FAQ: Self Publishing versus Traditional Publishing

Frequent questions from writers who dream of becoming a published author. Comments welcome at the end of the session. Enjoy!

With the advent of social media and the virtual community, I have been approached several times with questions on writing and publishing. I thought it best to create a Question and Answer page to help budding writers/authors accomplish their dreams.

In full disclosure, I write non-fiction books which are easier to publish in re to traditional publishing. If you write novels, you will need to send pitches to publishing houses and it may take years before landing a contract. Many hire agents to help gain a publishing contract which can be costly. And sadly many of these books are excellent. This, in part, is the reason for the self-publishing revolution.

Q. Where do I start?

A. I suggest you just write, be it online or by hand, a blog or a word document, email or other social media, express yourself, develop a style and keep it going. Develop a habit of writing, a schedule that fits your lifestyle. Perhaps an hour in the morning before everyone wakes up, or an hour after everyone goes to bed. And there are tons of info on the web that offer professional advice. My blog on Self Publishing Tips offers links to excellent articles, tutorials and podcasts.

Q. Read this, am I a worthy writer?

A. Several writers who have never been published send me word documents and ask me that question. I posted a somewhat tongue-in-check answer to this question in another blog titled, Top Ten Signs I’m a Writer. To be honest, much like any passion, if you think about writing often, especially in everyday tasks, then the likely hood of you being a good writer is on your side. If you dread the written word or look at it as another item on your long to-do list, maybe not.

Q. I’ve finished writing a book, how do I know it’s worthy of publishing?

A. Personally, I would first edit it thoroughly then give it to a group of what we call Beta Readers. It can be family, friends or people who love to read and critique people’s writing. More than likely you will have both editing and rewrites. Continue fine tuning your book then give it to a professional editor. And there are different types of editors. There is the copy editor who basically edits the format and grammar, then the content editor who focuses on the structure of the story, the plot, the arc, characters, etc. Here’s a nice breakdown between the two. Copy Editing Versus Content Editing By Victory Crayne

Q. Do I use traditional publishing or self publishing?

A. That depends on your experience and the reasons for publishing a book. Are you writing the book to earn money? Developing what you hope will be a full time career? Are you a self-starter, love challenges, avid user of social media? Do you have a big support team that is experienced in publishing?

I began with a traditional publisher, History Press, a small press out of Charleston, SC. It’s easier to land a contract with a smaller press than a major publishing house. Start small, build your audience, your social media, your selling quotient, that’s what attracts big publishing houses. After all it’s their business to find authors who will sell a lot of books. They will not only gain larger profits but a major jump in the marketing campaign. If you are completely green in the publishing arena, a good small press can offer an education guiding you and holding your hand through the process. However, many small presses mainly deal with non-fiction books including books featuring history, children’s books or cook books.

Q. What’s the pros and cons in traditional publishing and self publishing?

A. Royalties on traditional publishing are nominal at best. A $20 print book would yield between $1 to $3 at most, and of course eBooks even less because of their price point. Although most publishers promise a healthy round of marketing, they often fall short. Most require writers to fill out a lengthy marketing questionnaire including detailed contact lists, names of local book stores, gift shops, museums or any place that sells books. The traditional publisher focuses on the initial release, that surge of sales for the first month and they then move on to their next book release.

Self publishers have much higher royalties as they have incurred the majority of the work minus the expense of editors, graphic designers and print costs. You also have the option of what’s called print on demand which means the book is only printed when it is ordered, therefore it costs you nothing to print. A popular print on demand service is Amazon’s CreateSpace which offers a royalty calculator. That is the amount of money you make on each book sold. You also have the option to buy some of your own books and sell at book signings or marketing events. There’s a calculator for that as well.

The self publisher is basically the writer, the publisher, the publicist, the marketer, the social media guru, and office clerk. More established self-published authors hire virtual assistants who can take care of sending email blasts putting together newsletters and general online formatting with various marketing sites.

Q. I made the decision to go with a traditional publisher. Now what?

A. Begin with a long list of written questions. Document it in an email and request the answers via email. Be careful in discussing major issues via telephone without written followup. Have a lawyer or well established author with experience in contracts to review the contract in full. This is critical as often times the publisher will own the rights of your work for a very long time, they may also own rights to sequels in the same genre. So if you are thinking of doing a serial, make sure you have full rights for subsequent books.

In re to the marketing questionnaire, ask lots of questions. If possible get in writing the number of book signings and speaking events the publisher will schedule. Where will be the books be placed, what stores? As I mentioned before even with traditional publishing you will be the primary marketer so you need to know exactly where your book will be sold.

Q. I made the decision to publish my own book. Now what?

A. Congratulations! You have entered the world as both new author and a business owner. You are now an entrepreneur with all the benefits and responsibilities that are part of running your own business. It’s scary and yet so satisfying to be in control of our own destiny. As I’ve repeated many times, as with anything in life, your best tool is education. Not only what you can find online but from other authors who have traveled the same path, and with much success. Find these authors be it via social media or author groups. Get to know them and ask questions. The author family is very giving, the most supportive I have every seen in the working world. I’ve also written a Newbie Author Self-Publishing Checklist that will help get your started.

Q. Where do I find good editors, graphic designers, etc that I need in publishing my book?

A. Depending on the service you use, some programs provide all or some of the tools needed to get your book ready for printing. Amazon CreateSpace is a perfect example in that they hold your hand through the process. In CreateSpace and other printing programs, some of the services are included while others have fees. I write non-fiction books with photographs so I need a good graphic designer who will treat my baby with the greatest TLC. I’ve offered some links to the people/companies I work with in getting my book to the printing press. You’re welcome to reach out to them, or list questions below for more details.

Q. What’s the best way to promote my book?

A. Well there’s a lot of answers to that question and most depend on your genre, that is your style of book, and your personality. Many believe building an audience and living off the price of ebook sales without print books is the way to go. And if you don’t have time for book signings or speaking presentations, that may work for you. However, you have to build that audience first, and repeated BUY MY BOOK Facebook and Twitter posts will not really work. Unless you have a million followers. True you will sell a good amount, but soon that well runs dry. That is you exhaust your supply of potential buyers after your social media friends have bought your book. Every author I speak with agrees that they sell more books via speaking presentations compared to standard book signings. I enjoy public speaking and my enthusiasm and passion for my book comes through in the presentation. For more info on book presentations, may I suggest a look at my blog, The Power of Storytelling.

I’ll continue to add questions and answers to this page. If you have any questions or comments, please fill in below and I’ll get back to you.

Happy writing!