Why I Choose to Both Self-Publish and Traditionally Publish

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Note from Jane: The following post by CJ Lyons (@cjlyonswriter) is the second in a series sponsored by Nook Press, offering tips and advice from successful authors about self-publishing. Read the first installment from Colleen Gleason on the importance of your book cover.

Nook Press
This post is sponsored by Nook Press.

Since 2009, after the release of my second novel, I’ve been a so-called hybrid author, working with New York publishers as well as self-publishing. I’m often asked why I chose to combine these two seemingly disparate publishing careers, juggling twice the work.

The answer is simple: It’s not twice the work or two different careers. It’s one career—my career.

But that’s not even the right question to ask. It’s not about me or New York. The right question—in fact, the one I asked myself before embarking on self-publishing—is: What is the best way to get my books in front of my readers?

At the time I had two books in a series published, but the books were being brought out one a year and readers were clamoring for more. My agent and I had many discussions with my editor, including a face-to-face meeting with her and the publisher. We explained the difficulties of building a readership and keeping my name prominent in their minds with such a slow release schedule.

Their answer: that’s the way their production schedule worked.

We begged for my books—fast-paced mass market medical suspense with romantic elements that were clearly marketed as “beach reads” and aimed at the 18-34 year old demographic—to be moved from their current shelving in “Literature” to the “Mystery-Suspense” section where my readership would have a better chance of finding them. After all, how often do 18-34 year olds pick up their pleasure reading from books shelved beside Moby Dick? They declined, saying only their “traditional” mysteries were shelved in that area of the bookstore.

I had been following the rise of e-books and suggested using them as marketing tools. I talked to my publisher about bundling e-book with print purchases (remember, this was in 2009, so I was way ahead of my time!), giving away or discounting the first book in the series for a limited time with the release of the new book, or at least allowing me to offer free books to select members of my mailing list. Their reply: we’re in the business of selling books, not giving them away.

Frustrated at my inability to provide my readers with what they wanted—more stories from me—when e-book self-publishing opportunities arose, I jumped right in. I never considered making money; I only wanted to get more books out to my readers in the hopes that they’d remember my name by the time my next New York–published book eventually hit the shelves.

With that decision, I not only created a massively successful way to grow and serve my readership, I also took control of my career. I finally realized it wasn’t up to New York to decide how many books a year I published or what genre my books were categorized as or even how they were distributed.

These were all my decisions. No one in the world was going to be more passionate about my success as an author or my readers than I was.

So I made my choice. To embrace the world of possibilities and form my own Global Publishing Empire. As CEO, I decide whom I want to partner with.

Those partners include:

  • my agents (a traditional agent, foreign rights agent, and two TV/film agents) who profit from selling my subrights and negotiating my New York contracts
  • a small press who handles my non–New York print creation and distribution
  • a variety of audio producers and voice talent who create my audiobooks
  • a cadre of international translators
  • several print and e-book distribution channels (including Nook Press, Kindle, Apple, and Kobo, among others)
  • relationships with indie bookstores, graphic artists, formatters, marketing specialists, developmental editors, copy editors, proofreaders, and—yes—even my very own charity foundation.

Currently, my strategic partnerships also include New York publishers. Why? Because they can still serve my readers via their distribution channels and marketing as well as serving me via their editorial guidance to take my craft to the next level. And traditional publishers are still the best at turning a book into an event.

Two weeks ago I launched my first YA medical thriller with Sourcebooks and, although BROKEN is my twentieth book published, it’s been as giddy and exciting as launching my very first book back in 2008. There’s a wonderful synergy in working with professionals as passionate about your readers as you, the author, are.

Sourcebooks created stunning packaging for BROKEN’s hardcover, from the dust jacket to the foil embossed cover that’s like getting a secret, special surprise inside each book. Their marketing and publicity departments have worked tirelessly to get the word out while their editorial staff helped me transform a good book into one that has already won awards and is on the shortlist for several more.

That’s what I’m talking about with strategic partnerships—and note, I didn’t mention money once in this entire discussion! Yes, as authors, we need to carefully review any contracts we enter into and weigh potential profit and loss from a partnership (just the same as New York publishers when they decide if authors are worthy of their time and effort), but in my experience, using money as a benchmark for decision making has always ended in failure and regret.

Instead, my guiding mantra as I consider each of the myriad choices that an Author, CEO is faced with is: Will this make my readers jump in delight and tell their friends?

Keep my readers happy and you’ll keep me happy.

Nook Press
This post is sponsored by Nook Press.
Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , .
CJ Lyons

CJ Lyons

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eighteen novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons (@cjlyonswriter) has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday). Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at her website and everything she knows about being a bestseller and selling a million books at www.NoRulesJustWRITE.com.

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22 Comments on "Why I Choose to Both Self-Publish and Traditionally Publish"

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Great post that does a lot to soothe my ever-present insecurity about turning down a traditional publishing contract (book is not yet out so we’re many months from figuring out how savvy or not a move this was).

This, “Will this make my readers jump in delight and tell their friends?”

This is my new criteria for everything. Great post!

CJ Lyons

Glad you found it helpful! Truly, when I adopted that as my mantra for making my decisions, everything got soooooo much easier–not to mention much more fun!

Happy writing!

Bob Mayer
Having coined the term ‘hybrid author’ before people were really talking about it, I understand where you’re coming from. Having also pitched “Nook First” to Barnes & Noble when they hadn’t even thought of it, I understand the concept of staying ahead of the power curve. It’s the innovators and free thinkers who will succeed in the long term. Hybrid can also mean different things now. While I still have three collaborations with a Big 5; I also have stories with 47North, Amazon’s science fiction imprint and have hit #1 in science fiction on Kindle several times through that merger.… Read more »
CJ Lyons

Absolutely–strategic partnerships is the take home message for anyone building their Global Publishing Empire!

There’s a good reason why the “self” in self-publishing is never capitalized

Paula Cappa

Very insightful post! Some of us are doing this the other way around: self-publishing first as ebooks, and then a publisher picks up on the book and publishes the print editions. I think self-publishing has a lot to offer new authors and the established ones in terms of vision and options. And I’m glad that popular authors are joining the ranks of self-pubbed. As you say “using money as a benchmark for decision making” has its failures. That kind of thinking doesn’t rule the self-pubbed. In the end it’s all about a healthy readership.

CJ Lyons

Yes, Paula, I’ve had friends who have gone that route. My greatest fear, though, is the number of self-published authors who don’t fully understand the industry (much less the contracts) enough to negotiate a true partnership with their NYC publishers.

Like any business venture, information is power. But putting your focus on the reader is an excellent place to start–translating that into a traditional publishing contract is where the difficulty lies.

But it can be done, as my own partnership with Sourcebooks has shown!

Pamela Aares

CJ- thanks. with your and Joanna’s guidance I turned away from NY — and Love Bats Last will debut in February
Maybe I’ll turn back to New york, but for now the path is indie. I smile when people who don’t know think it’s easy– like you, I have an army of people working on every book at al levels. Thanks to you, Jane, Joanna– it helps so much to have guidance in this forest!

CJ Lyons

Congrats on following your dream, Pamela! You are so very right–publishing (no matter how you tackle it!) truly is a team sport, lol!

Best of luck!


[…] Why I Choose to Both Self-Publish and Traditionally Publish. […]

Elliott Garber

This is a great overview of the most important issues for us aspiring authors to think about. There was a great discussion today over at the Writer’s Cafe where a bunch of successful hybrid authors talked about the pros and cons of using agents.

Someone linked to your post here and that’s how I came over! Here’s that forum discussion:


CJ Lyons
Thanks for sharing the link, Elliott! Must you have an agent to work with NYC? No–in fact, many would argue that a good literary attorney could handle contract negotiations if need be. BUT…having my agent as a partner has been invaluable to me. We plan strategy, decide which books we even allow NYC to bid on, where I’m growing my audience as far as genre and other media (like TV, animation, film, graphic novels, etc) and she handles my foreign rights, audio, etc. And she stays on top of my NYC publishers to make sure nothing gets dropped since she… Read more »


I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award!


You can read more about this in the post below:
http://homeschoolmommusings.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/wow-a-blog-award-how-exciting (It will be up as soon as I can find 5 more blogs) 😉

God Bless You!


[…] first one is from CJ Lyons over on on Jane Friedman’s blog: Why I Choose to Self-Publish and Traditionally Publish. THIS,  my friends is where your successful writers are headed (the world many already live). She […]

Robyn LaRue

I’m planning a hybrid career from the outset, thanks to authors who do it right. I also really like the idea of focusing on what makes the readers happy. I’m still new to all of this, but I have some great role models right here. 🙂


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Martin Lake

I’m in the process of considering becoming ‘hybrid’. Your post has come at exactly the right time for me. Thank you.