Why You Should Consider Self-Publishing for Your
by Diane Eble
People ask me all the
time, "Is it better to try to find a traditional publisher
or to self-publish?"
My answer is always, "It depends." It depends
on your goals, your resources, your book idea, the
marketplace. There are many factors to consider. (I do
encourage you to consider them, and show you how, in
Write Your Book
Right: 12 Questions Successful Authors Always
Nevertheless, there are several good reasons to
consider self-publishing first.
1. It's very, very difficult for a
first-time author to get published these days by a legacy,
or traditional, publisher. Ironically, part of the
reason for this is precisely because the current technology
makes it so easy to publish! There are so many books out
there, the bookstore shelves are overcrowded (and that
distribution model is so flawed—but don't get me started on
that!). Publishers are more and more wary of publishing
I don't blame them. I've been on the "inside"
of publishing enough to sympathize with their side of it.
It's very expensive to produce, publicize, and distribute a
book—especially given the very flawed bookstore distribution
model. (Oops! I couldn't help that one.) Profit margins are
often razor thin. Publishers put out maybe $10-30,000 to
produce a book, and they never know which books will make
In fact, 85 percent of all books published
don't even "sell through" enough to pay back their advances!
I'm often amazed that publishing remains an industry
(especially given the very flawed business model from which
they operate—uh-oh, here I go again).
2. You may make more money—at least per
book. When your book is published by a traditional
publisher, you may get an advance against royalties. It's
increasingly true, however, that advances for first-time
authors are pretty paltry—not much more than $5000. In fact,
advances are shrinking. I just heard one publishing
professional report that the most common advance these days
is $0! Nothing.
Even if you do get an advance, remember that
most books don't even earn out their advance, and that it's
an advance against (future) royalties. Typical royalty: 7-10
percent of net, which means after the bookstores or other
distributors get their discount (typically 45 percent).
Let's do the math. A book that sells for $19.95 has a
(discounted) base price of $12.97 (45% discount means you
net 65 percent of list price). Of that, you get your 7.5
percent royalty (typical paperback royalty—hard cover is
almost unheard-of for a new author). Now you're down to 97
cents per book sold. Out of that comes, off the top, 15
percent to the agent (if you had one). So your net royalty per
book is a whopping 82.7 cents per book.
Now, if you can produce the book for $10, and
it's something you can actually sell for $19.95, you will
net $9.95 per book if you self-publish and sell it yourself.
The tricky thing, of course, is to make sure your production
costs will not exceed the price you can actually sell the
book for. The trouble with a lot of "publishers" such as
lulu.com is that you can easily price yourself out of the
market. You have to be very careful and very realistic about
what the market is used to paying for your kind of book.
The other trick is to make sure you have an
audience, or can build an audience, for your self-published
book. If you can speak and sell it from the back of the
room, this can be very effective. If you already have some
kind of platform, some kind of audience, you can learn
Internet marketing strategies and sell it online. The Web is
becoming increasingly effective for promoting and selling
books, which is why I'm so encouraged about publishing these
3. You get published quicker.
A legacy publisher may take 9-18 months to produce your
book, once they get your manuscript. It might only take you
half that time to do it yourself. You reap the rewards
quicker if you self-publish.
What are those rewards? Publishing a book
positions you as an expert, like almost nothing else.
According to Kevin Hogan, author of The Science of
Influence, nothing boosts your credibility and expertise in
the mind of the public like your own printed book. An
advanced degree is actually second to having published a
book. You can build on your expertise before, during, and
after you write the book, and reap the rewards of being a
published author quicker.
Once your book is published, and you begin to
promote it, you will make connections you can't imagine now.
Doors will open to you. When you're perceived as an expert,
people approach you; you don't have to work as hard to go
out to find them. You can charge higher fees for your
services, products, speaking—whatever it is your book
Then there's the incomparable satisfaction of
hearing someone say, "Your book changed my life…."
You might as well begin to reap these rewards
sooner than later!
4. As you learn the ropes of promotion,
you can attract a legacy publisher—who will then be willing
to pay you a larger advance than they would
earlier. You will have to learn how to promote your
own books anyway, no matter how you publish initially. If
you successfully promote your self-published book, and build
a big audience, it's likely a legacy publisher will approach
This is another result of the self-publishing
phenomenon. Increasingly, publishers are looking for
successful self-published books to take on. It's only good
business. You (or perhaps a smaller publisher) has taken the
initial risk, and you've proven you know how to promote your
book. The risk is much less for them.
Your advantage to being picked up at that point
by a legacy publisher is that they will give you wider
distribution (i.e., in bookstores and chains and other
retail outlets), and you may well get a decent advance. (At
that point, you will be in a position to know whether you
want to sacrifice income for the greater distribution and
having them pick up the hassles of producing, warehousing,
and distributing the books. You may decide you'd rather keep
If you are picked up by a traditional
publisher, you can still sell your book and build your
platform while they are producing your book. You can
typically keep selling your book up to 60 or 90 days before
your new book is published. Then, of course, the publisher
will want to be able to sell the new edition, and you will
have to retire your initial edition. (Often, this will
include complementary materials—beware! For more on that,
see the article, "Know Your Author Rights.")
I predict that more and more legacy publishers
will look for successful self-published authors. They'd be
foolish not to.
5. You're more likely to work hard to
get your return on investment if it comes out of your own
pocket. Isn't this human nature? Don't you think
you'd work harder to recoup $5000 from your book if it's
your own money invested? And this motivation may be just
what you need to propel you to success.
Ultimately, you are the one who will have to
promote and sell your book, no matter how you publish.
Always, always remember that. You are your book's own best
advocate. Writing is only a piece of the picture. The real
work comes later, in promoting it and making sure your
investment of time, energy, and money yields a return.
But that's where the fun begins….
(Author's note: If you're
wondering about my cryptic remarks about the book
distribution, check out my blog post on
"The Fatal Flaw in the Publishing Industry" and other blog
posts. Just search "Fatal Flaw" in the blog search box.)
If you're thinking of
self-publishing, please don't do anything until you've
checked out these resources: