(Micro-Publishing-Part II) Responding to the Critics on Self-Publishing
Posted by Peter Kazmaier
In part I of this series on Micro-Publishing, I listed the arguments against self-publishing that I have heard from writers, editors, and publishers. These can be summarized as follows:
- In Self-Publishing editors, publishing companies, and marketing vendors take advantage of neophyte authors by lauding a bad book idea and then encourage the author pay them thousands of dollars for services that produce a book that will never sell.
- If the manuscript were really any good, a conventional royalty publisher would pay to have it published.
- An individual does not have the infrastructure or the marketing clout to compete with the major publishing houses. Thus the self-publishing author cannot really compete.
- Most self-publishers only sell 100-200 copies of their book.
- Self-publishing is synonymous with low quality work.
- If you self-publish a book, your brand (name) will be tainted and conventional publishers will not consider your future submissions.
Are these criticisms valid? Let me take each of these in turn and look at the validity of these assertions.
In Self-Publishing editors, publishing companies, and marketing vendors take advantage of neophyte authors by lauding a bad book idea and then encourage the author pay them thousands of dollars for services that produce a book that will never sell.
This can be true. If you mention writing in a Google note, a great many advertisements appear offering to publish your book, sight unseen. I am not saying any of these are disreputable, but as with any large investment the buyer must exercise due diligence to separate the “wheat from the chaff.” By all means speak to other authors that have used them. Check into the financial stability of the operation so that you do not pay money upfront and then find that the vendor has entered bankruptcy proceedings before they deliver your books. Ask hard questions about the services they provide.
- Will you receive the files of the final edits and the print ready files or do these cost extra?
- Does the vendor place your books into bookstores? Which ones?
- Will the publication agreement allow you to publish elsewhere? Since you are paying, it should.
- Will the vendor provide a listing on amazon.com? Who will fulfill the amazon requests? Amazon, the vendor or you.
- Who owns the cover art?
- What will it cost to reprint?
You will likely think of other questions. The key point for me: I treat this like any other large investment and exercise due diligence. Understand how the vendor makes their money. Do they have any interest in seeing your manuscript succeed?
If the manuscript were really any good, a conventional royalty publisher would pay to have it published.
I do not at all think this is at all the case. The inverse however is likely true. If your manuscript is poor, that is to say, if the plot is defective, the editing is inaccurate, and the language is clumsy, then it is unlikely that a royalty publisher will pick it up. However I am convinced that many good manuscripts are missed. And the number missed is increasing as the cost pressures on traditional publishers escalate. The primary motivation for most publishers is sales. For that reason, as the pressure for sure fire winners mount, the publishers (from my observation) focus more and more on established authors or authors who naturally have a platform. If you are the pastor of a large church, president of the United States. or a star athlete, publishers will be interested in your manuscript.
An individual does not have the infrastructure or the marketing clout to compete with the major publishing houses.
Again in one sense this is true. As an individual you likely do not have the advertising budget, the connections to receive reviews from major daily newspapers, nor will you likely be considered for major awards. However there are three factors strongly in favor of the Micro-Publisher.
- As a Self-Publisher you do not have the overhead of a major publishing house. You do not have a building to maintain. You do not have an army of professionals to pay. As a consequence that along with a higher retention of the book’s revenue’s as income, your break even point should be much lower than a publishing house (I aim for break even at the sale of 300 books). I work hard and learn to do as much as possible myself to keep this number low.
- As a Self-Publisher, you are able to sell with a personal touch. With a low break even point, a Self-Publisher can afford to sell books one at a time without being driven to the risky expense of mass marketing.
- The internet is the great leveler. As a Self-Publisher you access the same audience as the major publishing houses. The internet also provides an easy way for authors and Self-Publishers to band together and help each other.
Considering how readers make their book buying decision is another approach to this question. Some buy books off the national best sellers list. Others buy books that have received a major award. Still others browse the shelves of their favorite book store and read the cover description.
For me, I choose books either by recommendation or because I need them for a project. When I select a fantasy read, I will likely choose a series that people I trust recommend. I do not ask (or care) about the publisher. The recommendation is enough. Similarly in nonfiction, if some one discusses an idea in a book, article or blog, then I am likely to search a copy of the book out. For people like me, the traditional publisher really has no advantage to achieve a sale. It all depends on the quality of the book and the recommendation the book can garner from people I trust..
Most self-publishers only sell 100-200 copies of their book.
When you are starting out, I think this is a reasonable expectation. However if you have a low break even point, you are not that far away from making money. The key question: Is your book any good? When your readers finish are they glad they spent their money? Will they recommend the book to others? If the answer is ‘no,’ then you need to develop your writing craft further and your expenses have really been tuition in the school of writing and you have obtained some valuable feedback.. You can’t expect to make money if your readers don’t like what you’ve written.
A Self-Publisher controls when his book goes out of print. If by your third book, you have developed a substantial following, all those readers will go back to books one and two if they really like your work. I expect to start slowly and I expect to have a long learning curve.
Self-publishing is synonymous with low quality work.
The term Self-Publishing spans a great many different scenarios. I have defined a few categories to bring out the breadth of the Self-Publishing field.
- Vanity publishing. A person may simply want a book that he published to put on his coffee table to show to friends and family. The payback is the existence of the book and not the quality nor anticipated sales. Even a low quality, unedited book will achieve this goal.
- Family Memoirs. Every family has important history. Most of that history is significant to the family alone and not to outsiders. These books may be well written and well edited, but the subject matter may only be of interest to the family members.
- The Author as Artist. The author loves to write. but hates to get involved in the business side of things. This may produce many fine books, but likely the sales and marketing will be lacking.
- Micro-Publishing. The author works to develop his craft and business at the same time. While working to improve the quality of his work, he also works to develop a business, based on a low overhead model to find a marketing niche for his books.
Micro-Publishing requires more detailed discussion and I plan to devote a blog entirely to that concept.
I also want to point out that in my view many books published by royalty publishers are low quality work. I don’t mean they were full of spelling mistakes (that rarely happens) but often books that reviewers have raved about, I put down after the first couple of chapters and I regretted spending the money and would not recommend them to others. In my view a royalty publisher is no guarantee of a good book.
If you self-publish a book, your brand (name) will be tainted and conventional publishers will not consider your future submissions.
I do not know if this is the case or not. But I do know that a book ought to be judged individually by its quality and content and not by the quality of the author’s previous attempts. If a Self-Published book excludes an author from future consideration, then it seems to me this is rank prejudice.
In summary, taking control of the publication process can be expensive and is not for everyone. When I have undertaken this Self-Publishing step, I treated it as a major investment and performed due diligence gaining as much information as possible and then weighing the pros and cons.
Thanks for reading. What factors went into your Self-Publishing decision?
Peter Kazmaier is author The Halcyon Dislocation, a colonization epic about a university transported into a parallele world.