I was speaking recently with a fellow author, one slightly more successful than yours truly. He has published over 40 books and short stories, selling millions of copies. He’s what you could call “the real deal”. And he’s just given up all of his publishing contracts.
I know. I can hear your jaws dropping. Why would someone who was so established just walk away from all of the support, which powers his books to the top of the bestsellers lists? When I asked him, his initial answer was simple – money. He stands to make about twelve times as much per book on his own.
Which is why the major publishing houses are running scared, and why there is no better time than now to self-publish. I understand that the skills needed to promote and market a book are different from those needed to write one, but marketing isn’t an art, as most people think. It’s a process-driven, experience-based numbers game, which can be learned, copied and applied to any situation.
My famous author friend also cited control as another reason to switch to self-publishing. He would pitch a book to his editor, who would then suggest changes to make the book more marketable. The editor’s sales targets were in the hundreds of thousands, whereas the author would be happy with tens of thousands. If you can make ten times as much per book on your own, the end result is the same.
Unless you have been living in a cave, you’ll have heard of Amazon’s tiff with the publishing house Hachette. Don’t get me wrong, the world’s largest eBook retailer is no angel. It’s a business and it sure does make life easy for new authors. I spoke with another author friend who recently chose to publish traditionally. She regrets the decision and is busy working on her next novel, which will be released electronically. As she said, Amazon sells over three billion eBooks every year and she wants a slice of that pie. Yes, that’s billion with a “B”. From initial idea to release will take her about a year, as opposed to the epic three-year journey with her publisher.
Traditional publishers claim to act as a buffer for the reading public, filtering out titles that really should never see the light of day; in the odd instance, they may have a point. Recent developments, however, would suggest that traditionally published authors don’t have a monopoly on ideas or the ability to spin a good yarn – just look at the sales figures for self-published vs. the big firms. Publishers argue that they provide countless value-added services such as story advice, editing, cover design, PR and promotion, and so on, ad nauseam, whereas self-publishing leaves all of this up to you.
I have great respect for the major publishing houses – they are sophisticated businesses, which bring the written word to millions. They are very professional and they care deeply about the long-term strength of their brand. There are, however, myriad small “publishing houses”, full of wondrous promises, which are little more than snake oil salesmen. You have a brilliant idea, you work hard for months to capture it on paper, you spend a small fortune to have it published and then find yourself doing everything yourself anyway.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that, with the development of technology, there are no major barriers to becoming a publisher. As with all industries there are those that would take advantage of the unwitting. It’s often tough for an independent writer to decide if their publisher will actually do what they promise, so self-publishing becomes a “safer” route.
But there’s still work to be done. All the services provided by the publishing house still need to be performed, so get yourself a good editor, have a proper cover designed, learn some basic marketing and get to work. All the information you need is out there, so read the self-publishing blogs and don’t be scared to ask for help. Social media has helped create a community, which can and will support you.
Just don’t forget your roots when you sell your millionth copy.