You’ve finally finished that thorn in your side, uh, I mean book that you’ve been working on for the last few forevers. You’ve sweated your way through the first draft, cried through the long hours of editing and possible drinking binges, and hopefully revelled in the praise from your beta readers. You even wrestled your way through that final, skin-tearing draft that had you contemplating why you ever became a writer in the first place.
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Now that your book is complete (well, at least that’s what I’m assuming---if not, please see my previous articles for help in getting there), the next step, after celebrating the fact that you’re now in the 3% of people who have started and finished writing a book, is to decide whether you want to be traditionally published, or self-published. There’s also this other kind of hybrid publishing called “hybrid publishing” of all things, but that’s a post for another time.
Both types of publishing venues have their share of strengths and weaknesses. Knowing these can help you to decide which route is right for you. As for me, I prefer self-publishing primarily for the fact that I’m a control-freak and self-publishing allows me to, well, control every aspect of creating a book from start to finish. It also means I have to work my butt off a lot harder than those who traditionally publish, but read on and you’ll know why self-publishing is for me.
-You might get an advance on your royalties. Royalties are your book earnings, for those of you unfamiliar with the term. They say you learn something new every day, right? An advance isn’t part of your paycheck so much as it’s a sort of loan. Your first book sales pay the publisher back for it, and only after this is done will you start to earn your actual money. Don’t expect advances to be huge, especially if this is your first publication. Publishers only invest the big bucks on their cash cows, and right now, you’re just an unborn calf.
-Some of your book marketing is done for you. Emphasis on some. You will still have to do a lot of it throughout your writing career, but at least some of it is taken care of for you in this case.
-You get to see your book in brick-and-mortar stores as well as online, which is rather thrilling. For me, this is the only real advantage of being traditionally published. Indie authors can get into book stores too, if (a really BIG 'if') they can prove that their book sells well. That too, is a post for another time. Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to be saying that a lot in this article?
-The formatting, editing and cover design is all done for you. These things can be a real pain in the ass if you choose to do them yourself, but no one ever said they write books for the money, right? Well, maybe those so-called “authors” who make a living off of what they pay ghostwriters.
-If your book doesn’t sell, you may have to give back part (or even all) of the advance you were paid. Also, the publisher will be more reluctant to publish more of your work.
-You still will be responsible for a large part of the marketing. Most publishers blow the majority of their marketing budget on their big-name authors. You know. The cows. Basically, any author you’ve heard of is who I’m talking about.
-Your writing, once signed over to a publisher, will basically be under the whims of that publisher. This means that you will have very little, if any creative control about the cover design, and they may also change some of the content because they think that is what readers want. You need to ask yourself if you’re okay with relinquishing so much control over your “baby” that you’ve likely spent years creating. I am not one who can give up that kind of control, especially since many of my books are part of a series or two, and any small change could start a ripple effect that could be disastrous for the books that haven't been written yet, once they materialize of course.
-Though your book has more exposure, your royalties will be lower. Nothing quite like getting ten to fifteen percent of the cover price for every book you sell, right? So, if your book costs $15, you'll only be making anywhere from $1.50-$2.00 per copy sold. Considering the fact that it probably took you years to write it, this is a pretty crappy return on your invested time. This is one reason the most successful authors in the business have ten books or more in print. If you’re not in this for the long haul, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to make this your full-time job some day, so you really need to think about what’s important to you.
-The long wait time; it takes anywhere from one to two years for a book to go from publisher acceptance to a store shelf, because it has to go through editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing.
-This is the disadvantage I hate most: books go out of print if they don't sell well. To me, it's like taking the only copy of your book and chucking it right into a volcano with the words, "Well, we tried."
-No barriers. No agents to query, no months of waiting for them to possibly never respond back. The gates are wide open. This means that anyone can be published, from a five-year-old with no writing experience, to your neighbor’s cousin’s sister’s daughter-in-law that never read a book a day in their life, yet thinks she can now call herself an author after producing a single ebook that has never seen the benefits of editing, or even a second draft for that matter. Probably hasn’t seen Spell Check either. This is why the indie book market is primarily filled with bad books that no publisher would ever touch. Thank God for Amazon reviews, because that's the only way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
-Speed. You can write "The End" to your book today, and have a physical copy in your hands in as little as a week, even sooner if you choose to fork over one-day shipping fees (which I don’t advise). However, a book needs at least two or three rounds of editing, followed by beta reading to make it in any way marketable. All these things are absolutely necessary before deciding that your manuscript is ready for publication. Heck, I’ve become so meticulous with everything I write that even my blog posts get edited several times before making them live.
-Control. You are in charge of the entire empire here. Consider yourself a one-person publishing house, because not only do you control the content, marketing, and cover design of your book, but you get to do it all too. Don’t worry; it’s still not too late to become a dentist.
-No advance on your earnings, and you will be the one to fork over the cash needed to get your book printed. This can range anywhere from twenty-dollar single copies, to publishing “packages” that can cost upwards of ten thousand dollars. I recommend you stay away from the higher-priced ones. Stick with the ones that only charge you for the copies you buy, that don’t require a minimum purchase amount.
-Unless your book turns out to be a great seller, your indie book, by default, has no shot at getting sold in bookstores. Book chains only want to stock merchandise that will make them money. Understandable. Never forget that authoring is a business.
-Marketing, marketing, marketing. Get ready to build a website, start a Youtube channel, write a blog, or go nuts with social media...any way you can possibly earn followers that doesn’t involve bribery. Hopefully, these followers will subscribe to your email newsletter, which is one of the best proven ways to sell anything. If you have a degree in business management, this will help you out in this department. Forget taking creative writing in college...take marketing instead! If only I’d known that would one day become the future of the publishing industry, I would have taken a lot less art classes.
Stay tuned for Part 6, which will cover query letters and agents!
For a good laugh, don't forget to check out my women's humor book, available electronically, and coming soon to print: