Previously, writers had fewer options to get their manuscripts into print. Mostly their choices were either traditional publishing or self-publishing. Self-
publishing was considered by some to be "not real publishing," and could be the kiss of death for an author wishing to be taken seriously. Some traditional
publishers were reluctant to accept their work, some literary agents wouldn't represent them, and some sales outlets wouldn't stock their books. Some
called it "Vanity Publishing" to marginalize their work. Writers were left with few options, and had to do their own promotion and marketing. Some simply
sold their books out of the trunk of their car, or to anyone who expressed an interest.
Authors submitted a manuscript directly to traditional publishers, hoping to find one who had an interest, and was willing to invest in publishing it. As those
publishers became more risk adverse and less willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts, writers were forced to search for agents to represent their work. As
agents became flooded with manuscripts, they also became more selective, accepting fewer manuscripts. Writers were now left with even fewer options. The
process then became more difficult, as writers had to find an agent, and the agent now had to find a publisher.
The landscape has certainly changed over the last few years. Regardless of what you're told, the days of back room deals in smoke filled rooms with an
agent using their influence and insider contacts to get a book published, are long gone. Professional relationships are still extremely important, and good
agents may have more access because of their reputation for handing quality, but the days of wheeling and dealing with graft and corruption are gone.
Authors today have several options to get their work into print and be successful. What's happening in the book publishing industry today is comparable to
what happened to the music industry a few years ago. The music industry was similar to the book publishing industry today. An artist could have the
greatest song in the world, but if they couldn't find an agent who could sign them with a record label, they virtually had no chance of it ever being heard.
The option was to produce their own record and try to sell it themselves. This was rarely successful.
As technology changed to digital, it became a viable option for artists to establish their own record labels. Service companies came into existence providing
everything the artist needed to make their work available to the public. Some major record labels and agents ignored the new options and fought to brand
self recorded artists as "not real recording artists" with non-viable records. Eventually they lost the battle. In the recording industry today, artists no longer
have to rely on major record labels to get their music to the public. The term “self-recorded” is no longer used or has any meaning.
When self-publishing was in it's infancy, unfortunately, the quality of the books were generally not on par with commercially published books. Many books
were obviously self-published. With cheap construction, inferior typesetting, poor interior design and amateur covers, the books looked “home grown.” With
today's technology, self-published books can be identical in quality and design to books produced by the largest firms. There are numerous examples of
successful self-published authors who strongly advocate this method of publishing.
The greatest validation that subsidy publishing is a strong viable option, is the fact that some of the largest publishing houses have established subsidy
imprints, providing writers with additional options. The houses of Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, Lifeway, Hayhouse, and Random now own all or portions of
subsidy imprints. Some traditional publishers and agents still condemn subsidy and self published authors for a variety of reasons. A subsidy or self
published author doesn't need an agent, thus cutting them and their profits out of the loop. They no longer use the traditional publisher, cutting them and
their profits out of the loop. In self-publishing, authors can reap most of the profits from sales while retaining full control of their work. In subsidy
publishing the author maintains more rights and has more control than in a traditional format, but fewer rights than in self-publishing. Subsidy publishing
is not necessarily the right option for everyone. It generally requires more author participation in addition to the author subsidy. It's a partnership, which
each partner investing in the potential success of the book.
Numerous companies now provide a literal ala cart menu of services designed to get a writers work in print, and for sale. Self-published authors can often
sell fewer books and net the same amount as they would through a traditional publisher. Add to this, the lack of contractual obligations, maintaining full
ownership and control of the book, makes self-publishing an attractive option for many writers.
Most best sellers are still sold through traditional publishing firms. The reason for this is, they professionally advertise and promote a book from a larger
platform. Many self-published authors either lack the business knowledge, desire or ability to promote their work after it's published. As a result, the books
fair poorly, generating few, if any, profits. Even with traditional publishing houses, typically only sixty percent of published books ever realize a substantial
profit, and the sales of most books are less than eight thousand. Publishers make the bulk of their money from their established authors and the occasional
best seller, with the other marginally profitable books making enough to keep the publishers in business and pay the overhead.
With traditional publishing, most rights to the author’s work are owned by the publisher for the contract period. Sometimes the book won't be released for
well over a year. If the market changes, theres is a glut of books in that genre, or other marketing concerns, the publisher may decide to put the book on
the back burner. The publisher, within the terms of the contract decides when the book will be slotted for release. When the book is released and doesn't
sell well, it may be sent to the back list. The author is now left with fewer options. Contrary to what most people believe, unless you're well known, most
royalty advances for unknown authors, range from zero, to few thousand dollars. Publishing is a business, and publishers will not continue to aggressively
market a book that is not selling.
Self-published works that find success are usually the result of the author’s understanding of the process and self-promotion. It's rare for any book to be
successful without substantial marketing. Some authors who originally self-published and later found success with a major publishing house spent
substantial amounts of time and money in marketing and promoting their book. Generally, they were dedicated and sophisticated individuals prepared to do
what was necessary to make their work a success. When their book became a good seller, it represented less risk for a publisher to now offer a contract for
a book that was already successful.
Good advice is: “Never invest in someone unwilling to invest in you.”
The Rest of the Story
It should be clearly understood, that merely self-publishing a book and making it available for sale, will not necessarily make it successful. If an author is
not prepared to spend time and money promoting their book, self-publishing may have negative consequences. This is not to say that self-published works
cannot be successful. There are numerous examples of successful self-published authors. A writer who options for self publishing, should do their homework
and have a realistic understanding of the issues involved. Self-publishing can be as profitable as any other type of publishing, when done properly. An
excellent site from Morris Rosenthal providing well reasoned advice on the subject is www.fonerbooks.com
Some of these comments that may sound negative are not intended to marginalize self publishing, but merely point out some of the issues involved. There
are circumstances that warrant self-publishing. Self-publishing is a viable option to traditional publishing and appropriate for informed authors.
Although times are changing, some publishers will not consider publishing a previously self-published work. Some elitist book reviewers will not accept a
self-published, vanity, or subsidy published book, much less review it. Unfortunately, many self-published books are poorly written amateur offerings with
little or non-existent editing, filled with distracting errors. Although validating their ego, the author with a poor offering, regardless of the method of
publishing, may be damaging their reputation as a professional writer. The reputation you want to precede you should be a good one. Obviously, these kinds
of issues can make it more difficult to be taken seriously as a professional writer. These books also make it more difficult for those professional writers who
If you are self-publishing with the hope of having your book picked up by a large house and your book doesn't sell well, you may have provided a prospective
publisher with substantiation that your book has little market value. As far as a publisher is concerned, they assume the author has made reasonable
efforts at marketing and promotion.
Some companies claiming to be publishers are in reality, nothing more than book printers. They derive their income from gullible new writers. Their profits
are made by providing basic production services, printing books, and selling those books to the authors. They have no investment in the author’s work, and
make it sound easy to become a successful, published author who will sell a ton of books.
Some publishers have elaborate websites offering their titles for sale. Mostly, they are nothing more than vanity sites. This type of publisher knows they
will generate few, if any, sales. The sites are nothing more than marketing tools designed to make the writer believe they will be part of a group of
successful authors. The first thing you'll notice is typically the books are offered at inflated prices. It would be reasonable to assume the only people who
would buy a book through these sites would be the family, friends or acquaintances of the author.
When the author orders their own books from this publisher, they usually receive a 40% discount. Even with the discount, the author is paying close to
what should be the retail price for the book. The publisher makes a handsome profit every time the author orders a book. The only way the author can
make a profit selling their own books is by offering them at an inflated price. This obviously makes the book difficult to sell. The end result is an unknown
author, trying to sell an unknown book at a significantly higher price than comparable books. This is a recipe for failure.
If you're not prepared to professionally self-publish, professionally promote and professionally market your book, then don't do it! Professionally means:
employing professional editors, professional graphic designers, professional interior typesetters and a professional marketing staff. There are numerous
companies offering professional assistance for those wishing to self-publish.
The bottom line is this: don't self-publish an amateur work, do nothing, allow your book to fail, and then expect a publisher to buy it.
A partial list of reportedly successful self and subsidy published works
"The Bridges of Madison County" by Robert J. Waller
"Life's Little Instruction Book" by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
"Spartacus" by Howard Fast
"The Shack" by William P. Young (sold 700,000 copies before being picked up by a large publisher)
"The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield
"A Choice, Not An Echo" by Phyllis Schlafly
"The Joy of Cooking" by Irma Rombauer
"What Color is Your Parachute" by Richard Nelson Bolles
"Poems" by Oscar Wilde
"In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters
"Chicken Soup for the Soul" by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
"The Christmas Box" by Richard Paul Evans
"Invisible Life" by E. Lynn Harris
"The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward Tufte
"Contest" by Matthew Reilly
"Eragon" by Christopher Paolini (questionable)
"Shadowmancer" by G. P. Taylor
"A Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren
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