Before I go any further, though, in the interests of full disclosure I would like to add that I’m not an expert on self-publishing–I simply want to offer you a few tips that might help point you in the right direction if you’re interested in learning more. Here are the pros and cons of commercial vs self-publishing.
Traditional book publishing (the credibility factor)
Con: If you take the traditional publishing route, you’ll need to do something self-publishers never have to worry about: sell your idea to a third party. In order to pitch your manuscript or book idea to an agent, or directly to a publisher, you’ll need to write a formal book proposal of about 30 to 50 pages. You’ll also need to write what’s called a query letter (one or two pages long). The optimal route is through a literary agent who specializes in business non-fiction.
Pro: If you get accepted and go the commercial publisher route, everything but the writing is taken care of for you. The publisher handles typesetting, layout, copy proofing, cover design, distribution, warehousing and (maybe) marketing your book. You incur no expense for all this because the publisher expects to profit from the book’s sales. And if your contract is a sound one, you also retain copyright to the contents (which every author should demand).
Con: The downside is, you get only a modest percentage of the book’s sales in the form of royalties, typically 10%-15% depending on whether your agreement is against the net or the list price. The publisher, distributors and retailers take the rest. and if an agent landed the publisher for you, they will take 15% of your 10% in perpetuity. It may seem like a bad bargain at first blush, but the right agent can do wonders for the right author.
Self-publishing (you have control)
Pro: If you go the self-publishing route, you get to control when your book is published, plus the biggie: you get to keep one hundred percent of the profits. It’s also a good option if your manuscript is time-sensitive, because commercial publishers print thousands of books so yours will be lined up in queue and typically take 12 to 18 months to print and distribution.
Con: The downside is that you have to do all the work, You are in charge of designing, marketing, distributing and warehousing your book. And unless you get out there and market your book by speaking or blogging or some other promotional efforts, the profits will be modest. Many people can instantly see the “difference” between a self-published and a commercially published book by looking at its cover or interior layout.
Pro: With DIY services such as CreateSpace (Amazon) you get to do your own cover and layout so you definitely save money, but…
Con: Your book will likely not be designed as professionally as it could be, and believe me, the casual reader notices these subtleties, either consciously or unconsciously, when deciding whether to buy or read. This might be just as important a consideration as the choice to self-publish.
Now here is where it gets interesting. If you decide to self-publish, what are your choices? As it turns out, there are many. But really, the choice you make ultimately depends not so much on the kind of book you’ve written, or its timeliness, or the “angle” or unique hook you’ve chosen, or the target market, but on your expectations. Keep them modest and you’ll be okay. Writer’s Digest provides a good summary of your options here. Here are the key takeaways:
- Print On Demand (POD): If you’re writing a family history or memoir that has a limited audience and don’t want your book stocked at bookstores, using POD is probably to your advantage. They are often nonreturnable, not sold at a discount, and you won’t have to store any unsold books. The per-book is much higher, but your gross cost is probably much lower.
- Bulk printing: Printing in bulk via self-publishing may be your best bet if you have a visible platform established to reach your audience, both online and offline (such as a website, Twitter handle, and Facebook fan page), have credibility with your readers in your genre/category and are prepared to dedicate your time to marketing and promoting your work. Gross cost is higher but the per-book cost is much lower than POD.
- Vanity publishers are simply book printers. They will publish any anyone’s work provided they have the money to pay for their services. No editing, marketing, or promotional assistance is offered, but the author owns the printed books and retains all profit from sales.
- Subsidy publishers are much like vanity publishers but they also provide editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing. The downside: subsidy publishers own the books until they are sold and the author makes money from royalties.
That’s it for now. More to come in a later post.