More on Self-Publishing versus Legacy Publishing

I’ve been reading a lot about the pros and cons of self-pub versus traditional (legacy) publishing in the last couple of days. I finished David Gaughran‘s excellent Let’s Get Digital, then ploughed through a couple of hundred articles, trying to find a balance.

And it’s looking like self-publishing might well be the winner for me, folks. But why?

First I should say that I haven’t yet looked for data to back up everything below. I’ll do that later. For now this is a first-pass, hearsay-fuelled impression of the two routes aspiring authors can take to publication. It’s also a bit of a brain-dump, so bear with me.

(Note: currencies in dollars, despite my being British. I’ve pulled the stats from Let’s Get Digital, and they were in dollar amounts. I doubt that the picture changes much on the other side of the Atlantic.)

Traditional Publishing

  • It’s always been a lottery getting published in the traditional way. Even for great books. Send it to 10-20 agents, hope one of them likes it, which they often won’t. Wait for the agent to find you a publisher, which they often won’t.
  • This process likely takes years, on top of the time it took to write the book.
  • This has got even harder in the last couple of years, as traditional publishers take on fewer and fewer authors, as their profits tumble on the back off falling bookstore sales across the US and UK.
  • Say you do find a publisher for your first novel. Hurrah! Well, kind of. You get the average advance of $5,000. You’ll only see a penny over this advance when you sell your 6,251st $8 paperback (at $0.80 royalties), or your 2,858th $10 e-book (at a whopping $1.75 cut).
  • New authors with advances that low are unlikely to see those sales numbers. They aren’t getting displayed front and centre, face out, at Waterstones, Borders or B&N.
  • Your $5,000 is paid in three instalments, over several years. Oh, and 15% goes to your agent. Which you can’t argue isn’t fair – they found you a publisher, after all.

Self Publishing

  • You are guaranteed to be published. Obviously. Hurrah!
  • Instead of taking years, the process takes (editing + formatting + cover design + upload) time. Hire professionals, spend some hard-earned day job money, and you’ll be ready in months with a professional looking product that readers won’t be able to tell from a trad-published book.
  • But – on that wondrous day of publication, rather than getting the final instalment of a $5K advance, you will likely be $1-2K down, from the editing, etc. costs you incurred. You’ve got some selling to do…
  • …but you’ve got your whole life to turn a profit on that book. There’s no publisher to decide they aren’t going to push it any more. And with self-pub royalties like Amazon’s 70% for books prices, you only need to sell 1,000 copies at $2.99 to break even. To cover your $2K costs and beat the $5K advance you could have got from a traditional publisher, you only need to sell 3,500 copies.
  • That alone would be great, but it isn’t day-job quitting money. I want to write full time, screams the needy author.
  • Don’t despair! It turns out there are seemingly countless tales of authors who self-published with no expectations of success, and after several months to a year of marketing, praying and drinking, found themselves selling 1,000+ per month. Some even more. Some way more, but we can’t all be Joe Konrath.
  • Make your novel the best it can be; get it edited professionally; have a cover designed by a pro; be diligent and enthusiastic with your marketing. People will buy your book.

One final SF specific note of encouragement, from Kevin McLaughlin’s site here. In a recent analysis (Feb 2012), 61% of the books in the Amazon SF Top 100 were self-published. That’s astounding to me – if you’d asked me to guess two days ago, I’d have said 20% at most.

These are interesting times to be a writer. And this particular writer can’t see why he shouldn’t be published sometime later this year.

What about you, fellow aspiring writers? Where do you fall on this, or have you not yet made up your minds?

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8 thoughts on “More on Self-Publishing versus Legacy Publishing

  1. Pingback: A panda in the book market « Think Write not Wong, Alison

  2. I’m thinking I’ll try legacy publishing first, do my rounds there, and try to find a home for my work down the traditional route to try and establish my name, so that if I end up going down self publishing in the future, I’ll already have had a bit of marketing done by the legacy publisher first. In the words of a creative writing professor of mine, just about anything that’s written decently can find a home somewhere. It just takes patience. I also happen to enjoy making the rounds, shaking the hands, attending the conventions, and handing out the business cards, so legacy publishing is just something that sort of clicks with the way I think. It’s weird.
    I hope self-publishing your book(s) works out for you! Good luck!

    1. Best of luck finding that home – you don’t need me to tell you traditional publishing is still a completely viable route. I think it just depends what the author wants from their publishing experience, as it were. I’m personally happy to do the grunt work of finding an editor and cover designer, doing the self-marketing thing, so I think self-pub will work for me.

      Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment!

      1. Thanks!
        That’s true, I suppose. Good luck finding the editor. If you’re interested, I know a few very talented artists who do cover art and I can point you in that direction.

      2. That’d be great, actually – thanks for the offer. Would you mind sticking their info (websites, I imagine) in a quick email? It’s dan [dot] harris [dot] writer [at] gmail [dot] com. Much obliged!

  3. Pingback: What Kind Of Year Has It Been? | dan-harris.net

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