I recently participated in a panel discussion on the “Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing” sponsored by the Washington, DC chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. In an overview of how an aspiring author might get her book published, I discussed both traditional publishing and self-publishing. This is the first posting of a five-part series in which I’ll offer a summary of my comments.
Publishing Through a Traditional Publisher
An aspiring author can publish a book by
entering into a book publishing contract with a traditional publishing company.
Traditional publishing companies include large houses like Random House and
Simon & Schuster, small presses, and micro presses that might publish only
one or two books per year.
Signing with a traditional publisher means you deliver your completed manuscript to the publisher and the publisher then takes charge of all the tasks required to turn your manuscript into a completed book including typesetting, cover design, printing, and distribution.
As the author, you receive a royalty on each book sold. My experience with book contracts has been reviewing contracts for authors being published by large publishing houses which offer royalties of 10% of the cover price with increases to 12.5% and 15% after 5,000 and 10,000 books are sold. Sometimes the royalty is a percentage of the publisher’s net proceeds rather than a percentage of the book’s cover price. Small presses and micro presses may pay a lower percentage royalty.
A royalty of 10-15%
percent of the book’s sales price means the author receives between $2 and $3
for each copy of a $20 book sold. If the author has a literary agent, the
literary agent receives 15% of the author’s earnings on the book.
There are advantages to publishing through an established publishing company:
- You have the cachet of being published by a well-established and recognized publishing company.
- An established publishing company will likely be able to sell more books than you can sell as a self-publisher.
- You have no financial risk.
There are also some disadvantages to publishing through an established publishing company:
- You relinquish much creative and business control over your book project.
- If the book is hugely successful, your share of the financial upside is more limited.
- There is no guarantee a traditional publisher will accept your book for publication.
Introduction to Self-Publishing
If you opt not to use a traditional publisher, you can self-publish. But what exactly does it mean to self-publish?
Different people attach different meanings to the term. There are many people inside and outside of the self-publishing industry who will respond quite passionately if they find you guilty of defining the term incorrectly. So at the risk of bringing the wrath of the publishing industry upon myself, I will dare to offer a definition of what it means to self-publish.
In my view, there are currently at least three methods of self-publishing. New technologies and evolutions have caused overlap in the methods and make it challenging to box each method in one specific category so maybe there are more than three methods. In any case, I’ll restrict myself to discussing only three in this blog series:
- Using Print-on-Demand Printing
- Publishing via Vanity or Subsidy Press
- Working Directly with Wholesalers and Distributors
I’ll cover each in turn in forthcoming postings on “The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing”. The next entry in this series will be posted on Thursday, November 8.