New York Times bestselling author Tobias Buckell has been published four times by Tor Books – his novels Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose and Arctic Rising – and has also self-published three ebooks, which are now available via the Robot Trading Company.

To mark the addition of Tobias to our growing roster of publisher partners, we asked him a few questions about the factors that influenced his decisions on whether to self-publish or seek publication via the traditional routes. This is what he told us:

The Robot Reader You have a number of books published by the mighty Tor in the US, and others that you’ve self-published. What are your criteria for deciding which book is right for the traditional channel and which is better as a self-pub release?

Tobias Buckell, photo credit: Jamie NygaardTobias S. Buckell It’s messy and complicated, but it’s a bet about which method I think will, in the big picture, make me more money, laid right next to the bet about which will gain me new readers. It’s a weird calculus. Some people claim it’s one or the other, but so far I’ve found each book has a different calculus associated with it. I wish I had a strict set of criteria, but so far I’ve found my short story collections seem to be better (read: more profitable for me) as a self published venture.

With the novels I’m writing, I’m still early on in the process. I’ll have to get back to you! Once I have a year’s worth of novel royalties for The Apocalypse Ocean, my first self published novel, I can compare it’s ‘life cycle’ to the other books I’ve done with Tor (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose and Arctic Rising). Once I have those figures in hand, I will have a better idea how to compare the potential.

TRR: – In your experience, what are the relative benefits and drawbacks of the two routes to market?

Tobias: The benefit with self publishing is that you get a higher royalty with the digital version. As eBooks are approaching half the sales of a book, in some people’s cases, this can mean that route to market can leverage you more money. Particularly in lower midlist I think it’s allowing some interesting calculus. A book that may not have been as effective in the bookstore market, if you’re willing to give up your print sales, could make the author more. If a book takes off, even on a smaller level, you stand to make good.

The drawbacks? You’re the publisher. So design, copy editing, proofing, all ends up on you. I think doing it right means a lot of work and coordination.

Working with Tor gets me a much larger readership. And it’s that larger readership that has allowed my self publishing to have a larger base to draw on. They’re symbiotic, as far as I can see. I even know one author that views his work with the larger print publishers as a ‘loss leader’ in order to grow his readership for his higher margin self publishing.

TRR: What have you found to be the most useful and effective tools for promoting your self-published work and bringing it the attention of a wider audience?

Working with a large print publisher has been the most effective tool, to be honest. My last book, Arctic Rising, was featured on NPR and got some decent attention. That book’s launch spiked the heck out of sales with my self published items.

That aside, new launches of other self published or backlist work spikes sales as well. Readers tend to read one thing, and if they like you, read a whole lot more! So writing new things seems to help.

I’ve tested a lot of things over the last ten years, and the only thing I’ve seen spike sales more than having new work available on my spreadsheets of data is media appearances. My one cable TV interview spot did more to move books than most other things. An NPR review was pretty amazing. A few radio interviews have produced noticeable spikes.

The other stuff is just background availability. I blog and twitter for fun, and presumably that puts my name out there. But it is hard to measure *for sure.* Which is why I tell people to do things that you enjoy doing, be authentic, but don’t sweat it too much.

TRR: Do you have any plans to build on the skills and expertise you’ve developed and honed by self-publishing and offer third-party production and/or publishing services to other authors?

I’ve been designing eBooks for Subterranean Press for almost a couple years now, and I very occasionally take on an additional client. Between what I do for Subterranean and my own writing, I barely have time for much more. But I occasionally do accept a client for basic eBook design. I’m not a graphic artist, so I don’t do covers!

TRR: What advice would you give an author who’s trying to decide whether to seek a traditional publishing contract or self-publish their work?

I’d aim for traditional first if possible, still, because you get the larger initial readership. And building your reader base is killer important. It’s an important platform. You get to stand on the shoulders of giants (the giant being your publisher, that has leverage and contacts and an in-house design team to make you look good, as well as copy editors, and an editor that can help you take it to the next level). And with that larger readership, you can then experiment and add in your own other self published titles, or switch over. For all the success stories out there, there are many, many self-publishers making at best a couple hundred bucks. I think the uphill battle is still a bit larger with going direct to self published on average. That’s my instinct.

My general advice to all authors is to always experiment with as many models as you can, so that you know what’s going on in them. Some people who only self-publish, they will state things about print publishing that I know not to be true just by dint of experience. The reverse also applies, as people with no self-publishing to digital markets will make statements that reveal an ignorance of what’s happening on the other side that astound me.

I’ve worked with large print publisher, a medium sized print publisher, a small print publisher, I’ve used Kickstarter to crowd fund a novel and a short story collection, and I’ve also directly self-published two collections. Having experience with so many different methods means that I’m well informed and I have a pretty good idea about which method any given project of mine should use. Which helps me cut through a lot of the drama in discussions about all of the above.

I think, to sort of sum it all up, I fail to view it as an either/or choice. To me any of the methods are paths I can bolt on as needed, and I choose which path based on how best I think it serves the project.

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Tobias Buckell
Tobias S. Buckell ebooks at the Robot Trading Company