I am frequently asked about the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing. Even though I am far from being an expert, that doesn't stop me from shooting off my mouth.
After writing the first draft of my book, I called a friend
She said that since I was a first-time-unknown author, my
chances of landing with a major
But let’s say the stars aligned perfectly and a publisher was interested. She averred that a first-time-unknown author gets bupkis in terms of royalties/advances and for that pittance he would have to sign over all rights and, get this, wait up to two years before seeing his book in print. All decisions regarding the content, paper quality, jacket cover, and price would be the publisher’s. I was told that I definitely would not be allowed to have it illustrated but if by some miracle I was able to convince the publisher, I would not be able to choose the artist.
She said all that was good news compared to what follows.
Once the book gets into print, it would be sold to major chains. (For all intents and purposes, there are only two – Borders and Barnes & Noble as Waldenbooks is owned by one and B. Dalton is owned by the other.) Then an author’s descent into Hell begins as all promotional activity is done by the author without any help from the publisher, financially or otherwise, unless, of course, you are Hillary Clinton or John Grisham. What that means is that an author is given a window of about 120 days to generate enough book sales to warrant the self space. If the book has a slow start, then sayonara, mon amour.
The economics are even more torturous. Middlemen, whose sole function, as far as I can tell, is taking the book out of one box and putting it into another, command a larger percentage of the sale than the author gets. So does the printer, for that matter.
Whether any of that is (or was) true, semi-true, or complete poppycock, hearing it demoralized me. To wait for two or three years to see my book in print and then to run around like a head with the chicken cut off for four months trying to promote it, seemed exhausting, pointless, lacking any proportionality, and in direct violation of every principle in my book.
But that demoralization turned out to be a good thing. It motivated me to start my own author-friendly publishing company.
I did everything exactly like I wanted. I didn’t have to fight with (and ultimately lose to) some fresh-faced editor right out of college. Best of all I picked the illustrator and had the time of my life collaborating with him.
I also had the luxury to test various promotional activities and make course corrections – something I never would have been able to do under a 120-day gun. I own the copyright and have personally sold the language rights to foreign publishers – now totaling seven (German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Czech, Hungarian, and Portuguese). My agent friend tells me I even got a higher royalty percentage than the norm in some cases.
Perhaps, and this is a tenuous perhaps, I could have sold more books going through a traditional publisher using a traditional distributor to get into the traditional book chains. On the other hand, even though I am selling fewer books, I know that under my scenario, everyone involved with the creative side of my book is making, and will continue to make, more money. And that is the way it should be.
To be sure, I made a ton of mistakes and had several false starts because I knew absolutely nothing about the industry when I launched my publishing company. But the best news is that I am now wiser plus I have an infrastructure in place. With it I can produce and market more books while having more fun and making more money and never having to leave my home. And that too is how it should be.