In part one of this three-part series on publishing tips, I wrote about the steps to becoming a published author: choosing a compelling topic, creating a convincing proposal, finding a publisher, signing your contract, and starting the writing process. Now, let’s talk about finding a publisher—and the critical differences between self-publishing and conventional publishing.
Self-publishing can take a number of forms. You can start your own publishing company or you can have your book published by an established subsidy publisher (also known as “vanity” publishers). Or, you can create an e-book and try to sell it on the Internet. The key element that distinguishes self-publishing is that it requires you to finance the venture, and to accept the financial risk. You avoid the possibility of having your manuscript rejected by a publisher but you are accepting the much greater risk of having it rejected by the buying public.
Self-publishing can be hard to resist. After all, self publishing does allow you to call yourself an author. You will see your book on Amazon and you’ll have copies of your book to show off to your family and friends. However, whether you are asking someone out for a first date, applying for a job, or attempting to publish your book, avoiding up-front rejection often leads to disappointment down the road. Creating a book manuscript will be one of the hardest tasks you will ever attempt—you need to be very careful about whom you entrust with it. Here are some of the sales pitches that you will hear from self-publishing companies—and why you should resist their siren call.
Look at all the books in your home or office. I am willing to bet that every single one of them was published by a conventional publisher.
“You retain all the rights to your book.” Phrased another way, the publishing company is telling you that they will do nothing to help you sell rights to your book. Do you have a rolodex of foreign publishers and documentary producers? Conventional publishers do, and if they sense potential, they will make sure your book is seen by the right people. A year after I published The Couple’s Guide to Love and Money, I received an excited email from my publisher that they had just sold the rights to two Asian publishers who would translate and publish my book. This deal would have been impossible for me to accomplish on my own.
“You completely control the book design.” How would you feel if your surgeon told you, “You’ll completely control your surgery—just tell me where to cut”? Designing books is a highly specialized skill. Unless you are an expert in this field, you are likely to design a book so that it looks nice on your bookshelf (which is likely the only place a self-designed book will ever be seen). A conventional publisher will design it so that it sells.
“You can publish quickly.” What’s the rush? It’s true than conventional publishing can be an excruciatingly protracted process. The time between completing your manuscript and holding your book in your hands is likely to be more than a year, and it will feel like one of the longest years of your life. However, this is anything but wasted time. During this period, a conventional publisher will be editing your book so that it is consistent, readable, and grammatically flawless. They will be developing and implementing marketing strategies. A team of professionals will be working on your behalf. If you need to get your message out in a hurry, you are better off setting up a website. If your book has an urgent message, it will likely become outdated quickly.
Creating a book manuscript will be one of the hardest tasks you will ever attempt— you need to be very careful about whom you entrust with it.
“Your royalties will be higher.” Essentially, you choice is between a 10-percent royalty on thousands of sales with a conventional publisher, versus a 50- to 100-percent royalty on a just few sales. Sure, you may believe your book will be the exception, but chances are you will sell only a handful of books. Even if you are a skilled publicist with a great book, self-publishing does not give you access to the marketing channels that conventional publishers have.
Self-publishing means you will have little chance of getting on bookstore shelves and will be unlikely to secure any major market interviews or reviews. Some companies average sales of only two books per author. Even if all of the stars align, you should still expect to sell fewer than 200 books. Still not convinced? Try this simple test. Look at all the books in your home or office. I am willing to bet that every single one of them was published by a conventional publisher. If you do happen to have a self-published book on your shelf, it is likely that it was given to you, or maybe you bought it because you knew the author personally—and perhaps felt sorry for him or her.
For most of us, our ability to sell books based solely on our reputation will quickly be depleted—right after our moms, spouses, and aunts have bought their copies.
“Great authors have self-published.” This appeals to our secret fantasy they we are unrecognized geniuses. Like the other great minds of our time, commercial publishers will fail to recognize our brilliance, while the public will have an insatiable thirst for our wisdom. Deepak Chopra, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin are often cited as examples of self-published authors. However, a key to their self-publishing success was that they had already established reputations as people with ideas that were worth reading. For most of us, our ability to sell books based solely on our reputation will quickly be depleted—right after our moms, spouses, and aunts have bought their copies.
Creating a book is a labor-intensive endeavor, requiring a full commitment of your mind and heart. A conventional publisher maximizes your chances of getting a good return on your investment.