Which Publishing Route Should I Take?

Weighing up the pros and cons of self-publishing v the traditional route.

As an aspiring novelist I find the debate over whether or not to self-publish my work slightly overwhelming. The chatter on this subject on Twitter is deafening. It is hard to know which way to turn. So I decided to approach two wonderful authors who have chosen different routes to getting their work out to their readers and see what they think.

New York Times best-selling author, Susan Elia MacNeal, went down the traditional route. Mumsnet Best author, Liza Hoeksma, made the decision to self-publish. Here is what they both had to say:

Morning ladies, what inspired you both to start writing, and what prompted you to do so?

Susan – Hmmm, well, I’ve always loved reading—I learned how to read at age three. And I’ve always loved writing, even school papers. So I ended up working in publishing (the “accidental profession” as some call it), and finally made the transition from editor to writer. It sounds easy, but it was actually rather torturous. In a nutshell, I turned losing my (beloved) editor job at Dance Magazine (the magazine moved from New York to San Francisco and I wanted to stay in New York) into an opportunity to go freelance. After more than ten years of struggle, I became an “overnight success.” (Yes, those are ironic quotation marks.)

Liza – I always had in the back of my mind that I’d love to write a book but it was when some friends encouraged to me stop talking about it and start doing it that I actually sat down and got in with it! That was about 12 years ago, and not long after I had the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy from my PR role and give the writing a proper shot.

Susan, how did you get your idea for your first novel, the Barry Award-winning MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY?

Susan – Ha! I was in London with my husband and we went to a pub with English friends. And one of them hands me a Time Out London magazine and says, “You know, you might want to check out the Churchill War Rooms. Despite what you Yanks may think, World War II didn’t start with Pearl Harbor.” I took it as a challenge and went the next day — and the visit changed my life. Visiting the Churchill War Rooms, walking the same halls as the Prime Minister and his staff, was the catalyst to writing the Maggie Hope series.

What about you Liza, where did you get your inspiration for MORE THAN ENOUGH?

Liza – I started thinking about friendships that turn into affairs when I heard of some unlikely people straying from their marriages. As I got chatting to people I realised many had stories to tell of how something that started off in innocence, could easily have led to something more and it got me thinking about that line between friendship and an emotional affair.

When did you decide to self-publish / traditionally publish?

Susan – I’d worked in traditional publishing my entire professional life (intern at Random House, assistant editor at Viking Penguin, editor and staff writer at Dance Magazine) and so wanted my work to be published by a professional publishing house.

Liza – I tried to get an agent for a while and kept getting lovely responses about the work itself but was repeatedly told the market was too hard to break into for new authors. That’s obviously discouraging to hear when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a book but then a woman I used to work with told me how she’d successfully self-published and that she thought agents were less likely to take a punt on you if you couldn’t prove there was an audience for your work. It gave me the push I need it to get on and self-publish.

What are some of the positives for having chosen to publish in this way?

Susan – Some of the positives are working with an agent, working with an editor, having a team of people working for your book/series — editorial, copyediting, production, sales, marketing, publicity, design, foreign sales, film rights, etc. It’s a team effort. And the payoff has been awards, making the New York Times-bestseller list multiple times, and multiple book contracts.

Liza – It was hugely empowering to be able to get my novel out for people to read at long last and I don’t think there’s a better feeling in the world than when someone tells you they loved reading it! Especially when they say they couldn’t put it down and the characters became like real friends to them.

What are some of the negatives?

Susan – I don’t see any negatives, really! I’m very happy with my agent and publisher.

Liza – On the negative side I hate self-promotion but you can’t get people to read your book without telling them about it. I come from a PR and marketing background so had lots of ideas of how to promote the book but had to carry on with other writing projects to pay the bills so it’s tricky trying to be your own PR team with very little time to do it! I’m really glad that I’ve done it – not least of all to know that people who’ve never met me have enjoyed what I’ve written and that in itself encourages me to keep going.

Would you make the same decision if you had the chance to start again?

Susan – Yes, definitely.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors about publishing?

Susan – My advice to writers mirrors Winston Churchill’s — “Never, never, never give up!”

Liza – For anyone thinking about self-publishing I’d say that finding an agent would potentially be an easier way of launching yourself, especially if you don’t have much time for marketing your work, but if you go for it my top tip would be to pay to have your book edited before you publish. That made all the difference in the world to me; I wanted the very best version of my work to be what people read and I think that if you want people to pay you for your work you need to give them a polished and professional book. To me it was worth every penny and gave me a book that I am very proud of.

Thanks so much for your time ladies, and for your candid answers. They give us a lot to think about!

Readers: I highly recommend you check out Susan Elia MacNeal’s latest in the Maggie Hope series, MRS ROOSEVELT’S CONFIDANT. Utterly gripping page turner that saw me through an otherwise very boring trans-Atlantic flight. Do also have a read of Liza Hoeksma’s brilliant debut novel MORE THAN ENOUGH. As another reader said, the characters feel like your friends by the end.

Until next time… keep writing!

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