Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: What’s the Best Fit for Your Book?
In my career as an author I have published two books – one years ago with Time Warner Books (a large publishing house) and more recently, I published a book by starting my own publishing company and using Amazon as my primary means of promoting and selling my book.
The first time I participated in the publishing process, I was hired by a rheumatologist to co-author a book on fibromyalgia. When I got involved, he already had a lead on an agent and we put together a proposal, shipped it off, and she agreed to try and find a home for the book. We landed a publishing contract with Time Warner Book Group (now Hachette Book Group) and we were off to the races. In the first part of this article, I review my experience with traditional publishing. In the second half, I'll review the pros and cons of self-publishing.
The doctor I worked for received a $15,000 advance. The agent received 15% of that, and I received 10%.
I was given a very short timeline (4 months) to provide a very detailed outline of each chapter, and then following approval, write the book.
One of the best parts of this project for me was the opportunity to work with a professional editor from the beginning to the end of the process. They will help you with developing the storyline, editing the draft manuscript, and provide proofreading. These are costs that can really add up if you publish on your own.
Title & Cover Design
If you work with a publishing company, they have final say over the title and cover design of the book. They also cover all of the costs of the book’s design and layout.
The publisher makes sure your title appears in the appropriate trade journals and uses established marketing channels to give your book better odds of landing on the shelves of retailers.
Printing & Distribution
The publisher makes all decisions related to printing and covers all of the costs. This is a very big advantage. The publisher also handles promotion and distribution.
The contract specified a royalty of 10% of the cover price, which came out to about $1 a book after the agent gets paid. The royalties are actually paid to the agent who takes out her 15% cut of the royalty, and then pays the author. Royalties don’t get paid until the advance is paid off, which can take a very long time. Also, royalties are only paid every six months and it can take up to nine months for the first royalties to be calculated.
How Does Self-Publishing Compare?
When I decided to write and publish The Smallest Horse, I wasn’t interested in trying to find an agent or a publisher. I didn’t want to go through the tedious process of sending proposals to agents and possibly facing a lot of rejections. I had done enough research to feel confident that there was a market for my book, and that I could connect with an audience through online sales. Here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of doing it on my own:
Writing & Editing
Although you won’t have the guidance of an experienced publisher, there are many ways to get support with the writing and editing process. I found an online community of children’s book writers who were committed to reviewing member’s manuscripts on a regular basis. Seeing as I had never written a children’s book, it was enormously helpful to read and critique other people’s manuscripts and also to receive feedback on my own. Once I had taken the manuscript as far as I could on my own, I hired an experience editor and received enormously valuable feedback that made the story much, much better.
One of the biggest motivations I had for self-publishing is that I wanted complete control over every aspect of the project. I didn’t want someone else telling me what the title should be or how the book should look. However, I have extensive experience as a marketing and creative director, so none of this felt daunting to me, but I’ve talked to authors who are grateful to have someone else make these decisions.
When you publish your own book, you are essentially starting your own publishing company and there is just a tremendous amount to learn. There are a lot of different options for how to publish your books including Amazon Create Space, Amazon Advantage, Kindle Direct Publishing and Ingram Spark, just to name a few. They all have pros and cons and it can be hard to figure out the best fit for your project. Hopefully this site will help you navigate the process. You’ll also have to buy your own ISBN, find and hire a designer, and determine how you want to print your book.
Do not underestimate the importance of a great book design. It’s trite, but people really do judge a book by its cover and also interior. Quality design is a critical aspect of the process and it’s imperative to find and experienced book designer who can help shepherd you through the entire process. When I approach book stores and tell them I have a self-published book I think they might be interested in, they automatically steel themselves for something that reeks of an amateur attempt to publish a book. They are delighted when they see a professional designed and printed book. I have not once had anyone say no to carrying my book in their store. I did not really think to budget for design and had to scramble to figure out how to pay for it. I highly recommend checking out the design company I worked with: TLC Book Design. I simply cannot say enough good things about working with them.
Marketing your own book is perhaps a harder task than writing it! You will need to get crystal clear about how your audience is and formulate a plan for how to reach them. No matter how great your book is, it won’t sell itself. Don’t forget you’ll also need a professional website as part of your marketing package.
Printing is expensive and there are a lot of decisions to be made about how to format the book, whether to use a digital or offset printer, and whether to print hard cover or soft cover. You’ll also need to decide how any books to print and even where to store them. Of course, you can also choose to publish your book as an e-book and completely avoid printing costs.
Sixty percent of book sales take place online and a majority of those go through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. However, that still means forty percent of books are bought through stores and that requires partnering with a distributor. Although people are happy to buy my book if I show up in person, there’s not currently a way for bookstores to order my book from a distributor. If you want your book to have a chance in the brick and mortar world, you’ll have to put some time and energy into finding a distributor who is a good fit for your needs. And you’ll have to be prepared to give them a substantial percentage of the book’s profits as well.
If you are willing to go through all the steps it takes to self-publish a quality book, you stand to make more money that you would from traditional publishing (unless you wind up with a best seller!) It only took The Smallest Horse six months to pay for itself and start generating a decent monthly profit through online sales.