Self-Publishing Pros and Cons
Guest Post by Irene Watson
(Irene passed away on November 4, 2012, but she had much left to say. We will continue to publish the articles she had already written.)
Self-publishing can be a great way to get your book out to your target audience while retaining full control of its production and full profit from your book sales. The stigma of self-publishing has diminished greatly with new technology and an abundance of services so authors can produce books of equal quality to those of traditional publishers. With the vast majority of books today being self-published, authors have no reason not to try self-publishing.
A few decades ago, self-publishing was considered a big “No No.” The cost to self-publish was high and vanity presses often took advantage of authors. However, several well-known authors from Walt Whitman and Mark Twain to James Redfield have self-published books that have become classics and bestsellers, and with the advances in technology, self-publishing is highly affordable. As long as the author makes producing a quality book a top priority, self-publishing can be not only a feasible choice, but it may even be the better choice over traditional publishing. Following are some advantages for why you might consider self-publishing.
Control of Production: Self-publishing your book gives you complete control of the production. Rather than sell your rights to a publisher who will then edit your book the way it sees fit and decide itself when to publish your book—often two years down the road—and decide whether to continue to sell your book or take it off the shelves, the self-publisher has complete control over timing and production. Your publisher may want your book to be a coffee table, expensive hard back book while you want an inexpensive paperback so you can sell more copies. If you self-publish, then you can produce it the way you want. You also can guarantee that your book never goes out of print by reprinting it as often as you like or the market demands. By contrast, publishers often cease printing books that are not bestsellers, and then authors have to wait years for their contracts to expire to buy back the rights of their own books. Having complete control over the entire publishing process and the lifespan of your book is perhaps the greatest benefit of self-publishing.
Print Runs: I’ve heard authors argue that traditional publishers will produce larger print runs than self-publishers. This is true. Even the smallest traditional publishers will often do a print run in the low thousands, while a self-published author who has to pay for the entire production himself might find it difficult to print more than 500 or 1,000 copies. Of course, you want your book to reach as many people as possible, but if your publisher prints 3,000 books and only 1,000 sell, what is the advantage over you printing 1,000 and keeping all the profit for yourself? A large print run is the weakest argument for staying with traditional publishing, since if the book sells well, the money from the profit from the first small print run can be used to pay for the second and third and larger ones.
Marketing: Traditional publishers are doing less and expecting authors to do more marketing for their books. Unless a book is considered a potential bestseller, and few are, little money will be spent on marketing. An author willing to go out and promote himself can be as successful at marketing a book as a publisher and might even get a publisher’s attention down the road. While traditional publishers do have more resources and outlets for promoting books, guerilla marketing by an author can equal those efforts if the author educates himself on marketing and is willing to spend the time and energy. Authors can also find assistance from publicity companies, many of which are very affordable today.
Profit: Any author who thinks he or she is going to get rich off of publishing a book is in the wrong business, but that said, savvy self-published authors can succeeded in making a livable income or at least a hefty supplement to their income by self-publishing their books and promoting them properly. As far as profit goes, if an author has to help the publisher to market the book and is receiving 10 percent royalties, it makes more sense for the author to publish his own book and receive far greater profit. Consider these numbers:
Profit from Traditional Publisher:
No printing costs for author
Print run of 3,000 books at retail of $19.95
Royalty to author at 10 percent if all books sell: $5,985.00
Profit for Self-Published Author
Printing costs of $8.00 per book.
1,000 copies print run (printing costs decrease if print runs are higher) = $8,000.00
Sales at $19.95 per copy of 1,000 books = $19,950.00
In short, self-publishing can equal double the profit if the author is able to sell just a third as many copies as the traditional publisher. Even if you sold half of your copies in bookstores and gift shops at 40 percent consignment, your profit would still be greater than 10 percent royalties on 3,000 books.
But how do you sell all those copies? Self-publishing success requires effort, and while the profit above looks good, it probably won’t be that high when you take into account additional production costs such as editing, building a website, etc., but you can still come out significantly ahead.
TIPS to Self-Publishing Success
Despite all your efforts, you will still find some people who will be dismissive of your book if it is self-published. The best way to overcome these objections and sell more copies is to produce a quality book. Here are some final tips and “musts” to make your book competitive.
- Have Your Book Professionally Edited: A good editor will do more than fix typos and punctuation and grammar. She will enhance your words to their best potential while retaining your voice and meaning. She will make sure you sound professional, don’t repeat yourself, and you appeal to the wider reading public.
- Remember What Your Readers Want: Readers want to know “What’s in it for me?” They don’t care about your personal story unless it has something in it that will help them. You can enjoy writing, but if you write for you, and not for others, you aren’t going to sell books.
- Ensure Quality Production: Don’t print pages off your printer and have them bound. Avoid comb bindings. Go to a professional printer that has experience printing books and knows all the ins and outs of what kind of paper to use and all the other details. Be sure also to hire a professional to do the layout of your book and to design your cover. Even if you are determined to do it yourself by using a publisher like CreateSpace, find someone else who has done it before and can guide you along so your book looks completely professional and as good as anything produced by Random House or HarperCollins.
- Learn from Marketing Experts: Books don’t sell themselves, and books on bookstore shelves don’t sell if people don’t know they are there. You don’t have to hire a full-time publicity agent, but join a publishing organization, attend publishing conferences, read publications in the industry, find out what works for others, get book reviews, and hire reputable marketing services that will help you spread the word. Your book won’t sell unless you are out there selling it, and marketing experts can teach you how to sell it so it interests people.
If you’re still not sure whether to self-publish or traditionally publish, I suggest you spend a year or two trying to find a traditional publisher. If that works out, great, but if it doesn’t, give self-publishing a try. Save up your money while you look for the traditional publisher so you are ready to proceed with your back-up plan. Even if you do find a traditional publisher, after you become more familiar with the publishing industry, you can always choose to self-publish your second book. No right or wrong way exists to publish a book; you just need to decide on what way is better for you and your book.
Irene Watson was the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.