Hey, maybe you heard? I wrote a sci-fi book. You should buy it because it’s amazing. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I wanted to talk about why I decided to go the independent-author route rather than trying to find a traditional publisher.
Reasons for using a traditional Publisher
Here’s what I see as the reasons for using traditional publishers: money, marketing, publishing and cachet.
Publishers will pay you an advance. A sweet $5000 to $6000 on average for a first-time author.
Publishers push books. If you’re in their stable of authors, your book will be one of the books they push.
Publishers take care of all the nitty-gritty details of publishing a book. Editing. Cover art. Formatting.
To gain the interest of a publisher, you’ve gotta be good. Everyone and their dog wants to be an author, so to be selected by a publisher means you actually have talent.
Reasons for becoming an independent author
Why? Time & control.
All of the reputable publishers I looked into require authors to have an agent. So, step 1 of traditional publishing is sending your manuscript to all the agents whose address you can scrounge up and wait for them to read it. This can take months.
Once you finally find an agent that will work with you, they’ll require exclusive rights to represent your manuscript for 12 months. That means all you can do is sit and wait while they shop your manuscript around to publishers for up to a year. If they still haven’t found an interested publisher by this time, you get your manuscript back and can try to find another agent who has better luck (or salesmanship).
So, before you even get to the point of publishing your book, you’ve probably spent close to a year (or more) …
Once you sign on with a publisher, they have an ownership stake in your work. That means they have a say over when and how the book is marketed. When they’re done with your book, they can shelve it and that’s that. You want to re-release a tenth anniversary edition of your book? Too bad. You want to write your book in Comic Sans? Tough.
Why the value offered by publishers isn’t that valuable
That $5000 to $6000 isn’t a lot when you think about it. When you consider the time it took to write your blasted book in the first place you’re working at sub-minimum wage rates.
Then that agent the publishers require you to have lops off 15% as commission.
Then the government taxes what’s left over (and kicks you in the shins).
Oh, but you get royalties … of about $1 per book. Which means you have to sell 5000 to 6000 books to pay off your advance before that juicy royalty stream flows into your wallet.
How easy is it to sell 5000 to 6000 books? This guy made it to 31st place on Amazon’s bestselling list by selling about 1000 books. So, unless your Stephen King, it’ll take a while to pay off that advance.
Let’s just agree that people don’t become authors for the money.
We live in a world today where you can do everything publishers do on your own. Formatting; editing; cover art; paperback; hardcover; electronic books – whatever you need or want. Heck, if you want to market you book, you can even buy marketing packages. Or, if you prefer, you can market it yourself. Michael Hicks and Steve Umstead are examples of independent authors who do a great job of marketing their own books.
Once you have an ISBN, your book can be distributed far and wide through electronic retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Books are print to order, so you’re not saddled with boxes of your book taking up space in your basement.
The downside is this costs money. But, if you’re willing to pay for it, you can do everything a publisher does.
In the end, I looked at what my goals were as a writer, and they were pretty straightforward. I have stories I want to share. With that goal in mind, the benefits of procuring a traditional publisher did not outweigh the hassles.