The first thing to consider when you are choosing to self-publish or not is your genre. That’s because publishers are first and foremost interested in making money. They’ll turn away a brilliant novel that won’t sell, and they bought the rights to 50 Shades of Grey after it became popular. Since my genre is High Fantasy, which publishers see as a bottomless pit of production cost (bigger books, which means more paper and ink, original artwork for every item, etc), and it’s so hit or miss whether or not readers will like it, the publishers are reluctant to publish this type of work (though they LOVE fantasy that mixes with our world or near future… vampires (Twilight), magic-users in modern-day (Harry Potter)… you can find plenty of examples. But there’s only a handful of active writers in their own worlds on the shelves). Now for that pro-con list…
NOTE – There are many different sources that conflict with each other. Though I do site some sources to show I’m not pulling numbers out of thin air, you can easily find other sources that contradict them. My statements and the sources I linked to are based on a “general consensus” where I found multiple sources that more or less agreed on these things in general.
Pros to Traditional Publishing:
- Everything is free. – Free editing (anywhere from $3k-$10k to pay for yourself) – Free Cover Design ($2.5k – $5k for fully original art, but can be more depending on how fancy you want to get). Free artwork for anything else needed – Free anything else required for production (the self-publishing prices are based on years of researching, but I can’t site all of them because the price ranges so wildly, but so does the quality of the service – my experience is expect to pay 3.5k-5k for a good cover, and editing services vary wildly not only based on quality, but TYPE of editing – content (making sure your story makes sense, has good character development, etc – this is the most expensive and will cost ~3-5k, copy editing, which is “paragraph level” editing, which will cost you 1.5-3k, and proofreading, which will cost you 1-1.5k)
- Readers know your book will have a certain level of quality, which can lead to higher sales numbers. While even traditional publishers have typos and mistakes, they are far fewer for most traditionally published authors, because the publisher, if they decide to buy the rights to publish your book, is dang sure going to make sure it doesn’t embarrass them. But it also will help with editing to avoid redundancy, offer alternative wording that may help in some places, etc. Of course, there are still plenty of crappy stories that get published riding a fad or hype train, but at least the book’s production quality will be guaranteed. (https://selfpublishingadvice.org/quality-problem-in-self-publishing/)
- Far more likely to see your book in an actual bookshop. You see, if you self-publish, you’ll most likely be using POD (Print on Demand). Which works fine for you – you’ll probably make somewhere between 50 cents to $2 per copy sold, but you won’t have to pay for the printing until you actually have a sell (or you can buy in limited quantities to guarantee you sell them all). But a bookstore isn’t interested in that gross profit margin, because they’re still losing money with paying their employees and getting the book shipped to them. But traditional publishers and their printers have deals with these bookstores because they order so much product from them – normally they pay 35-45% less per copy than you are going to, but they are selling it for the same amount. (Source: Ingram Spark – where you, using POD, can still offer discounts to stores, but you’ll probably not be able to compete with the discount rate offered by the Big 4 in Publishing http://www.ingramspark.com).
- (Arguable) Prestige. This is one I feel obligated to put on there, even if I disagree with it. Yes, someone else has put their stamp of approval and you aren’t just doing vanity publishing – but whether they approved it because they valued it as a work of valuable creative energy or because they think they’ll make money off of it… they’ll always stroke your ego, but based on what else they’ve published, who knows what they think? Proof? After originally being self-published, 50 Shades of Grey was bought by Vintage Books, which is one of the many companies under the umbrella of Random House publishing). They didn’t buy 50 Shades of Grey because it was great art – but because it would sell.
Cons to Traditional
- They WON’T help market your book (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/digitization-new-technology/why-dont-publishers-market-promote-the-books-they-publish). Marketing is $$$$, so they save that for the Grishams and Rowlings of the world. You might get a webpage, but that’s it. You are going to be on your own to promote your book for the most part – but you’ll have to comply with their guidelines.
- Your royalty % will suck – and you won’t get any until you earn back the “advancement” they used to buy your book! – If they paid you 5k for the rights to your book (standard for a new writer – source: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/author-advance-survey-version-20/), you won’t see a dime until your royalties pay back that 5k. At less than $1 per copy (except hardbacks – you’ll see somewhere between $1.25-$2 per copy) …yeah, good luck. Also, you’ll only get two checks for royalties per year (once every six months).
- Even after they agree to publish the book, it will be under the assumption that you will let them edit the book. If you disagree with the edits? Well, fighting editors is a good way to stall your book indefinitely.
- Even after everything is accepted, it’s going to be about 2 years before your book is available to the public (https://stevelaube.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-published/).
- You may have to wait years to get a yes…lots of rejection in that time frame. Especially if your book is of a particular genre or they believe isn’t going to sell in the current market.
Okay, now for a pro/con list of self-publishing:
- Full-control (also a con). You choose what you want to say, your distribution method…everything. Of course, this can also be overwhelming and time consuming. Whether this is a pro or con depends on your personal lifestyle and skill set.
- Bigger Royalties – especially on eBook. At 99 cents, you’re percentage is still better than traditional, though actual money per sale is less (royalties on eBooks are ~25% for traditionally published writers (http://www.alanjacobson.com/writers-toolkit/the-business-of-publishing/ and you’ll get 33 cents for your 99 cent book on Amazon, so 33% royalty). But if you bump your price up to 2.99 (on Amazon) or higher (there is a cap, but you’ll probably outprice yourself from the market before you hit it), the royalty % goes from favoring Amazon to you, 2:1. So, IF you’re book sells even moderately successfully at 2.99 or higher, you’ll actually earn more self-publishing (that’s a BIG if though, more to come on that in the con list).
- Your book is available for consumption whenever you want it to be. No years of rejection. No 2 years to see it on the shelf after acceptance. You hit “go” and the world reads it, if they want to.
- To do it well, it’s $$$$$$. As I discussed in my pro list for traditional, this gets expensive fast (see the sources up at the top of Pros for Traditional publishing to see costs). But, you might have the connections to help. Since I studied English Literature in college, I had a lot of friends who do this for a living that helped me out for free or at an insanely discounted rate – both editing and art! (side note – many people advise indies to forgo all this and just publish for free on ebooks the best they can do on their own; that’s completely your call. I couldn’t bear to do that, but you can always hope that your book sells well and then pay for professional services when you can afford it).
- Hard to sell. You might be responsible for your own marketing, but self-publishing is still harder to convince people to buy than traditional. The overwhelming majority of all self-published books sell under 100 copies (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/09/the-cruel-paradox-of-self-publishing/261912/) . Like, well over 90% of them. And, of Amazon’s Kindle Million Club with 14 writers, only 2 are indies (https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200726950 – you can look up each one like I did to see who has never been traditionally published (some are mixed)).
- You will live and die by the eBook. This is the one that worries me the most actually. As a writer of YA high fantasy, most of my readers actually prefer hard copies. But hard copies won’t profit me much. I can barely cover printing cost at the price most paperbacks are in the bookstore (and you can’t afford to do mass market size paperbacks (the small ones you see everywhere) – they’ll cost you over $10 to print unless you buy thousands at a time, and $10 already puts you over the cost of the bookstore mass market paperbacks). Most POD services have a calculator that can determine the cost of printing your book (https://myaccount.ingramspark.com/Portal/Tools/ShippingCalculator). Go to them, get a price. Then go see how much a similar book sells in the bookstore. You’ll obviously get the net difference, minus shipping, unless you charge that to your reader. My 6×9 paperback (same size as hardback) at 300 pages would cost me $10.60 to print and have shipped to me. When I go to the bookstore, I see that size paperback sells anywhere from 9.99-12.50. You can read up on Amazon’s rates for ebooks on their site, same for iBooks, Nook, and Kobo.
- Hard to get honest feedback. Since you’re paying them, editors, artists, and reviewers have financial incentive to tell you what you want to hear. Couple that with friends and family don’t want to hurt your feelings, and it can make it difficult to put out the best possible product.
For me, I chose self-publishing because I figured I wasn’t likely to make money either way, and my genre is not in demand currently. Plus, I wanted full creative control and had connections to help cut down the cost significantly. But some of my novels I’m planning I want to be traditionally published. I have a stand-alone sci-fi novel that I don’t want to sink the money into (saving that for my Tales of Lugon works), and I’m willing to wait a while to get it published.
To review, here are the biggest questions:
- What genre is your book? Is it in demand?
- What are your goals (besides sales)?
- Do you have more time or money when it comes to getting your book ready to be shared with the world?
- Do you value the approval of the industry?
Depending on your answers, some of these questions may immediately decide your route. Most likely though, you’ll be weight the pros and cons for both your book and your personal goals.
But the most important thing I can say on this topic is this: do not get overly caught up in this before you have a book to publish! It’s good to have a general plan in mind, but both self-publishing and traditional require a complete manuscript!!
Questions? Comments? Let me hear from you below or tweet me @Tales_of_Lugon!