AHA · Authors Helping Authors · Publishing

“Choosing a Publisher or Self-Publishing” by Stefan Vucak

Not long ago, there were only two mainstream outlets for any writer, whether aspiring or already published: traditional and e-book publishing. The rules were set for both and we all knew where we stood…more or less.

Every writer wants to see his name in print and share with others his achievement, and perhaps along the way make some money. Call it vanity if you will, but it is pride at having created something that drives most of us to write. Of course, once that best seller is written, it is nice to get back favorable reviews and a few pats on the back. It provides encouragement to keep going.

With traditional publishing, you make direct a submission and hope the review editor will not toss it on the already tall slush pile. Or you can try and engage a literary agent and have them do the legwork for you. Good luck with both. That’s where the e-book market saw an opportunity to satisfy frustrated writers who were denied an outlet, and largely, this avenue has satisfied a lot of writers. Unfortunately, is also provided a window for some pretty awful books, which contributed to readers being suspicious about quality. However, seeing some of the stuff lying on bookstore shelves that made it the traditional way, I cannot only scratch my head. It’s a weird world out there.

Of course, since the first writer wrote a book, enterprising companies were providing a third outlet for authors with stars in their eyes—vanity publishers. It makes my skin crawl thinking about those predators and innocent writers who were caught in that unfortunate web. If you are ever asked to pay several thousand dollars to have your book printed, I would run in the opposite direction! All you’re likely to end up is with a garage full of books you can use to insulate your walls.

Now we come to e-book publishers…a whole crop of them exist out there, and over time, all have polished their contracts to mimic traditional publishing houses. That is to say, give authors less and less for doing less. What do I mean by that? Three things basically: marketing your books, distribution outlets, and royalties.

Since day one, e-book publishers did very little to promote your books, urging writers to market themselves. That is fine as far as it goes, seeing how these business rely on volume submissions to make their margin, out of which you get paid your royalty. That’s how the industry has evolved and writers simply have to deal with it and get involved or get out of the business. There are no handouts out there. What I could write about marketing…but that’s for some other time.

If you were like me, the e-book outlet was an ideal platform to launch myself, and I achieved success very quickly. Success at getting my books released, but not necessarily achieving phenomenal sales. It’s that bug word again—marketing. To get published, an author is likely to sign any contract agreement. I know, I’ve been there. It took time, a lot of research and several publishers behind me before I finally understood how the game is played. It’s an honest game, but not players follow the rules. Remember that word ‘vanity’? A writer will sacrifice a lot simply to get that book out there. So, how do you play the publishing game? Simple, you must be just as hard as the publisher.

Let’s talk about contracts for a minute. At first glance, the number of clauses can be daunting and somewhat intimidating. What really counts are clauses that deal with:

  • A specific timeframe within which the publisher will release your book from date of contract signature. If a contract doesn’t have one, put one in there. Insist on a maximum of six months. If they don’t meet it, whatever the reason, that’s grounds for termination.
  • Having an ‘out’ clause, where either party can cancel the agreement at will. Most publishers will resist having such a clause, locking you in for up to three years, citing tear-jerking reasons like they are making a commitment for you and you need to commit to them. Tell them to take a hike.
  • Your royalty return, the most important clause of all. I have seen e-book publishers offering 25% on e-book sales! When you realize how little it takes to get an e-book out, and I’ll talk about that in a moment, you’ll be staggered at their audacity. I would not take anything less than 40%. Even that may seem generous until you read the fine print, which states that this percentage is payable after the publisher has meet their own costs, and you get even less after they receive their payment if the book is sold by Amazon and the like. Wow! Talk about a black hole you just walked into. Once the book is published, there are no costs! That 40% will in reality be something like 5% . Then there is a return on your print books. Insist on a fixed royalty percentage based on cover price, e-book or print, regardless in what distribution channel the book is sold. If you don’t, from your $12.99 book, you will get .79cents! It’s a no-brainer. Always keep in mind that an e-book publisher will sell hardly anything through their own website!

See what I am getting at? After the initial rush having your book on Amazon and Kindle, reality catches up awfully fast and you end up wondering what the hell is going on. This is where the fabulous world of self-publishing comes in, giving writers a fresh new window to get out there. For a long time, I associated self-publishing with vanity publishing and stayed away. The immediate downside of doing it alone is that there are some very bad books out there, which has given this outlet a justified frown from the ‘traditionalists’. But like I said before, every outlet has bad books. The salient point here is, going self-publishing these days is so easy and there are several excellent distributors out there to help you get that book out—and you get to keep all the royalties!

CreateSpace, and Amazon company, is terrific, and publishing with them is a very easy process. Their online submission steps are simple, giving an author control over the book cover, internal layout, pricing, and distribution channels. You can see at a glance what your return will be for the price you set. Moreover, you can change anything at any time, and also apply discount codes if you want to run promotions. Although CreateSpace is linked to Amazon’s Kindle, I would make a separate submission to Kindle, as the internal format is slightly different than for a print book. Another thing, I would hesitate before using the free ISBN numbers provide as they list them as publishers, not you. Book distributors will look at this and will pick you up more readily if you have your own ISBNs.

Lightning Source offers a similar service to CreateSpace, but is slightly more complicated to get your book released, and they have some tricky pricing/distribution items you need to be aware off. Nevertheless, they are very reputable and have a very good distribution network.

The best distribution system for palm devices—they offer e-book and PDF versions also, all included when you publish with them—is provided by Smashwords, and reaches outlets Amazon does not touch. By having your book released by both, you have it covered. Keep in mind that when releasing through Smashwords, you must keep your sales price identical. Amazon runs spiders through the network looking if your book is released by someone else. If the price is lower than what you set for Amazon, you will get your book removed from their list!

Getting published with Smashwords takes a little work as their formatting guidelines are strict, especially if you want to get on their Premier Catalog, a desirable thing. However, getting hold of their Style Guide and following it religiously, after doing one book, I handled the others without any trouble.

What is great with these outlets, you get immediate and accurate online reporting of all your sales and you will know exactly what your royalties are—something lacking with e-book publishers. With them, you have to rely on their integrity, and like with everything in life, some are more honest than others.

So, if you have a new book and you don’t know which way to jump, consider your options and make a decision you feel suits you best. But do your research first! And don’t forget the marketing no matter what you do.

Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of the sci-fi Shadow Gods series of books. His contemporary political thriller Cry of Eagles has won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award.

Website: www.stefanvucak.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/StefanVucak

Twitter: @stefanvucak

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