When it comes to publishing, you essentially have two choices: find a traditional publisher who will cover the expenses of producing your book, or self-publish and pay to produce the book yourself. For many authors, the idea of self-publishing is both daunting and confusing. Those who have yet to enter the world of publishing may wonder why anyone would bother with the trouble and expense. After all, if you choose traditional publishing, you don’t have to pay anything, and the publisher will do all the work for you, right?
Well, not exactly.
Landing a contract with a traditional publisher can be a long and difficult path, and sometimes it may not be an option at all – especially for first-time authors. For many reasons, self-publishing can be a great option for your first book – or your second or third, if you’re not happy with your experience in traditional publishing.
No Acceptance Process
Possibly the biggest advantage of self-publishing is that no one decides whether your book should be published or not, except for you. This means you have a lot more control over the content of the book. If you want to write something controversial, or something that doesn’t quite fit into a specific genre, self-publishing is a great way to get your book out there. Traditional publishers may turn you down if they don’t like a theme or message in your book, or make acceptance conditional on your changing it.
Traditional publishers and literary agents are also less concerned with the quality of your book, and more concerned with whether it will sell. If your first book isn’t something they feel the masses are clamoring for right now (and that topic could change from month to month), then they’re unlikely to take the financial risk of paying for an untested author’s book. But they’re also just guessing – a very well-educated guess, to be sure, but even they can’t see the future. If you believe your book could be the next breakthrough bestseller, self-publishing could be a better way to get there.
It’s Much Faster
The traditional publishing process has a few more initial steps than self-publishing, and these steps can be very time-consuming. First, most publishers require that you find a literary agent to represent you. This means you have to send out a lot of queries to agents and wait for responses. Then, once you find that literary agent, she’ll start the process of approaching publishers. Finally, once she finds a publisher that’s interested, you must go through the process of negotiating a contract with that publisher.
In that time, your book could have been out already, and you could have been getting royalty checks. On average, it takes a writer about 2 years from starting the search for a literary agent to having a book on the shelf, but it can take even longer.
With self-publishing, the turnaround time is much shorter. Depending on how much you do yourself and what you pay freelancers or a publishing company to do for you, the turnaround time is usually under 6 months. Choosing a company that can take care of the whole process is often the quickest route. The faster your book is out, the sooner readers can enjoy it.
Your Royalties Will Be Higher
Most traditional publishers offer 8-12% of the retail cost for the author’s royalties, or $0.80-1.20 per book that sells for $10. Self-publishing companies offer a wide range, usually between 50-100% of the profit on sales. Now, if you’re sharp you’ll notice we’re not comparing apples to apples. 100% of the profit could be the same as 12% of the retail depending on how much more than the manufacturing cost the retail price is. If your $10 book costs $9.20 to print, you’re still only getting $0.80 per book on direct sales, and that margin won’t cover booksellers’ channel fees.
But with self-publishing, you usually get to choose what you want your retail price to be. Granted, you’ll want to keep it reasonable or no one will want to buy it, but if you have a short book that costs $3 to print, you can choose to sell it for $10. If you have a 100% profit royalty arrangement, that means you make $7 on direct sales, which is 70% of retail. Even with Amazon’s enormous 55% channel fee (most booksellers charge 30-40%), you’re still making $1.50 per book when it’s sold there. You could bump the price to $12 and get $3.50 per book sold on Amazon if you want, and if you think people are willing to pay that price for your book. It’s up to you.
You’ll Have to Market It Yourself Anyway
Marketing your book can seem very intimidating to a first-time author. Some authors mistakenly think that a big advantage of traditional publishing is that someone else will take care of the marketing for you. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Aside from the slight advantage of getting listed in the publisher’s catalogs and perhaps mentioned on BOBtheir social media – if that’s something your publisher even does – you are on your own for marketing.
Traditional publishers do market books, but only for authors who are already bestsellers. This makes some financial sense. The publishers can be more certain that the expense of paying for a publicist will pay off, and the author has more time to crank out the next bestseller for them. First-time authors are a shot in the dark, and not worth the risk.
It Will Jump-Start Your Second Book
One of the reasons it’s so hard to break into traditional publishing is that it’s very difficult to prove that your book will sell. But with a self-published book under your belt, you have solid, factual proof. If you successfully market your first book and you enjoy even modest success, this shows traditional publishers and literary agents that:
- What you write appeals to readers
- You have an existing audience who will possibly buy from you again
- You have the know-how to successfully market a book and make money for them
So even if your dream is to write for a big-name publisher, the fastest and easiest way to get there could be to self-publish that first book. And hey, if it really takes off, you get to keep a bigger cut of the pie anyway!