Guest Post – Susan Lyons

Home on The Rangecover_finding_isadora_200pxsusan_lyonsTraditionally Published or Indie – That Is The Question

You’ve been traditionally published and now you’ve released an indie published book. Which do you prefer?

So far, traditional publishing. Even though my advances aren’t huge, they’re money in the bank that I’m sure of. Writing is an uncertain, high risk business, so having some amount of security is very nice. Also, I have no reason at the moment to believe I’ll make as much with self-publishing as I do with my traditionally published books. I also like having that second opinion from a professional editor, validating that my work really is ready to see the light of day (and yes, with self-publishing I can hire an editor to give editorial input but that’s not the same as having a publishing house give their stamp of approval). Also, while I’m very much an e-book reader myself, I know that a lot of readers still prefer print and like to shop at book stores, or pick up books at grocery or drug stores, so I appreciate that traditional publishing gets my work into some of those venues.

What is the best part of traditional publishing?  What is the worst part?

For me, I think the best part is the validation that two major publishing houses choose to publish my work. The worst part is the lack of control over anything other than my own work. I don’t control the publishing schedule, the cover, the cover blurb, the publishing houses’ marketing, or their distribution.

What is the best part of Indie publishing? What is the worst?

I love the way it’s opened up options for writers. The best part is the opportunity to publish work that a traditional publisher might not pick up – e.g., because it’s not the kind of thing I normally write for them, or they’ve already contracted for as many books as they can take from me, or it doesn’t fit a standard genre so they don’t think they can effectively market it. I can write a book I love and not obsess over whether a publisher will buy it, because I now have the option of publishing it myself, without too much cost or effort involved.

I see two worst parts. One is the amount of work and money involved. All the things that a publishing house would do, I now have to do myself – or pay to have done. And there are a lot of those things, from editing to copy-editing, cover design, formatting to meet the requirements of each distributor (e.g., Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, CreateSpace), contracts (appalling ones!) with distributors, uploading each version, testing, revising as needed. It’s a huge amount of work, and I’m a writer because I want to write, not to do these other things. Notice that I didn’t mention marketing in the list, because even with a traditional publisher, unless you’re one of their top selling authors, you’re expected to do much of the marketing yourself. The other worst thing is quality and discoverability. Because anyone can write a book and self-publish it, the number of books available has increased exponentially, quality varies hugely, and it’s difficult for an author (whether self-published or traditionally published) to have her books discovered by readers.

As a new writer starting out now which way would you go?

I would try the traditional route for at least my first three or four manuscripts. I would join Romance Writers of America, learn all the industry information (on traditional publishing and self-publishing) that I could, and try to find an agent. If I was offered an acceptable contract (e.g., one that offered a decent advance and didn’t tie my hands too tightly in terms of option clause and non-compete clause, and that had a reasonable rights reversion clause), then I’d sign.


The experience of traditional publishing, of working with an experienced editor, art department, marketing department, etc., is invaluable, whether an author chooses to continue on that route or to move to self-publishing, or to do both. If I submitted several manuscripts to several publishers and did not receive a contract offer, but received good rejection letters (e.g., letters saying that my writing was great, or very close to being publishable, but my books weren’t a good fit for that publisher), then I’d think seriously about going the self-pub route and hiring good editorial and copy-editing services to help me polish my work. If I got rejections that weren’t “good” (e.g., dozens of form letter rejections, or rejections indicating my work wasn’t up to snuff), then I’d keep working on my craft because I would never want to self-publish work that was below par.

How do you see traditional publishing changing?

Traditional publishers have certainly paid attention to digital publishing and are doing their best to adapt to the new world. The vast majority of their print books are also published in e-book format for all e-readers. Often they’ll mix e-titles and print releases for an author (e.g., with my Caribou Crossing Romances). Most publishers have also set up “e-book only” and/or “e-book first” arms. Traditional publishers also pay attention to who’s doing well with self-publishing and offer some authors contracts, which some authors take because they see benefits to the publisher’s editorial, marketing, and distribution services, and other authors reject because they’re pretty sure they’ll make more money self-publishing and they like to be in control. In special cases (e.g., Bella Andre and Harlequin), the publisher may agree to a contract for print rights only, while the author retains e-book rights.

 What would be your ultimate goal as a writer, be it traditional or indie?

My long-term goal has been, for more than ten years now, to make a decent living as a fiction writer, and I’m still working on achieving that. The other goal is to be happy with my career. For me, the ideal would be to write two to three books a year and to write both contemporary romance and women’s fiction (and occasionally something else that strikes my fancy). I would like to either work with great teams at two different publishing houses or to work with one terrific traditional publisher and also do self-publishing. I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket.


Award-winning author Susan Lyons, who also writes as Susan Fox and Savanna Fox, writes “emotionally compelling, sexy contemporary romance” (Publishers Weekly). She is currently published by Kensington (the Caribou Crossing Romances) and Berkley (the Dirty Girls Book Club series), and has also self-published her first book. Susan is a Pacific Northwester with homes in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. She has degrees in law and psychology, and has had a variety of careers, including perennial student, computer consultant, and legal editor. Fiction writer is by far her favorite, giving her an outlet to demonstrate her belief in the power of love, friendship, and a sense of humor.


15 thoughts on “Guest Post – Susan Lyons

  1. Hi Susan
    Great Post. I really enjoyed reading your take on the ever-changing landscape of publishing. It’s so hard to know where you fit in it, as a writer. I like how you break it down and look at it quite logically. Thanks for sharing.
    I do love your new look.
    Best to both of you.

  2. Pat, thanks so much for doing this interview. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about traditional and self-publishing, so this was a great opportunity to organize my thoughts. And Jo-Ann, thanks for reading, and for your comments.

  3. Thank-you for the great blog Pat and Susan I really appreciate the insight you’ve shared from your experience within the industry. As a new aspiring author I have been trying to decide on the road to take also, I was leaning towards trying for traditional. Liked seeing what to expect from rejection letters, there I said it lol, I know they’re bound to occur so It’s helpful to know what to expect from them.
    I was wondering about the importance of agents? Some publishers, Harlequin for one, have lines that don’t require an agent and while I know they are important for going through contracts, do you think with such an established publisher as Harlequin it would still be benificial to have one?

  4. Good post Susan. It’s such a changing landscape out there, it helped me, as a yet-to-be-published author stick to my resolve to try for the traditional route for a while longer.

  5. Thanks, Judy and Jacquie. Jacquie, you asked about agents. My first sale was unagented, to Kensington, a publisher that’s still open to seeing unagented submissions. I now have an agent and really value her input on contracts, where to submit work, etc. I think a good agent is a valuable ally when you’re submitting to traditional publishers and when you’re negotiating contracts with them. However, Harlequin’s case is a little different, at least for their category/series lines. Harlequin doesn’t do a lot of negotiating unless you’re a really big name author. Those contracts are pretty much boilerplate. And once you sell to Harlequin and have an editor there, you generally keep submitting proposals to the same editor. There’s not a lot an agent can do for you with Harlequin category, in my opinion, and you pay an agent 15% of what you earn. If an author was writing for a Harlequin series and also wanted to explore writing something different for another publisher, then an agent’s industry knowledge and contacts could be really useful. What a number of us did when we were unpublished was submit to agents and also submit to publishers that accepted unagented submissions. If you get an offer from a publisher and don’t have an agent, the offer might help you get a good one – or you also have the option of paying a good literary attorney to review and negotiate the contract for you. Hope this helps a little.

  6. Jackie I’m glad you like the blog. There’s so much out there and having the insight of authors who have the experience is invaluable. If you can come to the Fall Workshop in Nanaimo you’ll have a chance to talk to an agent or editor.


  7. Hi Susan, you’ve been an inspiration to some of us who know just how hard you’ve had to work in your career, the drawbacks you’ve overcome and we thank you for the lessons you’ve shared.

  8. Lovely, informative post Susan. I’ve followed your journey for about a decade I think now. I truly appreciate your detailed description of the paths you’ve chosen. I admire your work ethic and ability to get your work ‘out there’ to readers.
    I’m looking forward to reading Finding Isadora. It’s on my Kindle. All I need is some time. I think it’s so gratifying to independently publish a book ‘of the heart’. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed your insights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>