There’s been a lot of talk on blogs lately about the pros and cons of self-publishing. Until now, self-publishing has been synonymous with vanity publishing, the idea being that there are no gate-keepers to self-publishing. All you need is some money and you can publish a book, no matter how crappy it is. Today, as the publishing world rearranges itself, that’s beginning to change. With more people graduating from MFA programs, more people writing books, more people querying agents, and fewer books getting published, the self-publishing industry is booming. Scribd, the iTunes of publishing, is a site where authors can post anything from a recipe to a novel and name their price for people to download it. With tens of millions of readers and more than a million documents, it’s the largest self-publishing site that I know of on the Web. Meanwhile, print-on-demand companies like iUniverse, Lulu and Xlibris (to name a few) offer formatting, editing, proofreading and even book cover design for authors who want as much help as possible, while the lower-end CreateSpace (formerly BookSurge) is for authors who want to do the design themselves.
My feeling about companies like iUniverse is that they’re a big ripoff. There are four reasons to self-publish:
1. You tried to get published by a traditional publisher and couldn’t
2. You don’t have the patience/desire to query agents and go the traditional publishing route
3. You already have a platform to sell your book (eg. you’re a motivational speaker who can sell your book at seminars)
4. You’re writing a memoir, recipe book, etc. for your family and friends
Whatever the case, one of the biggest advantages to self-publishing is that you make way more money per book than you would through a traditional publisher. Rather than keeping 10-15% of the retail price, you get 40-60%. Or not. Print-on-demand companies like iUniverse that offer “packages”, work like this: for $600, you get five “free” softcover books, and the rest you have to BUY from them at an author’s volume discount. It’s not clear from their website how much the author’s volume discount is, but the package price increases up to $4200 if you want editing, formatting and more “free” copies of your book. And this doesn’t include the dozens of other optional services they provide like an author website or an e-book format, all for additional hundreds of dollars. This is like one of those modeling agencies that offers classes and professional photos to girls who don’t have a chance at modeling, for several hundreds of dollars. That, my friends, is called a SCAM.
Before I get into some of the other self-publishing options, I want to say that “global distribution through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.” is also a scam. If you self-publish your book, it will NOT be on the shelves at Barnes & Noble—EVER. It WILL be on BN.com and Amazon.com along with five quadrillion other books. All this means is that if someone already knows about your book, there’s an avenue through which they can purchase it.
Lulu allows you to keep 80% of the revenue from your book (now we’re talking) after the manufacturing cost, kind of like Scibd, except that with Scribd there is no manufacturing cost. In fact, Lulu is a sort of Scribd meets POD because you upload your document and name your price, and then when someone buys the book, it’s printed and mailed to them. (I’m betting Scribd will soon follow with a similar model that allows readers to buy a printed version of downloadable documents.) Packages at Lulu range from $369-$1369. A much better deal than iUniverse.
Like Lulu, Amazon’s CreateSpace allows you to name your price. Then it takes 20-60% of that price (depending on where the book is purchased) plus a $1.50 per book fee. So if you sell your book for $12 on Amazon, you’ll get $5.70 per copy, nearly 48%. That’s after you’ve paid for your package, editing, formatting, book cover design, etc. Packages range from $299 to $4346.
I’d have to do more research to see which is better between Lulu and CreateSpace, but they each look much more appealing than iUniverse.
And now that we’ve covered the self-publishing options, here are some arguments FOR and AGAINST self-publishing:
1. You’ll probably end up doing most of your marketing anyway, so why not get a larger percentage of the royalties (50-80% vs. 10-15%)?
2. As the blogo/Twitto/Internet-o-sphere evolves, new gatekeepers will emerge in the publishing industry: Maybe even a blogger who reviews ONLY self-published books. Imagine that!
3. It’s empowering! No more kowtowing to agents and publishers! Just get out there and DO IT.
4. With companies like Harlequin’s new DellArte self-publishing arm, which plans to churn out books that look as professional as Harlequin books, no one will be able to tell the difference between self-published and traditionally published books.
1. Self-published books will never get the respect that traditionally published books have. They will never get reviewed and never distributed in bookstores.
2. Self-published books are a rip-off for the author. Not only does the author have to do all her own marketing, but in order to keep the cost per book down, she has to do all her own editing, formatting, and cover designing as well.
3. If everyone self-publishes, and more traditional publishers open self-publishing branches, readers will be swimming in a sea of sludge, unable to sort the wheat from the chaff (to mix metaphors). With so much junk out there, people may read even less than they already do.
My personal feeling about self-publishing? If I query 100+ agents and still no one wants to represent my book, I’ll consider it. And if I go that route, I’ll work my ass off to sell it. But I’m not ready to give up on the traditional publishing industry yet. Call me old-fashioned.
Tomorrow: An author interview with a YA writer who decided to self-publish. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on self-publishing?