Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chapter 10: No platform? Then consider self-publishing

Self-Publishing is not necessarily second best, especially in today’s market. Why?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating to suggest that the combination of print on demand and social networking via the Web (see chapter 8) have revolutionized publishing. But it hasn’t struck me just how revolutionary the changes are until the last few months.

The “Print on Demand” Revolution

So my book on music was out of print and all but one used copy was gone from Amazon. Someone was selling the last copy for $500. Was that you Cherie? Trying to republish with a traditional publisher didn’t seem like an option.

So why would a publisher quit printing a book that’s still selling? Because if they’re printing 5,000 copies at a time to keep the costs low, they’re taking a big risk in reprinting. If it sells too slowly, they’ve got to store those babies and take a loss.

But Cherie and I felt that my book could be a good backlist seller for a long time – that it still met a niche need.

So Cherie called a Print on Demand publisher, BookSurge, and had them call me to get me moving on it. I wasn’t that interested because the last time I’d checked out self-publishing in small quantities, you’d have to sell each book for such high prices that

a. nobody would buy it and
b. you couldn’t tack on enough above the selling price to make a profit

But after Cherie enlightened me about the print on demand revolution, I felt like it was the best fit for my book at this stage. I still say I’m glad I went with Tyndale House first and got the respect of being with a respected, traditional publisher. I doubt I could have landed those radio interview or gotten it out to near as many people without them.

But at this stage in the book’s life I couldn’t be more thrilled with Booksurge. For future books, I’m 50/50 as to whether to self-publish or go traditional. There are benefits to each. I may decline the offer on my Money book and self-publish through Booksurge. Let’s brainstorm a bit about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I’d like to harvest some collective wisdom.

How many of you have self-published (that is, you paid to have your book published)? How many have published with a traditional publisher (that is, the publisher paid you an advance for the privilege of publishing your book)?

Let’s list the pros for each type of publishing.

The Case for Traditional Publishing

1. I’m much more likely to get it into bookstores. (I’m in their catalog that goes to bookstores and distributed through traditional channels.)

2. They will do some free publicity. Tyndale House had connections with radio and TV that I didn’t have. They arranged the thirty or so radio interviews.

3. I get more respect.
  • For future publishing.
  • From bookstores.
  • From schools and libraries.
  • From magazine reviewers and major reviewers.
4. There’s no up-front monetary risk on my part.

5. I get up-front money.

The Case for Self-Publishing

I'm heavily considering self-publishing my next book at this point. Here are some of my reasons:

1) I Can Do a Lot More Marketing Myself Than in the Past. As I study social networking and marketing via the Web, I'm more and more convinced that I can reach my customers pretty effectively via these methods. I couldn't have done this 10 years ago, but so many possibilities exist today.

2) More Long-Term Profits (possibly). My traditional publisher gave me 15% of their net (what distributors pay them for the book), which probably meant about 15% of half of the retail price. For an $18.00 book, that would mean I'd receive $1.35 per book. With BookSurge (print on demand, subsidiary of Amazon) I'd receive 35% of retail (the price it sells for on Amazon), which is $6.30 per book. That's a huge amount over time! Example: If I sold 10,000 books through Booksurge at $6.30 per book, I’d have to sell over 4.5 times as many books (over 45,000) at $1.3 per book to net the same amount of money. Can the traditional publisher generate that many more sales because of their connections and publicity channels. Certainly, in some cases. But probably not in others. If a traditional publisher is offering you a contract, make sure that they are doing a super job of marketing their books.

3) Sure, I'd love to receive a $10,000 advance and the clout and the marketing to traditional bookstores that comes through a traditional publisher, but that $10,000 would be taken back by the publisher with my royalties until it was paid back. (An “advance” is an “advance against future royalties").

Since in my case I've already been promised an early purchase in bulk, I could pay back the printing costs quickly and begin making a profit.

4) I get to retain all rights and offer it as an e-book, parts of it as articles, etc.

5) I get more control over the graphics and the final editing.

6) Speed: Published in a couple of months versus a year.

7) Flexibility: It's so cheap to publish that I don't have to think of my original publication as final. I can use it to test the waters, get input and make a revision based on that input in a year or two.

If you choose print on demand, you haven't burned your bridges to a traditional publisher. has a service which allows publishers to see your sales and consider picking you up. BookSurge just gave me a raise, from 25% to 35% of the selling price on my book. They didn’t have to do this. My contract was for 25%. This makes me think they’re willing, like their parent company, to lose money or make very little in order to eventually own the market. If so, that’s good news for authors. My contact at BookSurge is John Schuster. He's been very helpful in answering my questions and leading me through the self-publishing process.

The Web (Web 1.0) and Social Networking (Web 2.0) Revolutions

So Print on Demand has revolutionized our ability to get our books into print 1) with quality printing 2) quickly 3) at reasonable prices and 4) in small or large quantities. The Web revolution allows those who can’t hit the road or do bubbly radio interviews a plethora of new avenues for cheap and effective marketing. It’s a move from “interruption marketing” to helping those already looking for our products to find us. It allows everyone to learn the new tools (blogs, online press releases, forums, etc.) and market effectively and cheaply.

Questions or input about Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing? Feel free to comment!