Why You Should Forget Traditional Publishing

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If you’re writing a book right now, one of the most important decisions in your future is whether to publish traditionally or to self-publish. The good news is that the choice may be easier than you think.

Unless you’re an extremely young writer, you grew up in an era dominated by traditional publishing. The dream was to have your book “on the shelves”, to stroll down a brick and mortar store and see it right there with your name in bold letters. Why? Because you were only a successful writer if your book was in stores. After all, what other option was there?

The New Reality

Electronic book sales are quickly outpacing physical book sales. This fact alone underlies the majority of advice I’m about to give. To understand why, let’s take a look at why traditional publishing used to be essentially mandatory.

  1. Books cost money to print. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars to print as many books as you expect people to buy. So if you didn’t have a big publisher to put the money forward and did it yourself, you could stand to lose a lot of money if fewer people bought your book than you projected. Also, if you went cheap and printed too few, you might not have the resources to quickly restock before demand for your book fell off.
  2. Advertising is expensive. Big publishers used to be one of the few ways you could manage to get the word out about your book unless you were willing to sink your own money into advertising.
  3. You can’t just grab 20 copies of your book, slap price tags on them, and put them on the shelves at bookstores. Publishing companies have deals worked out to get your book on shelves, but you don’t have that kind of weight to throw around.
  4. Publishing companies have internal resources to handle things like designing a cover for your book that will appeal to readers, edit it for the obvious but also for your intended audience, and make suggestions that come from their experience in your genre.

Okay, so if you’re planning to self-publish, the bad news is that the above is still true. The good news is that little factoid I dropped earlier changes everything. What if you didn’t have to predict sales of your book and print them ahead of time? And more, what if there was a type of book store that didn’t have to worry about physically holding your book? What if you could even market your own book with a little time and effort?

You guessed it. You can! Seriously, though. I can’t overstate how huge the e-book revolution is for new authors.

Why You Don’t Need A Publisher

If it’s not clear why e-books are such a big deal when it comes to self-publishing, let me break it down.

  1. E-books do not cost money to print. There’s no predicting sales and calculating the risk of printing too many versus too few. You can literally upload your work to a digital bookstore like Amazon or Kindle Direct for exactly zero dollars and collect money for every purchase. Pure profit! 
  2. Advertising can still be expensive, but the social networking age gives new authors more ways to market their work for free. My own blog, for example, is a platform that I hope will market my own work. You can use sites like Reddit, Twitter, Digg, etc to build interest and a small following for your book by posting a few chapters or collaborating with the community. You can guest post on blogs about writing in exchange for shout outs for your book. You can give your book away to reading lists to have reviews from day one of your launch. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity and willingness to put in time.
  3. Amazon only stands to benefit from having your book on their site. Even if you only sell ten copies of your book, they still earned a profit. You don’t need any muscle or influence to get them to put it on their site.
  4. You can again turn to social networking for cover ideas. There are enough tutorials out there and software that even a novice could design their own cover. I wouldn’t advise this, by the way. But if you’re going for the zero cost method, it’s there. Alternatively, you could likely find aspiring artists who would be happy to design a cover for free in exchange for the chance for their work to be seen and generate interest for themselves.

The Numbers

The facts are clear. Electronic books are getting more popular, which takes away the relative monopoly publishing houses had. But just how much more popular are they?

trade-pub-author-earnings-split

Photo Credit: Authorearnings – The Data Guy

I recommend reading the entire article from authorearnings.com, but here’s the takeaway: author earnings from fiction e-books were 28% higher in 2014. A quick look at the rest of the data in the article indicates that 2014 was just a point along a rising trend. Even big name authors are earning more money from their e-book sales than print sales, and the gap between the two has been increasing.

10k-earners

Photo Credit: Authorearnings – The Data Guy

Keep in mind that this data was only about 1/4th of the way into 2014, meaning you could almost triple the figures seen here to see that the indie publishing group is still growing. It’s also worth noting that the trend was the same for authors earning 25k, 50k, and 100k+ per year.

Final Thoughts

Traditional publishing still offers some great advantages if you’re able to land a deal. However, publishers will need to quickly catch their business model up to the changing times. The current trend of publishers expecting new authors to do most of their own marketing and handling of auxiliary tasks involved in getting their book pushed out will likely need to fade. If publishers want to entice authors to pass up the quick, easy, and profitable route of self-publishing, they need to make the cut they take seem worth it to an author.

Until then, self-publishing is far less time consuming, far more doable, and far more potentially rewarding.

3 thoughts to “Why You Should Forget Traditional Publishing”

  1. I’m planning on going down the self-publishing route myself. I browse through the Kindle store every now and then, and I find myself getting a little worried. I have no expectations for my work, but it’ll be disappointing if it gets buried under the constant deluge of mass-produced supernatural erotic fiction before it has a chance to be read. It seems that either people have no taste, or the system favours marketing more than decent writing.

    1. It’s funny that you mention the supernatural erotic fiction because my brother has made as much as 2000 a month from writing it. Mass-produced is definitely an accurate descriptor. The recent changes to Kindle Direct really hurt his sales though. Previously, if anyone rented your story, you earned $1 or something like that. Now word count is also taken into consideration. So if you pump out stories that take 4 hours to write (like the ones he was writing), they are worth about a third of what he was getting.

      Also, he mentioned that he did put work into creating a mailing list, networking through a writing forum he used, and using his network to get advanced reviews of his books before they hit the market.

      Last thing I learned from him was that based on his mailing list subscribers, a large portion of the audience buying and renting these books are middle age to elderly women. Granted, it’s a highly unscientific method of determining this, but he said nearly all of them had @aol emails and seemed technologically challenged.

      So the crummy books are out there. But there’s a specific audience gobbling them up. I think if you put out quality work and don’t neglect marketing it, there’s an audience looking for that. Just make sure you take the time to send out advance copies in exchange for honest reviews, build up a little anticipation through your blog, etc. As long as it generates a little heat in the beginning, you should have a solid chance of getting your work seen.

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