To publish the traditional route or to self-publish? This is actually a difficult and sometimes thorny question for some writers. Why? If your don’t know what each of them does for you, it’s hard to make that decision. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. I am going to discuss both and explain why I chose the self-publishing route.
Traditional publishing is when you actually go with a book publisher who offers the author a contract, and then edits, prints and publishes the work and places it in bookstores. Some writers feel that going with a traditional publishing house is the only way to go. They feel it lends weight and legitimacy to their work. Plus, it is a tried and true method. Brick and mortar bookstores have been around for decades and so have traditional publishers. So, how do you get a traditional publisher to accept your work?
Well first and foremost, you have to have a complete manuscript. This would be the most important step, for without it, you are going nowhere.
Most writers going the traditional publishing route need to find an agent. Agent’s are sort of the gatekeepers of the industry. In order to do this you have to find an agent that accepts work in your book’s particular category or genre. Send a cooking book to an agent that only accepts horror novels and I can guarantee you it will get rejected. There is a reference book called the Writer’s Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published which every writer who traditionally publishes probably owns for one year or another. It can be found on Amazon here. It is a very helpful resource as it lists literary agents, contests and awards, trade magazines, publishing houses, etc…
Once you locate the literary agents, you will need to write a query letter. A query letter is a sales document. This letter is what you will send to potential agents. When writing this letter, make sure you include a synopsis of your book, the chapter summary, the market your audience is meant for and a description of yourself. Yes, you must sell yourself. This is the part of the traditional publishing route that is like nails on a chalkboard for me. I don’t like talking about myself. Maybe you do.
And there is a caveat which a lot of people don’t talk about. You don’t have to tell the agents that you are sending out multiple cold querying letters to multiple agents at once. However, once you start sending out requested manuscripts, you had better be clear if you are sending this out to more than one agent at a time. It’s an unwritten rule.
So, this process takes time. And it can mean a lot of time. J.K. Rowling sent out her Harry Potter pitch to twelve different publishers and was rejected twelve times before Bloomsbury accepted it. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected thirty times before Doubleday picked it up. Dr. Seuss was rejected by 27 publishers and he was so distraught he was ready to burn it, until he ran into an acquaintance who also happened to be an editor of children’s books. So, my advice if you are a first-time author? Be prepared to be rejected. But don’t give up. It’s all part and parcel of going the traditional publishing route and you should know you are in good company.
When you finally manage to get picked up by a traditional publisher, they will edit, print, publish and market your manuscript. They may or may not give you an advance. Here’s the part I don’t like. The author often ends up with about fifteen percent of the profits (that’s $1.25 per book) and the publisher gets the rest. And if you got an advance, you will have to wait until the book has made enough money to cover that advance before you ever see your first paycheck off the book. A first time author is projected to earn around $10,000 for their new book. And don’t forget you, the author, have to pay your agent out of that money. After you pay your agent and invest in promotion, there isn’t much left over.
I am not trying to dissuade you here. Traditional publishers are fine. Going the traditional publishing route is fine. As I said, it is the tried and true method of getting published for decades and so many great authors have, and are, doing it.
If you want to go the self-publishing route there are many, many things you need to know. You need to have an entrepreneurial spirit and you need to be able to take that risk. You will also need money for expenses upfront, since you are paying for it out of your own pocket.
The advantages of Self-Publishing are multitudinous. You don’t need an agent, you don’t have to worry about rejection, you own all your work, you never have to give up the rights to anything if you don’t chose to, you can control the schedule of when your book is published, you can control how many books you publish a year and you control the marketing. You will pick the cover art, you will pick the editor, and you will decide what stays and what doesn’t go in your book.
The disadvantages to Self-Publishing are mostly financial and can be a barrier. You have to come up the money to pay the cover artist, to pay the editor, to pay for the marketing campaign. Luckily, if you do it right, you don’t have to come up with the money all at once. You can do it in stages, you can self-edit, you can design your own cover, if this is what you chose to do. You have complete control.
Today there are multiple self-publishing models. There is Subsidy, Vanity, Self-Publishing, and Print on Demand. Most people do a combination, they don’t just do one. Here I will break down what each of them are.
A Vanity Publisher is also known as a book manufacturer and will publish anyone’s work, provided they have enough money to pay for the services rendered. The manufacturer prints and binds the book. That’s it. No editing, no marketing, no promotion, nothing, nada, zip. However, the author does own the book and he/she will also get 100% of the profits.
A subsidy publisher is just like a vanity publisher, except that they will aid financially in editing the book, distribution, warehousing, and marketing. In this case, the author still owns the book, but they make royalties, not 100% of the profits.
You would think that all of this is self-publishing and you would be right. However, in this case, the definition of self-publishing means, the author pays for the book cover, the editing, the marketing, the distributing and they warehouse the book. This is a lot and can be a huge time commitment, but it can also be a lot more cost effective than Vanity Publishing or Subsidy Publishing.
Print On Demand
A Print On Demand Publisher accepts all submissions. There is no rejection as long as you have the money to pay. POD, as it is called, prints one book at a time through a company, and it is cost effective. The book is only printed if an order comes in. Therefore, supply meets reader demand. The advantage of this is obvious. The author no longer has to worry about warehousing the book. The services of editing, proofreading and marketing are offered at an additional cost, but you don’t have to use these services, and the author makes money off of royalties. Rights for the book can sometimes go to the publisher depending on the contract, but this varies depending on the publisher.
Amazon is a great example of this. Kindle Direct Publishing Print On Demand allows the author to self-publish the book in paperback and they will sell it on Amazon websites in the US, Europe and Japan. The author can earn up to 70% royalty on a Kindle eBook and 60% royalty on paperback sales. When I say 60% of royalties on the paperback, you should understand how that works. I calculated it wrong my first go around. I thought they would take the print costs from the sale price, off the top, and then I would receive 60% of what was left. No, that is not how it works. Amazon gives you 60% of the cost of the book and then you have to pay the printing cost from that amount. The way I calculated it the first time gives the author more money. I feel that it is important that any author understand this so they don’t suffer from sticker shock. I know I did. The advantages of this, of course, are that you don’t have to pay any upfront costs or carry any inventory. Rights to the book belong to the author / publisher. You don’t give up your rights to Amazon. Amazon is a store, not a publisher. So, who is the publisher? You are!
With stores like Amazon, you can do both eBook Self-publishing and Paperback Print On Demand. Remember when I said it can be a combination of two publishing models? This is why.
So, how do you Self-Publish? That is going to be another post. I am going to go through the entire Self-publishing cycle and what I have learned so far. I will update the article if I learn anything new as I keep going through this process.
So there are the advantages and disadvantages of Traditional vs Self Publishing. I am sure there are more and I probably have overlooked something. Research is your friend. Google, google, google.
In parting, I would like to point out something. 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James started out as a self-published novel. So did The Martian by Andy Weir, The Tale of Peter Rabbit (yes, Beatrix Potter self-published!), Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, Eragon by Christopher Paolini, The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, and The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. What made these self-published authors successful was one thing. They did not just self-publish and then wait for something to happen. They worked really hard to make sure their books became a success. And that is the secret sauce to self-publishing. It’s work. It’s a lot of work. And you have to be willing to put in the work in order to make it happen.
So, why did I chose Self-Publishing? I like the idea of having complete creative control. I also like the fact that I don’t have to waste months, possibly years getting rejected before someone will deem me worthy of being published. Once you get a contract from a Traditional Publisher, it can take 18 months to get published. I am not that patient. I also like the fact that I will retain more of the profits. After all, it’s my hard work, not somebody else’s. And I have learned that I am willing to take risks. Traditional Publishing is safe. I don’t care if I am going out on limb for myself. I have already been an entrepreneur with my husband starting up our restaurant. So now I am doing the same for my publishing business.