Thursday, March 25, 2010

Understanding the myths regarding self-publishing versus traditionally publishing

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there regarding the pros and cons of either self-publishing or traditional publishing. I recently came across a blog that was advising writers on 5 Reasons to Self-Publish Your Next Book, and I found all but one of the 5 points to be very misleading. Of course, this is my opinion, based on the fact that I know a lot of authors who have done either or both, and I have done both.

Without printing the author's explanations, here are the 5 reasons the author offered, and my opinion on them.

Reason #1: Self-Publishing is Not Nearly as Difficult As You Think
Reason #2: Publishing Companies Don’t Actually Do Anything.
Reason #3: You Will Make More Money.
Reason #4: You Will Spend Less Money.
Reason #5: A Publisher Will Never Care As Much As You Do.

While I heartily agree with #1, I find the rest of the points quite misleading, especially to newer, less experienced writers. As an author who has both self-published and published traditionally, I am not speaking from one bias. There are definite pros and cons to both sides and I am pro-self-pub and pro-trad-pub.

Allow me to clarify...

#2: Publishing Companies Don’t Actually Do Anything: 
This is untrue for the most part. Publishers do a LOT for their authors; much of it is behind the scenes stuff that authors never have to worry about, such as sending copies to Library of Congress, obtaining and registering ISBNs, obtaining UPC and other codes, finding good editors, finding great cover designers, aligning with a solid distributor so your books get to bookstores and events on time, preparing review lists and packages to entice advance reviewers to read your book, sending out ARCs (advance reading (or review) copies), and so many other tasks BEFORE your book is ready to sell. Of course, self-pub'd authors CAN do these things themselves, but it'll cost time, money and they may not have the connections needed.  

When the book launches, many publishers will assist with book tours and launches (some financially, some with setup), they often pay for co-ops in bookstores (endcaps or special bins that get more notice and advertising), represent the author at book fairs like BEA and the former BEC and more, print brochures and mail out to libraries, schools, bookstores and other book retailers.  

I'm not saying that every traditional publisher does all of this. But a reputable and good one will do much of this. I have heard this from MANY of my traditionally published author friends. 

#3: You Will Make More Money: 
This is very misleading. When you self-pub a book, you WILL make more money per copy--providing you sell them all and AFTER you've paid for them. But the average s/pub'd author prints short runs, anywhere from 200-1000 books on average. S/pub'd authors who write non-fiction and have a strong platform and venues like colleges or organizations to sell their books to will generally print larger runs. These are the s/pub'd authors who tend to make more money. But they also spend more in traveling expenses.  

The average self-pub'd fiction author will make more per copy but sell far fewer copies than they would if they were traditionally published. I know this from experience and from my fellow authors who have shared their stories. I self-pub'd Whale Song in 2003. It was quite successful and I made back my initial investment (subsidized costs and print costs) very quickly. In the first 3 years I made a fair amount of money. In 2007, Whale Song was published by a trad. publisher. A larger print run was printed (one I didn't have to pay for) and the distributor got my books into more libraries and stores than I had on my own. In the first 2 years, I sold more copies because of distribution and advertising that my publisher did. I made MORE money this way.  

#4: You Will Spend Less Money: 
After reviewing my income tax forms, I can safely say that I spent very close to the same amount with each method I used. When I self-published I had a lot of start-up expenses and printing costs. When I was traditionally published, I had other expenses, like sending out review copies to anyone I wanted to (not including the major reviewers that my publisher took care of). My promotion costs in both cases were nearly the same. However, I spent more on my book launch for my last self-pub'd book than I did for the trad. published one. No matter if you're self-pub'd or trad pub'd there are opportunities out there that will cost money or save you money. (I'm a book marketing coach, and I coach authors about promotion.)  

#5: A Publisher Will Never Care As Much As You Do: 
This statement is both correct and incorrect, in my opinion. You, the author, will care more about your creation as a whole, because you thought it up, slaved over it, perfected it, struggled with it, loved it/hated it, etc. You WANT success so badly that you see your work as a pedway to the top.  

However, a publisher cares too. They see your work as an INVESTMENT. They've purchased the rights, taken a huge leap of faith on it and YOU, they've risked their finances, time and reputation on you and your work. Of course they care. But yes, for different reasons (for the most part) than you, the author. Although, I have heard that there are still some publishers out there who genuinely care about their authors, the books and everyone's success.  

#1: Self-Publishing is Not Nearly as Difficult As You Think: 
This statement is absolutely correct. Nowadays, self-publishing is as easy as a good printer and binding equipment. That doesn't mean the work itself is any good--or the editing. I advise my clients who are considering self-publishing to ensure that their work meets the same high standards of trad. pub'd books. Yes, even a bestseller can have typos, but on average they are better edited. If you self-pub, hire an editor. If you aren't artistically talented, pay for an eye-catching book cover design, not some cheesy looking cut and paste design a ten-year-old could make. You can self-pub completely on your own (I call this DIY self-publishing) or with the assistance of a subsidy publisher (they often have great distribution set in place to get you up and selling much faster than DIY) and some subsidies offer decent editing.  

Regardless of how you publish, make sure you check the publisher (printer, distributor, editor) out very carefully. Contact some of their past and present authors and ask how their experiences were. Check them out on Preditors and Editors and Absolute Write. Above all, be informed about all the pros and cons.  

Happy writing, publishing and promoting!  

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, 
bestselling author & book marketing coach

1 comment:

execstress said...

I loved reading your views on this Cheryl after having first read the other post.

A virtual author's assistant can do all the things in #2 for an author and possibly for less than the ONGOING cut the publisher will take from sales.

Print on demand also means an author can print as needed so won't have to worry about money lost on returns.


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