When It’s Time to Publish

I compare publishing a book to having a baby. The nine-month pregnancy—writing the book—is the first part. The life that follows the birth is the rest of the story. In ways, you’re done—you’ve finished writing the book. In other ways, you’ve only just begun.

So you’ve finished your book. What’s next? Should you look for a publisher or self-publish?

There is no “right” answer. Both traditional publishing and self-publishing have their advantages and disadvantages.

To start, decide which route to publication makes the best sense for you. First, do you have the time to devote to self-publishing?  Second, do you have the financial resources you’ll need to self-publish? There may be no cost to put your book up on Amazon, or there may be only a small fee to make the book available for sale by POD (print on demand) with companies like IngramSpark, but to create a professional-looking book you’ll need to spend some money on pre-publication. Pre-pub typically involves hiring experienced editorial professionals (an editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader), an interior designer, and a cover designer for the front, spine, and back covers on a print book. Traditional publishers small and large provide these prepub services; it’s part of the investment they make in every author they publish. They have editorial and design staff. As a self-publisher, you’ll need to hire freelancers.

Marketing and promotion are yours to do as a self-publisher. If you go with a traditional publisher you’ll spend less time doing this essential aspect of putting a book on the market, but it is important to know you will still have some work to do. 

With either of these two routes to publication you’ll need to build the potential audience for your book months before it is available for sale so you have a ready audience for it. Much of that outreach is typically done on social media. People need to know about your book, but to catch their interest you’ll need to do more than jump in announcing your new book. Social media is exactly that: it’s social. Be involved with at least two social media platforms about five months ahead of publication to develop relationships with potential book buyers. Advertise your upcoming book to that developed audience about ten percent of the time that you post and interact on the platform. 

With a publisher’s name attached to your book you can feel some validation: you’ve been proven worthy as an author on the market. But there’s been a revolution in publishing over the last two decades with many high-quality, award-winning books self-published every day. You may be less likely to make a New York Times Bestseller list as a self-published author, but ask yourself what you honestly need to feel successful. 

Some Upsides and Downsides of Self-Publishing

1. You can put your book on the market relatively quickly. There isn’t the one- to two-year wait for publication there is when you have a traditional publisher.

2. You have complete control over decisions regarding the book’s structure and content, the title and cover design (both marketing decisions, for sales), and pricing.

3. Self-publishing sees significantly greater financial returns for per-book royalties. You will receive more money for each book sold.

4. Earnings shouldn’t be the deciding factor, however. It’s possible to sell far fewer copies as a self-published author and earn more than a traditional deal would pay you. It’s also possible to sell more copies as a self-published author but not earn as much as you might get from a publisher’s advance and royalties (over time). It all depends on the book and the type of deal or contract you’re offered.

5. With real estate there is the saying “Location, location, location.” With publishing the maxim is “Distribution, distribution, distribution.” The book needs not only to be available, it also needs to known about, or discoverable. As a self-publisher, you are in charge of finding those outlets.

6. Self-published books sell primarily through online retail, both as a print book and an e-book. Given that more than half of all books sold in the United States sell through Amazon and there are other online sales outlets as well, that’s not necessarily a drawback. Because of this, a successful self-publisher has to have some proficiency with being active online. You’ll not only need a professional author website and presence on a few social media platforms (all authors do), you’ll also need to be willing to experiment with online sales and marketing avenues, such as purchasing Amazon ads.

7. Consignment sales are contracts with bookstores for sale of your book. Consignment sales are possible, chiefly at independent bookstores. Each contract with a bookstore must be individually garnered. This can be arranged with a meeting in person, an email, or a phone call to the person in charge of consignment sales.

With consignment contracts, the typical royalties split is 60/40 (author/bookstore) per book sale. Keep in mind, you must purchase print copies of your book to sell on consignment in stores. Be sure to factor in that cost when you calculate potential earnings.

How much can you earn on a book sold by consignment? An example: if your book sells on Amazon for $15 you’ll spend about $5 per book buying copies of your book at the author’s discounted rate. With consignment sales, a bookstore will keep 40 percent of the cover price ($6 per book) and pay you 6o percent ($9). To tally your sales income, subtract the $5 you spent for the book’s purchase. You have earned $4 for the book sale on a cover price of $15.

8. There are advantages to having your book available at more online locations than Amazon alone. Independent bookstores typically will not purchase from their greatest competitor—Amazon. (Some independent bookstores won’t even give you a consignment contract if your book was published by Amazon.) It’s good to also put your book up at Ingram Spark, so independent bookstores and libraries can order the book and, in the case of bookstores, make returns to them if the book doesn’t sell.

9. Instant gratification is not a good reason to self-publish. That gratification may only last for a month or two. Be sure you don’t self-publish because you’re looking for a way out of researching and contacting potential publishers (or agents) with a good query and book proposal.

10. If you have any interest in traditional publishing, exhaust your A and B list publisher options first. Write the best query letter you can, prepare an excellent book proposal if that’s required, and contact at least twenty companies that publish your genre. If your book is rejected by all of them, take a deep breath and then self-publish.

Keep in mind: If your self-published book does stunningly well, you may attract a reputable publisher and be offered an advance against royalties. In their eyes, you’ve already proven the market. If it is a bestseller and they do come a-knocking, you may want to accept their offer if the advance exceeds what you’re already earning in sales or are in line to earn.  If you self-publish and your book does moderately well, you won’t likely be able to interest a publisher in it but you may succeed in selling them your next project.

If you’d like help with any aspect of the publishing journey, from making the choice between seeking a traditional publisher and self-publishing or going with a hybrid publisher, be in touch. I review and write query letters and book proposals and can help you decide on your best next steps.