a shot. Those that get out of the gate fast are given more resources, those that do not are analyzed to see what can be learned to avoid making the same mistakes again. As you might expect, retailers prefer to focus their resources on books that are more likely to perform well—and so they tend to focus on bestselling authors.
Authors that self-publish their books can provide a level of focus and intentionality in their marketing efforts. A high quality book is the best marketing tool. Authors can obtain feedback every step of the way to improve each aspect of their book. When the book is ready, self-published authors can take their time and allow the buzz to build naturally as more and more readers recommend the book. If the author has put in the time and effort necessary to build a platform then they can reach out to potential readers who have already expressed interest in the author and the subject matter. After 90 days or so, when a traditional publisher is starting to receive returns on books that did not sell quickly, a self-published author is just getting started as they use each positive review as fuel for the fire in building the buzz that gets their book noticed and drives sales.
As a self-published title builds momentum, it also will attract attention from traditional publishers like Thomas Nelson. In fact this is one of the reasons we started WestBow Press—to give us early visibility on books that we probably would not have acquired in our traditional process but are beginning to sell well. By spotting these books early, we hope to be able to acquire them and pour additional fuel on the fire while the blaze is just getting started.
What is the most important factor in your decision whether to self-publish or pursue being traditional published?