Authors now have more options than ever to publish their works, ranging from self-publishing, through the hybrid “pay-to-play” publishers, to traditional publishing houses. So, what are the Pros and Cons of each?
Self-publishing. With online publishing, it’s now simple to publish your own book. Among the Pros of self-publishing:
- The sale price, the cover art and the content are up to you.
- You control the number of books printed, so there are fewer returns – you can print on demand.
- You can alter your manuscript and reprint it, anytime you want. Did you find a typo when you were glancing through (for the 200th time)? Make the change and print it correctly for the next sale.
- Your net financial return is greater on each sale. Of course, you will have printing and shipping costs and marketing/promo expenses, but after you pay these, the rest of the money is yours.
- You get paid more frequently, maybe even monthly from sellers like Amazon.
Of course, the world of self-publishing is not all sweetness and light. Here are some of the Cons:
- There is no advance paid to the writer.
- No professional editing, formatting, or cover art as part of the service. Consequently, all these functions fall on you, the writer. An unsolicited piece of advice if you decide to self-publish: spend the money to hire a professional editor (a copy and a developmental editor, if they’re not the same person). Nothing turns a reader off more than a text riddled with typos, grammatical errors, fuzzy prose and a fractured story line.
- You’ll likely have fewer sales. The explosion of the internet as a portal for content delivery means that there is a dizzying volume of content now vying for a reader’s eyes – literally anyone with a computer and internet connection can upload content to the net. So how do you draw attention to your book? It’s frankly difficult without the cachet and resources of a traditional or even a hybrid publisher. Generally, bricks and mortar booksellers (including the indies) do not stock self-published books in their coveted shelf space. But a traditional publisher, and certain hybrid publishers, can get your book into Barnes & Noble, for example. An unsolicited piece of advice if you decide to self-publish: consider hiring your own PR agent, someone who can help draw attention to your masterpiece. These professionals can help get your book into stores and arrange press/radio interviews and book signings, helping you cut through the clutter of the content glut.
- Let’s face it, not every manuscript should see the light of day; yet through self-publishing, every manuscript potentially could. One of the functions of the traditional publisher is to act as gatekeeper, that is, a set of critical eyes that has determined that a book merits publication. Of course, there is no accounting for taste.
Hybrid publishing. This model is a hybrid between self-publishing and traditional publishing. An unsolicited piece of advice if you decide to explore this route: avoid any true “pay-to-play” endeavors, where the publisher expects the writer to pay all the production and promotional/marketing costs. In a true hybrid arrangement, the parties will share these costs, in exchange for greater input from and a higher royalty rate to the author; in effect, the parties are partners in this deal and share the risks and rewards.
Here are some of the Pros to a hybrid publishing arrangement:
- Similar to self-publishing, the bar to admission is lower, so many writers who cannot find a traditional publisher may find a home with one of these publishers.
- Hybrids may provide editorial services, layout and cover design, as well as in-house marketing/promotions people who will work to get your book into stores and to get you media attention and speaking engagements.
- A true hybrid publisher will be upfront about the nature of the publishing arrangement; this publisher will not attempt to hide the fact of “pay-to-play” within the body of the contract, or expect the writer to buy a certain number of copies to sell independently (or to use as door stops), or try to sell you on the concept that “this is how traditional publishers do it.”
There are significant Cons:
- There is no advance paid to the author.
- These publishers don’t typically ‘vet’ the manuscript for merit and may publish most anything, provided you’re willing to pay.
- The costs of hybrid publishing may exceed the costs of pure self-publishing. However, if the hybrid publisher does provide valuable editing and promotional/marketing services, then the financial comparison may be a wash. Consider self-publishing and hiring your own copy/developmental editor as well as a PR person; it may be cheaper.
- Beware the pure “pay-to-play” model, where the writer is expected to finance the entire project. Often, these terms will be hidden in the body of the contract, stating that writer royalties are paid on “net receipts,” and “net” may be defined as “less the costs of editing and publishing the Work” or “less the Publisher’s actual costs to publish and sell the Work.” In this event, these actual costs are not paid upfront by the writer, but, rather, they’re recouped from sales; however, the writer won’t see a penny of royalties until the publisher has recovered all of its expenses from sales. That’s a lot of books.
- Beware the hybrid publisher who requires the writer to buy a certain number of books, whether at list price or even discounted. Remember, if you’re required to buy 2,000 copies, what incentive does the publisher have to sell anything? You’ve already paid the publisher its profit on 2,000 books!
- Also beware the hybrid publisher that claims to be a “traditional” publisher because it pays all the publication costs, yet it charges a mandatory fee, which may be thousands of dollars, for marketing the book. Typically, these marketing services are ill-defined and not susceptible to effective monitoring by the writer. Most often what’s covered are things the writer could do herself, like writing press releases, making a trailer for her YouTube channel or writing Facebook posts to promote the work. Again, if the publisher has received big bucks from you for these services, it has less incentive to actually to try to sell the book.
Traditional publishing. There is a good reason there is a thriving self-publishing/hybrid publishing industry: it’s extremely difficult for a new author to break through to a traditional publisher. In the traditional publishing model, the publisher is responsible for all costs related to publication and it assumes the financial risk – if the book sells, both the writer and publisher are happy; if it doesn’t, the publisher loses its investment (and the writer keeps her advance, although she will likely be bound to a contract that makes it difficult to reacquire the manuscript).
Here are some of the Pros of traditional publishing:
- You’ll have wider distribution and more exposure, with the cachet that comes with having “made the cut.”
- The publisher will typically pay the writer an advance; there may be a bidding war for a manuscript that’s in demand, driving the advance higher.
- These publisher have professional editors and will provide top-rate formatting and cover art.
- Traditional publishers will get your book into real book stores, they’ll market the book and may even put you on a book tour.
- There’s no requirement to buy books, although traditional publishers will often give you a limited number of copies and offer additional (though limited number) copies for purchase at a steep discount.
Sounds great, right? Well, there are some Cons:
- There may be considerable lag time from when you submit your final manuscript to the publication date, often a year or more.
- A new author will typically forfeit control over cover art, maybe even the title. In fact, you may have very little influence over any decisions regarding your book. It may be difficult to implement changes in the manuscript after a certain point in the process. These publishers typically believe they know the market better than you, so you just have to trust them.
- Lower royalty rates, typically between 6% and 25%. For the new author, this rate directly corresponds to the author’s reputation and the publisher’s risk.
- Royalties are typically paid semi-annually.
- They tend to overprice ebooks, which drives down demand. It costs essentially nothing to publish an ebook, so publishers naturally look to maximize their profits through this channel.
The publishing options available to the new writer are greater than ever before. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good options. An unsolicited piece of advice as you explore these options: always get advice from a lawyer before you sign a publishing contract.