This post was going to be balanced answer to the question by a first-time author: should I self-publish?
But balanced is not my style.
This post came from a conversation on a discussion board a first-time author asked how to approach publishers, after having spent over a year writing her book she wanted to know how to get a traditional publishing deal. I replied:
Why? Why do you want to put all that time and energy into the slim chance of actually getting a publishing deal?
Her answer was that she’d tried self-publishing “but it hadn’t worked”. She wanted to sell lots of books to:
- make money for a charity she’s supporting;
- to have the satisfaction of seeing her book in bookshops
The Problem With Traditional Publishing.
Traditional publishing is designed to restrict the number of books published. Publishers are in the business of making money – they absorb all the costs up front: they pay for all editing proofing, cover design, printing costs. (If your “publisher” is asking for a contribution up front, then it’s not a traditional publisher – it’s at best a vanity press and at worst a scam – but that’s a different post). So they only publish books they expect to make money from. Which means you may have written the best poems in modern New Zealand – but you won’t get a publishing deal – because poetry doesn’t sell in New Zealand.
Agents are part of the system to stop publishers been overwhelmed. Big publishers don’t generally accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you get an agent and a book deal – you become a very small part of the publishing process. Pretty much – you’ve done your bit.
Sit back bank the book advance and look forward to the royalty checks.
But the process can take years:
- years to get an agent,
- years to get a publishing contract,
- years to see the book in print.
Your chance of getting those – maybe 5%? Maybe 1% – possibly less. Impossible to know – but it’s rare. Unless you are already famous, or been involved in a high-profile news story.
So after a year or two of effort at best case you’ll have a $1000 advance, a dribble of royalties – which are generally paid in arrears, 6 months later. You’ll get maybe 10% of the book’s cover price. Your book maybe at best on sale for a couple of months.
Yes months – books take up valuable shelf-space – if they are not selling, they won’t be there for long.
Worse case you’ll have wasted a year or more being rejected by agents, or have signed an agent but that agent won’t find a book deal for you. I dunno about you – but don’t find repeated rejections are very good for my mental health. Particularly when I might have to wait months for that “no”.
In contrast as a self-published author I get between 35% and 70% of the cover price, my book stays on sale forever, and I get paid monthly, if I sell enough books to make the minimum payout levels which vary from $10 to $100 depending on outlet and my home country. Oh and the book is available for sale within days of my pushing “publish”. And my books cost considerably less than traditionally published books – because I don’t have the overheads that a publishing house has.
Self-Publishing Works For Print As Well As eBooks
I was caught out when I received my first print books. They arrived in a box from America and I sat looking at them, stroking them ,with a stupid smile on my face. It was pathetic – fortunately there were no witnesses! They were so cute! They were mine! Yes I’ve published thousands of blog posts and articles all over the web for years – but paper was different!
The first-time author had dreams of seeing her book for sale in bookshops. But you can as easily self-publish a paper book as an eBook, for most books you should probably do both.
Many writers think that printing books cost a lot of money. That’s because it did, as recently as 5 years ago. But thanks to print-on-demand such as Createspace and Lulu the only costs involved in printing books is getting a full cover and formatting the book’s interior, if you DIY these two things the cost is zero. If you are like me and only bought a small-sized stockphoto for the eBook cover it will cost you about $25 for the high-resolution version. There is no print run – you only print books if you want to coo and smile over them, give them away and sell them direct.
Want to see your book in a bookshop? Approach your local shop and find out their policies on stocking self-published books – the smaller shops seem quite open to it – particularly for local authors.
Self-Publishing is Not Just Putting A Book For Sale On Amazon and Smashwords
The writer at the start of this post had self-published , sold only a handful of books, not enough to make the $100 payout on Amazon, and was now looking for other options. It “hadn’t worked” in her words.
And then she said something very important:
Admittedly, I did no marketing whatsoever.
Yes that will work every time. I can prove that – I published my Vacation Packing book in German in March. I’ve done no promotion, I was sorta hoping that it would sell itself – there is very little competition in the German language market. Books sold to date: zero, keine, zitch, nada. I need to promote it. People can’t buy what they don’t know about.
Many writers, and I don’t know if this particular case, seem to hope that all that effort to get a traditional publishing deal, will result in them not actually having to market their book. It may well do – but it probably will result in very little to no royalty checks (i.e. they won’t earn out their advance). New authors who are traditionally published do book tours, they do interviews for media. Yes a publisher’s name will get doors opened in traditional media, which are difficult for a self-publisher. But as a self-publisher I don’t need to do physical book tours, I don’t need to do public speaking, I can promote online without being in the same country as my market. Oh did I mention traditional publishing will rarely see your book published worldwide?
Bottom Line – Why Self-Publishing IS Best Particularly For First Time Authors
Traditional publishing sucks. It dis-empowers the writer. You are not in control of your own career as a writer. The publisher controls how long your book is available, where and at what price. They can also control which other books you publish and where. You are, in effect, a junior employee.
I self-publish to control my writing business – and that’s what it is – a business, not a hobby.
14 replies on “I’m a First Time Author – Should I Self-Publish? – Hell Yes”
re: trad publishers doing marketing for you.
Not my experience. 😉
Okay, to be fair on them, for me they did send out press releases for the new book, and I did get onto two tv channels – but that was the extent of it. (This was 5 years ago mind, I hear it’s even worse now.)
But that was only because my book had a good ‘hook’. (And I knew that already from my journo days).
Learn to write your own press releases and you can do the same (if you want – personally I freeze up on tv and wouldn’t want to do that again). Newspapers/tv stations don’t care who publishes your book, they just want a good ‘hook’. In fact it’s probably easy to get mainstream media these days because indie publishing is a hot topic.
And book tours haven’t been done for ten years or more. Had an editor tell me that it was pointless because it never sold books anyway – and unless you were a celeb no one showed up at your signings.
I laughed so hard when I read that that author thought that she’d sell lots of books if she was trad published. As a new author in today’s marketplace, she may very well sell more, but she’d only get a paltry advance of between $1k and $3k if she’s lucky. And then a pittance after.
That same book, even if it sells less as a self published book, can earn her far more over a longer time period.
And as for the satisfaction of seeing your book in bookshops. Yes that’s real and exciting, I admit. But you can ‘nearly’ get the same feeling from getting a print copy done yourself through Createspace and have it sitting on your bookshelf.
A much better feeling is seeing someone else (a stranger) holding your book in their hands reading it. Rare, but you almost want to run up to them and give them a hug (and hope they won’t taser the crazy author). But again, that won’t happen much either as ebook sales increase.
But who cares, because they very well might be reading your book on their tablet or reader, you just won’t know.
God, do I ever not ramble? Perhaps this is a hot button for me 😉
Should you self publish? Hellz yeah! I’ve lived both sides and I ain’t going back to the dark side. That’s for sure.
Keep on ramblin, girl! You’re talking and we’re definitely listening! Thanks ever so much for the insight on trad pblshng. vs. new methods. I’ve known about trad. pblshng. for yrs. and can definitely concur on your statements about that. Still not best avenue for writers, as I once stated to a Chicago publishing co. employee back in the ’80’s where I was interviewing for a job once. I continued to tell her: “that by the time the book gets out there using their hassled procedures that the writer could be starved-to-death or homeless or dead! Boy did she laugh! Then I declared that one day writers would find a way to write/print or type/publish/distribute their own books within 10-20 yrs. and then trad. publisher’s won’t be needed and thusly out-of-business. She wasn’t laughing then, but more serious, stating: “That may just well happen.” (computers used: Wang OS, Mac OS, etc……so yeah, waaaaay back ….therefore printing a book seemed incredulous).
I was hoping that you’d chim in Tracey as I know you’ve done both. I genuinely don’t get the hold that trad publishing still has on some
I agree 100% Lis. Thanks for the great post.
A very convincing post Lis. thank you.
No problem Jacqueline – the rebel in me realy likes self-publishing 🙂
luvin that rebel in you, lis! Got one in me too! ;~D
This is such good advice, so lustily expressed (“Hell yes!”) that I just tweeted and facebooked it.
I just have 2 small books up on Kindle (really need to get myself organized and do more of the books I have in mind), but I can’t imagine going the old-fashioned route. Ewwwwwwww. LOL.
And I’ll tell you something else. Not quite 2 years ago we moved. As a bookaholic, I can’t tell you what a physical nightmare it was, even though I got rid of probably half the books I owned before the move. None of us are in any kind of physical condition for things like moving, and as a result I came to see all my lovely books as a burden. A terrible, wasteful, horrible, burden.
Further, no one was buying, either in my yard sales or at used book stores, so it seemed triply burdensome to me.
I’m still your basic bookaholic, but these days, the only books I want in hard copy are cookbooks and knitting books.
We’ll probably always have hardcopy books, but the days of your traditional old-style publishing house are basically over, I think. Wonderful while it lasted, perhaps, but well – we don’t need pay phone booths any more either, and have somehow survived.
Totally agree with the paperbook /moving problem! Both my partner and I had a paper book habit – then we moved 5 times in 6 months. I don’t buy paper books now unless they are a special coffee type book. I won’t ever buy fiction in paper again.
I also don’t buy cookbooks anymore – since I discovered that google and my iPad was a much easier way to find a recipe !
OMG, 5 times in 6 months? GIves me the vapors just to think about it, and makes me want to go lie down and rest. LOL.
Our first Kindle just came today. I’ll be interested to see if it can cure my need for cookbooks in paper or not. I’m thinking not, but I have a good big bunch of Kindle cookbooks I already downloaded to my PC, so we’ll see.
In the meantime, Lis — sure hope you’re where you want to be and can stay put — at least until you’re ready to move again.
Oh yeah it was about moving countries, selling a house, buying a new one without actually owning two houses at anytime, which meant a short spell of homelessness! But seriously most of the boxes were books – not any longer – a lot of them have been got rid off!
I actually don’t use cookbooks on my Kindle – I use google and search random ingredient, random ingredient recipe – works very well for me!
TOTALLY, ABSOLUTELY AGREE, Patricia!
Same thing I told a Chicago publishing house employee back in the early ’80’s after a 2nd job interview. (not the person deciding to hire me, of course, smarter than that) (see earlier post.)
In my viewpoint today, Trad. Publshrs. have but one single option: MODERNIZE!
They truly have no real choice in the matter and they certainly do know it, believe me, they do!
They listen and watch very closely!
They will undoubtedly have to do just as the Newspaper Publishing industry has done in recent years – – switching their primary tasks over to e-based app’s/services to continue to even “balance their books” and “stay in the black”.
Oh, and don’t get me started on the demise of the payphone booths! I abhor how consumers were just left to be sitting ducks as we all watched the AT&T, MCI and others in their famed ‘Telecom Debacles’.
Jeez! Even then, I tried tirelessly to warn numerous Chicago citizens about what would ensue and no one would believe me nor listen because I was not some global Celeb or hi-incomed Executive. Instead, I was a person with much insight and common-sense who gleaned the Wall St. Journal and Washington Post, etc. for breakfast every morning. I was privy to the inner-chambers of proposed plans/projects and forecasts, as well as Executive-whispers. So yes, I did know quite a bit more than others about the proposed, NOW REALISTIC, corporate plans to rid America of landline-based phones and hook them on ‘mobile-cellular’ phones. Heck, I only wish now that I had been able to retain my initial investments in those initial corporations……I”d be a ‘Zillionaire’ by now! But, alas, the AT&T shakedown erased over 40% of my investments and I never quite recovered to the same level – fast enough to catch up. So indeed, I am still fuming!
Greatly written NEW points.
But—maybe alas—especially for Fictions, I believe (at this moment) that many people still like to get ENDORSEMENT from the typical publishers. And that too beforehand. The so called Star-rating coupled with crowd-Reviews, reflect DEMOCRACY.—But these writers (& many readers) might believe: AESTHETICS must not be democratised.
And that’s where Traditional Houses are still untouchable by the Technology.