Indie Vs. Traditional: Interview With Author Alexandria Szeman

This week, we continue our past interview with author Dr. Alexandria Constantinova Szeman, most recently of Love is a Many Zombied ThingThis week we go over the different publishing types she has experienced (last week, we talked author income).

In your opinion, was one type of publishing more enjoyable than another?

I was incredibly excited about publishing with my first book with HarperCollins, but no other viable alternative existed for writers in 1992. After I had an agent and after my first book sold, I thought I would never have to deal with rejection again; having dealt with rejection for over 15 years, I thought I’d finally “made it.” You never actually “make it” in traditional publishing , however, as everything is based on the financial success – not critical success – of your most recently published book. The editor who “adored” my first book and wanted to be my editor “for the rest of my life” rejected my next three manuscripts, despite HC’s Option clause, so my agent sold the books elsewhere.

The most significant advantage of traditional publishing is that the author receives an Advance, although for literary fiction, which is primarily what I write, an Advance might be as low as $1K. If you win a prize, then the prize might be publication without any cash Advance, which happened with three of my books. Besides an Advance, the only other advantage of traditional publishing, even now, 25 years after my first novel was sold, is that publishers might send out galley copies to reviewers, though there is no guarantee that the publisher will do that, nor is there ever any guarantee of a review.

Otherwise, the author loses all control of the book: everything is decided by the editor – cover, editorial copy, internal design. The marketing is always the responsibility of the author. No one ever told me that, not even my agent, and I had to pay for my first book tour myself (though the publicist at HarperCollins booked all my readings, and, after the New York Times review came out, my agent convinced HC to reimburse me for the expenses [it took me a year to save enough money to go on my first book tour, and I got reimbursed about 8 months after the tour]).

In traditional publishing, authors get paid 1-2 times a year. Indie publishing, at least with Amazon, give authors some money every month.

Because of the loss of author control over the final product and the marketing aspect, Indie publishing is more rewarding than traditional publishing, especially given the wealth of social media opportunities today. Bear in mind that I’ve only Indie published two books: all my others were either traditionally published or accepted for publication by traditional publishers.

With the advent of e-books and Indie publishing, I was able to put my Out-of-Print (OP) books back into print, a task previously impossible since agents had to re-sell any OP books and since editors assumed that all OP books had failed to earn out their Advance, even if an author had the royalty statements to prove that the previous publisher did, in fact, earn out its Advance. Publishers are not interested in re-publishing OP books. The only reason my second publisher took The Kommandant’s Mistress and put it back into print after HarperCollins took it OP was because Patrick Stewart had the film option on it, the book had earned out its initial Advance, and my agent literally gave the book to the second publisher for free when he bought the second novel for $10K. We were more interested in getting the book back into print and available to readers than getting any money for an Advance, which we no doubt would not have received.

When I started my own traditional publishing House after retiring from University, I had to learn how to design book covers, purchase cover art, design book interiors, write editorial copy, Pitch books, and get them distributed in bookstores. All of that made it easier for me to transition into Indie publishing. Learning to format e-books is easier than designing paper books. Since I’d already learned how to make websites with HTML before templates were available, and since e-books are merely one long webpage in HTML converted into an e-book for the device like Kindle or Nook, learning e-books was a snap.

I see all my own sales statements now, e-book and paper, and I have control over the final products, so I prefer Indie publishing for that reason alone.

I never dreamt I’d be publishing my own books, even if they were OP ones, because of the historical taint of self-publishing: bookstores usually will not carry self-published books unless the authors are local, and brick & mortar bookstores like Barnes & Noble refuse the acknowledge the difference between Indie published (an author who was previously traditionally published) and self-published (an author with no traditional publishing experience). Even now, Barnes & Noble, which used to carry all my titles, will not carry my books, though my titles were all originally traditionally published. (B& does carry all my titles, as does who would’ve ever imagined that Walmart would carry literary fiction and poetry?)

At this point in my career, having spent 33 years in traditional publishing and 7 in Indie publishing, I’d take Indie publishing, if only because of the control the author has over the final product, and because even traditionally published authors have to do their own marketing. Of course, if any traditional publisher wants to give me a huge Advance for one of my books…

What are you currently working on? What are your goals regarding writing at this time? 

I am currently revising a novel about serial killers that was rejected by traditional publishers as being “too scary.” (Actually, the younger editors loved the book but didn’t have enough political clout to purchase it. The older, more politically powerful editors read the entire manuscript but didn’t want to make an offer since they felt it would “scare readers.”) After I revise my serial killer novel, I have an historical novel that has been waiting for revision for 3 years, so I’ll get back to working on that. I also have to write the next 2 books in The Zombied Trilogy (book one, Love is a Many Zombied Thing, is already published).

My writing goals are the same as they’ve always been: to write the best possible poetry or stories that I can. My goal as an author is to learn how to market my work better.

About Alexandria

Alexandria Szeman is the author of New York Times Book Review Notable Book and University of Rochester’s Kafka Award winner for “the outstanding book of prose fiction” The Kommandant’s Mistress,  as well as the true crime memoir M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Doorwhich empowers abuse survivors. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.


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