Lesson 14: Putting your money where your manuscript is
Despite what the hucksters say, it’s better for a publisher to publish your novel than for you to do it yourself. Why? Because publishers have a vast knowledge of the market and what it takes to succeed in it. You don’t, and this knowledge of book editing, cover design, placement and marketing for any particular niche of the fiction market isn’t easily or cheaply acquired. Yes, you can buy these services, but how do you know you’re getting something worthwhile. More critically, how do you know it’s going to be right for your particular book?
Several new authors have achieved fame and fortune in recent years by publishing their own novels and promoting them relentlessly. Now it’s widely believed that this is the best option for all authors – a 70% royalty on Amazon and iBookstore is far better than the 10% royalty on a printed book, or 25% on a publisher’s eBook, isn’t it?
That depends on how many books you can sell by your own efforts. The authors who have succeeded spend a lot more time promoting their books than they do writing them – they’re professional promoters who write books rather than professional authors who are good at promoting. If you’re a professional promoter, maybe you can succeed too. But if you just want to write great books, and looking on promoting as a painful chore, you’re better off with a publisher.
One exception – if you’re a published writer with a backlist and a strong writer’s platform (e.g. popular blog, website, Facebook page, identity as an expert or public speaker, etc). If you can no longer get your books published with a traditional publisher, publish them yourself and you might do well. But it’s getting harder.
Explosion of EBooks
The barriers to self-publishing both print books and eBooks have fallen dramatically over the past decade. Has this made it easier to succeed? Not on your life. It’s made it much, much more difficult. Why?
Average Sales Falling Every Year
Most of those titles are self-published eBooks, and probably only sell a handful of copies, but since there’s millions of them, they’re taking a sizeable slice of the pie. Every year it becomes harder to make your book stand out.
And it gets worse. Books used to go out of print when they stopped selling, but many eBooks stay in print forever. Every year it gets harder for you to sell the number of books you sold last year, and since the price of books isn’t going up, but your cost of living is, if you can’t sell more you’re going to be worse off.
Of course, most of those titles aren’t fiction. Matt Wilkens estimates that there were about 100,000 unique, novel-length fiction titles published worldwide in English in 2007. http://mattwilkens.com/2009/10/14/how-many-novels-are-published-each-year/
. With the ease of self-publishing eBooks that number has probably risen greatly in the past few years, though currently no one seems to know what the true number of fiction titles is.
If you can’t get a traditional publisher, and you’re really sure you’ve written a good book, you can publish it yourself.
This isn’t easy, and it definitely isn’t cheap, but if you’ve got months to spare and $10,000 lying around with nothing to spend it on, you could consider self-publishing a printed book. Several of Australia’s best selling novelists began that way, and many other writers have in other countries. There are many options, Lulu being one of the biggest. http://www.lulu.com/publish/index.php?cid=en_tab_publish
But the vast majority of self-publishers do their dough, so if you are going to do it, do it right, and get the right advice. Otherwise, you might as well tear your money up and flush it down the toilet. You must employ a professional editor, a professional cover designer and have the book typeset. This will cost you several thousand dollars, or more if your book is long and requires a lot of editing. Printing will cost you several thousand more dollars, or even more if it’s long or you have a lot of copies printed. For instance, 500 copies of a 400 page paperback at Lulu will cost $US 4,375, i.e. $8.75 each. Shipping will be extra. But paperbacks sell on Amazon for less than that price, so you’re already uncompetitive.
Publishing an eBook solves both the printing and distribution problems, but you still have to spend the money on editing and cover design. The following article tells you how to do it, and what you get.
Being a published writer is a great and perilous adventure. Good luck!
Next, in PART 2 of this series, I’ll be talking about Surviving Publication.
Disagree with what I’ve said? Or would like more information? Please post a comment.