Somewhere between the rainbow... Part Two

Nicky Schmidt

One hopes that as more established authors self-publish both new and out of print work, and as debut authors self-publish having made the investment in professionals, the quality of, and attitude towards self-publishing will change. Agent Jenny Bent summed up the benefits of self-publishing, saying: “What I love about self-publishing is that it's opened up the industry so much, and there is no one hard and fast route to success anymore. Self-publishing means that there are now many different ways for an author to be successful.” And as both E L James and Amanda Hocking have shown, dreams of traditional publishing don't have to fade because an author decides to put their work out on their own. 

"Self-publishing means that there are now many different ways for an author to be successful." ~ Jenny Bent

On the flip side and despite the challenges, many writers cling to the dream of being traditionally published where the cost of editing, production, distribution and marketing are borne by the publisher. Nick Cross observed that as tough as it is to get a publishing deal with a big house, one of the greatest advantages of going the traditional route is shared risk. “A commissioning editor takes a professional risk by championing and acquiring your book, and that is part of what drives them to make the book the best it can be. An independent editor, no matter how well-motivated, is never going to feel that sense of ownership. And a publisher who pays to acquire a book is motivated to get it out there and get it selling.” 

While Nick’s view is correct, it doesn’t help the writer who wants the peer recognition of traditional publishing but has a writing shed wallpapered with rejection letters and isn’t willing to accept the perceived stigma of self-publishing. 

Some have suggested the alternative lies in approaching small independent publishers. Anne Rooney believes that, “If there is a 'third way' it is provided by the small independent publishers who are not charging authors, but are offering a larger (or flexible) royalty deal but no advance. They are taking a risk on the book and need it to succeed so will market it, they just don't have the cash-flow for an advance. Some will be perfectly fine publishers - some are start-ups with no significant editorial or market experience, so you have to do your research.” 

But even submitting a manuscript to an independent publisher doesn’t guarantee a deal, and writers may still face rejection. This is when the concept of hybrid publishing holds appeal. 

Hybrid Publishing

Hybrid publishing is a rapidly growing middle ground and stems from aspiring authors realising that in order to publish well, they need to have a team knowledgeable about books and navigating the industry. Team or co-operative publishing and crowd-funded publishing are key to hybrid publishing. 

Team or co-op publishing involves a group of writers getting together to edit, produce and promote a book (usually an e-book). Alternatively, it exists when a writer uses a critique group or fellow writers as beta readers and promoters, and employs a professional editor, proof-reader and illustrator. With crowd-funded publishing a writer invites people to fund their book. The funding may take several forms from straightforward donations to equity-based funding – the writer may carry no financial risk or may be obliged to split the profits. (For more info see the Wiki article, and also look at the top ten crowd-funding sites.) 

Ensuring the critical elements of editorial and marketing expertise, costs. For a writer unable or unwilling to provide the necessary finance, crowd-funding may be the answer - though again, there’s no certainty that funds can be raised. While a “third way” of publishing could involve both a team and crowd-funding approach, the writer would have to, as Nick Cross observed, engage readers from day one. For children’s writers, particularly those without an established market, this could be extremely difficult and may be seen as exploitative. And, as already mentioned, even if the team publishing a book consists of published authors or professional editors, there is no guarantee that a book will be good or well-written, or that it will sell. All team publishing - like self-publishing – ensures is that the book gets into the world. While a novel’s success is never assured, it is the fundamental role of gatekeeping, together with the associated question of risk that remains the biggest stumbling block to any genuine third way of publishing. 

As much as the need exists, at present there appears to be no clear-cut “third way” for children’s writers which involves shared risk, some kind of income guarantee and a quality product. It may be that a third way cannot exist while the issue of financing remains the primary stumbling block. But while a genuine third way may not exist, what writers have, however, are a lot more options to get their stories into the world and find potential success. 

As Kristyn Keene of ICM Partners has said, “Independent publishing has become an important space full of emerging talent, where a writer’s success often leads to a strong relationship with a major publisher.” If you’ve written a good book as well as you can, going out there on your own may well lead to the dream of being successfully traditionally published. It may also lead to an income you might not otherwise have had. The publishing world is no longer an either/or place and writers need to carefully assess their options and be willing to think laterally about their careers. Above all, they need to see them as businesses in which they should be willing to invest not only time but also venture capital. 

I’d like to thank all those who participated in the discussion and made it possible to write this article. 

To read the full discussion thread please go to the SCBWI- BI Facebook page. 

To read one self-published author’s journey with what she calls her A-Team of beta-readers, editors and designers. 

Take a look at Nathan Bransford’s excellent post on how he believes the publishing industry needs to change to accommodate authors in the e-book era.

SCBWI-BI “member abroad”, Nicky Schmidt  is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications director who "retired" early to follow a dream. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction (some of which leans towards New Adult) in the magical realism and supernatural genres. When not off in some other world, Nicky also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words & Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA e-critique group. Nicky lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers.


  1. Thanks for a great post Nicky. The "third way" of publishing does exist, and is being developed in the UK. Our model is based on two principles:
    - Writers should not pay for their work to be published, if it is of publishable standard.
    - While indie publishing is ideal for some writers, most will need to work with an editor and other support to raise their books to the standard readers deserve.

    We're currently looking for writers, self-publishers and designers to take part in beta testing of our platform. There's no commitment at this stage, and there will never be any charges or fees to participants or requirement to buy any books. This is a genuine opportunity to take part in an exciting new development in publishing. For more information, and to express an interest in the beta testing, see our website:

  2. I think I make some excellent points ;-)

    I'm all for new business models and new ways of thinking - indeed for publishing to survive in any form, a lot of innovation has to happen. I'm just yet to be persuaded that any of the new business/creative models are viable for a large swathe of authors. Though, with so many new ideas coming along, perhaps the outcome will be that we will all get pushed into different niche methods of finding publication?

  3. There is a lot of serious debate about this now and we have, thankfully, got away from the two very polarized opinions that have been around for some time and repeated over and over. Certainly my students are giving all of this some serious consideration. They don't all write for children but a significant number write for young and new adults.


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