Should I self-publish my book–or send it to a publishing house? What are the pros and cons of self-publishing, compared with submitting a manuscript to a traditional “for royalty” publishing house? Consider the following:
Using a Publishing House: The Pros
- The biggest plus for you as an author, if your book is published by a “traditional” publishing house, is that the publisher assumes the full expense of producing the book. That includes the editing, the cover design, page layout, printing, and binding.
- Once printed, your publisher also takes care of storing the finished books as they await sale.
- Another major advantage to you is that the publisher assumes the expense for advertising and marketing the book.
- Finally, the publisher takes care of order fulfillment and shipping. Smaller publishers may have their own internal order and shipping departments. Most large publishers supply inventory to a large distributor, which then supplies the “big box” retail chain bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as online sellers such as Amazon.
Using a Publishing House: The Cons
- With some smaller publishers, you may be able to submit your manuscript directly to their editorial department. But most large publishing houses do not deal directly with authors but with literary agents. So you will need to locate a good agent (not always an easy task), and then if they successfully pitch your manuscript to a publisher, the agent is paid a percentage of the proceeds from book sales (typically 15 percent but can range from 10 percent to 20 percent).
- Once your manuscript is in the hands of the publishing house, you may have quite a wait to receive their decision on whether or not to publish. Be prepared for possibly waiting six months to a year or even longer.
- Most publishing houses retain the right to choose the book title and cover concept. You also must accept their editing: cuts, changes, etc. You can weigh in on these decisions, but the final choice is theirs.
- Your biggest “con” when using a traditional publishing house is that when your book sells, your profit is a set percentage of either the retail or wholesale price–a royalty, Some publishers base their royalties on the retail selling price–others on a discounted wholesale price (the price for which a distributor or retailer can buy books from the publisher). Royalty percentages vary from one publisher to another, but can typically range from 7 percent to 15 percent.
- When will you see some money? When your book is accepted, the publisher sends you a contract. When signed and returned, you’ll be sent a royalty advance against future sales. For authors not yet well known, this will typically be a rather modest amount–perhaps in the range of $1,500 to $5,000. Authors with a proven record of sales can command much higher advances.
- The final “con” to traditional publishing is that once the book begins selling, you may need to wait a year or more to receive your first royalty check, as it will be based on the publisher’s first selling cycle–typically, a year.
Self-Publishing: The Pros
- In many ways, the pros and cons for self-publishing are the reverse of those for using a traditional publisher. This begins with the decision to publish or not. If you’re in favor, the decision is made! No waiting long months for some committee to reach a verdict.
- You’ll have no need, either, to locate, work with, and split profits with an agent.
- You have control over the book’s title and cover concept. And you have “veto” power over the work of the editor you choose to edit your manuscript. He or she is performing a paid service for you, so the final say is yours.
- Far and away the biggest advantage to self-publishing is that once your books are printed and sold, you keep 100 percent of the profits. If your book sells for, say, $20, you keep $20 from that sale, rather than say, the $2 per book you’d make from a 10 percent retail-based royalty. Many self-publishers not only recover their initial investment but go on to realize satisfying profits once the inventory is all sold out.
Self-Publishing: The Cons
- The obviously largest “con” for self-publishing is the up-front expense you must underwrite to have your manuscript made into a book. You’ll need to fund the editing, the page layout, the cover design, obtaining an ISBN number, the printing, the binding, the shipping, and storage expense. Some editorial services companies offer a “turn-key” package for self-publishers that includes most or all of these expenses.
- Once you have edited, press-ready files, you’ll need to find a good printer/binder. This can be daunting for someone new to self-publishing. But many editors and editorial service companies can match you up with a reputable high-quality, reasonable-cost printer.
- Once you’ve taken delivery of your finished books, you are then responsible for advertising and marketing the books–getting them sold. This too is an expense to you and can include online or print advertising, website expenses, distributor fees, and the “shoe-leather” work of arranging book signings at local bookstores, doing radio and TV publicity, and other selling avenues.
For those with sufficient resources to fund the expense and with enough enthusiasm and energy to market their books, self-publishing can be not only enormously satisfying, but can generate a significant profit above its costs.
A final caveat: Self-publishing should never be confused with so-called “vanity” or “subsidy” publishing, which often requires an author to pay an exorbitant price to a publisher promising both quality and aggressive marketing but which may fall significantly short in both areas.