When is a book actually considered to be “published”? We’ve been approached by many authors who tell us they’re self-publishing their book when what they’ve actually done is had a few copies printed, or posted an electronic version of it on Amazon. While this is a great and certainly exciting step, it does not technically qualify as having your novel published.
So what is the difference? When is a book considered to be published, rather than simply printed? The distinction lies in what you do with your book once you’ve put it out there for sale.You have not truly published your book until you’ve marketed and sold it to complete strangers.
Publishing is really about selling and marketing. It is about connecting with your intended audience. It is a business with you, the author, as the brand and your book as the product. We know that this may sound unromantic, but that’s really what it boils down to.
So what is publishing actually all about, and what are the major differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing? There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and we discuss the core concepts of each one below.
In a nutshell, a traditional publisher buys the exclusive rights to edit, package and sell your manuscript in book form. This sale is usually negotiated through an agent who represents you. Once the sale is complete, you effectively relinquish control over your work to the publisher.
The publisher will usually pay you a lump sum upfront, called an advance. You’ll also receive a small royalty on each copy sold, usually 5 to 10% of the recommended sales price of your novel. Your agent will take a cut of both the advance and your royalties. Authors usually only see a royalty payout once their book has sold enough copies for the publisher to recover the amount paid as the advance, and a great many don’t even get that far.
In essence, a traditional publisher takes the financial risk out of publishing a book for the author by assuming the entire burden of production and distribution. They pay the author upfront for the rights to do so in the hope that they can sell enough to make a profit. Traditional publishers are the ones acting as gatekeepers to authors wanting to get their books out there on the market, and they make educated guesses as to what will sell well and what won’t. (Of course, they don’t always get this right – J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve publishers before Bloomsbury picked up the rights to the Harry Potter series!)
Pros of traditional publishing:
- You get some money upfront for your book.
- No upfront costs for you.
- All of the editing, production and distribution processes are handled for you.
- You are provided with some assistance in promoting and marketing your book (although not as much as you would think).
Cons of traditional publishing:
- You lose all rights to your book for a certain period (and may never regain the rights, depending on your agreement with the publisher).
- You lose creative control over your book and may be forced to make editorial changes to it that you don’t like.
- Usually, you’ll have little to no say in what the cover of your book will look like.
- If your book does not sell well within the first few months, the publisher will let it go out of print, and it will disappear from the market.
- You only receive a tiny cut from the sale of each book, and only after enough of your books have sold to cover the advance given to you by the publisher.
So, how does this compare to self-publishing?
As the name suggests, in the case of self-publishing, the author has to assume the role of publisher. The author thus retains full control of their work, and has to not only write the book but also manage its production, marketing, sales and distribution.
As we alluded to earlier, it is the last three processes – marketing, sales and distribution – that self-publishing authors tend to overlook. This usually means that they fail to make any significant financial gains from their efforts.
BUT there is also one other aspect which self-publishing authors don’t take into account: the public, rather than a publisher, becomes the gatekeeper to their success, and the public is much harder to impress by far. As we all know, you can’t please everyone, and everyone will have an opinion on your book. This is why it is pivotal for self-publishers to release the best book they possibly can – and it is our mission to help them do so, through the resources and services we offer.
Pros of self-publishing:
- You retain the rights to your book, and total creative control over its content.
- Your book will never go out of print.
- All of the money you make from the sales of your book will be yours, and yours alone.
- You will have more direct access to your readers and fan base.
Cons of self-publishing:
- You have to co-ordinate all aspects of the production of your book yourself, including editing, cover design, typesetting and ebook conversion (or you can use our fully comprehensive production services).
- You have to market the book yourself.
- The upfront costs are quite substantial if you hire professionals to help you (and you really should).
- It is difficult for self-publishers to get their books into brick and mortar bookstores (but it is becoming easier and easier).
So, is self-publishing really worth it?
Undoubtedly it is. While there is certainly more risk involved than with traditional publishing, self-publishing potentially has far greater financial rewards than traditional publishing. This is especially true in the current marketplace, with so many books vying for readers’ attention and diluting the market share of traditionally-published books. But, as with anything in life, the more effort you are willing to put into it, the greater the rewards.