The Financial Sanity of Self-Publishing

I would like to point out one very important benefit self publishing has over trad publishing.  I have a NY pubbed friend who has had over 20 books published, but currently only a very few of them are in print.  Unless you are famous, your entire backllist doesn’t stay in print, and that is continual lost money. 

When you have 20 books under your belt, and less than 5 of them are currently earning you money, that’s not fiscally sound.  In fact, it keeps you on an endless treadmill, especially if you don’t break out of the midlist.

Whereas you might have had a repeat customer multiplied many times over . . . with trad publishing, the only option is for many of  your books to be read via used bookstore or library, where you the author, doesn’t see a penny.  So who is writing for free here?

Whlie a publishing house has the option of bringing a book back into trade paperback with print-on-demand technology, or ebook, many publishers simply can’t be arsed to do it, because they’re focused on the big dogs making them money.  If you simply insist on trad publishing, it would behoove you to get something in your contract that insists your books will remain available in print-on-demand format and ebook, and that you’ll be compensated fairly for those sales.  Otherwise your average publisher is going to sit on your rights for about seven years while you’re not making money.

By contrast, say you’re an indie author and you put out one book a year.  In ten years of hard work writing, producing, and marketing your work, you have not just a couple of books in print, but 10 books in print.  If you do it the most fiscally sound way (i.e. Lightning Source for your POD, not Lulu or Authorhouse), then you are making 4-5 times per book what you would from a trad publisher (minus expenses, which you’ll hopefully have learned to streamline in a halfway savvy way.)

What this means is…  If I had ten books out, and was selling several hundred copies a month of each of them, I would be making six figures in a year.  Now is it reasonable to expect most self published authors can do this?  No.  Many writers just are not very savvy and never will be.  But is it unreasonable to think this is possible for any self-pubbed author who is both business/marketing savvy and talented?  I don’t think it is.

Either way though, I’d rather make a bet on myself and building something that truly belongs to me, rather than make a bet on a publishing house, who could tie up my rights for a very long time, while giving me precious little for it.

When trad publishers rarely have the resources to put a lot of marketing push behind most books, I have to ask myself…in the days of social networking and the internet, is the ego-gratification of being "traditionally vetted",having  a NY editor, and a NY designer really financially worth the expense to me, of losing that much per-book revenue?

For me, the price is too high to trad publish.  Would I change my tune if a big publisher offered me a big contract?  Possibly so, but then the game would be very much changed, wouldn’t it?  Your average trad published author isn’t "getting" big contracts., nor are many of them getting big contracts over time.  There is a reason seasoned writers lament being stuck on the midlist and keep dreaming of "breaking out."  It’s not because big contracts down the road are standard procedure for most authors.

I hear all the time from trad published authors when explaining their pittance of an advance that a writer’s career is built over several books.  Yet many of these same writers turn around and attack self-publishing because of what they see as short term cost/benefits.  Why does it make sense to say a trad published author’s career is built over several books, but a self-pubbed author’s career isn’t?

Further, there is nothing in the publishing rulebook that says you can’t self-publish some books while seeking trad publication for others.  I believe trad publishing is scared on every level of us.  They’ll deny it up and down.  They’ll mock us and make jokes…   But this is the author indie movement, much like what has swept through filmmaking and music already.

Be proud of what you are and what you’re creating. You’ll learn as you go, you’ll get better as you go, and you’re building equity a trad published author can’t hope to touch unless they’re famous.

And who wants to lay odds on that one?  Talk about unrealistic expectations.

Comments are closed.