There are four main ways authors get their books published. Decades ago, we really only had two ways: Traditional and Vanity or Self-Publishing. Because the only way to sell books back then were to have them appear in brick-and-mortar bookstores, it was critical to have a publisher print and distribute books, so people could see, review, and ultimately buy them. Today, thanks to the Internet, we have moved away from the need to drive to the local book store and buy our books. We now have point-of-sale websites, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble which offer most all books for sale on line. While people still enjoy browsing paper books in stores still, the trend is moving away from the physical book store and today, more books are bought on line. In fact, in recent years, E-books surpassed paper books in total sales, a trend that continues to grow.
There are advantages to each type of publishing, something all authors should be aware of. I’ll walk you through each of these with a brief description and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Traditional Publishing: Still done the way it’s been done for hundreds of years! Authors submit Query Letters, manuscripts, cover letters, introduction letter, author platform description, and other information in hopes some underling at a publishing house sees something interesting in your title. This subordinate, after perusing perhaps hundreds of query letters a day, (after issuing hundreds of rejection letters), might take one or two interesting Queries to a higher-up. My last figures were that 99% of all submitted manuscripts don’t get past the first reading. Keep in mind that even some of the most successful author, (JR Rowlings, Steven King, et al), experienced hundreds of rejection letters before landing a publisher. Thus, you will need to be prepared to send out dozens—if not hundreds—of these prospecting packages to potential publishers.
Advantages: Obviously, if you DO get accepted by a publishing house, it means they found value in your work. The typical publisher will print enough copies to put in distribution, give the author a set number of books for their own use, and then hope that they author will get out and hustle. Meaning, market, promote and do all they can to make their book want to be read. Yes, most publishers will invest a small dollar figure into the book’s promotion. But, because, 8 of 9 books PUBLISHED don’t make money, (yes, you read that right!), they are going to be very frugal on what money is spent on what books.
Disadvantages: Be careful what you wish. While there are some happy writers out there who are traditionally published, there are dozens unhappy and, quite frankly, disillusioned with the process and outcome. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a traditionally published author who has actually made any real money on their published book. The onus falls on the author in most cases to promote and market. Many authors simply are not taught how to do this well. In addition, the typical royalty payment to an author is between 8 and 12% of the wholesale cost of the book. Thus, for the average book which sells for $20 in a store, the author will make between .80 and $1 per book sold. Most authors spend more in gas to do a book signing than they will ever make in royalties for that event. Also, worse yet, publishers own your book, own the rights to your book, and decide ultimately what will go into—or out of—your book.
Print on Demand (POD): This is a relatively new publishing model and is a good one for many authors. Print on Demand is exactly as it states: Books are only printed when they are purchased. With digital printing coming down in price, this is more affordable than in years past. Amazon’s “Create Space” is a good example of a POD.
Advantages: POD’s are great for authors whose books have a small market appeal. Things like family biographies, unique interests, small-group topics, etc., where the potential to sell large numbers are small. Usually fewer than 50 books that are expected to be sold is a general figure.
Disadvantages: With such small print quantities, the cost per book is quite high. The average I’ve seen is between $5 and $10 per book depending on page count, format, and cover type/binding. Also, because POD’s are done with digital printing, the quality of the print is not the same or as superior as off-set printing that is typically done in normal printing houses. Authors who use POD’s, in most cases, can’t make the kind of money other publishing options offer, nor can they get the books in traditional stores like Barnes and Noble due to the cost of printing larger quantities in POD fashion.
Hybrid Publishing: This one you need to be VERY CAREFUL with! I’ve had authors come to me in tears during consultations who wasted thousands of dollars on various hybrid publishing firms. The Hybrid typically charges a sizeable fee to set up, print, and distribute the book, similar to what a traditional publisher would do. However, because the author is putting up the money, the hybrid publisher has minimal incentive to have the book sell. They usually offer more in terms of royalty payments, but the author would have to sell tens of thousands of books just to break even. And, most hybrid publishers own the rights to the book. (Including movie, foreign, and franchise rights.)
Advantages: NONE! Well, that is a bit harsh! But, the only advantage to this is that an author gets their book published. That’s it.
Disadvantages: The author puts up a large sum of money in return for a handful of “free” books and to have their book in distribution. In reality, Hybrid publishers only print a number of books with your money, just enough to place a few in distribution and to give the author a set amount. If the author wants more books, they usually agree to purchase books at wholesale costs plus a percentage, usually 10%. Thus, the author is paying MORE for the books themselves than what a book store would pay. The Hybrid publisher is out only a few hundred dollars to print these few books and have your thousands as their profit. If your book happens to sell well, they gladly print more books to meet this demand and continue to make more money in the process. It is a no-lose format for hybrid publishers…and seldom a win-win for the author. I’ve yet to meet a hybrid published author make a dent on what they spent on their investment.
Self-Publishing: Generations ago, self-publishing was frowned upon in the industry. It was so bad that it often was labeled “vanity publishing” since authors that went this route were doing so because no reputable publisher would consider publishing the work…thus, leaving the author to print the book arguably for ‘vanity’ reason.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED!
In times past, prior to the Internet, books could only be sold in brick-and-mortar stores. (Or at a card table set up in front of some location!) Thus, to even be considered a REAL author, you had to be published. Today, not true at all! In fact, many of the most prolific authors today have published many books as self-published authors.
What really IS Self-Publishing?
It is the idea of the author “investing” in their book, owning their book and the rights to it, and decide everything about the book. Where traditional publishers almost always control any book that they publish, (because, technically, they now OWN the book by signing you as a traditionally published author, and make all the decisions), self-published authors control and own everything about their own book. This can be good or bad depending on what YOU the author are willing and capable of doing.
Advantages: As mentioned, self-published authors own and control their book. In self-publishing your book, you decide what you want in it, what the cover should look like, the price of the book, the format size, if you want to print it in soft, hard, dust-covered, or other bound formats. But the BIGGEST advantage is that you make 100% of the profit that your book makes! Instead of making less than a dollar per book, (which is the average royalty in traditional publishing), you can expect to make between $5 and $20 PROFIT per book! (Depending on the print-run cost and what you sell the book for.)
Disadvantages: There really are only two disadvantages: 1) You are the investor in your book. But, let me put it this way: if you are not willing to invest in your own book, why would any publisher? 2) Storage: you will need to store the quantity of books you purchase.
Let me put it another way: If you print say 2000 books at a cost of $2 per book in printing costs, you have invested $4000 and own 2000 books. If you SELL those books at $15 each, your profit is $13 per book…or, a net profit of $26,000.00 when you sell all the books. (Gross profit of $30,000!) Compared to traditional publishing, you would make LESS than $2000 profit for selling 2000 books!