For most of its history in the last century or so, self-publishing has had a bad reputation, often because it was believed that an author who self-publishes is probably not a very good author. Most likely, the author had tried to get published by a traditional publisher, only to receive a slew of rejection letters. Rather than realizing his work was substandard, he stubbornly decided to self-publish his book. He then most likely invested and lost a ton of money to publish some second-rate books that did not sell.
That situation may have been true until a couple of decades ago. I am sure that back in those days, many good writers received rejection letters who would have loved to self-publish, but they had financial common sense and realized they could not market the books well enough to sell them.
In the last couple of decades, this situation has changed, although the perceptions have not changed among all authors. The less expensive ways to self-publish available today-due to print-on-demand technology that makes even printing one copy of a book inexpensive-have meant that authors can publish their books for very little money. E-book formats have made publishing even more inexpensive in the last few years. And the advent of the Internet has provided storefronts and marketing avenues to reach audiences so an author who is committed to learning how to use web and social media tools can sell books online without ever having to leave his home or deal with carrying around paper copies of his book.
But the old stigma against self-publishing remains. I have heard of authors published by traditional publishing houses who have snidely told self-published authors that because they self-published, they are not “legitimate writers,” and that they need to be with a real publisher if they want to have a successful large print run and have their books reach the public in large numbers. Such comments show that these traditionally published authors know less about the publishing world than the self-published authors. I daresay many a self-published author is making far more money and selling far more books now than traditionally published authors. It is even questionable whether traditional publishing is not the more foolish route to take today unless the book is published by one of the major publishing houses that really has the budget to market the book extensively.
In fact, anyone can start up a publishing company these days and publish anyone else’s books, paying out the usual 10 percent royalties. I’ve even heard some authors refuse to go the traditional publishing route, calling it a form of “intellectual theft.” After all, these traditional publishers can publish the book and sell print on demand copies that might cost them about $6 a copy for a $20 retail book. The publisher then makes a $12 profit, after paying the author $2 for the copy. Yet many traditionally published authors continue to maintain that somehow they are among the elite because they are traditionally published while they look down their noses at self-published authors. These traditionally published authors may well be throwing their money away, spending hours writing books to make someone else rich when, with a small amount of extra work, they could be making $14 for their books if they simply did for themselves what the traditional publisher is doing for them.
However, many traditional authors refuse to see matters this way because they have a misguided notion that artists are above money matters. When the debate ensues about self-publishing, and the issue of money is raised as one of the best reasons to self-publish, I have actually heard traditionally published authors snidely remark to their self-published counterparts, “It’s about being a real author and loving your art and working with an editor and publisher to create a quality piece. That’s what being an author means to me. If it’s all about the money to you, then there’s no point in us continuing this conversation.”
When people hold such attitudes, there is no sense in continuing the conversation. You can’t convince someone about something he doesn’t want to hear. Besides the fact that many self-published authors do work with editors and a group of beta readers to receive feedback before publishing their books, the bottom line is that traditionally publishing a book often can be one of the most foolish financial decisions an author might make.
Of course, being an author is not all about the money, but money does matter. Anyone who thinks money does not matter is not living in reality. A true author writes because he or she loves to write. Writing and spreading a message through your words should be the first and foremost reason why a person writes, but nothing is wrong with making some money off your art. If the average book takes about five hundred hours to write, then that is a huge time commitment. If your publisher is going to give you $2 a book when you could make $14 a book, unless you are absolutely convinced that your publisher is going to sell more than seven times as many copies as you can by being self-published, are you really making the right decision?
What if you did self-publish? That extra money you make off your book can pay for the printing of your next book. If you traditionally publish, your book is at the mercy of the traditional publisher who may decide not to publish your next book, and even to remove your first book from the market, or simply to close up shop, which leaves you basically unpublished again.
If you self-publish and you do make some money off the first book, you may need to reinvest some of that money to publish the next book so you can make more money, but you’ll still come out ahead with the first book, and the extra money might end up providing you with a nice little nest egg to help free up your time so you can write even more.
I’m not denying that many traditionally published authors have maintained their artistic integrity while being very successful with their book sales, but that paradigm is becoming less and less common. If you want to be an author, rather than look down your nose at the thought of self-publishing, acquire some good business sense and do your homework. Being an author is not only about writing, but also about being in business. If you want to be successful, you need to embrace the business end of publishing, and in business, money does matter.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.
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