So now that I’ve touched upon some of the basics in Part 1 of my self-publishing 101 thread, I wanted to turn my attention to the subject of control (or Miss Jackson if you’re nasty—sorry just had to go there). When publishing your book there are so many things you have to consider—things more than likely you never really thought of before. However, in order to understand exactly what the hell you’re in for, it’s important to gain some perspective.
Mainstream Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
I think some of the downsides of self-publishing as opposed to mainstream publishing should be evident (or they will become evident soon enough). But to really comprehend what you’re up against its important to understand what exactly mainstream publication is. First-off, before you can go near most publishing houses, especially the larger ones, you usually have to procure an agent. Procuring an agent can be a little like procuring someone who’s playing hard to get—only they’re not playing. There is of course the query letter, which if you’re fortunate enough, you may get a peep back—usually you don’t. But let’s say you do get a response, the next step is to send a sample of your work to the agent. The sample is the first fifty pages of your manuscript, double-spaced, and it damn well better be edited (this part is somewhat different for non-fiction work, as you don’t necessarily have to have a completed manuscript). Hopefully, when you send this sample off, the agent won’t require it to be sent snail-mail (regular USPS), because on top of the print fees, you will then have the added postage fees—and if you’re sending off more than one sample, that can add up.
From there, you learn to hurry up and wait. Your response can either be a sorry-we’re-not-interested letter, or if you have Samantha from Bewitched as your fairy godmother, they may ask for the full manuscript, which is obviously what you are hoping for. And then once more, you hurry up and wait, and then wait some more. If your well-placed bribe to Ali Baba paid off, then congratulations—you got yourself an agent! This only took several months—in which time, you still aren’t published.
Once you have an agent, it is now their job to secure a publisher, which if they’re doing what they’re being paid to do, you should get. But now once you get published, does that mean you just sit back, relax, and start counting your dough? Not quite. What most people don’t realize is that even after being signed to a publishing company (and giving up a considerable amount of your rights) you still, have to do a lot on your own. Depending on how much the publisher deems you’re worth, they will front you an advance. But this money isn’t for you to sit back and be cute. Many times, the author has to promote their own work, which of course costs money, not to mention, the agent fees and other miscellaneous costs that have a sneaking habit of creeping up on you when you least expect it. By the time you’re done paying everyone off, you maybe have enough to cover several months rents (depending on how large of an advance you receive—and in NYC not even that much).
Of course you might be hoping that once those big fat royalty checks come in, then you’ll be living la dolce vita, but this is far from the case. Generally speaking, the writer usually doesn’t get more than 10% of their royalty checks. So even after all your hard work, more than likely, if you’re not a consistent writing machine with several best-sellers under your belt, you won’t be able to quit your day job. The J.K. Rowlings and Dan Browns are the exception—not the rule.
To put it more concretely, let’s do some simple mathematics. A POD (print-on-demand) company like CreateSpace will pay you up to 70% royalties, after certain costs and expenses are met. Say you are a published through a publishing company, and after the expenses and production costs were met, there was $250,000 remaining. Out of that, you’d get just 10%, which adds up to $25,000. Now let’s say you self-published, and after general fee deductions, you generated around $25,000. Since you get 70% of those royalty fees, you’d end up with $17,500. Even though this is less—it is only $7,500 less—and take into perspective that the sales from the mainstream publishing was 225,000 MORE. If you managed to sell at equal amounts, as a self-published author your pay out would be $175,000. That is $150,000 more than what you’d get through a traditional publishing house. This is a HUGE difference. Hence why the onus for the major publishing companies is sales, and why they, along with the agents, are extremely selective in choosing an author. The bonus that you get is more extensive distribution, book placement in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and greater exposure; but that comes at a loss of rights, autonomy and net value.
You’re An Entrepreneur
Now financial considerations aside, one of the biggest challenges for the self-published author is actually comprehending their new role. When I was checking out the author’s forum on Amazon, one thing that was said, that stood out to me, was that the writing part was easy; the real work comes in selling the thing. I find this to be so true. As a writer, no matter how many hours, months, or even years, you spent agonizing over your book, more than likely you were doing something that came natural to you—something you enjoy. It is something you know, and are comfortable with. However, when you publish your work, you quickly learn that it takes more than writing skills to sell your book. Overnight you have to be an agent, a sales person, a marketing expert—all things that you probably don’t know and are not comfortable doing.
This is perhaps one of the major reasons why so many self-published authors have a huge failure rate, as none of these things are obvious. That alone can be massively discouraging; however in my opinion, there is nothing that you don’t know, that you can’t learn. The first step comes in re-defining your role. You have to transform yourself from the idealistic writer, to the go-getting entrepreneur. Your book isn’t just your writing—it is your business. And in order for your business to succeed, you have to understand what you’re selling.
Most self-published books tend to do really well in niche markets, so understanding and determining who your audience is, will be key. Although you may want everyone to read your book, in reality, most books are not for everyone. However, it may have appeal to a large group of people. Identifying your genre, and then targeting those people whether it be through blogs, forums, or social media, can have great potential.
And the final element is setting realistic goals, and defining what success means for you. If your plan is to sell over a million copies and be a NY Times best-seller in six months, then you’re living out the fiction you’re writing. While nothing is truly impossible, certain things are highly implausible. Setting up small goals, and then building on them over time, can pay off. You will in all likelihood have to keep your day job, but that is okay. Just as long as your building your way to something.
While I am still in the learning process, and have so much more to learn in order to gain a fuller understanding of this business, I know that I am not alone. This is important for you to remember too. Everyone likes to talk about how great is to be a published author, but no one really speaks about how overwhelming and at times disheartening it can be. But what you must remember is that all thing that are worth anything in life, come with tremendous blood, sweat and tears. The difference between winners and losers isn’t that the winner succeeded, whereas the loser failed. The difference is that the loser gave up after the first defeat, and the winner kept getting up even after the ten-thousandth defeat. Success is the ability to move forward—no matter what.
I came across this article that I found to be quite helpful. While I don’t agree with everything, I do believe he makes some valid points.