Self-publishing has changed the face of the book publishing world dramatically over the past two decades. The process itself has undergone several transformations and improvements. It has not only made it possible for anyone to become a published author, but it has created whole new businesses and income streams for those who facilitate the processes and marketing of independently published works.
One of the biggest inroads has been in the area of respectability. As the world has seen authors make fortunes and become successful in selling their work on their own, traditional publishers have taken notice and become somewhat more accepting of the fact that their competition is here to stay. Many review journals now offer opportunities for reviews of independently published works, and Library Journal’s Self-e program has paved a path to inclusion of self-published eBooks in libraries.
Although a type of wall, or at least, a fence, still exists between traditional publishers and independently published authors, more opportunities for equal consideration are available today than they have ever been before. And out of this has come a new breed of authors, those who publish in both worlds, the “Hybrid Author.”
Since I now find myself a member in this new congregation, I’d like to share some pros and cons of writing and publishing on both sides of the fence.
Reviews and exposure
One of the major differences is exposure by way of reviews. Traditional publishing houses are able to get reviews in major review journals and widespread exposure (and thus, many sales and large distributions) for their books. Bookstores are willing to buy many of those books as long as there is a “return” policy for the books that don’t sell. Libraries order most of their books based on reviews in the major review journals.
The self-published author, on the other hand, must do most, if not all, of the work in order to get reviews and exposure and sales. He or she must either be business savvy, learn how to do this well or have enough money to hire others to do it. While there are avenues for free reviews, such as blogs, or reviewers on Amazon or Goodreads who are willing to do free reviews, most places charge money for reviews, such as Kirkus (prices range from $350-$1149) and other, less well-known venues.
Royalties and Advances
Traditional publishers typically, though not always, offer advances against royalties. This gives the author some money up front, which is a nice perk. What it means, though, is that your book has to sell enough copies to pay back the publisher before you will earn any royalties. Percentages for royalties are usually fairly small (5-15%). An agent can often negotiate higher royalty rates, but the agent will take a cut (usually 15%) of your royalties, as well as your advance. You also have no control over what your book will sell for.
For our book Ah-Choo!, my co-author, Lana Koehler, and I got a 5% royalty, which we had to split. For our book, priced at $14.95, we each received $0.37 per sale.
In self-publishing, of course, there are no advances. Royalty rates are advertised as being higher, but you still must pay for services, whether it’s to a printing company or a print-on-demand platform such as Amazon KDP, Ingram, Barnes & Noble, etc. Some, like Ingram, charge set-up fees. In addition, you can’t just arbitrarily choose your selling price; there will be a minimum charged by the platform, so you must determine from that how much you want to charge. And, your cost must be competitive in order to sell any books.
How does this translate in dollars and cents? I published my book, Photo Plots: How to Write Great Photo-inspired Books and Stories, through Amazon KDP in both eBook and paperback. The minimum price that I was allowed to charge for the paperback was $10.75. I priced it at $12.95. The royalty rate is 60% on Amazon for the author. But the reality is that it’s 60% minus Amazon’s cost. My royalty comes out to only $1.32. The eBook, which I priced at $3.99, gives me a royalty of $1.40. For a paperback picture book, priced at $7.99, I make $1.14.
Frequency of royalty payments is usually every six months for traditional publishing, but every month through print-on-demand platforms.
While traditional companies will garner greater exposure for your books and usually provide you with marketing materials, such as bookmarks and posters, the bulk of marketing still falls to the author. Unless you are a famous, best-selling author, you must arrange for book signings, speaking engagements, school visits, and any other types of marketing on your own.
Control over your book
This is one area in which self-published authors have an advantage over traditionally published authors. You not only can choose the platform(s) on which you want to publish, but also your book price, your covers (back and front), what the inside will look like, and, pretty much everything else. You can even make changes to the text, photos, and cover AFTER you’ve published your book. The only things you can’t change are the title, sub-title, author, and ISBN.
In addition, you get to choose when to publish your book. Lana and I waited 2 ½ years before Ah-Choo! came out. I waited one year for my other picture book, My Underpants Are Made from Plants, to show up in the eBook database at Schoolwide, Inc. But in 2018, I published eleven new books through my independent publishing company, Slanted Ink. And I loved creating my own books, on my terms, on my own timeline.
So, whichever path you choose, whether it’s traditional, self-publishing or both, make sure you research thoroughly and know what you’re getting into. But mostly, take time to enjoy the journey.
Check out Gloria’s website for her independently published books and resources for writers at www.slantedink.com.