Friday, August 12, 2016

Is Self-Publishing for You?

A popular post from March 2010. 

by Heather Moore

I invited Sarah Eden to share her journey of deciding to self-publish nine novels and her recent decision to go with a traditional publisher.

Her first book launch for her “traditionally published” book will be on Friday, March 12 at the Deseret Book in Orem, Utah, 6:00–8:00 p.m., 1076 S. 750 E. (Along with two other authors, our own Annette Lyon, and Julie Bellon)

Thanks, Sarah!


In the words of the immortal William Shakespeare, “The course of getting published never did run smooth.” I may have paraphrased a little.

Ask any serious writer about getting published and the reaction you get will invariably go something like this: "Well...” (Shudders/cringes/twitches) “It's tough. I get a lot of...” (muscles back a groan/sob/word-the-author's-mother-would-blush-to-hear) “rejections.” (a tell-tale muscle tic begins somewhere on author's face)

This is a brutal industry. I'm twitching just writing about it.

I write “sweet” historical romance. The sweet part has a double meaning: suh-weet, as in insurmountably cool and sweet, as in not smutty. Believe it or not, the second kind of sweetness got in the way of the first kind of sweetness during my course toward publication.

A few years back I jumped feet first into the shark-infested waters of the national romance market. The responses I received began to blur together. “I love your writing. Your characters are enjoyable. Your plot is intriguing, etc., etc., etc.” Sounds great, right? Not entirely. After these encouraging evaluations came the same phrase: “but I don't represent/am not interested in 'sweet' romances.” Trying to get published began to feel a lot like exercise—no matter how hard I tried I was always left with a big but.

After finishing off my third carton of self-medicating ice cream in as many days, I began investigating the black sheep of the book industry: Self-publishing.

I discovered some very interesting things.

*Self-publishing comes in 3 basic flavors: traditional, print-on-demand and the vanity press

*Traditional: Author takes manuscript to a printer, negotiates the price to have a set number of books printed, takes books home to store in garage and sell via website/appearances/the occasional negotiation with a bookstore

* Print-on-demand: Author formats manuscript according to POD company's specifications, a price-per-book is determined based on book measurements & length, books are printed by company when a purchase is made, book is shipped to customer

*Vanity press: “publishing” company agrees to publish author's book if author provides a portion of the publishing cost

*Self-published authors don't get a lot of props from the industry at large. “Wannabe,” “not a real author,” “not talented enough to get published 'for real'” are among the nicer things I've heard.

* Self-publishing is not a good way to earn money as an author. The profit margin is exceptionally small and a self-published author doesn't sell a lot of books.

Over the next three years, I self-published nine titles using POD self-publishing. I chose CreateSpace, the print-on-demand arm of Amazon. I sold books on Amazon and at writer's conferences, but otherwise had very little exposure—a common problem for a self-published author.

For me, self-publishing was always a step in the journey and never the final destination. With each book I put out, I hoped that it would somehow find its way into the hands of someone who could help me find a publisher who was interested in the kind of book I wrote.

My novel, Seeking Persephone, was a finalist for a 2008 Whitney Award—one of the few competitions that allows self-published works. As a result of this bit of good fortune, I met a fellow-writer (you know who you are) who suggested I give a certain small press a try that was known for publishing books with my brand of sweetness.

The rest, as they say, is history. Looking back on this journey, I realize I've collected a few nuggets of wisdom that just might guide an author thinking of trying their hand at self-publishing.

* Have realistic expectations. Most self-published authors will barely break even.

* Believe in yourself and your work. Self-published authors enter the industry at a disadvantage—they are disregarded, overlooked and, at times, never given a chance to prove themselves. If you are willing to put your work out there and endure the ups and downs, some amazing things can happen.

* Do your homework. Find out what you need from a self-publisher in terms of budget, product, an ISBN, an online purchasing option, etc. Choose the self-publishing method and company that fits your needs best.

* Keep an open mind. Perhaps self-publishing will prove ideal for you and your book. Perhaps it is only part of the journey. Know what your goals are and work toward them.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article. Thank you for sharing your journey.

I love the title : Seeking Persephone and wonder what your background is, just a myth lover, psychology, Jungian, etc?


On a different note,more to the editors of this blog- I recently approached an independent editor (not here) and because a friend had a letter written for her for a certain price, I expected the same price for the same kind of letter.
For me, the editor proposed a price twice as high for a similar letter.
When I asked (politely -hey maybe my letter would require more work than hers)why the difference and also for an estimate of prices for further work that I was considering, the independent editor wrote back to bow out of working with me. In other words, would not give me prices or explanations: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."
I was kind of stunned (and hurt -previously, this independent editor was very enthusiastic about my work - after asking for a price structure, not so.)
Is this typical of independent editors or should a service (like writing a query letter or a book proposal) be an expected fee structure?

Michael N. Marcus said...

>>Self-publishing comes in 3 basic flavors: traditional, print-on-demand and the vanity press<<

Today most vanity publishers use print-on-demand.

>>Self-publishing is not a good way to earn money as an author. The profit margin is exceptionally small<<

If that's so, the self-pubber is doing something wrong. On a $15.95 300-page book, a self-pubber can make $7.36 -- much better than the typical $1.28 royalty (before agent's commisison) on a traditionally published $15.95 book.

Michael N. Marcus

-- president of the Independent Self-Publishers Alliance,
-- author of "Become a Real Self-Publisher: Don’t be a Victim of a Vanity Press,"
-- author of "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults)," coming 4/1/10.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see a self-pubbed author with a realistic view of the route. Considering your experience, self-publishing made a great deal of sense, and has obviously paid off, as a stepping-stone. Good for you.

Michael, yes, most vanity publisers use POD, but from an authors perspective, vanity is a separate route from trad or POD DIY.

I'm also wondering where you get your figure of $7.36. Based on what? And what about that $15.95 price point? Is that for a trade paperback? Something else?

Sarah M Eden said...

As I am sure you are aware, not all Print on Demand publishers are vanity presses and, therefore, a distinction must be made.

Regarding profit margins and making money as a self-published author, a $15.95 selling price is not always competitive enough, especially if the genre in which an author publishes tends toward mass market paperback and, thus, much lower retail prices for comparable "traditionally published" works.

Assuming an author could sell at the price you are proposing and receive the $7.36 per book quoted, which I acknowledge is not impossible, an author who is seriously considering self-publishing from a business perspective knows that this number is not the end of the equation.
Take out of that $7.36:
*taxes--what and how much a s-p author pays varies depending on many factors, but they do cut into profits
*the cost of paying a distributor should they choose to use one to place their books in stores
*the cost of shipping if they are mailing purchases to customers
*traveling costs involved in appearances, signings, etc.
*marketing--a s-p author foots the entire bill for marketing and publicity
*Some authors choose to have their cover art created by others, their book typeset or edited and this, too, cuts into their potential profit.

The amount an author gets back (at least initially) per book may be higher than with a "traditional publisher" but the author is less likely to sell nearly as many copies of these books and, in the end, that will generally mean the author will make less money.

Can a self-published author make money? Certainly. Are they going to make a lot of money? Probably not.

Self-publishing can be an excellent route to take, provided the author has realistic expectations.