To be … or Not to be is a form of a question I get at least once a week when it comes to publishing. Should I just do it myself? Should I signup with a self-publishing kind of company to get my book out? Should I pursue a New York publisher? It’s become a Publishing Game of Thrones.
In most cases, if you go with traditional publisher you must decide: Is control of the book important? Is timing important? Is making money important?
If the author has a timely topic that needs to get out, traditional publishing isn’t going to work; the lead time for acceptance to publication is not just a few months, it’s a year plus.
- If the quality of the book is important to the author, from the cover—to the paper—to the use of art and design within, traditional publishing may not work. Rarely does it desire the author’s opinion or input. If you don’t care or just don’t want to deal with it, it most likely will.
- If having cover art, interior design and layout approval, or what the back cover states is important, traditional publishing may not work. Rarely does it want the author’s opinion or input. If you don’t care or just don’t want to deal with it, it most likely will.
- If timing is a factor, i.e., your book needs to be in the public’s hands in less than 18 months, traditional publishing may not work—today, most books under contract are looking at 18 months to two years before they are in the public’s hand. For nonfiction … your book is “old”. If your book-to-be doesn’t have a time issue, traditional publishing could work.
- If making money is a factor … once you grasp that you are the Chief Marketing Officer of your book—no matter how you publish—you can make money with a book. With New York, an advance—sometimes small—may be all you get. If you and your book-to-be have perseverance in the corner, indie publishing will offer more opportunities.
So … where does that leave the author-to-be? Do you attempt to be picked up by New York? Or, is the independent avenue or self-publishing the better option because traditional publishing has cut back significantly in design—and creativity for that manner. And … with the 1.6 million-plus books being published yearly … with New York’s portion is only 10,000 of those books according to data from 2020 results.
There is still a general myth out there that if you’re with a traditional publisher, they will take care of everything. That’s a big NO … they will not. If they take you on, they will certainly produce the book, but whether they promote it is iffy. Eighteen of my personal books were published via New York. They did take care of it all pre the year 2000.
Then, I started to notice changes, starting with significantly reducing the percent paid on royalties. Suddenly, royalties were to be paid on “net” vs. “retail price”—that was a chop in half. Wowsa. My transition to the Independent or Indie side started that year and the forming of my own press.
Today, your (marketing/publicity) window after traditional publishing is short— very, very short. I call traditional publishing “Velcro publishing” because they take on books and throw them up against the wall, and whether they stick or not will decide how much the author will have to be out there trying to get their book bought vs. relying on the publisher for publicity and marketing.
With traditional publishing, most authors with NY houses make a few thousand dollars, if they are lucky. Typically, a mid-list author—which the great majority of authors will be considered—sell less than 5,000 copies during the life of the book. In 2020, that’s where over 90% of all contracted New York authors landed. That is less than $5,000, usually much less. Now, if the same author “gets” how to market; how to connect with his or her crowd; how to offer value—from providing entertainment or solving a problem, and if that author sells 5,000 copies on their own via website, public speaking, Amazon, working through a local bookstore, that 5,000 in sales translates to a multiple of what New York pays. For a $20 book, think around bringing in $3,500 vs. $10,000. Moneys out for traditional publishing BEFORE a New York commitment could including writing coaching or editing—sometimes thousands of dollars. Once New York buys, it picks up the tab for production. If you need an index, that is usually an additional charge to the author. My opinion—most nonfiction books should have one.
But, and it’s a huge BUT, unless you are a super celeb or author, you will be doing the marketing of your book. The old days, pre 2000, it was aggressive on your behalf. Today, the expectation is that you are expected and will do it.
The self-publishing route or pay-to-publish, where you engage an outside resource and usually publish under their imprint, is a possibility. This is an “author beware” step here. You need to do your research. Do an extensive search on Google (meaning you read into many pages on Google—not just the first page) for problems, complaints, rip-offs, lawsuits, vanity press after the company’s name. Does anything pop? Probe deeper.
There are a series of Red Flags that will throw up significant BEWARE signs—you can identify them within a previous blog here.
Pay attention. There was one company in Oklahoma, Tate Publishing, who scammed authors for years. Complaints started to surface and kept bubbling for years. By the time it was shut down, millions of dollars were lost. I’ve written for years about publishing predators and suggest you explore by blog here.
Typically, you either get higher royalties than a traditional publisher would pay, and or you can Understand ALL costs. Dig into background and complaints. You are the Chief Marketing Officer—switch hats from writing to book sales.
Independent is when you take full control. You starting learning what the business side of publishing is about. You will front the moneys for consulting, learning, editors, design, and printing. If you choose to not print in a high quantity format (over 500 books at a time) the print on demand—POD—could be the optimal choice. You are the Chief Marketing Officer. Whatever moneys come in go directly to you.
When you learn what publishing is and how it works, going the traditional route today almost becomes the lesser publishing option. As a former NY publishing snob, believing that only legit books, quality books came via NY, I now say: I wish I knew in the 1980s and 1990s what the 2000s and beyond taught me: You can publish a quality book; you can have total control; you can learn the business; you can do it in less than a year; you can out-market what most (publishers) do, and you can make a lot more money.
It’s not easy; it’s work. But it is doable. And if you self-publish a book successfully, don’t be surprised if a traditional publisher comes knocking on your door.
Dr. Judith Briles is a book publishing expert and coach. She empowers authors and works directly with authors who want to be seriously successful and has been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the ’80s. Judith is the author of 37 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms, Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers, and How to Create a $1,000,000 Speech. Her personal memoir When God Says NO-Revealing the YES When Adversity and Loss Are Present is a #1 bestseller on Amazon. Collectively, her books have earned over 45 book awards. Judith speaks throughout the year at publishing conferences.
Throughout the year, she holds Judith Briles Book Unplugged experiences: Publishing, Speaking, Marketing, and Social Media. All are two-day intensive limited to a small group of authors who want to be seriously successful. Join Judith live for the “AuthorU-Your Guide to Book Publishing” podcast on the Toginet Radio Network HERE.
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