Booked In: Chapter 5: To print, or not to print?


By Peri Miller

Two issues ago I promised that I would eventually cover publishing in greater detail. This is the fulfilment of that promise. Buckle in for an ultra informative edition of Booked In, looking at the business side of books—publishing. Specifically, the contrast between traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Simply put, traditional publishing is when an author makes a deal with a publishing company. Most often, the publisher will offer an advance against royalties, meaning that the author will get paid an advance, and make no money from royalties until the publisher has been reimbursed.

Self-publishing is, inversely, when an author independently turns their manuscript into a product. No agents, no rejections: just absolute control and absolute responsibility. E-book, print book, Amazon or no; entirely up to them.

Here are some of the pros and cons of the publishing extremes:

Distribution and promotion

A publishing deal includes distribution and promotion/marketing/publicity. Not only does it guarantee that an author’s book will reach bookstores, but provides the opportunity to garner interest. A self-publisher, meanwhile, must do all of this for themselves—should they choose to.

Self-publishing is way faster than traditional publishing. The author can write “the end,” upload their book to Kindle, and start making money the next day. Going the traditional route, meanwhile, can take years. Years to find an agent; years to find a publisher; years to actually publish the book. The publishing industry is a little outdated with respects to the better-faster-more modern mentality.

Quality control

Achieving a publishing deal is a form of success in and of itself. The fact that the author managed to stand out first to an agent and then a publishing company is a guarantee that the book is at least readable—hopefully, since the author is assigned professional editors and cover artists, possibly at the loss of creative control.

Meanwhile, anyone and everyone can self-publish, even if they can’t read. Maybe. Creative control is a good thing, yes, but who wants to read a waffly, shoddily-edited book? Who’s going to pick the book with the cover clearly made in MS Paint? (Look, judging a book by its cover is a good indication of effort.) Self-publishers risk getting lost in the proverbial trash heap.

Royalties and profits

A publishing deal with an advance against royalties guarantees an author some profit. Even if the book flops and doesn’t earn back the advance, the money is the author’s to keep. With self-publishing, however, the author is more likely to be spending money for printing and promoting. Theoretically, they could publish to Kindle and see how it goes, but the amount of success stories from this approach matches the number of literary masterpieces by E.L. James.

Yes, self-publishing means higher royalties, but that doesn’t mean more profit. Take this simplified example: two books, priced ten dollars on Amazon Kindle, each sell ten copies. one is self-published and the other traditionally. The first author (at eighty percent royalties), makes eighty dollars—not bad! Meanwhile, the second author has a 5000 dollar advance from their publisher.

Neither method is conclusively better than the other, they’re just different. There are successes and failures from both sides, and plenty of self-published books attracted publishing deals (Eragon and The Martian, for example). The only conclusion to be drawn is that it’s nearly impossible to make a living from authoring. As cheesy as it sounds, you can be sure that any author writes purely for love of their craft, which in itself is worthy of recognition.

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