Beagle Bay Inc, Consulting, Book Packaging and Production

The Self-Publisher's FAQ

In the Beginning

Traditional publishing, self-publishing and subsidy publishing are the three primary models for publishing in the 21st Century. Though these models have been around for a while, their relative advantages and disadvantages have changed over time with new opportunities afforded by production technologies, electronic publication and the Internet.

What is Traditional publishing?

Traditional publishing is thought by many to be the Holy Grail of authorship. Someone else takes all the risk, you just write the book. It's more complicated than that—and until you hit the big time, it's not all that glamorous.

Industry standard royalty is 8% for paperback, 10% for hardback. Your publisher may have other ideas, or a sliding scale depending on number of books sold. Sometimes you can get an advance—which is money the publisher gives you at contract signing in hopes you will earn it back in sales.

In most situations, you will need an agent to help you find a publisher. To look for an agent who is right for you, look through Writer's Market or Literary Marketplace; both are subscription sites.

If you aren't familiar with reading a contract—and even if you are—have your friendly lawyer (one who specializes in Intellectual Property law, which is an esoteric enough field that your family lawyer is not likely to have much experience with it) look it over, just to be safe. You might want to check out intellectual property lawyer to get an idea of what's involved in a contract. Or purchase this book: Kirsch's Guide to the Book Contract: For Authors, Publishers, Editors and Agents by Jonathan Kirsch.

What are the Advantages of Traditional Publishing?

You don't have to worry about the mechanics of producing the book. After some editing, your work on the book is done. You will have to do most of the marketing, though.

Traditional publishers aim to sell at least 5000 copies of a literary book, but aren't happy about the profitability until the book hits over 25,000-50,000 (which used to be called "mid-list"). They are really aiming at books that will sell in the 100,000-1 million range. Because of that target, the first question you'll be asked by a traditional publisher is, "Do you have an audience for your work? Do you have a platform?" If you don't have a solid answer, your really wonderful book may be turned down.

What are the Disdvantages of Traditional Publishing?

You have no control over the product. It's rare that you are consulted over the cover, the timing of the release or the marketing of the product.

An agent gets 15-20% of all of your checks. Your advance can be as little as a few hundred dollars. Royalties, if you earn any, are paid twice yearly.

In most cases, you will still be responsible for marketing the book. Unknown authors are usually not assigned any marketing dollars. They reserve that for the blockbusters.

I've heard that in some rare instances, publishers have demanded the author pay back their advance when their book failed to earn that amount (despite having spent it (and more) marketing the book).

What is Subsidy publishing?

Subsidy publishing—which is sometimes mistakenly called POD (Print on Demand) and sometimes even a "self-publishing company" (which they are most assuredly not)—is when you pay for the printing and developmental costs of your book, but the company puts the book under the banner of their publishing company—and, this is very important—they own the ISBN identifying number.

What are the advantages of subsidy publishing?

This saves you having to buy a block of ISBNs (see explanation next chapter).

You don't have to form a company/corporation (see explanation next chapter).

Often (but not always), the subsidy press has services to help your product look more professional, like editing and cover design.

Many subsidy presses also have distribution (see explanation in the book industry chapter) and marketing services (see explanation in the marketing chapter) you can use (pay for).

You can get the trade leverage of being with a multi-title company that you can't get as a 1-book publisher.

This is a great way to put out a memoir, a local cookbook or poetry.

What are the Disadvantages of subsidy publishing?

Known subsidy presses are not reviewed by the major media outlets.

Even though this is your work, the book has their ISBN identifier. Some might think that the subsidy press is responsible for your hard work and money.

Even if you don't have the subsidy company sell your books through bookstores or wholesalers, they will get the orders because they own the ISBN.

Your costs will be higher than if you published the book yourself. This makes a big difference when you try to sell books through bookstores (see the explanation on discounts).

A few years ago, the CEO of iUniverse (a subsidy publisher that recently was bought by Penguin) revealed in an interview that few of their client/authors sell more than 200 books. AuthorHouse disclosed in 2008 that of their over 36,000 author clients, the majority only sold 54 copies each. revealed that a "best-seller" to them is one that sells 500 copies... and there have been few of those. In all cases, most of those titles were sold to the author, friends and relatives. [Credit: Website "How Publishing Really Works" 3/17/09 post ] These "self-publishing companies" sign up thousands of new authors each month. Who's making money here? (Hint: It's not the authors.)

What is Self-publishing?

Self-publishing is all about YOU. You assume all the risk—you form a company, you pay for all the expenses, you make all the choices. All the responsibility for success or failure depends on you. The ISBNs are registered to you/your company, you make all the book design decisions and marketing plans.

What are the advantages of Self-publishing?

If there is a reward, you get it all.

You control absolutely everything about the project.

You set the bar for success. If you think 1000 free downloads of your ebook novel is wonderful, then it is. If you think selling 50 copies of your poetry is terrific, then it is. If you sell 100,000 copies of your self-help book out of the trunk of your car... well, you are successful, by any measure.

What are the disadvantages of Self-publishing?

It is a lot of work.

It is often confusing to those who are new. Read a lot of books. Ask a lot of questions. Some folks decide not to try and learn how to do all the tasks necessary to produce a fine quality book. That's where book packagers come in (see explanation below).

It doesn't just end at producing the book. You'll need to form a company (see below explanation), learn how to distribute the book (by yourself or by getting a distributor (see explanation in the book industry chapter)) and learn how to market or else no one will know about your book (see explanation in the marketing chapter).

What are Book Packagers?

Book packagers offer services like editing (see explanation), cover design (see explanation) and all the little details that go into making a book. Most offer their services "a la carte"—meaning you can pick and chose what you need. Sometimes they put their services in groups—also known as packages.