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Independent Publishing Versus Traditional: Which One is Better for You? With Author Jennifer J. Chow

Updated: Apr 11

Uncertainty. As authors, we confront this challenge every day, whether it's in the midst of our creative pursuits while juggling day jobs or, more significantly, when deciding between the traditional and independent publishing routes. But, if uncertainty is the obstacle that holds us back from making this crucial decision, knowledge can be the guiding light that sets us free.

In this insightful exploration, we have the privilege of hearing from Jennifer J. Chow, an accomplished author celebrated for her four cozy mystery series, a young adult novel, and another captivating standalone work. Jen's journey to success was far from straightforward. She has walked the varied roads of self-publishing, indie publishing, and traditional publishing. This diverse experience has given her a unique, insider perspective, one she has graciously agreed to share with us—and now, with you.

Consider Your Personality

Jen's initial advice might come as a surprise to many, as it's not about diving straight into the pros and cons of indie versus traditional publishing. Instead, she wisely suggests looking inward. She says, “One is: your personality I would say is a big chunk of it.” When making your decision, Jen recommends posing two fundamental questions to yourself.


How much do you want to be in control of the process?

Jen emphasizes that publishing is often a collaborative effort. You may have your vision, and your input matters, but in traditional publishing, other stakeholders also have a say. Jen says, “You have your vision, and you have some say. But then they also have a say.” 

In contrast, as an indie author, you get to call all the shots. She says, “If you wanted to, as an indie author, put out a sale with some other authors, like a book bundle sale, it’s a lot easier to do that because you can pivot and do it quickly.” Are you the kind of individual who revels in having absolute control over every step of the process, or do you prefer to take a step back and invite others to contribute to your creative journey? 


How are you at managing certain things? Being an indie author you are in total control, but you also are managing a lot of things.

She explains, “As an indie author you did all of the work, right? And small presses, too, they have some help; but usually the staff is just carrying so much that it's still harder to get a lot done. And they're probably spread across different books.” Reflect on your organizational skills and ability to project manage. If you're someone who thrives on being organized and can handle multitasking effectively, then indie publishing might be the perfect fit for you.

Determine Your Marketing Tolerance

The marketing aspect of indie and traditional publishing is undoubtedly one of the most discussed aspects of this choice. However, upon closer examination, there may be less difference than initially perceived. While traditional publishing does handle some of the marketing for your work, it's essential to understand that you'll likely still have a role to play in the process.

Jen says,

The promotion side it's collaborative, right? So I have marketing and publicity contacts for the publisher, and they have a publishing timeline/marketing plan. And so they do give me that. And then they set up some events. But then there are other things that I pulled on my end. If I wanted to reach out to a blog or something, then I could do that on my side and supplement the actions that the publisher was taking.

On the other hand, when considering indie publishing, it's crucial not to assume that you'll have to manage everything entirely on your own. Jen recommends, “Ideally, you’re contracting out stuff because I don't think one single individual could do everything. So you probably are contracting out for your editing, cover art, interior design—and that all takes being able to organize it. And it takes a lot of promotional know-how after you market and you publish because there's a lot of stuff out there.”

While both paths will involve some level of marketing participation, it's essential not to expect a hands-off experience in either case. Choose the direction that aligns with your comfort level. Are you more inclined towards a collaborative approach where you're involved but not solely responsible? Then traditional publishing might be your choice. If you prefer to take charge and have full control over the marketing approach, consider going the indie route.

Discover Your Timeline Preference

Have you ever considered timing as a factor when choosing between indie and traditional? If you haven’t, now is the time (pun intended). 

Jen says,

Traditional press will be the longest lead time, so it'll be one to two years, let's say, after you turn in your draft. But then you get a lot of extras. You get a lot of extra rounds of editing. You get a lot of whatever the art department is doingthe cover. But it'll take longer.

On the other hand, when it comes to indie publishing, Jen highlights the flexibility, saying,

Indie you can do whenever you want. Indie is flexible if you are a fast writer as well. If you like to publish things in rapid succession, which some readers also love, if you publish every couple months or something like that, then that would probably be a route that you would want to take.


No matter which path you choose, Jen advises not to compare yourself with others and not to focus on the short-term, where it’s hard to have perspective on the progress you’ve made. Instead she says, “If you can take a leap from yourself from five years ago, to where you are now, I think that's a better indicator. And it's kind of more encouraging.” 

If you found Jen’s insights helpful, please subscribe; and check out more of her insights in the blog post, “Leveraging Relationships to Successfully Query Agents: How Author Jennifer J. Chow Did It.” 

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