This Is The Way
I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself… Though, when it comes to your book, there are actually multiple “ways”, and whether you’re out to make money, or just doing it for the love of your work — it matters!
I’m talking about publishing, and the ways to go about it and the things I’ve learned along the way. There are a lot of misconceptions, misguided expectations, and unwarranted assumptions about what happens when you’ve finished your book. I started out by thinking I’d just throw it over to a publisher, and if it got picked up, that’d be awesome, if not then ‘oh well’. I wasn’t really, nor am I now in a position where I can spend the time and money to print out a hundred copies of my book and beg book stores to buy them. That’s not really how self-publishing works anymore anyway, even if you wanted to do that, not exactly anyway.
At the end of the day, I’d heard too many horror stories about how hard it was to get traditionally published, and as far as I knew self-publishing wasn’t viable. But then, as I got more serious and invested in what I was creating (and therefore less content to simply have my work rejected), I looked for information and started educating myself on the real possibilities. This turned out to be a rather long post, so I’ll put a tl;dr list down the bottom for quick reference between the main two methods.
I’ll start with “traditional publishing”, which is the option most people are fairly familiar with. Most people know the gist of how it works — you send your manuscript off and it gets put on a pile for someone in a publishing house to read and decide if your work is worthy of publication. If so, you get accepted, sign a contract to hand over your Intellectual Property, and in several months, sometimes up to or over a year, you’ll see your book on shelves and then start to receive royalties from sales. I’m speaking in very general terms here, but that’s more-or-less the process.
The benefit here is the fact that you pay nothing up front, unless you hire a literary agent to help represent you to multiple publishing houses. The fact is a publishing house front all the costs for editing, cover design, formatting, distribution and online accounts; they take all the monetary risk, and all you have to do is wait for your cheque. They also have a lot of resources which can make it easier for your book to reach further and even attract film deals if the book does well enough. Another big bonus to this option is that a lot of the time, you’ll be paid an ‘advance’. The downside is that most authors, especially new authors who have little to no negotiation leverage, make under 10% royalty for their work, in fact I believe the average is about 7%. Which isn’t bad at around $1 average per physical sale, but it isn’t great either, especially as the trend toward e-books grows. Also, the advance I mentioned earlier? This is an advance on YOUR royalties, it’s not a bonus payment. Further, if the publishing house doesn’t make at least your advance back, you can forget about any future attempts with that publisher. But what if you’re not in it for the money? Well, like I said, it still matters. The biggest factor in my own choice was that once a publishing house takes your book on, they own it. It’s no longer yours and they can edit it, and design whatever cover they want for it. Unless you are a big time author, no publishing house is going to write you a contract which gives you very much, if any, say in what they do to your book between the time you hand it over to them, and when they release it to the public. To me, the sales were important, but giving away the rights to my creative work wasn’t something I wasn’t willing to do.
Which brings me to self-publishing, or being an “independent author.” I’ll start off by addressing the elephant in the room — self publishing has a bad name for itself. Many people often associate independent authors with poor (or no) editing, cheap looking covers, bad stories, and just overall bad quality books. Unfortunately, this association is, in part, well-earned. However, things are changing as more and more tools become available to us and e-books and digital marketplaces become the norm for most. I mean, personally I love physical copies of books. I want nothing more than an entire section of my house filled to the brim with packed bookshelves, but e-books are cheaper, more sustainable, and more convenient, but I digress. The fact is, it has never been more viable to make a success from your book as it is right now as an independent author, and it’s only getting better — but it is a double-edged blade.
The tools we have don’t prevent people from releasing books that are still under quality, matters of subjectivity aside, the main issue is that a lot suffer from a severe lack of editing. An amazing story that has not undergone extensive editing will not be an amazing book, but again I digress and will cover the importance of editing in the next blog. The other edge of the blade is easily summed up with a question. Think of your favourite book or books. Now think of who published them. I bet most people don’t know, and that’s because it doesn’t matter because you need not go through a publishing house to make a great book. But you DO need to be willing to put in the work, and the money!
With that, I’ll start with the downside of self-publishing. First, it is a lot of work. You need to find a cover designer, which is more than about just making a pretty picture for your book, there’s a lot of sales and marketing knowledge to the right cover, which professional designers know, so keep that in mind before you decide to ‘just do it yourself’. Which brings me to marketing itself, which you’ll need to pay a professional for, or work a lot harder to promote yourself with mailing lists, blogs, social media etc. It takes a lot of time and effort, not to mention self-education, to do it right (word of mouth will only ever get you so far).
The upside is mostly about your creative and professional freedom. You have no deadlines, you don’t make yourself (which you should). You have control over the editing process, and cover design. Depending on your distribution methods, can earn around 70% off your books. But, most importantly to me, you keep all creative and intellectual property rights to your book.
There IS however a third option most people don’t really know about, which is known as hybrid-publishing, though that in itself can mean two things, but I’ll get into that in the next post! I’ll leave you with a quick reference below between those two ways to publish. Just remember, the most important thing is to enjoy the writing before you worry about any of this. Because not everyone gets published, but it’s an accomplishment to be proud of simply to finish.
“I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do---the actual act of writing---turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” ― Anne Lamott
· Very low royalty
· Loss of most rights to your work
· No monetary risk to you
· Larger outreach
· They do all the work
· Almost all profit is yours
· Retention of rights to intellectual property
· No hard deadlines
· Large upfront costs to do it right
· Marketing reach depends on your own ability, money and/or work put in.
· As above, you need to do all the work, or pay someone to do it for you.