Should I Self-publish or Find a Traditional Publisher?

Great question!

When I speak with prospective clients this question "Should I self-publish or find a traditional publisher?" inevitably comes up. My answer is, "Absolutely consider going with a traditional publisher if offered." The benefits of being able to say Random House or Penguin Books is your publisher is a privilege no one should overlook. That said, getting a traditional publisher to take notice of you and your book may be easier said than done.

Big box traditional publishers

If you have a great story, a large following or are an influencer, pitching the big 5 publishers may be the way to go. If a publisher take an interest in your book you can expect an advance, plenty of deadlines for manuscripts, intense editing, cover design, title tweaking, marketing and all the little details of making a book deal real. It certainly will not cost you anything upfront, which is great and keep in mind it may take a couple years before you are in print. If you have ideas for design and interior illustrations, that’s great! but they probably will use their own resources.

Typical royalty payments may be something like this:

  • Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. (Source)

  • Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter. (Source)

(For reference, if your paperback book retails at $9.99 and you sold 150,000 copies then your royalty would be $120,000 or if you sold 3,000 books you would earn $2400.)

(0.08 x $9.99) = $.80
(Royalty Rate x List Price) = Royalty

The rub comes with the number of books sold on average. Reports say that the average book sales per year is under 300 and over it's lifetime the average number is 3,000 books total. It's hard to find solid numbers on this and of course there are always the extraordinary exceptions, but you can see the potential issues here. If the average total number of books sold is 3,000 then your royalty payment would be $2400, or another way $120 per year for 20 years. Barely enough to cover a Krispy Kreme coffee (52 x 1.89 = $98.28) once a week!

If traditional publishers are not engaging with you or you want to earn more on average, don't worry there are other ways to get published.

Small press publishers

Small press publishers that specialize in your niche topic are good ways to get a publishing deal. They will be much more flexible, give you editorial control, let you weigh in on cover and interior design. Keep in mind that a net 50/50 split of royalty is typical plus you may be able to negotiate subsidiary rights. Your payout is less but you do have more flexibility and control. Time to market is shorter. Read about one authors experience with a small press.

(For reference, if your paperback book retails at $9.99 and you sold 150,000 copies then your royalty would be $69,000 or if you sold 3,000 books you would earn $1380.)

(0.50 x $9.99) - $4.50 = $.46
(Royalty Rate x List Price) – Estimated Printing Costs = Royalty

Many authors think that if a traditional publisher publishes their book, the author will not have to hustle and spend time marketing their book. The truth is unless you are a "big deal" and very well known, (and even then think national book tour) every author WILL NEED to market their own book according to the goals they set for themselves. Being published is one thing. Making money from your book is another matter completely. 

Hybrid partner publishing

Another avenue is hybrid partner publishing. Indie/hybrid publishers will help authors to publish their work. They can provide a publishing imprint, ISBN, copyediting, professional cover and interior book design, and production services for a negotiated fee. In this model the author and the publishing partner work together to meet the goals of the author. The author is in control of all royalties, distribution, printing, marketing and public relations, but has trusted partners to help as needed. Often you can find partners that will take a small to zero royalty. Brick and mortar retailers will be more likely to order your book if you use this model because the system has a distribution channel and will allow for returns. The retailers probably will not stock your book unless you develop a relationship with them and bring them customers. If they like your book and think it can sell or like you, they will often offer a consignment arrangement, and of course take a bit of the profit as well. Hybrid partners offer different services so research your options and find the partner that works for you.

(For reference, if your paperback book retails at $9.99 and you sold 150,000 copies then your income would be $823,500 or if you sold 3,000 books you would earn $16,470, minus up-front publisher fee and other fees.)

(1.00 x $9.99) - $4.50 = $5.49
(Royalty Rate x List Price) – Estimated Printing Costs = Royalty

Author self-publishing

Author self-publishing, perhaps through CreateSpace (Now called Kindle Direct Publishing, an Amazon company) is an option. I have not published via Amazon but from my experience and reading articles it seems some folks love it and others don’t. You’ll need to research this option and see if it is a good fit for you. The exposure is good, though they do take a 40% standard royalty. And I have heard uploading your Word document is easy. Or Lulu is another option for self publishing. The difference between self-publish and hybrid partner publishing is a question of skills and time vs. investment cash and royalty. If you have plenty of technical skills, such as layout, design, computer knowledge, resources for artwork, printers, etc and the time to do the work, then self-publishing on your own may be your answer. If you don't have the time, nor skills, then you may want to consider using an publisher partner. Keep in mind some retailers will not stock your book if produced through Amazon KDP. Also, this platform does not allow for returns which retailers depend on. Here is Kindle Direct Publishing Price sheet for September 2018.

Royalty per sale to a customer from Amazon.com is: 
(0.60 x $9.99) - $4.45* = $1.54
(Royalty Rate x List Price) – Estimated Printing Costs = Royalty
*Applicable Printing Cost calculation: $0.85 (Fixed Cost) + (300 (Page Count) $0.012 (Per Page Cost)) = $4.45 (Printing Cost)

(For reference, if your paperback book retails at $9.99 and you sold 150,000 copies then your income would be $231,000 or if you sold 3,000 books you would earn $4620)

If you have a story in you, one of these methods will work for you. The good news is you have options! 

Remember my examples are just that, an example. Everyones experience is different.