Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Great Dilemma

With today's technology, authors are no longer stuck to the traditional publishing model of the major publishing houses. In the past if you wanted to get your book published you would get your manuscript complete then start looking for an agent, who would help you find a publisher. This model is still going strong, but many writers are turning to self-publishing to get their voices heard. No matter how great the publisher is, they can't publish every book that comes their way so there are plenty of excellent pieces of work that get tossed in the slush pile. Remember The Help? The author of that title had more than 60 rejections before her work was picked up. Great books can get lost in that slush pile.

So we authors are now faced with an interesting dilemma. Do we self-publish, or is the traditional model the better route? I have been asking myself this question for years, literally. In that time I have researched both models, talked to authors who have self published and talked to those who have used the publishing houses. More and more I find myself leaning to the self-publishing model. Here is why:

We'll start with royalties. Traditional publishing houses give their authors about 10% royalties. Out of that 10% you pay your agent. That doesn't count e-books which are often calculated differently. I have a friend who published a book that got nationwide attention and he told me it was very likely that he would never see royalties from the e-book sales. I was shocked. E-book sales make up a huge chunk of the market and they cost very little to produce. Royalties should at least be the same on those, if not higher. Granted, the royalties are going to be different depending on the publishing company, but you get the idea.

Marketing. This one is the biggest toss up for me. I don't know how to market a book. I don't know how to market anything, really. But that doesn't mean I can't learn. Marketing classes are all over the place, and if I wanted to I could go get a degree in marketing. I've seriously considered doing that too. But with a book you go through a publisher because you expect them to do the marketing. I think in the past this may have been the case, but I've talked to quite a few authors that are not getting the marketing they thought they would get through a publisher. One young author told me that she had her book published, was making about a dollar per book sold, and had hired a publicist to drive the book forward. I don't know what kind of marketing support she had, but it wasn't enough. However, all of these publishers have connections to the big name box stores that I don't have, so that's a mark in their favor. Regardless of the marketing platform and assistance given, they do have connections. So I'm torn on the marketing. I know, with the technology we have today and the huge reach of social media, marketing is possible without a publishing house, but it will be a learning curve.

Control of the title. This one is big for me. I never liked the idea of pouring my soul into a book and then passing it on to a publisher to control the outcome. I get that you need an editor. That one makes perfect sense to me. But once the title is published I want to be able to control the marketing schedule, book signings, book tours, etc. I may be somewhat of a control freak so keep that in mind. I like the idea of having full control over something that I've worked so hard on. On the other hand, the publishing houses are there because they know what they're doing, so following a set format is a good idea. This one is one of those toss ups for me.

Finances. So let's face it. Financially most of us don't have thousands of dollars to slap onto a book and get it published. There are many costs that come with publishing. You have to buy ISBN numbers, which should be purchased through the ISBN website. Turns out, if you purchase your ISBN for thirty bucks from one of the self publishers online, they then have the rights to the ISBN and you don't. You want to maintain the rights if you're self publishing so pay the money and do it right the first time.

After the ISBN you have cover design. This one has been a toss up for me. I'm pretty good at Photoshop and I have a sister who is great. In theory my cover shouldn't cost anything, but if I were to choose a cover designer that's a few hundred dollars. Editing is anywhere from $200 to $1500 depending on the editor you choose. I think I might have choked on some of those prices, really.

And then, of course, there's the production of the book itself. E-books can be done for a couple of hundred, and the physical book can be done for less than $1,000 for 100 copies. Then there's the business side of it. If you want to publish your book the right way, create a publishing company and publish your book through your company. This removes your liability and changes the tax portion of it. I really don't understand all of that, but I know it's best to publish the book as a company rather than as an individual. Starting a company will cost hundreds. Financially, people flock to publishers because it just doesn't feel feasible. So here's the breakdown.


  • 10% royalties
  • You give them control of the title (you can keep the copyright. Just make sure you read the contract)
  • Connections to bookstores and writers resources
  • Possible marketing help, but no guarantee
  • They fund the production
Self publishing:
  • You provide all the funding 
    • E-book production approx $250
    • Book cover approx $200
    • ISBN varies, but about $300 for 10 and you'll want multiple numbers
    • Editor anywhere from $250 - $1500
    • Print books $600 for 100 copies (figuring on the low side)
    • Marketing: ?
    • Expenses that I am unaware of or that pop up unexpectedly - X
  • You maintain complete control
  • You put together the marketing platform. You have to learn to market. Do you know what a press release is? You'll need to figure it out.
  • Higher royalties depending on where it was produced. 
  • E-book royalties that typically range from 30-50%, sometimes higher
See? It's a dilemma. There are pros and cons to both. I think if I could get my book picked up by one of the big five publishing companies (Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, etc) I'd jump at the chance, but probably not for the smaller publishers. Self publishing may be slower going, but it's possible to build a following through a good social media marketing program. At that point your books would start selling. I've decided that there is no right or wrong decision to the publishing dilemma. You simply have to choose whatever option works best for you.

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