Each avenue has its pros and cons. These days, I find that self-publishing is often the best option for writers working on their first book.
The media is coming out with many success stories about self-publishing. One of the biggest stars is Amanda Hocking (read about her here) who sold so many of her self-published e-book, she was picked up by a major house and got herself a six-figure advance. But Amanda had already made her millions under her own steam. She knew how to write something good, and market it. That seems to be the formula no matter which avenue you choose.
It used to be that writers only had to be good writers. Write a good book and the publisher would do the rest. Now, publishers want to know how you are going to market your own work--whether you have a platform, if you're prepared to broadcast your book on social media like Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr. Which is one of the reasons I'm so sold on self-publishing--I do all the work of selling my book anyway, so why not keep control of the product and make the most money for my creative efforts?
USA Today ran an interesting article on self-publishing e-books recently. It's no longer the province of authors who can't get a contract. The stigma that's always surrounded self-publishing (formerly known as vanity press) is dissolving.
What Do You Need to Know about Self-Publishing?
Lisa, a reader who is working on a book project, sent me an email with some good questions about the self-publishing options she'd explored. She wants to make a good decision and there are many options out there now. Lisa writes:
Specific Questions for Your Publisher
Preparing Your Manuscript
So I approached a former student who'd worked for a major publisher for many years; I liked her thoughtful understanding of how books were built and the importance of editing carefully.
She agreed to take on my manuscript. Was I ever glad! She saw things I'd missed and suggested rearrangement of some of the chapters. We worked by email and postal mail, me sending her chapters in batches, she returning them to me with her red pencil marks. It took many months to implement all her suggestions and produce a final revision that I was very satisfied with, time I hadn't really budgeted, but I revised my timeline and it was worth it, 100 percent.
We worked for a few weeks by email to make the chapter closer to what I envisioned. Eventually, I was so satisfied with the results, I negotiated a contract for her to typeset the entire book interior. She made the book look professional, and I was able to add in wider margins and pull quotes, exercise boxes, and other extras I wanted. Again, very worthwhile.
I traded services with two proofreaders to make one more run through the manuscript after typesetting. They found a total of 32 errors which I hadn't seen--even thought I'd read it through carefully SO many times myself and I've been trained in proofreading. This step was also very valuable to me.
Finally, the book cover. I knew how important this was, so I found a designer and hired them to send me some ideas. Again, money forked over up front but oh-so-worthwhile.
You can certainly choose not to do any of these steps. They may not be essential if you are only planning on using your book to share family memories with family members. But each of these will make your book more professional, more apt to be read by others, and more satisfying ten years later when you pick it up again to read yourself.
Royalty Structures and Self-Publishing
In self-publishing, things are simpler. You pay a flat fee to have your book "set up" for printing; this is part of your upfront costs so the printer can format your pdf into a digital file to print your book. Most charge under $300 for this set up. That's it. (Remember that some self-publishing companies offer a package that includes the editing, typesetting, etc., above, but the set-up fee is not part of that.)
Next, you get a proof--a sample, usually in pdf format, that shows you how the book will look. Once you approve that, a couple of weeks go by and then people can start buying your book as an e-book or as a printed book.
When do you get paid? Each time a sale is made, your royalty account gets a deposit. Most self-publishing companies pay out royalties each month--a process I found very helpful, like getting a paycheck--but this can vary so check their websites carefully. You can choose to receive your royalty directly into your bank account or by check.
How much do you make for self-publishing royalties, compared to traditional publishing? I've found it's about 5-6 times as much per book. The online publisher takes a percentage, but it's a lot less than a regular publisher takes. For instance, I make about $1.13 per copy of my novel (published by a small press) and about $5.49 per copy of one of my nonfiction books (self-published by CreateSpace). In both cases, I have had to market the book myself. Do the math.
Even with the upfront costs of getting my manuscript prepared, I've made more with my most recent self-published book than with my last traditionally published book. Plus, I got to keep control of the product.
All the avenues of publishing are worth pursuing, and which is the best one for you depends on what you want from the experience. As Amanda Hocking has shown us all, fame and fortune do not just come from traditional publishing anymore.
1. If you're curious about self-publishing, give yourself an hour to do some research online. Visit the main sites for CreateSpace, Lightning Source, and iUniverse, to start. Maybe check out Lulu.
2. Also visit some of the hybrid publishers, which select certain books to self-publish each year and guide writers through the process. Two I like are Beaver Pond Press and Epigraph.