When I published two of my novels through traditional publishing houses, there were not as many options as there are now. Back then getting your manuscript accepted by a traditional publishing house was what validated you as an author. Those self-published were considered wannabe authors undeserving of the title of “author”.
Fast forward ten years and we see more and more authors self publishing. In 2011 Barry Eisler, A New York Times best-selling author turned down a five hundred thousand dollar deal from his publisher, St. Martin’s Press to self-publish. Romance author, Ruth Cardello reportedly turned down a seven-figure book deal from a traditional publisher and the list is growing. I examine the reasons.
It Takes Too Long To Get A Book Deal
It was accepted in the past that only the best writers deserve a contract with traditional publishers because they know what sells.
The reality is traditional publishers don’t know. The celebrated mystery writer Agatha Christie had been continually rejected for five years until she finally landed a book contract. Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie was rejected 30 times. Rudyard Kipling who wrote the Jungle Book was told he did not know how to use the English language. Margaret Mitchell’s epic romance Gone with the Wind which was made into a hit movie in the 1930s was rejected 38 times. These are just a few of the many examples of how traditional publishers have been wrong.
If your manuscript is ready, properly edited, formatted and has a great book cover, why wait years to be published if you can do so now? When you upload over Amazon your book can be on sale within 24 hours.
A Book Contract Does Not Guarantee A Better Distribution Channel
The elated feeling of being accepted by a traditional publisher soon disappears after you find out your books don’t automatically get into every physical store. Traditional publishers don’t want to run the risk of a large print run for a little-known author as their money will be tied up if that book is slow to sell.
Only well-known authors get the privilege of showcasing their books in the stores. Others will need to speak to each store individually to ask if they will sell their books. The unfortunate author will also most likely have to purchase the books herself to place at the stores that agree.
Self-publishing Companies Are An Attractive Alternative
Self-publishing companies offer all the services a traditional publisher does and throw in marketing and promotion too for an additional fee. Unlike traditional publishers, they don’t retain rights to a book. The author has complete ownership and gets to keep all royalties.
They are very expensive, though, and not all maintain a high standard. Many of these companies also claim that the books on their list are “available” at large chain bookstores, but this does not mean that an author’s book will be on the shelves of these bookstores. It only means that the book is listed in databases from which the stores may order. Since there are thousands of books on their databases, there is no guarantee that book will be picked unless someone actually orders that book.
It is still an option for those who don’t want to deal with the technical aspects of preparing a book for print but either can’t get accepted by a traditional publisher or don’t want to be tied down to one.
Technical Assistance For Publishing Not Uniformly Administered
Traditional Publishing houses have the expertise to tidy up your book through in-house editors and savvy book designers, but they don’t put in the same effort for you as they would for their best-selling authors.
Many Free-lancers Online Offer Services At Reasonable Rates
Services for editing, formatting, designing your book cover and all other help you need to get your book print-ready is available online from thousands of freelancers all over the world at reasonable rates.
Freelancers try and make their services even cheaper by offering several options to you. For example, book cover designers offer pre-made designs you can choose from instead of custom-made. This same principle works for book formatting. There are experts who even offer templates online to help you format your books ready to be published as an e-book or print.
Or, like me, you can save money and do it on your own. There are many tools and software available online to help you do this. Editing is the only service necessary to outsource.
Traditional Publishers Leave Marketing and Promotion To The Author
It does not make sense for authors to put in effort and expense to promote their books but give up 90% of their earnings in royalties to the publisher.
Traditional publishers offer marketing services to best-selling authors, not the rest. Yet best-selling author H.M. Ward posted on Kindleboards that he had turned down 1.5 million dollars in advances offered by traditional publishers due to their no-clue marketing plan. He also claims he has a larger following on his email list than they do.
Now authors wonder if they even want a marketing plan drawn up by these traditional publishers.
Short Shelf Life Of A Book In A Physical Bookstore
Whether you choose a traditional publisher or self-publishing company your book only remains in a physical bookstore for about one month. There is no shelf life for your books when you upload them to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Draft2Digital, Smashwords and any other online store.
Award-winning author J.A Konrath says it well, ” A virtual shelf, like Amazon or Smashwords, carries all my titles, all the time. And I don’t have to compete with a NYT bestseller who has 400 copies of their latest hit on the shelf, while I only have one copy of mine. We each take up one virtual space per title. … Virtual shelf life is forever. In a bookstore, you have anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to sell your title, and then it gets returned…But e-books are forever. Once they’re live, they will sell for decades.”
All Your Books Are Linked When You Publish Online
One click on your name on Amazon will list all your other books and reviews. Fans of your books can even read about you and your events and promotions on Amazon’s Author Central, thereby generating interest in all your books just by mentioning one of your books.
Not possible with a physical store and also difficult to do when you sign up with different traditional publishers who operate differently and don’t co-operate.
You may have to promote each book individually working one by one with different publishers rather than have one promotion cover all your books which can be very costly.
Just by promoting one book online on Amazon, other books in your portfolio are immediately showcased and this happens time and time again. So earlier books you have written will be thrust into the limelight again and again every time you publish a new book.
Loss of creative control
Traditional publishers can interfere with an author’s creative control such as choice of book cover, changing parts of the story and so on. The bulk of the authors who have standard contracts have no choice but to concede to the publisher’s wishes.
Amy Lynn Andrews self-published a 30-page e-book called, Tell Your Time: How To Manage Your Schedule So You Can Live Free in 2010. Later she was offered a five-figure advance book deal. She turned it down and one of the reasons cited is that the publisher wanted her to lengthen her e-book from 5,500 words to 40,000. She was told that in order to be profitable, books in her genre had to be sold at a certain price and to justify that, the book needed to be beefed up. Brevity was what set her book apart from other time management books and she even adopted the tagline, “What if you could change your life in less than 30 pages?”. So she was not willing to sacrifice creative control in this area.
Print on Demand Has Taken The Pain Out Of Printing
Taking your manuscript to a printing press can be very costly. If the print run is small you fork out more money for less books. Amazon’s print on demand has changed all this, giving you the opportunity to create a paperback alongside your e-book and it cost you nothing.
Plus you don’t have all your money tied up with a huge amount of print books in storage waiting to be sold. Amazon will print and send out whenever there is a purchase of a print copy.
I mention Amazon because I am published with them. There are others who offer similar services, but in my opinion Amazon has by far the most professional and cost effective service for self-publishing at zero cost, not to mention widest exposure through their online retail store.
The prestige of getting a book deal from a traditional publisher still dominates the mindset of society. Many authors still suffer from self-doubt and find they need this validation. It is better to build a sound readership first through publishing online, especially through e-books and when you have formidable sales you will naturally draw the attention of traditional publishers. Then it will be your choice whether to sign that book deal.