I think probably the first question people have when you tell them you intend to self-publish a novel is, why?
Don’t you want a book you can hold in your hands and find while browsing the shelves of your library or in a bookstore?
And my answer would be, “Yes. Of course I do.” Those are all wonderful things, but there is also a price to pay for them. A financial price and a creative price and a price of expediency. Understanding those costs, as I’ve been learning about the business of being an author and the practical realities of the publishing industry, have influenced my decision about how and when I want to be published.
Financially, in general when an author is traditionally published they receive 7% of each book sale. Assuming the cost of a hardback book is about $20 that’s about $1.40 per book. When self-publishing the author receives about 70% of each book sale. So, even if you price your book at $2.99 you’re coming out ahead at $2.09 per book.
I’m speaking in wildly generic numbers, but most of the research I’ve done shows that you make as much if not more for every self-published copy than you would with a traditionally published book.
There’s a price to be paid for that as well, however, because large publishing houses have the money and experience and clout to lend toward marketing and so raise the profile of a book to increase sales that may offset per copy profitability.
Creatively, when you self-publish you lose the experience of professional editors but you get to keep all of your rights and all of the control over your story and what it becomes. The price you pay for keeping your foreign rights and your movie rights and your e-book rights and all sorts of other things publishers try to negotiate out of you is, again, mostly the visibility and clout a publishing house can offer. And the prestige of having a “real book” that has been traditionally published. But you are still completely in control of your story and keep all of the financial rewards it brings. Even if those are paltry, they are yours.
The sacrifice of not having a professional editor offer insight into your work depends quite a bit. I happen to have two amazing civilian editors who have shaped my stories and my writing and I wouldn’t be worth publishing in any format without them. I’m curious, of course, what a professional editor would say about my story. But I love that my editors know me and my work so well because they know what I’m trying to say and crystallize my ideas in a way I don’t know that anyone else could. I’m blessed to have been able to ally myself with talented people so I don’t feel I’m missing any editorial aspect in my work.
Finally, when you’re traditionally published you release, generally, a book a year. Or perhaps every couple of years. But rarely more frequently than that. Because your book has to fit into the framework of the overall publishing schedule and so is dependent on a great many things that have nothing to do with your writing pace at all (and a lot of things that do have to do with your pace). Self-publishing allows you to release the story when it’s ready, whenever that might be.
Now, I don’t know that I’m the fastest writer around. I figure a draft takes me anywhere between 20 days and 3 months. And my editors can turn a draft around in a week or two or three depending on what’s happening in their lives. I have no idea what my “average” draft count is but I’m guessing it’s going to range between 3 and 10 (but that’s a whole other post). Theoretically, I could self-publish one or two or three books a year with the only differentiating factor being how quickly I can write them.
Overall, weighing the costs and benefits of self-publishing and being traditionally published I decided I want both. I want real books and an agent and a publisher and a professional editor and I want a year long process because I’m curious about what that involves. But I also want to understand everything that comes with self-publishing and the control and the freedom and the experience of that. I want to be a hybrid author.
And once I’d decided that, I had to determine which of my books I wanted in which format. I sorted that out and the hows and whys of that choice will get their own post. But what came of it is that the novel that is most ready is the one I want to self-publish. And the one I’m still working on I want to query agents and try that road with.
Which is why I decided to self-publish this novel.