In the past few years, the publishing industry has changed from an industry guarded by the gatekeepers (traditional publishers) to an industry that no longer needs or wants those guardians of books. Nowadays, you no longer need an agent or a publisher (gatekeeper) to get a book published. Physical bookstores are on the way out and digital books are on the rise. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has said that for every 100 print books they sell, 180 digital books are sold. Imagine what that stat is going to be in one, two, or three years from now? Wow.
If you’re on the fence about whether you should still try for a “traditional” book deal or self-publish on your own, you might find the following arguments listed below helpful. You can read more about authoring a book and why you should self-publish in my book entitled Write A F*$%’ing Book Already – The Insider’s Guide To Increasing Your Sales & Improving Your Career With A Book.
A book is a book. Period.
There used to be a distinction between a digital book (or e-book) and a printed book, but not anymore. A book is a book, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter how it’s delivered. However, I do understand that there are still plenty of folks out there who don’t see it that way. Some people still drink the Kool-Aid that the traditional publishers have made us drink forever, making us think that only printed books by big publishers, sold in bookstores, are books. Let me tell you something. I don’t care how I deliver it or what format it’s in. It’s a book if I say it’s a book. If I put a cover on it and put my heart and soul into it, it’s a book. If I choose to not upload it to Amazon and give it away on my site, it’s still a book.
This nonsense about how self-publishers aren’t real authors, or don’t really write real books, is all a made-up form of control from the industry that wants to keep their power. You know why most people don’t write books? I do. I talk to them every day. The #1 reason they tell me is that they don’t believe that they can do it. Why? Because they say, “If you want to write a book, you have to get an agent and a book deal. You have to figure out how to format your book just right and you have to have perfect grammar and so on.”
Not true anymore.
You’re going to do all of the marketing anyway.
So, why pay a publisher their cut? Unless you’re a proven best-seller, you aren’t going to get much marketing help from your publisher. So, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?
You can get it done faster yourself.
Traditional publishers can have a 9-12 month cycle to getting your book published. Who has that amount of time to wait? As an entrepreneur or executive looking for a job, are you willing to wait around for a year or more? I wouldn’t recommend it.
Bookstores? What bookstores?
If you honestly believe that you’ll be able to walk into a super-sized bookstore in two to three years from now, sit down, have a cup of coffee and browse books… well then, I have some swampland to sell you in Florida.
You keep the rights.
Why would you ever want to give the rights to your book to another company? That would be like handing your proprietary system to someone and giving them control over it. It’s a bad business deal, no question about it.
When you give away your rights, you can do nothing. You can’t price your book the way you want. You can’t change the cover art. You can’t sell it where you want. You can’t do anything without the permission of the publisher. Why in the heck would you want to do that?
You’re not getting a book advance.
Sorry, you’re probably not. The book business as it existed is dying. Publishers are not walking around throwing money to people who have no previous book-selling experience. Sure, maybe if you’re a celebrity or other well-known person, they might throw some money at you.
I’m sorry to say that Jersey Shore star Snooki has two books by a traditional publisher, for which she earned signing bonuses. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the state of traditional publishing today, I don’t know what will.
You can make more money.
After your agent takes a cut and then the publisher takes a cut, you’re probably left with about 17.5% of the profits from each book sold. And that’s only after the initial run of your books is sold-out or your signing bonus is reached (the earn-out, as it’s called). In other words, you’re not getting a dime until they sell enough of your books to make back their money.
If you self-publish, you can sell the book yourself through Amazon and other sources, and earn up to 70% per book. You can even sell the book yourself through your website if you want and earn ALL of the profits.
So, what do you think? Do you still feel that traditional publishing is a model that makes sense? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.
A great article and great comments! Thank you!
I published my first book, How to Attract Money Using Mind Power, with an author service's company in November, 2007. I'm now in the process of setting up my own publishing company. As far as whether or not a person should self-publish or get a book deal: I don't think most first-time, unproven, authors are going to have the luxury of getting to make that decision. I think that for most such authors the question would be more like, "Should I self-publish or just not publish at all?"
Sure, anyone can TRY to get a book deal with a traditional publisher. But, of course, the hard and cold fact is that most first-time, unproven, authors will not get such a deal. But, if they publish in some other way (author services company or self-publish), they can work at building up their platform and their sales and if they have some success and still want a traditional book deal later, they'll be in a much better position to get that deal and will likely get a better deal (larger advance as an example) than they would have been able to get otherwise.
Would I even want a traditional book deal for this present book of mine? Perhaps. I could not honestly say until I saw the offer and which publisher it was from. For all of the cons to going with a traditional publisher, I still think there are some pros as well for the right book with the right publisher and at the right time--at least for one of an author's books.
For now, I still plod along with my still very-limited knowledge of matters such as book marketing and promotion. Still, even knowing as little as I do, the paperback edition of my book is usually at any given time somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 in the Amazon sales rankings, and that's out of who knows how many millions of books listed on Amazon. And the book has even broken into the top 100 on Amazon more than once. I didn't know how to make screen shots at the time, but I recall that one of the categories was "personal finance."
A publisher in India has published an English-language edition of my book (the territory being the Indian Subcontinent). The book has also been published in Arabic by a publisher in Lebanon (the territory being worldwide) and in Spanish by a publisher in Mexico (the territory being Latin America), and an Italian edition (the territory being Italy and Italian-Speaking Switzerland) is now in the works with a publisher in Italy.
And I did receive an unsolicited offer for the audiobook rights to my book from Brilliance Audio, Inc., an Amazon-owned company. They wanted the audiobook rights for 10 years and the Kindle rights for 10 years as well. The advance offer was low as were the royalty rates I would have received and I declined the offer. Still, it was nice to be asked.
There's no longer any reason for anyone not to get a book out there if that's what they want to do. You don't need anyone's permission! The gate is wide open! Write a good book, believe in it, publish it and then just keep learning and keep moving forward. Do these things, and there's no practical limits to how far you can go as an author/writer. I've now written four more books (sounds like a lot but they're small ones) and I'm excited about publishing them through my own publishing company. And there will be many more books to come. I love this business!
Great article Jim. I hope you spur more people to take the leap and get into print. A lot of people don't realize that in many fields nowadays - public speaking for one - there is no stigma at all for being a self-published author. And you raise very good points about rights and profits, especially when you have good sales channels. There are some real success stories being made in self-publishing nowadays.
That said, I want to chime in with Carol on a deeper and often unspoken issue - how people perceive your book. Look at most royalty published books, and then look at many self-published books. See a quality difference? I often do. While for many of you reading this, I am sure that *your* book is excellent, you may confront the perception that you *had* to self-publish - for exactly the same reason that most of the music on your iPod is from major labels and not unsigned indie artists. If you want to sell books in the thousands, get reviewed in Businessweek or on CNN, or have the Fourth Estate pay serious attention to you, it is often a lot easier with the channels and connections of a royalty publisher.
When people quote-unquote "can't get a book contract," it might be the market's way of saying that they need to keep writing and learning. Mere mortals can and do get contracts if they study the market, understand the genre they are writing in, and keep polishing their writing chops. Almost everyone I know who is serious and professional about landing a book contract eventually gets there. My publisher is always *looking* for good projects, even as most of what they receive frankly doesn't cut it. So by all means choose self-publishing if it works for you, but understand the pros and cons on both sides.
Excellent Advice, Jim! I self-published my own book on Amazon & my website, my publication date was 11/11/11, and I have been a best selling author on Amazon since 2/16/12 - not bad for my first book! It was a huge struggle and a ton of work to figure it all out, but you condensed it all nicely above. Thanks for an EXCELLENT article!! Aimee Elizabeth, Best Selling Author of "Poverty Sucks! How to Become a Self-Made Millionaire." http://www.AimeeElizabeth.net
You can verify it two ways - you can go to my website at http://www.AimeeElizabeth.net and go to my "Publicity" page. The first link is my highest best selling ranking to date on Amazon - it's towards the bottom of the page highlighted in orange. As you can see, Amazon breaks down the best sellers by category, which means you are in the top 100 books sold in that category. I have been in Entrepreneurship, Retirement Planning and 3 other categories that I can't remember at the moment (because they only list two categories at a time). So whenever I get a higher ranking, I update my website. However, you can also go directly to Amazon & look up my book. Click on the "Kindle version" (hardly anyone buys dead tree books anymore) and if you scroll down you will see my ranking. Anything in the top 100 in a specific category is considered a best seller. Bear in mind, Amazon updates these rankings HOURLY. So of course I am placing my highest rankings to date on my personal webpage, and Amazon changes theirs hourly, so I don't expect them to match daily -but I have been a best selling author on Amazon since 2/16/2012. As Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the world, I am quite pleased.
If you have a book for sale on Amazon, that is how you check your best selling author status - and once you get the title, it's not something that can be taken away from you ever. So it's pretty cool to have.
Hope this info was helpful to you!
Well said! We were recently offered a nice juicy publishing contrac, with an enticing advance and promising distribution. But when we realized that we would be agreeing not to publish "competing material" we pulled out - the publisher could not explain to me why a long blog post would be ok, but a short free kindle book would be a violation of the contract. Those of us publishing directly to a passionate audience see the future - and while there is no cash advance, the creative freedom is priceless.
You did a nice job on the post, and I beleive in what you're doing.
A book on Kindle looks, smells, and reads differently than a traditional hardcover book.
Even if I didn't have my first hardcover book published by a publishing house, I'd still tell you this;
I like reading "Books."
Can one make more money by doing self-publishing?
One had better be a major-league marketer with a major-league network who will help push the book out.
Otherwise, their self-published digital book will become lost in all of the noise.
There's only so much that people can consume and get value from.
The Franchise King®
So, I love to present differing viewpoints on this blog, and I thank Jim for this compelling discussion. However, I do think that the self-publish decision has some gray area, depending on your objectives.
You need to understand your goals for your books in order to make a decision. While self-publishing may be more and more aligned with those goals, there are times when they are not.
If you are in certain industries and using your book as a "calling card", some CEOs / executives give weight and credence to what publisher you use.
As a first time author, I did in fact get an advance, so it does depend on your platform.
If you are doing a book for a first time, it is also helpful to have a partner in the process. My publisher and the editors were very value-added to the process. Plus, the more you take on with the book, the less it becomes a "project" and the more a "business", which you may not have the time for.
For my first book, I was also able to get much wider distribution through my publisher than I believe I would have on my own.
At the end of the day, book authors do take on the majority of marketing and are the success factor for their own book. Think about your real goals and evaluate all options carefully!
caroljsroth Thanks for letting me post on your blog. You are right, there are arguments for both ways. And I'm both self-published, and traditionally published, so I've seen both sides.
The reality is, however, that most people can't get a traditional book deal. So for most, there really isn't a choice.
The reality might be that most people will struggle to get a traditional book deal, but that was always the reality. Publishers were always in the business of making money.
I get frustrated listening to the rapidly widening circle of people who toss out phrases like "nobody gets advances anymore." It's simply not true. Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace and you can watch the deals that are made EVERYDAY, with advances--some of them pretty large ones--and many for first-time authors.
The battle cry that there are no deals to be had, and no money to be made in traditional publishing is starting to sound more like justification for those who can't get the traditional deals.
I agree with Carol, it completely depends on your goals. And yes, you'll have to do your own marketing no matter what. But if your end goal is to use the book as part of your business model, having a big publisher behind can make a big difference in your credibility.
Either route is perfectly respectable, but let's stop telling people that they can't get published, and can't get advances. It's simply not true.
workingforwonka Really good point, we shouldn't discourage that model - I think it is important to be realistic about what you are selling in a publishing deal - if the book supports goals of being a consultant, speaker, professional X, perhaps a book deal makes sense. For those of us who make a living creating content, the profit margins and creative control of self publishing can be very desirable.
workingforwonka Actually, it is true. In the grand scheme of things, the VAST majority of people aren't getting deals. I don't want to keep giving hope to people who think they can get a "book deal". It doesn't happen as often as you think. Besides, you don't need a book deal to be successful. See above. :) Personally, I think having a publish is a bad business decision, based upon all the things I said in this piece. Yes, it can work for a few people, but for most, it's better to just do it yourself.