Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday Review—What’s an Author to do—How to Make the Best Decision for YOU in the New Frontier of Publishing

Today’s marketplace has turned the publishing world into a new version of the Wild West. In some ways that’s good. But in other ways . . . well, not so good. For those wanting to publish book-length manuscripts things are especially rough. And the main reason is, even if the terms haven’t changed, some of the meanings have.

In this post I’m going to give you an up-to-date review of all your options—from traditional print publishing to online to self publishing. So it’s easier to understand, I’m breaking down the comparisons into several categories:
  • Author Investment
  • Author Advance
  • Royalties
  • Rights (who owns the work in question)

Traditional Publishers, print and eBook This option has always set the standard within the industry. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is the fact that someone else judges your work to be so good they are willing to back the idea with money.
Important Note It’s never considered a traditional arrangement if the author invests ANY money in the publishing of the book. This means if the publisher requires the author to buy books up front—even at a discount—it is NO LONGER a traditional agreement and has drifted into the murky realm of self or subsidy publishing
Author Investment – None. The publisher pays all the costs of publishing, warehousing and distributing the book. Generally print runs will be around 1500 or more. The books are warehoused in the publisher’s space.
Author AdvanceVaries by publishing house. In addition to paying for the book to be published, the author is given an advance. This can vary in when the author receives it and how big it is. It’s called an advance because the author must earn it back in royalties before they receive additional money from royalties.
Royalties This is the percentage of the purchase price given to the author. It also varies from house to house, but generally ranges between eight and fifteen percent of net for print and twenty-five to fifty percent on eBooks.
Rights In traditional publishing, the publisher owns the rights. Frequently the contract contains a clause that allows for the right to revert back to the author or be purchased by the author when the book is no longer in print.

Independent Publishers, print and eBookThis is a new breed on the publishing frontier and one that I personally believe is long overdue. The changes from traditional have more to do with the size of the house and publishing model or niche.
Author Investment Still none. The publisher pays all the costs of publishing. A lot of independent publishers use a POD (Print-on-Demand) publishing model. This means they print the books as they’re ordered and not warehoused anywhere. Many independent also specialize in publishing eBooks.
Author AdvanceThis varies widely by publisher. When advances are offered, they’re generally much smaller than those offered by traditional publishers.
RoyaltiesThese also vary by publisher, but on print books are generally around fifteen percent and as high as fifty percent or more on eBooks.
RightsThese are generally the same as traditional publishing.

Self Publishers, print and eBookThis category is the most difficult of all to quantify. The publishers using this publishing model call themselves by various names—and seem to come up with new ones almost daily. One derogatory one that some in the industry uses is Vanity Press. But for obvious reasons, I’ve never seen one refer to themselves by that moniker. Here are two of the more common ones you’ll see:
  • Subsidy Publishing
  • Partnership Publishing

Author InvestmentWith this publishing model, authors are expected to contribute to the cost of publishing their book. This can be required in many different ways, from an outright investment cost, to being required to purchase a set number of books in advance. Any time an author is expected to contribute to the publishing of their manuscript it’s some variation of self-publishing.
Author AdvanceNone. See reasons stated above.
RoyaltiesIf the self-publisher retains the rights to the author’s manuscript, the author will be offered royalties and these can vary widely. But my thought is if I’m investing money, I should get the lion’s share of the profit.
RightsThis depends. But this is a very important thing to consider if you choose to self-publish.

This post has gone on long enough. Next week I’ll continue and share my opinion on when each model works best.

It’s important for you to know that I am NOT against self-publishing—quite the contrary. There are many times when it’s the best option for the circumstances. BUT, I do object when self-publishers try to pass themselves off on unsuspecting writers.

What about you? Have you had any experience with any of the above models? What did you like/dislike about your experience?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. Thank you for tackling this subject. Although I, too, have nothing against self-publishing, I DO get tired of watching some self-publishers manipulate unsuspecting writers. Those are the ones who give self-publishing a bad name.

    I have several self-publisher friends who are honest, up-front, and hold to Christian values. Others wear the costumes and present the props, but their goal is to deceive.

  2. Though I'm not even at the place of trying to publish in any way at this point, my biggest concern with self-publishing is the quality of writing too often found in it. It has made me think that just because we can be published through self-publishing, perhaps we're really not ready to be published right now, and need to work on the craft a bit more.

    Perhaps all this could be alleviated with having a great editor and proofreaders other than family and friends - those who will be honest enough to say it's a good story, but there are these things that detract from it, and these are the things that will make it so much better.

    I hope to remember this when it's time to pursue publishing myself.

  3. Thanks for this post. Like Kay, I'm not at the publishing point, but this is great information to have in reserve. I look forward to future posts on this subject.