The (Writing) Craft Club

Question: What genres (adult fiction) do well in Self-pub and which in trad pub? Also what about the literary vs commercial fiction? What do you think we should consider before choosing a direction?


True genre fiction series do well in self pub IF you are able to reach your target audience. Romance and its subgenres, mystery and it subgenres, fantasy and its subgenres, etc. The more sub-niche you get, the more likely self pub is the right answer.

Literary fiction does better in trad pub. Upmarket does better in trad pub. Standalone fiction tends to do better in trad pub.

Children’s books and YA tend to, across the board, do better in trad pub.

All of those are general trends. Trends CHANGE – so don’t assume that because something is doing better in trad or self pub right NOW that it will be the same in six months. Look for data. Join groups and ask people who are selling in the marketplace at that moment.

Here is my general list of pros and cons that I share when people are trying to decide between trad and self pub:

There is no simple answer to the question of “Which type of publishing is better?” Neither is right for every author or every book. Each has its pros and cons. You have to weigh the pros and cons against your unique situation to determine which solution is better for you.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING might be the better choice if you…

–Have one standalone novel.

–Plan to write only this one book.

–Plan to write a series or multiple books, but write only one book a year or so.

–Write picture books, chapter books, or books for young YA readers, because it’s difficult to get self-published books in front of this buying audience.

–Have no money to invest up front.

–Want an advance.

–Want to get your book on bookstore shelves.

–Dream of having a movie made of your novel or want to win prizes or get chosen by Oprah.

–Would like some (limited) help with marketing, especially at and before launch.

–Want the validation of success on the traditional publishing stage or just the reassurance that your book was one of the few good enough to make it through the gauntlet of gatekeepers.

–Are willing to invest the time it takes to query agents, get the manuscript ready for submission to publishers, and produce the final book.

–Can handle the rejection, criticism, and rewrites that come with working with agents and editors.

–Have written a book that falls cleanly into one genre AND meets the narrow word-count guidelines for that genre.

SELF PUBLISHING might be the better choice if you…

–Have written this book just for fun and want to make it available to family and friends.

–Are writing a series.

–Write prolifically, producing several publication-ready manuscripts per year.

–Write shorts, novelettes, or novellas.

–Write erotica, particularly types that appeal to niche audiences.

–Have written a book that might be deemed hard to sell because it crosses genres or is in a genre not selling well commercially.

–Can afford to invest money in professional editing, a quality cover, or other service.

–Know who your potential buyers are and have a solid plan for reaching them.

–Want to publish quickly (or NOW).

–Cannot handle the rejection, criticism, and rewrites that come with working with agents and editors.

A word about money…

–Self publishing pays a significantly higher royalty percentage, but there are potentially high upfront production costs if you want to put out a professional-looking product. It’s a risk either way. If you don’t invest, you likely won’t sell many copies because your book will LOOK amateurish. If you do invest, you may not sell ENOUGH copies to make back that investment.

–Traditional publishing pays a small royalty percentage, but you have NO upfront financial investment (or risk), and the publisher covers all production costs.

–Self published books tend to sell only a few copies. The average is around 50 copies. The risk of not recouping your investment is very high.

–Traditionally published books sell an average of around 5000 copies.

–Books that are self published “well” tend to sell more copies.

I’m a huge proponent of “self publishing well.” However self publishing well takes a fair amount of money, excellent craft, and a LOT of business knowledge.

I strongly believe that writers should FIRST traditionally publish – for several reasons:

  1. Being accepted for traditional publishing gives you external validation that your writing is READY for publishing. (Hint: Professional editing does NOT ensure that!)

  2. Traditional publishing gives you a wide fan base that you can leverage for self published books in the future.

  3. Traditional publishing will introduce you to the business side of publishing, and do so with a much easier learning curve than you’ll face if you self publish first.

  4. If you self publish first, you’ve blown your debut status. If you want to traditionally publish in the future, you have to show them that your published books have good sales. They don’t care if they were self published – low sales mean no one wants to read your books. (There are ways to mitigate the damage, namely using a pen name for future books – but you will have to be honest with agents and publishers upfront, and they may choose not to deal with the hassle.)


Just to emphasize again: Self pub may be the right answer IF and ONLY IF you are able to get your book in front of its target audience.

  • Self pub is not “Write it and your audience will find you.”
  • Posting on Amazon and doing nothing else will get you nothing.
  • Defining your target audience is HARD.
  • Reaching your audience is HARD and requires creativity and, usually, money.
  • What “works” when advertising changes constantly. CONSTANTLY. What works today won’t work in 6 mos. Pretty much guarantee it. You have to stay on top of the “latest and greatest” forever. It sucks.

(I can’t help with marketing. NOT my specialty.)


That was really informative and useful, thank you! I write mostly adult fantasy, and I’ve chosen to go trad pub first, and I was questioning the decision, and this has really helped cement my choice!


Trad first has a LOT of value. Going trad to start doesn’t mean you have to stay there.


Yup. My choice mostly comes due to age and cost, and I could self pub, but that would take me to a very limited release in my country, not anything like Trad pub’s reach. I know foreign rights deals are difficult, but I’m hoping to shop it to local publishers when I have a solid deal with a wider reach, if I still own those rights, that is.


I want to add a standalone post. :slight_smile:

A week or so ago, on a different forum, someone asked for information about traditionally publishing a book. A man responded with “Self publish instead! Traditional publishing isn’t worth the hassle.”

I called him out on it: His statement is demonstrably false. Whether traditional publishing will be “worth the hassle” depends on the writer’s GOALS. He and I chatted a bit in the thread, and it turned out:

  • He was writing a VERY sub- sub-niche. Tiny, specialized audience. He was a member of that audience, able to reach it himself. Trad pub would never have picked up his books, because they wouldn’t have sold enough copies to recoup their investment.

  • He didn’t care about making money. He didn’t publish for financial reasons.

He made the right move for himself and his goals. But I’m willing to bet that MOST people weren’t in his exact situation.

My point: When someone dogmatically tells you that one way or the other is the BEST, RIGHT WAY, dig into that person and his goals. Are they the same as yours? If so, talk more! They may be right! But if not, keep researching and asking questions.

I’ve found a lot of people with the most dogmatic advice know the least about the industry and are basing their advice solely on their limited experience.


I’ve got some time this weekend. Anyone have any craft or trad publishing questions?


I think all advice comes from that space, tbh. Rarely someone will dig into your specific situation and walk you through what you need to do. And even if they would, in most cases, I think if you could have done that, you would have done it already. Sorry, I am in a bit of a downer mood.


Definitely true that people rarely walk through your specific situation. They CAN’T unless they’ve read the manuscript and know your financial situation, your goals, etc.

What I was really talking about was biased, one-sided advice. Few things in life are black and white – publishing definitely isn’t. There are pros and cons to every choice. To present the pros without discussing the cons is at best disingenuous. At worst, it’s flat out deceptive. The best answers, in my opinion, give you some insight into pros, cons, alternative choices, and their pros and cons.

People should be educated fully, even if you have a strong opinion about the “right” decision.


I think if they were really successful, they might not even really see cons or imagine how everyone might not want or be able to do what they did.


I’m around off and on for the weekend. Any questions about writing craft or trad pub?

What do you find the most challenging part of writing?

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How can I pace a story to be a slow burn, but not boring.


That hits in the feels


Right in the middle?


What’s more frowned upon by agents: starting with a flashback or starting with a dream?

Hehe. I sure love the controversial topics.


Oh, boy. Now you’ve done it! Personal preference as a reader: flashback.

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That’s a great question. I would do a couple of things:

  • Break the the specific plot arc or character arc you want to be a slow burn into tiny, progressive steps. It keeps moving forward, but it’s moving forward only a tiny bit at a time. (And don’t forget setbacks!!)
  • Make the story and character arcs more complex, so there are STILL things happening – still conflict and tension moving things forward – even if the specific plot arc or character arc you want to be a slow burn is progressing only in tiny steps.

Not being boring means you need other things happening, and they need to keep happening. Don’t focus on this one thing only, or, yeah, it won’t be a slow burn and readers will get frustrated.


Starting poorly.

You can do either IF you do it really, really well. The problem is neither is easy to do well. A dream, for example, either doesn’t make sense (which is a terrible experience on page 1) or is a gimmick for backstory or a clumsy infodump. For the most part, that’s what flashbacks on page 1 are too. “We think you need to know this in order to understand the story we want to tell, so…here you go.”

BUT… if you do it well, they’ll tip their hat and keep reading.

The competition is painfully tough. You have to nail every page, but especially the first one. Don’t make it easy for them to put the manuscript down.


You’ve mentioned that niche or genre-blending works do better in self-publishing, as do series. That’s good insight. Thanks.

Now I have a question regarding all of the above.

When you have a series, will it hurt to go in a slightly different (though related) niche in each book? Will it upset the readers if they don’t find the same subgenre in each book?

Let's get specific.

As a full series, what I’m writing will count as epic fantasy, but each book isn’t epic in itself and has a subgenre and tropes that I think would appeal to a very specific audience.

Book 1.
Genre: Science-fantasy.
Subgenre: Arcanepunk.
Tropes: gay romance, paranormal elements (demons), the myth of Merlin, time travel.

Book 2 (not a sequel but happens concurrently, different place, different cast).
Genre: High fantasy.
Tropes: paranormal elements (angels).

Book 3 (a sequel to both, the cast from both books meet)
Genre: not sure yet. Could be a paranormal fantasy or some strange combination of all genres and tropes from books 1 and 2.

Book 4 (originally was going to be part of book 3 but might not fit in one book)
Genre: Epic fantasy.
Tropes: all of the above plus a battle between angels and demons.

Hehe, not done. I also have prequels.

Prequel 1.
Genre: High fantasy.
Subgenre: Skypunk.
Tropes: demons, dragons, prophecies.

Prequel 2.
Genre: Paranormal mystery.
Subgenre: Arcanepunk.
Tropes: demons, time travel.

My worry is whether the fans of Book 1 would be disappointed in not seeing the same science-fantasy or gay romance in book 2.

Should I try to incorporate similar tropes in each book or can I trust the readers to enjoy each no matter how different it is from the previous?

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