I so enjoyed this list of 10 reasons to skip traditional publishing by Robert Bidinotto at PJ Media.com under their Lifestyle section on May 29th that I’m going to repost (reiterate) them here. After having “waited” 23 years to get published, spending all that time hearing my agents (six of them in total) tell me what a great writer I was and how they were sure they’d be able to sell my book(s) any second, I finally did get my first traditional publishing contract through a contest I entered. It was a big contract with one of the “Big Six” publishers. I thought when that book came out (my suspense/drama Someone to Blame), I would finally, finally, be on my way to best-sellerdom. It was a breakout novel—a shoo-in. Was I wrong.
The waiting was agonizing—from winning the contract until the book actually came out in print took nearly two years! It’s so hard for us authors to complete a book and then wonder how many years it will take to sell, then more years to come out in print. It’s agonizing, to say the least. And to my shock, when I spoke to the marketing/sales rep at a retail show I attended for the trade, he said that although my book had sold well in the presales, that was all the marketing and promotion I was going to get. It was summer; my book was in the fall catalog, but now he was selling the spring “line,” and so my few minutes of promotion had already passed by—months before my book released.
We’ve all heard the stories—how only big-name writers get any marketing dollars pushed behind their books. We all know that even if we get a traditional publishing contract, we still have to market just as much as if we self-published. So, think about it—really! If that’s the case—and the pluses of going indie SO outweigh going with a traditional publisher AND the stigma of self-publishing is really going away (gone, in my book), then isn’t this a no-brainer?
I still have books under contract with a small traditional publisher, and I really enjoy my relationship with everyone on the team. I have the privilege of being in control of my cover art and design, PLUS I pretty much write anything I want and turn it in without even having to tell them what my book is about. Yes, it’s a sweet deal and a lot of fun. But unless my seven-book fantasy series eventually becomes a huge (I mean huge) success, I won’t see any money from it. And I have author friends who’ve made up to $50k a month self-publishing and yet they are still trying hard to get a traditional publishing contract. I asked one friend why, and she said she just wanted to be able to say she’d done it—and wanted the publisher to do the print books, which she felt were burdensome for some reason. I’m sure she knows she will make pennies compared to what she’s been making as an indie best-selling author, but this seems important to her. But for me—I’ve been there, done that. There is no great fame or benefit from being able to say “I’ve been published by the Big Six” unless you broke out and made it to the top. And good luck having that happen.
Okay, Pay Attention
So . . . in case you are still thinking you want that old-fashioned contract, here are 10 reasons you should self-publish instead (taken from the article I mentioned above). I wonder how many articles like these we authors have to read before we get the picture.
- Nobody Can Stop You from Publishing Your Book. Along the path to a legacy book contract you’ll be confronted by hordes of gatekeepers: literary agents, acquisition editors, editorial committees, bean counters, and publishing-house CEOs, all answering to the international conglomerates that actually own most major “American” publishers. Odds have become vanishingly small that you can run this gauntlet without being stopped dead in your tracks by a rejection letter.
- You’ll Make a Lot More Money. Under standard book contracts, royalty terms for authors are terrible—especially for eBooks. Most eBooks are sold through online retailers like Amazon. Let’s say you’re a traditionally published author, and assume your publisher priced your eBook at $9.99. On each sale, Amazon takes 30% of the list price, leaving about $7.00 for the publisher, agent, and you to split. However, your publisher will keep 75% of that $7.00, or $5.25. He’ll pay you, the author, only 25% of that $7.00—just $1.75. And out of that measly amount, you then must pay your agent his 15% commission—or 26 cents. Bottom line? You will net just $1.49 on each $9.99 ebook sale. (And that’s assuming your publisher honestly reports your sales and royalties; there is serious doubt that many do. Now, by contrast, what happens if you self-publish your eBook at that same price? On each sale of your $9.99 eBook, Amazon takes its 30%, leaving you $7.00. But guess what? You get to keep all $7.00—because you won’t have a publisher or agent to share your royalties.
- You’ll Get Paid Much Faster. When a publisher accepts your book, he offers you an “advance” against sales. But advances usually are paid in installments stretched out over long periods. Publishers also report sales and pay royalties slowly: Royalty statements are issued semiannually, and checks sometimes arrive even later. You’ll often wait months to find out how well your book is selling. Which means it’s often impossible to anticipate your income when you’re budgeting. By contrast, eBook distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble’s Pubit, and print-on-demand services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, report your sales virtually in real time. In addition, they pay your royalties monthly, with just a sixty-day lag from the time sales began.
- You’ll Keep All Rights to Your Work. Legacy book contracts are a minefield for the author. The sheer complexity of negotiating a contract can be confusing and intimidating. If you aren’t a lawyer, odds are you’ll unwittingly sign away forever secondary and subsidiary rights that could be a gold mine.
- You Can Publish Your Book Incredibly Fast. One of the worst things about legacy publishing is that it takes forever to get a manuscript published. Time = Money for authors, too. Most publishers insist that you submit your manuscript through a literary agent. It can take months of query letters to enlist one. Then you’ll wait days or weeks to sign a contract with her. Then more weeks working together to hone an acceptable “pitch” that she’ll send to publishers. Maybe she’ll also want you to rewrite some of your book. Next come months—maybe a year or more—of submissions to publishers. In the increasingly unlikely event that your agent corrals an interested publisher, weeks of contract negotiations follow. The publisher may insist on more rewrites and editing. Then the book goes onto their publishing schedule. Due to long lead times, it will be another year, eighteen months, or even longer before the book rolls off the presses. So if you’re really, really lucky, you’re looking at a minimum of about two years from the time you query agents till you see your baby sitting on bookstore shelves.
- You Can Publish At Your Own Pace. Traditional publishing operates on a fixed calendar. Writers often don’t.
- You’ll Have Total Control. The typical author treasures her book. It’s her baby. But unless she’s already a big-name author, she’ll have almost no input, let alone control, over what her publisher decides to do to her baby. As a legacy author, you can’t pick the cover, set the price, or select the interior design and fonts. You won’t have any say over the dust-jacket copy, ads, marketing pitch, or overall budget. You’ll have zero influence over where your book is distributed, or for how long. And subtle terms in your book contract can be ticking bombs. Without warning, your publisher may even drop your book—or you, as one of their house authors.
- You’ll Have Complete Creative Freedom. When a writer puts himself in the hands of an agent and publisher, he may be hoping for a lot of things. Maybe validation and affirmation of his writing talent. Certainly, somebody else to do the grunt work of publishing and marketing. Availability of his work in bookstores and retail outlets. Reviews, bestseller lists, travel, book signings, big advances . . .
- You’ll Have Time to Find Your Audience. The production, marketing, distribution, and sales infrastructure established by Legacy Inc. demands a constant churn of new titles on the shelves of bookstores and public retail outlets. Because that infrastructure is so expensive to maintain, retail shelf space is precious. Each book must carry its own weight in sales or be replaced quickly by one that will. That’s why even best sellers disappear so quickly. A typical book has a six-to-eight-week shelf life in stores before a new title takes its place. And eventually, it will probably go “out of print.” It’s completely different for today’s self-published books. Self-published books never have to go “out of print.” They have unlimited time to find their readers. Indie authors are discovering that they can successfully relaunch “backlist” titles long out of print—and also that books which didn’t sell well at launch can take off any time later and become bestsellers.
- Finally, You’ll Be on the Right Side of History. The constant struggle to maximize returns from scarce bookstore shelf space has habituated legacy publishers and authors to a “scarcity mindset,” says successful self-publishing author Kristine Kathryn Rusch. “In fact, their entire business is built on it.”
Bidinato sums up by saying: “No, self-publishing isn’t for every writer. Is it hard work? You bet. Is it time consuming? Sure is. Is there a learning curve to master? Absolutely. Self-publishing success requires those things, plus an entrepreneurial spirit and a measure of luck, too. But if you compare closely the legacy vs. indie publishing models, which do you think represents the future of publishing? More importantly: Which offers you the greatest potential rewards as a writer? My fellow scribe, I urge you to give it a shot. The rewards are many. And there is no downside risk.”