From Trad-Pub to Self-Pub–Tips and Observations


by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

This is the second time I’ve gotten the rights to my characters back from a publisher and taken a trad-published series to self-pub.  The last time I did this was five years ago.

There were some big differences between this time and last time.  The first time I’d had only one book released in the series before taking it to self-pub.  This time the series had five books in it.

This latest series had a nice following but I found that many of my readers for the Penguin series  seemed unaware of my self-published series.  They would email me asking when the next Southern Quilting Mystery was coming out and I would tell them…and then ask if they knew about my Myrtle Clover series.  Many times they didn’t.

One reason they didn’t is because Penguin didn’t want any non-Penguin books included in my author bio.  I can understand this.  So not only were my self-published books not included in my bio, the original trad-published book in the series (from Midnight Ink) wasn’t, either.

So that’s officially my favorite thing about taking this series to self-pub. I loved, loved, loved being able to advertise my self-pubbed series in the back of the book.  I’m hoping for some real crossover from my audience.

And now for the curiosities from this release.   Print sales have been very strong…I’ve ranked as high as in the top 15,000–18,000 for printed books on Amazon.  It’s also selling well through IngramSpark, which tells me that bookstores are ordering it for customers.

The oddest thing about that to me is that the book clearly isn’t competitively priced in print–it’s running at $10.99, which I think is pretty high.  But when you’re doing POD (print on demand) with CreateSpace and Ingram, that’s the kind of price you have to set to make a profit.

So…why are the readers buying it?  I suspect that’s because these readers always did buy this series in print.  They went to the bookstore and purchased them there.  They want the print edition.

But the book was in mass market paperback size as trad-pub…you just can’t get that in POD.  Are they going to ultimately be upset that this book isn’t exactly the same size as the other books in the series?  I think it would bother me when I looked at the bookshelf.

The ebook sales have been even stronger than the print.  I suspect this is because I set the ebook price at $4.99.  Other releases in the series are at $7.99.  I’m undercutting my other books and the releases of trad-published cozy writers. I had one reader email me in confusion … why was the new release less expensive than the older ones?  Regardless, it’s worked well as a sales strategy.

Takeaways from this and general tips for moving a series to self-pub: 

First off…don’t be afraid to ask for your character rights back for your trad-published series.  This is a lucrative decision.

Secondly, price wisely when you’re releasing the book to gain visibility in a crowded field.  The POD version isn’t going to be priced reasonably, but some readers won’t mind.

Use this opportunity to promote your other series, particularly any self-published series or books from other publishers that you weren’t allowed to promote previously.

Try to make sure the quality of the writing and production (design, editing, etc.) are as good as you can make them. Readers will hold the book to the same standard of the trad-published books.

Ensure Amazon adds your newest book to their list of the books in the series.  They haven’t for me (I just realized it) and that’s something I’ve got to immediately try to fix by contacting Amazon.

Now that you have your rights back, you can fully exploit them.  Consider an audiobook format of the book in the hopes of gaining new readers for the older books…especially if each book in the series reads like a standalone without a continuing arc.  You can even explore translation rights.

Look into putting your book up on IngramSpark so that bookstores are more likely to stock them or order them for customers (bookstores aren’t keen about buying from Amazon, for obvious reasons).  Many of our trad-published readers may be accustomed to buying from a bookstore and we want to get those sales.

Although I had a good experience with this series at Penguin, I feel so much more relaxed now that I’m in control of every aspect of its promo and production.

Now over to you.  Any other trad-pub to self-pub converts out there?  Any self-pubbed writers experimenting with IngramSpark?  What do your print sales look like as a percentage of your digital?

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21 thoughts on “From Trad-Pub to Self-Pub–Tips and Observations

  1. Hi Elizabeth – I see the Corgi and think of the Queen … just that British connotation.

    Thanks for this – so important for anyone who is considering getting published and doing it themselves … I bet it’s a relief … I like to know what’s going on – one can understand one’s own intent … others – not so much.

    Good for you and good luck with lots more sales etc … cheers Hilary

    1. HIlary–I think of the Queen, too! I love the photos of her surrounded with corgis.

      It definitely *is* a relief. With trad-pub, I’d turn in my manuscript and aside from dealing with edits, the book would basically disappear for a year in production.


  2. I hadn’t heard of IngramSpark. I may have to look into this for my Lady Raven books.

    I’m in sort of the opposite position. I’m trying to see if Lady Raven can get picked up by a trad publisher.

    I did ask for rights back to my Memory Wars trilogy, but was refused. It’s a shame; each of the three books is a different size to the others, so between the publisher using POD and how they all look together on a shelf, it’s impossible to convince a bookstore to stock them.

    1. Your books are assets to the trad publisher, and they are increasingly unwilling to relinquish rights. On the other hand, you may be able to buy them back.

  3. It’s a shame all of your books can’t be listed in your bio. I understand the reasoning, but still think it’s a shame. As a reader, I always look to see what else an author has written when I purchase a book (especially if it’s a new-to-me author). Continued success with your self-publishing. Sounds like you’re on a good path.

    1. Mason–I know. I totally got it from a publisher standpoint, but from an author standpoint it was kind of stinky. I just hoped my readers would find my website (that *was* listed prominently in my bio) and see my different series. But not every reader goes to author websites!

      And thanks!

  4. This is really useful, Elizabeth! In fact, I’ve been toying with the idea of self-publishing. Your ideas are really informative, and I’ll definitely put them in the mix as I think about this…

    1. Diane–Ingram has stopped accepting self-pubbed writers at Lightning Source..they’re now directing them to their author interfacing IngramSpark. They’re really setting up a nice shop for indie authors.

  5. Best of luck with self-publishing your freshly retrieved book series. I try to keep my print books at $9.99 even if I make less. It is something about that price especially when the prospective reader factors in shipping!

  6. I haven’t been traditionally published, so getting back rights isn’t a problem and highly unlikely to ever to be a problem–any deal offered to me by a publisher would have to be so sweet that you’d think I was an egomaniac ;) Seriously, though, getting tangled up in a pub contract would have to have some serious payoff.

    Print sales have been rewarding for me–far better than I expected. I opted for the 6 x 9 size and priced them at $15.95, on the theory that those who really want print would not be troubled. I have learned that many sampled the series with the cheap first ebook or promo prices, then decided they wanted the books in print to keep and share. This of course is a different situation than yours, where you have long-running series that were originally in print and you’d like some continuity.

    You are right about being available via Ingram–cluster sales of the books indicate that bookstores might have picked them up. Wish I knew which ones, as I’d love to thank them!

    1. Meg–I didn’t like the last contract I saw…riddled with non-competes.

      It’s fascinating to me that there are still so many who want printed books. I’ve completely run out of room in my house for more printed books, unless I stack them on the floor!

  7. I’m just getting started – I have two individual novels and have started a series – I’m working on the third in the series and have plans for a total of five. I recently read about serials and am toying with the idea of adding that to my series.
    My sales are almost entirely ebooks (my genre is scifi). I set up POD (Create Space) for my first book in response to a friend’s request and now do it routinely – I’ve heard Amazon considers if there’s a POD in their rankings, tho not sure if that’s true.
    I’m still surprised whenever I sell a POD.
    Love the Corgi. I had a Pembrook once and he’s still my favorite dog. He always looked at me with that happy face. (What’s with the hammer?)

    1. Kate–Honestly, when I was on the phone with an Amazon rep for about an hour the other day, she kept stressing to me that Amazon KDP and CreateSpace are two completely different companies. So I’m not sure it plays into the mix at all.

      Corgis are great! The hammer is a branding thing….the element of danger in the frothy cozy cover.

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