Friday, 22 May 2009

Income: Self Publishing vs Mainstream Publication

I always advise writers to exhaust all possible routes into commercial publication before they consider self-publishing their work. Recently, I was told that I was wrong. The reasoning went something like this:
Forget about going to one of the big publishers. Put your work out yourself, pay for your own barcode and ISBN, and hire someone to sell it for a cut of the cover price. You’ll make far more money out of it than you’d earn in royalties.
On a book-by-book basis, that’s probably true. A typical royalty for a commercially-published book is 10%, which equates to a per-unit rate of 90p on a book with a cover price of £9. With self-publishing you can set your own cover price, so it’s possible to earn far more per copy.

There are costs associated with those self-publishing sales, though: it would be difficult to hire anyone competent to sell your books on percentage, as each bookshop visit would barely cover the travelling costs incurred even if every bookshop approached took half a dozen copies each.

Even if you do the legwork yourself you’re still likely to end up losing money because of those travelling costs, and because you will only be able to cover a very small part of the country.

Commercial publishers have their own sales and distribution networks in place. Their sales representatives frequently visit every bookshop in the country, and discuss their new and forthcoming books.

Commercial publishers also have publicity departments which routinely send out stacks of review copies to TV programmes, newspapers and magazines, to ensure that potential readers will get to hear about each book as it is released.

The self-publisher simply cannot match this vast sales machine, and so is unlikely to sell anything like as many books: few self-published titles sell more than one hundred copies, while most commercially-published books sell more than a thousand.

And that’s why I almost always recommend mainstream publishing rather than self-publishing. It is likely that the royalty rate per book will be lower than with self-publishing: but the overall sales, and therefore the total amount earned, and the number of readers reached will be so much better that mainstream publication has to be the obvious first choice.

11 comments:

Sally Zigmond said...

Not to mention the fact that most self-published books don't--and I know there are exceptions--look or feel as appealing as mainstream published books. This includes such things as covers, paper used, type and layout. (And don't get me started on typos and punctuation errors.)

But it's the covers that nearly always let them down the most. They vary from the naff and amateur to the slightly off-key.

Maggie Dana said...

You're right about the covers, Sally. I can usually spot a self-published book at twenty paces on my library shelf or local bookshop which kindly stocks self-pub'd books by local authors.

In fact, the term 'local author' is rapidly becoming synonymous with self-published, which is a shame given there are quite a few authors who live in my area and all are published with mainstream publishers, myself included.

Nicola Slade said...

Agree, Maggie. I spotted one 'local author' announcing in the local paper that she had secured a 'two book deal'. It was a vanity publisher but the author didn't happen to mention that fact, just trumpeted about the 'two book deal'.

As for making money, the advance for my third novel is due anytime but although I'll be celebrating, I certainly won't be doing so with Mumm or Moet! (Sadly...)

DanielB said...

I see a few of these - "local authors" touting themselves round schools, when the teachers can't tell the difference between published and self-published! The local paper seems to have the same problem telling professional authors from, ahem, entrepreneurs.

You can always spot a self-published book - I have yet to see one which was well-produced enough for me not to be able to tell... (Although I have been puzzling over my son's copies of Kate Veale's Mr Moon books - which aren't all that great, sadly. They have colourful professional-looking dust-wrappers but don't look like her Country Companions stuff and seem somehow, well, wrong...)

[word ver: "upernett" - the highest echelons of the WWW, available only to those with the secret Masonic cyberhandshake.]

David Dittell said...

Jane,

I think one thing writers often overlook in self publishing vs. "mainstream" publishing is the number of people who will read your book and, if your book is good, how that will affect your future sales.

If you write a good first book, it's really also working as an advertisement for your second book (and, if it's still in print, your second book is advertising for the first, etc.). Not only does this get more of your work into people's hands, meaning what you have to say will affect more people, but in the long run it can have affect your income in secondary and tertiary ways you can't really measure.

maidenshade said...

Hello from Florida where I am at this very moment contemplating self-publishing, again.

I write faerie tales. I intended to use these along with the faerie boxes I create, which is another story.

This means I'd have them available for purchase at art fairs, shows and in my local art league where I have items for sale. (Yet another story, I make lampshades, night lights...).

I tried 3 little books in Blurb. Nightmare. Expensive, the software is excruciating and hard to work with, leaving me with typos because it would arbitrarily eliminate spaces, punctuation, or throw things off-kilter in the layout.

I have no publisher, the art work is... well, not good as I used digital altered art (not being that kind of artist...). So I am fighting with myself, wondering if I should carry on with editing the Blurb 3 I have or start over.

I am stuck. Don't you think that for my purposes, self-publishing is the best idea? Please help?

x Jennifer Swan Hopkins
http://www.MaidenShade.com
http://MaidenShade.wordpress.com
http://DeStash.us

maidenshade said...

Hello from Florida where I am at this very moment contemplating self-publishing, again.

I write faerie tales. I intended to use these along with the faerie boxes I create, which is another story.

This means I'd have them available for purchase at art fairs, shows and in my local art league where I have items for sale. (Yet another story, I make lampshades, night lights...).

I tried 3 little books in Blurb, ordering 1 each to see what they looked like. Aside from looking cheap, they were alright but for the boo-boos I found. I figured I'd go with a hardcover if I did them again, which should help.

As far as working in their software or the experience overall? Nightmare. Expensive, the software is excruciating and hard to work with, leaving me with typos because it would arbitrarily eliminate spaces, punctuation, or throw things off-kilter in the layout upon upload.

I have no publisher, the art work is... well, not good, as I used my own digital altered art (not being the illustrative kind of artist...). So I am fighting with myself, wondering if I should carry on with editing the Blurb 3 I have or start over following a different path.

I am stuck. Don't you think that for my purposes, self-publishing is the best idea? Please help?

x Jennifer Swan Hopkins
http://www.MaidenShade.com
http://MaidenShade.wordpress.com
http://DeStash.us
email: MaidenShade@comcast.net

maidenshade said...

So sorry it posted twice - it didn't seem to work the first time; )as it asked me to sign in to my Wordpress account, so I came back and did it again. The second post is the one to keep, more explicit.

ty, xJ

Matador said...

I know one self-publishing company that's about to announce that it will be repping books into UK multiples and independent retailers from this autumn onwards. The sales rep firm in question enthusiastically took on the task as the books the company publishes for authors look like any other "commercial list".

DanielB says he can always spot a self-published book.... you can always spot a badly produced book yes, and it may well be self-published. But when you see a book that looks like any mainstream commercial title, you don't even think it may be self-published, even though it could be. I'll happily send you a few samples of Matador books, then judge them against the home-made Lulu-type stuff.

Booksellers don't have the hang-ups that many mainstream authors have about self-published books. If the book is well produced, properly priced for its market and a half-decent read, they will sell it. If it's rubbish then they won't (with the possible exception of books ghost-written by minor celebrities!).

Nadine Laman said...

Certainly, if you're going to self-publish, then take it seriously and hire experts (not just anyone with a website) to do the things needed to make it a worthy book for your readers.

Slopping something together and uploading it somewhere hurts the rest of us. But most importantly it isn't fair to unsuspecting readers.

Nadine Laman, Arizona USA

Quin Finnegan said...

Not everyone is cut out for the big leagues. Doesn't mean they shouldn't enjoy a pick-up game at the local park with friends and family.

For me, the temptation isn't the daydream of success or money, but after countless hours of work, just getting the damn thing into print. And be done with it.

Anyway, thanks for a great post on a great blog; there's a LOT of helpful information here. I've been considering going the POD route for my novel, but you've pretty well scared me off.