The publishing war is over; self-publishing wins

I’ll start from the conclusion. Here’s why you should ONLY self-publish, and not seek a publisher:

  • publish #01

    You get to market MUCH more quickly by self-publishing (days or weeks versus a year or more)

  • You keep your intellectual property; you can reprint, translate, sell movie rights, go to multiple distributors without limitation
  • You keep 70% or more of the book’s selling price, versus 14.7% or less with a publisher (including for the ebook version)
  • You are in control of everything from design to editing to production to distribution

In the past, before the Web and print-on-demand technology, authors were at the mercy of publishers. That’s when the “rules of engagement” were established by the publishers, and they remain today as they were then: The publisher controls everything about the relationship, if the author signs the standard agreement. That means a production schedule that commonly stretches out 15-18 months from receipt of manuscript; a royalty rate that is nominally as high as 15%, but due to hidden costs, is more like 10% (payable six or more months after it is earned); total transfer of ownership of intellectual property to the publisher (meaning that if the publisher decides not to reprint the book after the first printing, the author must negotiate to re-acquire the rights to it); and other onerous strictures.

The author was ostensibly relieved of all responsibility for editing, design, production, distribution, and marketing of the book. Unfortunately, the author usually learned that she was actually stuck with marketing the book, and all the costs thereof–at the paltry royalty rate specified in the standard contract.

In recent years, an author could not even submit a manuscript to a publisher; he had to find an agent who would agree to undertake on his behalf, for 20% or more of the deal. And finding an agent was no simpler than finding a publisher had been in earlier times. A common question posed to the author: “Do you have a platform?” Meaning, do you have a coterie of loyal fans who are likely to buy your book? If not, your chances of finding an agent or a publisher were small.

Today, the author has been emancipated in the age of self-publishing. She is no longer in bondage to the system of publishers and agents. She can have her manuscript edited herself, get a cover designed to her liking, and take them to CreateSpace.com or Lulu.com, set her sale price–and have the book available for purchase within a week of submitting the manuscript and cover. At no fee for the service; production costs are taken out of the sales price for each book, and the balance sent to the author. Monthly.

These publishers take no ownership of the content. The author is free to submit it to multiple such services.

Moreover, both they and others offer a service to convert the book to the most popular ebook formats. Since the production cost on an ebook is virtually zero, it is reasonable that the authors receive 70% or more of the sales price of their books, and they do. If the ebook is published by, say, John Wiley and Sons, the author gets 14.7%.

Well, what about editing? It is true that the leading publishers employ competent editors. But so can an author–and at a lower rate by far, with the expectation of far faster turnaround.

And marketing? Most authors seeking to be published by one of the “Big Six” do not realize that the big marketing bucks are reserved for the “sure bets”–books by celebrities and already-popular authors. All the other books on the publisher’s list get very little in the way of marketing dollars. And if they do not sell in significant numbers–thousands–in the first three months after their debut, they will not be reprinted.

A client asked me the other day about the “cachet” of being published by a well-known publisher. Certainly there is something to that. But let me ask you, prospective published author: What value does it actually have for you? Will it establish you higher in the firmament of author/experts? Will it get you more clients? I doubt it.

The big publishers are not foolish, and they employ very smart people. But the traditional publishing world is stuck in an antiquated paradigm, and has not found a way out.

If you are an author, save yourself grief: Do not invest your energies in petitioning agents and publishers. Recognize that your book represents a business, of which you are the ceo. Act accordingly. Self-publish.

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