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Traditional or Indie – what’s the best route to publication?

by Tessa Buckley

Until about ten years ago, getting a deal with a traditional publishing company was virtually the only way to get a book into print. Since them, of course, self-publishing has mushroomed into a huge industry in its own right, and the most successful Indie authors report book sales in the hundreds of thousands. That’s only the lucky few, though. Many Indie authors struggle to sell even a few hundred copies of their book. 

 As a ‘hybrid’ author, I have gone down both routes. My non-fiction work, The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book, was picked up by a traditional publisher, the Sheldon Press. Although aimed at a niche market (people with MS using nutritional medicine), it has sold steadily over the years and is available in libraries. Recently, Sheldon asked me to produce a new, updated version, so hopefully it will continue to sell for many years to come. In my experience, it’s much easier to find a publisher for a non-fiction book than it is for a novel, especially if you can see a gap in the market, and can demonstrate that you have knowledge or experience in that particular field. 

Finding a publisher for my novels, however, was an entirely different matter. In 2001, when I tried to sell my first novel, a children’s adventure story, the situation was very different. Although I realise now that the book – like most first novels – was nowhere near ready for publication, I still got two very encouraging responses. One large publisher sent me a very nice letter suggesting that I show them, my next book, and one agency told me they actually read my manuscript through twice before deciding it was not for them. This is unlikely to  happen today, when many agents and publishers are not even accepting submissions any more as they no longer have enough staff to deal with the sheer volume of manuscripts that flood through their letterboxes. In this climate you can be the best writer in the world, and still not manage to get a publishing deal.  

 This, then, is one reason that I chose to self-publish my three more recent books, a series of children’s mystery novels. Another is that with twenty years of writing experience behind me, and having achieved one traditional publishing deal, I felt that I was now a good enough writer to write novels that were up to a professional standard. Add to that the fact that I’m not getting any younger, and I didn’t feel I could afford to wait years to catch the eye of an agent or publisher. (Even Harry Potter was rejected twelve times before the book was finally taken up by a publisher). 

 Since 2014, when Eye Spy, the first of my children’s books, was published as an ebook, I’ve been on a huge learning curve. Too late, I learnt (a) that children prefer paperbacks to ebooks and (b) that without a proper marketing plan, you might as well not bother. Five years later, with the first two books in the series now on sale as paperbacks, and the third book due to be published at the end of October, I’m just beginning to hit my stride. I’ve learnt that to convince readers to buy your books, you need a professionally edited manuscript, a professionally-designed cover, and the services of a competent proof-reader. You need to put a marketing plan in place months before publication date, and you need to get your author name out there using every means possible: social media, newspapers and magazines, radio interviews, school visits – whatever it takes. 

 Although the number of novels I have sold so far is in the hundreds, not thousands, I don’t regret the decision to self-publish. Along the way, I have joined two writer’s groups, who give me much-needed advice and support. I have also joined the local writer’s network, and in the process made new friends and colleagues, and have taken part in the Essex Book Festival. Best of all, I am now an active member of the local community, something that might never have happened if I had gone for a traditional publishing deal and continued to beaver away in isolation, leaving the marketing and promotion of my books to a publisher 

Tessa began her writing career after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. You can find out more about her books here –

In this climate you can be the best writer in the world, and still not manage to get a publishing deal.