Michelle Isenhoff

Indie Endeavors, part 2 – Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

So you’re thinking of self-publishing?  Jump into my how-to series… 
Read part 1: My Eight-Year Journey.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of self-publishing, I’ll take a week to lay the process alongside traditional publishing and see how it stacks up.  Having never been published by the mainstream industry, I admit I’m no authority.  But I’ve been poking around the business long enough to pick up on a few things.
In my opinion, the  biggest advantage to self-publishing is total control, which walks hand-in-hand with total profits.  I don’t have to agree to changes in my manuscript.  I don’t have to submit to a horrible cover.  I don’t have to worry about contracts, rights or permissions.  The book is mine alone, to do as little or as much with as I’d like, in any format, at any time.  And I do not have to settle for a royalty equal to pennies on the dollar.
But total control comes with total responsibility, and that’s the biggest disadvantage to going it alone.  I jumped in without really knowing what I was doing, and I’ve had no one to teach me but experience.  I need to make sure my manuscript is absolutely top quality, create a cover image, and produce and market my own product.  Let me repeat that last bit, because it’s the toughest one for me.  I need to market my own product.  Once my book is “out there,” I’ve just begun.
I tried off and on for several years to snag a contract.  Because of my inexperience, I wanted a team behind me.  But the big publishing houses receive thousands of submissions each month and their lists only have so much room.  The competition is fierce, and your material has to match their needs.  I never made the cut.  Now, I’m so glad I’m not tied to any prior commitments.  And I’m glad I don’t have to wait on a publisher’s time table.
It takes months or (in my case) years of submitting  before a manuscript is accepted, and then it takes months or years longer to produce a book.  And nowadays, authors are responsibIe for promoting their own work to a great extent, especially newbies who haven’t yet made a name for themselves.  I don’t begrudge the time I “wasted,” because rejection forced me to become a much better writer.  But now that I’m pleased with the work I’m producing, indie is my obvious choice.
Now let’s talk some figures.  Six percent is an average royalty for a traditionally-published paperback, which might sell for ten dollars.  Net profit?  Sixty cents.  Hardcovers pull a ten percent royalty and are priced a little higher.  On a twenty dollar hardcover?  Two dollars.  In comparison, let’s take some actual figures from my self-published books.
The big ebook publishers have two royalty rates.  For .99 to 2.98 ebooks, payment is thirty-five percent; much higher than traditional rates.  And books priced 2.99 or higher pull in seventy percent!  That’s just over two dollars on a three dollar book!  Of course, the higher the price, the more you’ll make, but low cost is exactly why ebooks sell.  With a little marketing (okay, a lot of marketing), think of the potential!
Print-on-demand paperbacks involve much more cost in materials.  Prices are based on the size of a book, and they vary widely by publisher.  At CreateSpace, I can sell a 160-page paperback on Amazon for ten dollars and receive just over three dollars profit.  (If I purchased the books and sold them off my website, I could make substantially more.  However, my website receives approximately zero exposure, so it’s worth the cost to actually make sales.)  This boils down to about a thirty percent royalty on each book – significantly more than the traditional six.
In conclusion, self-publishing takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s exciting, it has significant potential, and I’m learning how to make it work.  I might not sell as many copies on my own, but my efforts are lining my own pockets, not a publishing company’s.  And who knows?  With time, effort and experience, I might surprise myself!  Either way, I’m published, and I’m in control, and I’d recommend that combination to anyone.
Go to Part 3: A Word About Editing

Indie Endeavors, part 2 – Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

8 thoughts on “Indie Endeavors, part 2 – Traditional vs. Self-Publishing

    1. Yeah, royalties are pretty low. If a book has a 3,000 print run, that’s only $1,800 on a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s rare for a book to go in to a second printing. Many don’t even sell out the first. I think independent publishing is only going to get bigger.

  1. Michelle, I’m looking forward to this series. My friend just got an agent, and now I’m feeling a little blue that I chose the self-pub route. I need to keep reminding myself why I did it. I think, overall, the one very hard thing about self-pub is that there’s no “validation” (like what you’d get if your book is accepted by an agent/publisher) that you’re a good writer. However, I also think there are SO MANY midlist published authors who just seem to plod along and don’t have any control over their careers or writing for that matter. Keep the info coming.

    1. Thanks, Lois. I know exactly what you mean. That’s the very thing that kept me trying for an agent for The Quill Pen till the end of last year. But I got tired of waiting. There’s just too much opportunity out there in self-publishing too keep waiting for something to happen. We can make something happen instead. And who knows? Self-publishing isn’t irreversible. If a great offer came along, we’d be free to take it.

  2. The royalties to be made by self-publishing are definitely worth it. However, there’s also the tradeoff of better publicity through one of the bigger publishing houses. HOWEVER (again), I’ve also heard that even the big six these days expect most authors to do much of their own promotion. I’m actually looking at talking to a couple small publishers at a convention in March just to see if they could help a part-time teacher/father get his stuff a little more into the public eye. Even though I know the facts, I would much prefer to be spending more of my time writing than I do currently.
    Enjoying this series of posts.
    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    1. It’s a pickle, isn’t it, Paul? Help and publicity? Or freedom and higher royalties? Even with all my enthusiasm for self-publishing, like you, I’d still be open to the right publishing deal. Pushing the books is so very, very hard.

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