The Writing Sparrow Episode 35 | The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing with Rachel Grosvenor

This week, Rachel Grosvenor is back to talk about the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing and the pros and cons of each. If you’re unsure which path is right for you (or if you’re just curious to learn more!), this episode is for you!

It’s a little longer, but it’s worth every second *high five*

To find out more about Rachel, check out her website find her or Twitter , or follow her on Instagram.

Listen to the Episode

Read the Transcript

[Writing Sparrow theme]

Sarina: Hello, and welcome to The Writing Sparrow podcast. I’m Sarina Langer and this podcast is all about writing, publishing, and marketing your book. You can find transcripts on my website at Let’s get started.


Sarina: Welcome back, friends and Sparrows. It’s the 10th of May 2021. This is Episode 35. Today, Rachel Grosvenor is back to talk more about something she mentioned in our last chat about what a writing coach does. Now, if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you might remember Briana Morgan, mentioning me probably already having done an episode on self-publishing and traditional publishing, and I have not. Then, Rachel mentioned how she used to teach this very thing. So, I asked her back to [00:01:00] talk more about that. Welcome back, Rachel.

Rachel: Hello, thank you for having me again.

Sarina: It’s my pleasure. I’m really excited to learn a bit more about this because I’m entirely a self-published author by choice, because I’m a control freak.

Rachel: Yeah. [laughs]

Sarina: [chuckles] Probably it suits me better. I know a little bit I think about traditional publishing, but probably not quite as much as I should. I’m excited to hear what you have to say. We’ve also had two very interesting questions come through on Instagram.

Rachel: Yes.

Sarina: Also excited about that. To start with, what are the main differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing? Big question to start with.

Rachel: It’s a big question, yeah. there are a lot of differences between them. The main one would be that with self-publishing, as you mentioned, you are in full control. There are some definites as well. For example, you’re definitely getting published if you’re a self-publisher, [00:02:00] and you can drive that forward, and you are in control of the cover, and the blurb, and the title and all that good stuff. It can look exactly however you want it to look. With traditional publishing, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get published first of all. It is a difficult thing to get traditionally published. But once you are traditionally published, you are basically in the big book shops, you’ve got a team behind you of editors, designers, and all that stuff. You’ve usually got an agent, and there are other pros that can come with it. It opens doors for you, and you may even get a book deal and you get upfront money, and things like that as well.

So, yeah, there are there are some big differences between them. Really, it’s just to do with what kind of thing [00:03:00] that you want to go for, what are you looking for, and where do you want your book to be.

Sarina: Well, money certainly is nice. [laughs]

Rachel: Yes. Money is nice.

Sarina: Wonder what it’s like to have money. [laughs]

Rachel: One can imagine. [laughs]

Sarina: I have no idea. I never know, I don’t know.


Sarina: What I would say to that is that obviously, it is a lot easier to self-publish, because you do everything yourself, and you can literally just pop on Amazon now, upload whatever, and publish that with some cover, which could maybe it’s just a piece of paper you found that you just quickly scanned in. You can technically do that, although please do not do that. I’d say on the other hand, it’s also relatively difficult to self-publish, because you’ve mentioned the team that you get when you traditional publish, but you do have a team as well, when you self-publish. I’m actually currently as we’re recording this doing a mini-series on my team.

Rachel: Oh, great.

Sarina: Yeah, so that includes my editor, [00:04:00] my cartographer, and my cover designer. In fact, after this interview, I’m doing the interview with my cover designer.

Rachel: Cool.

Sarina: It’s a busy morning for me, but of course, as a self-published author, I had to go out of my way myself to find these people, and to find the right people to work on my book. Whereas I think when you publish traditionally, it’s just the publishing house who gives you these people and then whether you get on or not, or you think that they’re right for your book, you work with them.

Rachel: Exactly. I think that that for some people might make them lean more towards the self-publishing route, because you don’t have the same control. You don’t get to choose what cover you’ve got on it. You don’t get to choose the title. You don’t get to choose the blurb always, and that’s a pretty big deal for people who have a definite vision, so there’s some compromise to be made.

Yeah, I mean, it’s funny because you’ve [00:05:00] also got a marketing team behind you, which is massive and really important, because that’s one of the biggest things about self-publishing, is that you’ve got to ask yourself, “How much money and time can I put into this project? I’ve already written a book. I’ve really gone to this stage. Now it’s actually out there, how much money and time can I put into the marketing?” Not everyone will be able to pay for a marketing expert, not everyone will be able to pay for posters and things to be made up for them. It’s hard work. Marketing on social media, it’s hard work getting your voice out there, because the social media is swamped with people trying to do the same thing. Yeah, a really good thing about traditional publishing is that you’ve got a marketing team behind you, which actually gives you time to go to the next step, which is write your next novel.

Sarina: I think with marketing, especially, there are so many different things that you can try. Just speaking there from personal experience, [00:06:00] but I always find that you really need to try something for quite a while to see if it actually does work.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: So, there is an awful lot of trial and error involved. You could potentially throw something out thinking it doesn’t work that actually might work really well, if you spent a bit more time on it. Likewise, you might get really focused on something thinking, “Well, this is working for so many other people, it should work for me.” But actually, it doesn’t, you might then really get too focused on that.

Rachel: That’s the tricky thing with marketing. There’s always people come along with the next answer, isn’t it? There’s always people saying, “Well, you want to get on TikTok. You want to go on Pinterest, and you want to get on this and that.” “Oh, there’s so many things I need to get on. There’s so much I need to do.”

Sarina: I don’t think TikTok is for me.

Rachel: Fair enough.

Sarina: More and more of my author friends now also slowly migrating over there, and I’m like, “I don’t wanna. I already have too much social media. I don’t have more time for another one.”

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: Of course [00:07:00] what you said about when you traditionally publish, how they decide so many of those things, like your cover and your blurb, and all that, that might equally really appeal to some authors who maybe really just want to do the writing and don’t want to have to worry about all that other stuff. This is what I was going to ask, on the subject of marketing, I heard that these days when you approach traditional publishing and an agent, and then they approach the house for you, that they expect you to do actually quite a lot of the marketing yourself. Can we talk about that? How much marketing would I need to do myself if I went the traditional route?

Rachel: Every author, the general rule is you’ve got to have some kind of a voice nowadays, that I don’t think that was always the case. I’m sure it’s not always the case now. The general rule is [00:08:00] if you send your manuscript off to somebody, they will search for you online. What have you been up to? How have you been publishing other works? Have you got any other things published? Do you have a website? Do you have a following of people wanting to buy your work? I guess the question is, are you a surefire bet for them to get involved with you. They could love your work. if you got nothing about you on the internet at all, they might go, “Oh, actually, this is going to be a really big job and a really big sell,” because if an agent accepts you, obviously, they’ve then got to sell your work, and they’ve got to sell you to a publishing house. They’ve got to take you on and know that actually, it’s worth it.

If you’ve done a background of, “I’m an author, this is my marketing voice, this is who I am,” and you’ve got a sort of following set up, then you’re probably more likely to be accepted. It’s definitely worth bearing that in mind. Also, something that’s worth bearing in mind is, a lot of people enjoy seeing the [00:09:00] process of writing a novel. I know I do. I love to follow authors who are writing because I just want to know what they’re up to, what’s their day looking like.

Sarina: I do. That’s why I’ve started the monthly interviews on writing routines. I feel quite nosy, really, but I love hearing how other authors approach it and how they build up their day and how they write what, when, it’s all very interesting to me. I love seeing that too.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think if you’re writing a book, and you haven’t had anything published yet, and it’s your first novel, and you’re listening to this and thinking, “Oh, no, I don’t have a voice online,” it’s easy to set up an account on Instagram or something like that, and to just share your journey and get involved with people’s journeys. Just through doing that, you’re going to build up a following, and actually you’ll also find that there are people there that will help you be accountable, [00:10:00] that will give you some great tips, that will give you some great advice, and that’s probably the nicest thing about it.

Sarina: Yeah, I would say so. I think especially the writing communities and the reading communities on Instagram and Twitter, for example, have been very welcoming. I think they’re very supportive. They are very good communities to join and to just-

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: -start chatting with.

Rachel: Yeah. Then, if you’ve got a ready-made community, and you’ve decided to self-publish, that’s awesome, because you can say, “Look, here it is, you can actually buy this book now. I’d love you to read it.” Or, you can go to an agent or an independent publishing house, they often accept unsolicited manuscripts. You can go to someone and say, “I do actually have a following of X amount of people, and they would love to read this book, so it’s in your best interests to publish it.”

Sarina: Then, to come back to what we said earlier, [00:11:00] again, about how when you self-publish, you have to do everything yourself, of course. When you have an agent and a publishing house, then they tend to decide your blurb and your cover, and all those things that I personally love to be involved in. I once read this pretty popular book, which I will not name for this. I hate naming things in a negative way. The blurb for me made it sound like it was going to be an epic fantasy. It’s a traditionally published book, so I thought– I love epic fantasy notes, it’s clearly quite a popular thing. I want to read those. It’s a series, so if I like it, I have so many more other books to come back to as well, which is great. Then, it turned out to not be epic fantasy at all. I actually ended up finding it quite mundane and boring.

I think if I were the author, obviously, then I would know that I’ve basically written like an urban fantasy, but then knowing that my [00:12:00] publishing team has decided to make the blurb sound like an epic fantasy, I would be so gutted.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. If it’s not your vision, that’s the tricky thing. Obviously, you do get some say, and it would differ with different teams and different publishers and different people. But the bottom line is that, ultimately, you will have to make a decision about some of those big choices and sign a contract, that essentially means that you don’t have all the rights and the decision-making power. There are pros that might outweigh it for you, so that’s okay in some cases as well. It’s so subjective. It’s really down to what you want as a writer, it’s quite interesting.

Sarina: Yeah, there’s a lot to consider and we can talk about that some more in a second as well. One thing I’ve just thought of that I hadn’t yet included in my original set of questions, [00:13:00] hybrid authors and vanity presses. Hybrid authors, for anyone listening who isn’t aware, are authors who they might self-publish some books, and then maybe their next series they publish with a publishing house, and then maybe the next books after that they do on their own again. Vanity presses, I don’t know a great deal about, but I have heard many bad things and also some good things. I think that’s maybe something that authors who might want to publish, maybe really need to be aware of.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard anything good about vanity presses. My general rule of thumb is that if somebody is asking you for upfront money to publish your work, then it’s the wrong way round. I’ve met a lot of people who have fallen foul of vanity presses, really sad stories if I could be honest with you, about people who have plunged thousands and thousands [00:14:00] of pounds, and then just now have an attic full of their own book that they are trying to sell to strangers, and it’s really hard and they can’t make their money back. I’ve seen that quite a few times.

Sarina: Oh, that’s heartbreaking.

Rachel: It’s very sad. I’ve had some situations where I think twice, I’ve been contacted by a vanity publisher. They’ve said, “Yeah, we want to read your full manuscript,” etc. Before I ever send anything out like that, I always check reviews, I read as much as I can about that person or that company. A few times, I’ve been like, “Oh,” as soon as I google their name, there was loads of people saying, “This is a vanity publisher. They took thousands from me, this is a vanity publisher, they charged me this.” I thought, “It’s not even worth going out to them,” because that’s really scary. Also, what’s really sad about it is the work is never up to [00:15:00] a high standard basically. They don’t print it very well. I’ve never seen a book that’s vanity published that I’ve thought, “Hey, this is printed really well, they did a really nice job with this.” What are the good stories that you’ve heard to do with vanity publishers? I’m intrigued.

Sarina: To be honest now, I don’t know anymore. It’s just every now once again, I think someone will go, oh, maybe then it’s not so much a vanity press and more really a small publisher, I might be getting refused there because it’s very early for me in the morning.

Rachel: That’s okay. Obviously, for some people, it might be their ultimate goal in life to be published, and they might not– This is a really rare occurrence, I’m sure. They might be like, “Hey, I’ve got 10 grand that I want to spend on this,” and a vanity publisher seems like a great idea. That could happen. I’ve never personally spoken to anyone who has been involved and been completely happy with it. I’ve just thought, “Oh, this is such a shame, because you could have self-published it. [00:16:00] You could put all the money into like getting an editor and getting on to design your book cover.” Then, you would have been in the same situation, but you wouldn’t have like an attic full of books, for you to be able to publish on demand, and it would be different for you.

Sarina: You probably would have got a lot more out of it that way as well, without the negative feedback.

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: There’s one potential other case study I can think of, which was very early on in my editing business, so a few years ago. I was working with this author, she was my first ever author. There were a few things about the job that weren’t quite 100% right. As I said, it was early on, it was my first job editing, so of course, I was excited about that. Eventually, we parted ways, because she said very suddenly, that she had been made an offer from a [00:17:00] publisher. I think she had been potentially querying a bit here and there anyway, so I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Then, she said that– I think it was already November at the time. Then, she said that the publisher really wanted to get the book out now in December, because from January, they would be representing different genres, and no longer her genre. I said to her, “Then, why would you want to go with a publisher who you know in two months’ time will not be representing your genre anymore?”

Rachel: That’s a really good question. Yeah.

Sarina: I think maybe early on, when you’re just starting out as a writer, and as you said, maybe you just want to be published, no matter how you get there, then maybe that seems like a really tempting offer. I think, maybe especially early on, it can feel really exciting to know that a publisher has approached you and said, “Hey, I don’t know you, but I heard something really interesting about your book, and I want to publish you [00:18:00] and represent you.” That can sound like it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed off, but as you said, do your research and really consider if that’s legit, because it may not be.

Rachel: Absolutely. There’s a book that I use every year that I find really useful for looking at traditional publishing houses. It’s the Writers and Artists Yearbook, and it’s updated every year. It’s basically like just the Yellow Pages for writers, and you can look in it and then you can go, “Okay, so I know that these people published fantasy.” I can see how to get in touch with them. That’s a much safer bet, I think, than just googling publishers, because, yeah, I think there’s just a little bit safer. Also, it’s just a useful book to have as well. So, I’d recommend that.

Sarina: I second that. It’s a great book to have. There’s a lot of useful information beyond all the different addresses and email addresses in there as well.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: It’s very worth [00:19:00] having. To come back the hybrid publishing, which I don’t think we’ve talked about yet. I think not long ago, possibly last week, I had a new writer approach me on Instagram, I think, I don’t remember who it was now. I think they said that they were interested in traditionally publishing a book, but they said that they then might not be able to self-publish at some point in the future. I said that actually, many writers are hybrids. Is that something that you would recommend? Is it easy to do? Do you think that publishers might frown on it, if you say that you have another series that you might want to publish without them at some point?

Rachel: No, it’s quite interesting, actually. I think that the other way around is more common. If you’ve self-published a work, and then you sign something with a traditional publisher, that’s the more common way [00:20:00] around for it to happen. That does happen. There are those occurrences where a publisher will see a self-published book is doing really well. They’ll get in touch with the author and be like, “Hey, what’s going on? Let’s chat. What else have you got?” It would be interesting to– I guess if you’ve got a traditionally published book, that’s already published, and you decide to self-publish, it’s really up to you, isn’t it? If it’s your project, I guess, as long as you haven’t signed in the thing.

Interesting fact is Beatrix Potter, she was a hybrid author. She self-published Peter Rabbit because she didn’t like what the traditional publishers basically had in the plans, that wasn’t what her vision was, so she self-published that. Then, she got renowned, and the traditional publishers were like, “Actually, no, we will do what you want.” She was like, “Cool, so you can publish my next book.”


Sarina: “Yeah, well, this one’s mine now, so you’ve missed the [00:21:00] ball on that.”

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: I didn’t know that. [chuckles]

Rachel: Yeah. [chuckles]

Sarina: Right. On to the second question that I had originally written down, [laughs] got a bit sidetracked there. In a good way, I think.

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: I was going to ask about the pros and cons of self-publishing, but I feel we’ve already talked a little bit about that. Anyway, if there’s anything more that you have to add, then go ahead. Also, maybe if there is anything that you think writers might– maybe something that writers might want to consider, if they think that they might want to self-publish your book, so the kind of person that self-publishing would be the right choice for. I phrased that badly. [laughs]

Rachel: I think that the main thing to consider when you’re self-publishing is, how much time do you have to put into it, because even if you’ve made something that’s really beautiful and brilliant, but if you don’t have time [00:22:00] to market it, that’s the main thing, really. No one’s going to know that you’ve clicked self-published on something, unless you tell them. That’s just a really big deal. If you self-publish, you can get it into bookshops and libraries, you can get it out there. It doesn’t just have to be on Amazon, it doesn’t just have to be on the internet. You can do all sorts of things. You can sign yourselves up to like book fairs and things like that, and go along with a cardboard box of books, and that’s really cool.

I would encourage that to apply for independent book shops and libraries. Also, apply for conferences to talk about your book and things like that. It’s kind of anything, you’re trying to get clients in a way, you’re trying to get readers, so put yourself out there as much as you possibly can if you want to be self-published. It is really easy to be self-published, but it’s the step afterwards that’s the tricky bit, which is just telling people that you’ve done it. [00:23:00] [chuckles]

Sarina: As you said, the marketing isn’t necessarily a quick or easy thing. In fact, it definitely isn’t. [chuckles]

Rachel: That’s true.

Sarina: If you are like me, and you’re a control freak-

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: -then self-publishing is probably the better choice for you, just because you do keep control over everything and you’re in of everything. Which for some people, it’s going to sound like the dream, and for other people, it’s going to sound like a nightmare. It just depends which extreme you lean more towards.

Rachel: Absolutely. I’m personally, trying to go down the traditional publishing route, myself at the moment. I did self-publish a book of short stories, but it feels like about five years ago now, which feels crazy, but I think it was. For me, the traditional publishing route is attractive, because what I want to do is write. [00:24:00] I’m on my third novel, and I just want to keep writing novels. I really want to be able to trust that I’ve got that team there to help me with that. So, yeah, that’s why that’s attractive to me, basically.

Also, traditional publishing opens doors for you as well in a different way to self-publishing. You don’t have to apply for things so much. You’ll get more invitations to go to conferences and events and things like that, which is cool. Yeah, they’ve both got different things. I will say the book of short stories that I published five years ago, at the time, I was feeling the bit shy about being a writer. I just was. I think it’s something you have to build up to saying almost and that’s sounds daft but–

Sarina: Yeah, I think to do– No, I get it. I think quite a lot of writers when they [00:25:00] first start writing, long before they even start publishing, it can be quite awkward, almost like you’re an imposter when you say, “Hi, I’m Sarina, and I’m a writer.” “Ha-ha-ha. Okay-

Rachel: Exactly, yeah.

Sarina: -This is weird.” Even once you have published something, it’s almost even more better than saying, “By the way, I’m an author.”

Rachel: Yes.

Sarina: It takes a while, I think, to really be able to own that. If you are feeling a bit awkward saying that that’s normal, don’t worry about it. It gets easier, the more you do it.

Rachel: Oh, it really does get easier. I think it’s a really funny thing how much easier it gets actually. Something that I said to myself last year, was that I was going to try and put myself on camera more, because I noticed that all of my photos on my author account were basically me– they were not of my face, they were all just like cups of coffee. I thought these people don’t know what I look like at all. I’m just hiding away. I was like, “You know what? I’m going to try, I’m going to put myself on camera this year.” Since then, [00:26:00] I’ve really pushed myself.

Now, I’m not even thinking about it anymore. I’m just doing it. I’m making funny little videos. It’s much easier for me to market now that I have kind of stopped worrying about that so much. But if I published that book of short stories now, as I did five years ago, I’d be way more vocal about it. I’d be like, “Everybody, I’ve published [unintelligible [00:26:19] short stories, please go out and buy it.” I’d be doing all these things that I didn’t do then, because I was just feeling a little bit shy about it. It is worth considering what kind of person you are and how you’re willing to put yourself out there at that time, might be something to build up to, who knows?

Sarina: That’s the beautiful thing about experience, isn’t it?

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: We’re all learning constantly, which is great. Then same question about traditional publishing. What are the pros and cons, and who would traditional publishing be right for?

Rachel: [00:27:00] Traditional publishing, it’s got a lot of pros and cons. It gives you time to write your next novel, because you get to hand over a lot of the big work. You can get money, really like upfront payments, which is amazing. That’s obviously not necessarily the same case for self-publishing. I will say though, you get less royalty rates, obviously, than self-publishing and traditional publishing, but that’s a given. Also, you’ve got to consider in self-publishing the royalty rates, are they offset against how much you’ve invested? There’s other stuff to consider. Yeah, with traditional publishing, you should get an upfront payment. Also, there’s the potential of getting a book deal as well, which is an exciting thought, because they will usually ask you, “What’s next? What have you got?” If you’ve written a few novels already, then that’s awesome, because you can say, “Well, actually, I’ve got two novels in a drawer, if you want to read them. Let’s see what you think.” [00:28:00]

Yeah, and as I said, you’ve got a professional team of editors, and it opens doors for you as well. But as I said, it’s harder to get published. Also, what’s the timeline that you want your book to be published by, because it can take up to two years from acceptance to shelf.

Sarina: Yeah, but you basically join the queue of all other books that they have also already got in line to be published, so it won’t be anywhere near as quick.

Rachel: Exactly, it won’t be as quick. If that’s on your year bucket list, then it might be worth thinking about something else. There’s loads of stuff that could happen. The potential with traditional publishing is really great, not just other book deals, but also other films and things like that, that [00:29:00] could be made, is there a series? There’s loads of things that people might get in touch with you, because these people actually already have these contacts, they already have a database of contacts and people that they can talk to. They know exactly who that person is, that would help your career move forward. Whereas if you’re self-publishing, you’re going to have to find that stuff out for yourself, and it’s not always going to be easy to get in touch with them.

Sarina: No, it’s certainly going to take a lot more research, I think, on your part. It’s easy, also, then to end up with someone who maybe doesn’t have your best interests at heart. As always, just do your research, and make sure you know who you’re contacting before you contact them.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. As I say you, you can contact agents. My general rule is, in my PhD, we talked a lot about publishing, and something that we talked about was that you shouldn’t send your work off to more than 12 [00:30:00] agents at a time basically. If you send off your work to 12 agents/independent publishers who are accepting manuscripts, and you get 12 rejections, you need to have another look at the novel because there’s a reason for that. You need to take into account what they’re saying to you.

What I do is I keep a spreadsheet. If I ever send any work off, it doesn’t matter if it’s a novel, a short story or a poem, whatever, I keep a spreadsheet, I write down exactly who I sent it to, when I sent it to them, when I expect to hear back, because it’ll always say on the submissions page, you should hear back within three months. I set an alert so that I know, “Okay, so in three months’ time, I should have heard back from them.” If I haven’t heard back from them, then I can guess that I was unsuccessful at that time. That is just so much easier, because there are so many agents and publishing houses, but if you don’t keep a spreadsheet or some kind of log, it can get incredibly confusing [00:31:00] about who you’ve sent your work off to, and when you’re unsuccessful. It’s a little bit like applying for jobs in a way that sometimes people just won’t to get back to you, and that means that you’ve been unsuccessful. If you’re not tracking how much time it’s been, then you won’t know. So, I would recommend that.

Sarina: And that could be very frustrating.

Rachel: Yes, of course, again, yeah. Sometimes, you’ve got to have a thick skin. Sometimes, you’ll send off your work, and you’ll get a really excited response. They’ll ask to see the full manuscript and you’ll send it off, and then a month later, they might still say no, so you’ve got to have a thick skin. The thing I always say is, treat agents and publishers like– this is what I’ve always taught in my classes, treat them like children in a way. They will have a list of things that they want of demands, and you should just adhere to those exactly. An example would be, if they’re asking for something by post, don’t make the envelope super tricky [00:32:00] to open, you know what I mean? Don’t put too much sellotape on it, make everything very neat, make everything Times New Roman, number your pages so that if they drop them, they can pick them up again. Do everything you can to stay on their good side by just providing exactly what they’ve asked for, and no less and no more. It’s usually a cover letter, synopsis, the first three chapters of your work, and that’s it. If they want more, they’ll ask for it.

Also, another thing that’s kind of tricky, is when is it right to query on your query? So, you’ve already sent off a query, and you’ve realized that actually, it’s been months and months and months. When is it okay to send an email and say, “Oh, hey, I was just wondering if you’ve read that?” I would say that if you’ve looked at their submissions page, and it says if– sometimes, it’ll say, “If you haven’t heard from us, within six months, get in touch.” Sometimes, it’ll say, “If you haven’t heard from us, within three months, you’ve been unsuccessful.” [00:33:00] Just pay attention to that bit. If it says, “Get in touch,” feel free to get in touch with them, just send them a warning email, don’t chase them and ask them, “What do you think? Have you had a chance to read it? I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on it.” Just something friendly and short. I always find it’s better to just ask because you never know.

Sarina: Exactly. Maybe they are waiting to see who does get in touch and who has done all that work with the spreadsheet and everything, just to actually really keep an eye on their submissions, which authors are literally just sending it to anyone, and almost don’t really care what kind of agent they get. I think they might feel maybe reassured by the author who then comes back and says, “Actually, it’s more than three months, you said on your website that this is when I can get back to you. Have you had a chance to have a look at it?” Because I think that would then tell me that they actually might really want to work with me. [00:34:00]

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot to be said for just being yourself as well. If you’ve sent them an email with a typo in or something like that, don’t freak out, don’t panic. They are just people at the end of the day. That’s all they are. They’re just people in a slightly different job to you. It’s okay to send them an email and be like, “Whoops, should’ve used use Grammarly.” Something like that. I really think that’s fine. I think the main thing is, like applying for a job, are they the right company for you? Do they publish the work that you want to publish? Have a look at what they’ve published that’s similar to your work as well. Because if they publish only crime, and you send them a fantasy book, they’re just going to drop it on the slush pile immediately because it’s not going to be relevant to them and they’re going to think that it is [00:35:00] going to be a waste of your time and their time. In the cover letter mention what they’ve published, that’s like your work, so that they can see, “Actually, yeah, this person’s done their research, they actually care.” That’s really important.

Sarina: I think just a bit of research can really go a long way, don’t it?

Rachel: Absolutely. Just mentioning those little bits of research is always impressive.

Sarina: Well, I was going to ask you, if you have any general advice for querying, like when to query, how to go maybe after a publishing house, but you’ve kind of already preempted that.

Rachel: Yeah. [laughs]

Sarina: So, thank you.

Rachel: That’s all right.

Sarina: That means then that we’re on to the questions from other people. I had one from Instagram, and I hope that I’m pronouncing your username correctly. I’m very sorry if I don’t. It’s from [unintelligible [00:35:51]. “Do you have any tips for a new fantasy writer?”

Rachel: Cool. I mean, [00:36:00] I love fantasy and fantasy writing. I know you do, too.

Sarina: I do.

Rachel: I think that for a new fantasy writer, I would say immerse yourself in the world of fantasy, read as many fantasy books as you can, all different types of authors. Also, there’s nothing more fun than creating maps. I find just creating maps can build stories in your head. It’s like a magical thing to create a map, there’s some really cool software out there. Like Inkarnate is one of my favorite softwares. I love to play with that and just build worlds. Just like naming them and deciding this place is going to be really lush forest, this space is going to be like really dry desert, can really create stories in your head. I would say read as much fantasy as you can. Also, have a little go at building some maps and see what comes to you. What would your advice be?

Sarina: Yeah, probably the [00:37:00] same thing, to be honest. I think really just reading a lot of the genre that you want to write in yourself is a really big help, because you learn an awful lot just through osmosis. But also, reading books and other genres is also fine, because you might still pick up on something anyway that you can use in your books. Most books are a bit of a crossover between different genres anyway. I always say that most books have an element of mystery in them. Most books will have some element of love story, be that between two women, for example, who love each other, who fall in love, or between a mother and her child. There’s so many different kinds of love stories. Even if you write a thriller, for example, there’ll likely be some kind of crossover. So, reading in other genres outside of thrillers can also be very beneficial.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. Also, there’s always some brilliant fantasy games to play, and that narrative is just as valuable. [00:38:00]

Sarina: If you haven’t played Dragon Age and Mass Effect, you haven’t lived.


Rachel: And also, Skyrim.

Sarina: Oh, yeah, Skyrim.

Rachel: Oh, boy. Sometimes, when I’m writing fantasy, I put on the Skyrim soundtrack, and it’s so emotive. It takes me straight back and I’m like, “Oh, gosh, I have to pause.” I’m like, “I just need to turn this off. It’s too much.” [laughs]

Sarina: Gaming scores, by the way, are brilliant for writing and editing because they have literally been designed to help you focus. If you want a bit of music, but you can’t do lyrics while you write like me, then game music is the best. Try it.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I’m the same. I can’t listen to music with words in actually when I’m writing, but gaming scores, yeah.

Sarina: I get distracted so quickly. Right at the start of our interview, I got distracted by a black cat just dashing across the garden. I thought, “I haven’t heard all of what she said, because I’m basically a dog who’s seen a squirrel,” [laughs] yeah, [00:39:00] I can’t have that. Also, to talk some more about the advice. One thing that I think is really important for new writers is be open to feedback because that will really help you grow and don’t get defensive if someone, for example, tells you that maybe your main character is a bit flat, or maybe there are some plot holes in the story, or maybe your worldbuilding, maybe you have some paradoxes in it, because people will give you that feedback aren’t telling you those things to be mean to you or to tell you that you shouldn’t be writing. They’re telling you that to help you grow your book, ultimately.

Rachel: Exactly.

Sarina: It’s all really good constructive criticism, so don’t get defensive. Don’t take it personally. It’s meant to help you grow. Obviously, some people maybe on very good at giving feedback, ultimately that’s a skill like [00:40:00] any other and not everyone’s great at it. If you maybe have a small group of people, beta readers, maybe you have five or seven, and six of them tell you that your plot is brilliant, and then there’s one person who says that they couldn’t get into it at all, then maybe chances are that the other six are right. Believe the majority, I’d say.

Rachel: Absolutely. Writing is so subjective. If you have a book club, there’s always going to be one person who didn’t enjoy the book.

Sarina: Oh, yeah. Generally, on my books, and I’m very proud of this, [chuckles] a bit of shameless self-promotion there.


Sarina: One thing that many, many readers have told me is that my worldbuilding is fantastic. I may have been dubbed the queen of worldbuilding in a review.

Rachel: Amazing.

Sarina: But then one day, I got a review that said that the worldbuilding was really flat and boring. I just learned that [00:41:00] wasn’t the first review I have ever seen, or the first opinion on the worldbuilding because that could have been gutting. But because I’d already had seen all those other opinions saying the exact opposite, I thought, “Okay, well, that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. That’s all right.”

Rachel: Yeah. Peer review is so valuable. I always think to myself about the fact that Tolkien struggled to get published. I think about that, and I just think, yeah, I love him so much. I love his work so much. Look at what’s been created now, because of him.

Sarina: Look just how much he’s grown.

Rachel: Yeah, if you could have shown himself that back in the day when he was struggling to even get his words out there, it would have just been wild. He’d have been like, “This is beyond my wildest dreams.” Amazing. It’s subjective, take it seriously, but it’s subjective as well, so yeah. I agree with you there.

Sarina: There was a good deal of luck involved [00:42:00] as well.

Rachel: Oh, yes.

Sarina: Some of us are going to get incredibly lucky and find someone who happens to be an agent who happens to fall in love with a book, and it might grow into something massive from there, but most of us won’t. Most of us have to work for it, but some of us might get really lucky. Maybe just don’t expect it to definitely happen to you, please don’t build it into your one-year plan or whatever, because it’s a very, very small chance.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s it. The statistics for traditional publishing are against us but it doesn’t mean, it’s impossible. It’s certainly not impossible. It happens all the time. It also happens all the time that people are self-published, and then they get contacted by a publisher, because they’ve seen their book, and they now want to traditionally publish them. That happens.

Sarina: Yeah. There’s nothing stopping you while you’re querying from maybe writing a different book and trying to self-publish that and seeing how that side of things works. Maybe you find that [00:43:00] actually worked better for you.

Rachel: Absolutely. I will say, actually, that there’s nothing like getting over an old novel, like writing a new novel. I honestly was so stuck in my first novel, it felt like it took me ages to move past that. Then, when I started writing my second novel, I was like, “Well, I’ve been wasting the last six months thinking about my first novel that’s finished.” Because writing a new novel is really fun. This is awesome. As soon as I finished my last novel, I was like, “Get on with the next one now.” While you’re sending that out because actually, this is the best thing to do.

Sarina: Yeah, and I always get such an energy boost as well when I start a new project. I think that’s because when I write fantasy, epic fantasy specifically, I tend to have a lot of worldbuilding to do, and I love doing some worldbuilding.

Rachel: It’s exciting.

Sarina: It’s so much fun when you start a new project, so much fun.

Rachel: I love it– [crosstalk] I think I love it too much, [00:44:00] actually. Yeah, I have to write down like novel ideas and put them away. I’m like, “Rachel, just wait till you finish the current one,” because all I want to do, I swear is get stuck in to lots of new novels, but then I’ve only ever had 20,000 words, like lots and lots of novels.

Sarina: That’s what I do. I have a notebook full of ideas for potential future novels. That way, if I write them down when I have the idea, I know that they are safely stored away and I don’t need to start writing it now, or as I may never get to it, [unintelligible [00:44:31] actually stored away and I can move on and I can focus on what I’m supposed to be focusing on. That’s also very helpful.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Sarina: All right. Coming on to our last question, which is one that you had also on social media, from Beth O’Sharon. Hello, welcome. “What’s a realistic budget for self-publishing?”

Rachel: Yeah. It’s a tricky one because it’s like [00:45:00] how long is a piece of string. It’s like, how much are you willing to put into it because obviously, you could edit yourself and you might have some really great friends who are willing to help you with the edit, who aren’t going to charge you anything, but you also might decide to hire an editor, and you might decide to hire a proofreader, you might decide to hire someone to design your cover. You could even decide to hire someone to do your marketing, for your formatting. And all that will cost– if you hired someone for all those things, we’re talking like £4000 at least, I think. What about you, you self-publish your work?

Sarina: Yeah. You know what? It’s nowhere near as bad as £4000.

Rachel: Okay. Where do you hire?

Sarina: Well, I never– God[?], where do I start? I mean, for one, it depends so strong on who you hire, because there are no set rates across the board. Every editor is going to set their own rates ultimately. Every cartographer, if you write epic fantasy [00:46:00] is going to have different rates. That’s something to consider. For my book covers, I tend to work with Design for Writers, who I’ll be talking to in a bit. I’m excited about that.

Rachel: Cool. Shoutout.

Sarina: Shoutout. They do quite a few different things these days, actually. They do book covers, but they also do website design now. They also create some promo images, they also do formatting. I have hired them exclusively for cover design, so this is really all I can talk about there. I think they charge £350 pounds now per eBook and paperback cover together, so you get both in one price. You tend to get two mock designs with them. You will fill out a brief to let them know what your book is about and what you’re looking for and all that. [00:47:00] Then, they will give you two different designs, you choose the one that you like most, and then you will go from there. You get an awful lot of work really for the money. If you look at book covers, it can shoot up so massively, it’s ridiculous. I think the first guys I ever looked at, I think, was 750 quid for one cover. They made it sound like that was cheap, and it’s not. You don’t need to pay anywhere near that much for a good cover. If you want to a book cover, do go to Design for Writers, they are amazing. Shoutout.

Rachel: I’ve seen your book covers, and they are awesome.

Sarina: Aren’t they amazing? They are so good as well at what they do, and you know that they’re enjoying it. They are brilliant to work with as well. I feel like I’m now pre-empting the interview, I’ll be doing in half an hour, so I’m going to move on from that.

Rachel: [laughs] Okay.

Sarina: Then, with my cartography, which you may not even need if you don’t write epic fantasy, because if you write about a place like London, and we already have maps for that, you don’t need to provide one. [00:48:00] I write read epic fantasy, so I want to include a map, and I hire MonkeyBlood Design for that. My interview with them has gone live already– [crosstalk]

Rachel: Cool.

Sarina: Well, it depends. I think I pay about 75 quid for a map. It may have gone up a tiny bit by now, but that’s definitely the cheapest thing you can do for your book, and it can have a really big positive impact ultimately [crosstalk] experience.

Rachel: Oh, I love a map.

Sarina: [crosstalk] -love a map, and you can blow it up to A3 and hang it over your mantle or your desk, and it’ll look incredible.

Rachel: Have you done that?

Sarina: I haven’t yet, but I may have some of my book covers that my partner has got me for one of my birthdays.

Rachel: That’s lovely.

Sarina: They were a really nice surprise, and they make fantastic wall [unintelligible [00:54:04].

Rachel: That’s lovely. Absolutely.

Sarina: I used to do the formatting myself, but, on my Word, it’s such a pain.

Rachel: Yes, it is. [00:49:00]

Sarina: I now hire Platform House Publishing, who I have also already talked to a couple of times. Becky absolutely loves formatting. She does a beautiful job of it. It’s incredibly, incredibly affordable. I think it’s 50 quid maybe to have your whole book formatted.

Rachel: That’s amazing.

Sarina: The turnaround is like a week or two weeks max.

Rachel: I’m actually going to write their name down because I am not a fan of the format.

Sarina: Check out the episode that I’ve done with them as well. I’ve done two, actually. The first one ended up being a bit longer and then we’ve done another one with five specific formatting tips.

Rachel: Oh, that sounds good.

Sarina: It’s just such a big weight off my shoulders when I send my book to her because I know the formatting is going to come back brilliantly, and I don’t need to worry about it at all. That to me alone is worth more than the bit of money that you just charge for it.

Rachel: Yeah.

Sarina: Then, your editor is, of course, going to be the most expensive one, out of all of your professionals [00:50:00] but that’s because the most work goes into it. You can’t just slap together a developmental edit and call it a day after a week. It’s a lot of effort, it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of time that goes into it and a lot of skill. But it then also depends so strongly on who you hire. Some editors will charge per hour, some editors will charge per word count. It depends who you talk to. I can’t recommend that you check out my editor, because she has now stopped editing, and taking on clients, so I can’t do that. Instead, I’m going to be very selfish and say, “Message me, I edit.” [laughs] But there are so many great editors out there.

I think if you look on Instagram, for example, on Twitter, that’s where I ran into my editor on Twitter, we just kind of happened upon each other and magic happened. Just take this out there, ask for a sample edit, so that before you hire someone, you [00:51:00] can make sure that you work well together and that you like– [crosstalk]

Rachel: Absolutely, that’s really important.

Sarina: Really important. Again, with the price that just depends very strongly on how many words you have, how long it takes to edit your book. Say if you’re new and your budget is a bit smaller, maybe go with an editor who charges per word, because it’s easier that way to give you a definite quote when you start, so you know exactly how much you’re in for. Ask if they can do a payment plan maybe if money’s a bit short. I’ve never talked to an editor who wouldn’t do that, so you’re probably fine. Just see what other options they have because it maybe you want a proofreader, that’s something that’s quite different to developmental editing and again, the pricing is different on that, so it really depends. But I don’t think I’ve ever had an edit that was more than 1200 quid and that was including a developmental [00:51:00] edit line [unintelligible [00:52:02] proofread.

All things put together, that’s maybe closer to 1500 or 2000 quid, but that then includes the edit, the cover, the map, if you need a map, you might not, you might love formatting, so you may not need to worry about that.

Rachel: Yeah. Also, if you don’t want to put that much money in, there are options. You might be able to find somebody who’s willing to do like a novel swap with you, and you can proofread each other’s. There’s so many people who are up for helping in return for you doing the same to them. So definitely, don’t be afraid to ask the question. There are lots of websites and things that can help with that sort of stuff as well.

Sarina: Yeah. I would recommend not going with websites like Fiverr, for example, because your developmental edit is [00:53:00] if they only want 50 quid for it, for example, then you can expect that they probably won’t do a fantastic job of it, because as I said, there’s so much work and time and everything that goes into it, that I don’t think anyone who really takes pride in their work is going to charge so little for so much work into such a big time commitment, because ultimately, you need to pay the bills with it. That’s something to consider. But that also doesn’t mean that you need to spend 4000 quid just on edits alone, you really don’t. Just see who’s out there, talk to a few people or ask for a sample edit, definitely. Also, editor have styles, I think, just like authors do. Some editors might really only make the changes and leave it at that. Other editors might make them a suggestion, so you can go over everything yourself and decide what you want to accept and what you don’t. Other editors might also add a few explanations here and there, like, “Oh, I keep cutting this, [00:54:00] it’s because you repeat it a lot, so that we can do [unintelligible [00:54:04].” So, you might even learn something along the way.

Other editors might also put maybe some positive comments in there. Like, “I really liked the way that you write banter. That’s definitely one of your strengths. This is great.” Yeah, sample edit everything, especially when you haven’t got an editor yet because–

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: Yeah, absolutely do that and then take it from there. Also, just so you know, a sample edit doesn’t mean that they’ll do your whole book for free. It’s usually the first page. Maybe really just the first page or the first 1000 words, or maybe the first chapter or something like that. Again, it varies by editor. Have a look on their website or just ask them. None of these professionals are going to bite your hand off if you ask them for clarification. They’re very nice.

Rachel: Absolutely. Everyone would be very friendly. If they’re not, they’re not right for you.

Sarina: Yeah. To answer the question about [00:55:00] how much it costs to self-publish, various factors taken into account like novel length and all that, maybe around 1500 to 2000 quid. If your book is shorter, if you’ve only written a short story, it won’t be that much.

Rachel: No.

Sarina: Yeah, so probably not as expensive as you think. That sum includes your cover and your editing and maybe formatting and maybe your map. So, there’s a lot in that.

Rachel: Yeah, absolutely.

Sarina: Yeah. So, there you go. Well, I hope that answered everyone’s questions. I hope you’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot, again.

Rachel: Good, me too.


Sarina: Fantastic. Then, yeah, thank you so much for stopping by again, Rachel. Thank you so much to all the listeners for being here. Appreciate it. As I said, I hope we’ve all learned a lot, I know I have.

Rachel: [00:56:00] Yeah, thank you very much. I’ve learned a lot as well about self-publishing [unintelligible [00:56:03].

Sarina: Brilliant. Well, my pleasure. Bye-bye, everyone. Have a great day.

Rachel: Bye.


Sarina: If you enjoyed today’s episode, maybe learn something along the way, hit the subscribe button. You can also connect with me on Twitter @sarina_langer. At Instagram and Facebook @sarinalangerwriter, and of course, on my website at Until next time, bye.

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Sarina Langer