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Traditional, Indie or Self Pub? Which Did You Choose? And Why?
By C.V. Lee
March 19, 2021

Now that I have completed the major revisions to my work-in-progress (WIP), ROSES & REBELS, the time to make a decision about how to publish my novel is rapidly approaching. There are more options now then in the past. Do I choose the traditional route of querying agents and praying that my novel gets picked up by a big publishing house? Or do I look to smaller, independent publishers? Would it fit my personality better to avoid the hassle and opt to self-publish? And now hybrid publishing, a cross between traditional and self-publishing, has been thrown into the mix. So naturally I turned to people I trust, my fellow Lanterns, who have taken this journey before me, for advice.

With five books under her belt, Linda Ulleseit tried various options to find what works best for her.

I was thrilled when my first book, ON A WING AND A DARE, was accepted by a small traditional publisher called Briona Glen. It felt immediately validating, that someone else thought my writing was good. They were just starting out, and I liked the idea of being in on their ground floor, helping them shape the company and building a relationship with them for future books. It took well over a year for the book to be published, at no cost to me. Briona Glen used Createspace (now a part of Amazon) to print the books, just as I had done with anthologies of student work for my classroom. They did no marketing for my book and did not have any kind of catalog or sales force. Bookstores would not stock the book, and Amazon orders had long lead times. I ended my contract with them amicably and took back the rights to ON A WING AND A DARE.


When it came time to publish my next three books, I really didn’t want to bow and scrape to agents in order to get a publishing deal. I decided to self publish. I paid a nominal amount for a book cover, but did the interior and editing myself with the help of beta readers. All three books looked good and I was proud of them. Bookstores still would not stock them, however, and again all marketing was up to me. Social media didn’t exist in 2014 like it does today, so all I had was my blog and word of mouth for IN THE WINDS OF DANGER, UNDER A WILD AND DARKENING SKY, and UNDER THE ALMOND TREES.


For my most recent book, THE ALOHA SPIRIT, I knew I needed to extend my marketing reach. I decided to go with She Writes Press, chosen Independent Publisher of the Year in 2019. It cost a bit to get the book published, but in return I got a more beautiful product. An unexpected benefit are the authors I’ve met through She Writes Press, who are a tremendously supportive group of women. The book is stocked at Ingram Publisher Services, so it is available for bookstore ordering, and it’s included in the She Writes Press catalog. I paid extra for a publicity package that put my book in front of social media influencers and online magazines. If I sell enough books to break even, and some authors do, it will take several years to do so. Even six months after publication, though, my novel is selling better than previous books, and my social media platform is growing!

Ana Brazil recalls her experience.

I went with a small, independent book publisher, Sand Hill Review Press, to publish FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER. I’d gone the agent-big-publishing-house route a few years earlier, and although I’d gotten the agent, he never got me a contract with a publishing house of any size.

I went with an Indie publisher–when the other option was to self-publish FANNY NEWCOMB–because I like working with people. I like being able to bounce ideas off of editors and book designers and other strategists. Back when FANNY was published (before the advent of Paper Lantern Writers) self-publishing seemed a too-lonely route to take.

Edie Cay has two self published books, A LADY’S REVENGE and THE BOXER AND THE BLACKSMITH, romances set in the Regency Era that don’t quite fit the Regency Romance criteria.

I chose to self-publish. I spent years writing my novels, crafting excellent synopses, pitch-perfect query letters, and attending conferences in order to connect with agents. I ended up learning a great deal at conferences and met lots of lovely and wonderful authors and agents. But despite winning awards and getting manuscript requests, nothing ever materialized. I would spend a year sending my manuscript to agents, only to hear that they ultimately had to pass.

Finally I started writing my romance novel–MY romance novel. The kind I wanted to read: a snarky, feral, alpha heroine–and a man who doesn’t feel the need to control her or rein her in, but rather gives her the tools she needed to be successful. And I submitted it here and there to romance agents and imprints, only to get the feedback that she was too angry. And that wasn’t feedback I wanted to do anything about. So I self-published, and launched an Indie romance author career. And I love it. My heroines don’t fit the mold of historical romance. They aren’t Snow White clones. They aren’t dainty, family-oriented, and deferential. They are unabashedly themselves. And I love them.

Rebecca D’Harligue chose the hybrid model.

Like many authors, I had hoped to have my debut novel, THE LINES BETWEEN US, traditionally published. I read articles, watched videos, and went to conferences. I did my very best to follow the advice on how to choose agents to query, how to write the letter, and how to present my book. Several agents asked for the full manuscript.

Each time I was filled with hope, and anxiously awaited the decision, but no one offered to represent my book. I get it. Agents can only take on works that they think they can get a publisher to buy, and that is ever more difficult, especially for the works of unknown authors. Finally, after a year of this, I decided to take my fate into my own hands, and look into publishing with a hybrid publisher.

 It wasn’t an easy decision, but I decided that I was ready to invest in myself, in my writing. Yes, I pay to get my books printed, but with my publisher, She Writes Press, I have more control over design, there is traditional distribution, and royalties are paid at a higher rate than with a traditional publisher. I am happy with the decision that I made, even though it was a bumpy road to get here. I think I’ll skip the year of querying for my next book. Time is too precious.

That gives me a lot to think over. I’d love to hear your experience and what you would recommend for me.

C.V. Lee
Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

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