Getting a book published, however, is easier said than done. These days there are really three ways to achieve this: via a traditional publisher, through self-publishing, or by using a ‘vanity publisher’. All have their pros and cons. None are easy.
Traditional publishing involves me writing a successful query letter, retaining an agent, and having a traditional publisher purchase my manuscript. (Because I am an unknown in the literary world, it’s practically impossible for my book to be picked up directly by a traditional publisher, without first going through a literary agent).
Self-publishing is much easier, whether it be as an e-book online or as a physical book in the ‘real world’, but it could also end up being much less successful if not handled professionally and if it isn’t backed up by an aggressive marketing campaign.
Vanity publishing refers to me paying a publishing company to publish my book, and this could end up costing me thousands of dollars if not more. While there are some advantages to this method, there are also many disadvantages and potential pitfalls.
As these are my only three options, I must look closely at the pros and cons of each.
This is usually the method via which most beginning authors hope to have their book published, initially anyway. But here’s something I read online while researching my chances of landing a publishing contract. An agent once wrote that a publishing house might receive a hundred thousand manuscripts a year. Out of that, ninety thousand are rejected almost immediately, for a variety of reasons. Of the ten thousand manuscripts that are left, only a thousand will end up being considered for publication, and approximately one hundred will result in an actual publishing contract. Finally, only ten percent of those hundred published books will end up being successful. Whoa.
One hundred books published from a stockpile of one hundred thousand submitted manuscripts; equivalent to .1 percent. And to think that the number of books that will find success is even less – just .01 percent of the original number of manuscripts submitted. However, remaining positive and believing that my book will be one of those selected for publication, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having my novel published this way?
The biggest plus that I can see is that a traditional publisher will pay me an ‘advance’ up front, and even if my book doesn’t sell as much as they had planned, I still keep the money. Additionally, if it sells more than what it cost them to publish, I will also receive ‘royalties’. Furthermore the publisher will take on the responsibility of editing the book to perfection, handle layout and design, and create an appealing book cover. They will also cover the costs of distribution and advertising, and have many more connections and much wider access to bookstores than any self-publication companies or vanity publication companies can provide.
However, there are numerous disadvantages as well. Apart from the obvious difficulty of landing a publishing contract, it could take anywhere from six to eighteen months for my book to hit the shelves. The price they eventually set for a book may be too high to generate significant sales. I would be cut out of any decisions regarding my book, including the title, cover art and pricing. In the contract process, in addition to losing my book’s copyright, I might also lose any movie rights. Royalty rates for a new author are likely to be low, ranging from just five percent to twenty-five percent.
These days it’s a tough market out there for authors and publishers, evident by the number of bookstores closing among other things. Many people buy their books online these days. So perhaps self-publishing my book as an e-book makes more sense in this digital world. The Internet is by far the biggest market in existence.
If I choose to publish my debut novel as an e-book, I could either sell it directly from my own author website, or via Amazon. If I want my novel to be a physical book in the ‘real world’, I could pay a POD (Print on Demand) printing company to produce my books. The advantages are obvious. My book could be published almost instantly. All the decisions regarding my book are mine. I can control the price of my book, and either make the cover myself or pay an artist to design one for me. Most importantly, I keep all the rights, and the profits are mine and mine alone.
The disadvantages are not as obvious, but are rather off-putting. First and foremost, editing is my responsibility. I can of course ask others to help me in this regard, or pay a professional to do it for me. Formatting is another difficult and challenging task, depending on the type of digital platform for which my e-book is created, or in which country I choose to publish it. And as I mentioned above, the cost of the cover art is also mine to bear, along with the substantial costs of marketing the book. All of these costs represent a significant financial investment – a huge risk for a first time author.
Self-publication requires the establishment of your own publishing company, and all the costs associated with that. The book will require an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), by which books are identified. Distribution and the costs incurred will also be mine alone to bear. Sadly, many shops won’t accept self-published books.
The number of sales with an e-book or a print-on-demand book will be considerably less than if published and advertised by a traditional publisher. Currently, self-published books account for less than ten percent of the book market. Furthermore, a self-published book will also be judged more harshly by those who think that ‘maybe it wasn’t good enough to be accepted by a traditional publisher’.
Vanity Publishing is great if you are already wealthy and don’t care about the costs of getting your book ‘out there’. However, while there are some reputable and honest Vanity Publishing companies in the industry, there are also a lot of ‘dodgy’ Vanity Publishers who appear more interested in your hard-earned money than in your book. This is not to impugn the fine work of sincere and dedicated professionals who work in the Vanity Publishing industry and provide adequate services for the fees charged. But I have read many ‘horror stories’ regarding this, online; here’s a link to a recent blog article on the topic which is fairly representative of all the articles I have read.
Most Vanity Publishers would rather call themselves ‘collaborative publishers’, ‘subsidy publishers’ or ‘co-operative publishers’ as that sounds more positive. Basically speaking, these companies charge a premium to publish your book for you, but try and cut their own costs wherever they can in getting your book to market. Just like in the car market, there are countless ‘options’ that will cost you more money.
But if you are someone who has money to throw around, there are some advantages to Vanity Publishing. Firstly, you get to keep all the rights to your book. Naturally, as you are paying for the service, you keep control over decisions regarding the title, cover and design. You can purchase additional copies of your book(s) whenever you require. This is convenient if you want to sign books for your family and friends.
The disadvantages are mostly financial. You will be charged more by Vanity Publishers for services than if you went direct to the people involved with providing those services. According to various reports from writers who have previously used Vanity Publishers, very little advice or professional support is offered in the way of editing, design, typesetting, marketing and sales. Furthermore, while some Vanity Publishers have their own bookshops, they have very limited reach to general bookstores, retailers and distributors. In the end, you are paying a lot of money and not getting much in return, and there is little chance your book will be seen by the general public at large. Authors might as well have their book produced by a print-on-demand publisher and distribute it and advertise it themselves.
And therein lies my dilemma. What to do about my own novel, which will very soon be ready for publication? I know I can’t afford the prices of a Vanity Publisher. I’m not even sure at this stage if I can afford to pay a print-on-demand publisher to produce my book, in addition to the cost of marketing required to achieve reasonable sales. So do I go the traditional route, and hence face a long wait for responses to query letters, not to mention waiting possibly eighteen months to see my book in print? Or should I publish it as an e-book and sell perhaps a hundred copies to family and friends before sales dry up? Perhaps I can garner further sales by advertising my novel on my author website, as well as on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
I guess for me, the main thing is to get it published at all. My dream was never to be on the New York bestseller list, although that would be great, or to make a million dollars from sales. It was always simply to be a full-time writer and published author, with my books on shelves in bookstores around the world, at least in the western world anyway. So at this stage, I will attempt the traditional route, and begin sending off query letters to agents. This will take time, and I apologize for any delay in the publication of my novel. I have many wonderful family members and friends who are waiting to read my book, and so I say sorry to those of you who have to wait a little longer, but I hope that in the end, the wait will be worth it.
Warmest regards, Chris