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The Best Way to Publish Your First Book
People ask me all the time, “Is it better to try to find a traditional publisher or self-publish?”
My answer is always, “It depends.” It depends on your goals, your resources, your book idea, the market. There are many factors to consider.
However, there are several good reasons to consider self-publishing first.
1. It is very, very difficult for a new author to get published by a legacy or traditional publisher these days. Ironically, part of the reason for this is precisely because today’s technology makes it so easy to publish! There are so many books out there, the bookstore shelves are crammed (and this mode of distribution is so flawed, but don’t get me started on that!). Publishers are increasingly wary of publishing unproven authors.
I don’t blame them. I’ve been “in” posting enough to sympathize with their side. It is very expensive to produce, publicize and distribute a book, especially given the very flawed bookstore distribution model. (Oops! I couldn’t help it.) Profit margins tend to be slim. Publishers invest $10,000 to $30,000 to produce a book, and they never know which books will make it back.
In fact, 85 percent of all published books don’t even “sell” enough to pay their advances! I’m often surprised that publishing is still an industry at all (especially considering the very flawed business model they operate from, uh-oh, here I go again).
2. You can make more money, at least per book. When your book is published by a traditional publisher, you can get a royalty advance. However, it is increasingly true that the advances for first-time authors are quite insignificant, not much more than $5,000. In fact, progress is reduced. I just heard a professional post report that the most common advance these days is $0! Nothing.
Even if you get an advance, remember that most books don’t even earn their advance, and it’s an advance against (future) royalties. Typical royalty: 7-10 percent of net, that is, after bookstores or other distributors take their discount (usually 45 percent). Let’s do the math. A book that sells for $19.95 has a base (discounted) price of $12.97 (45% off means you get 65% off the list price). From that, you get your 7.5 percent royalties (the typical hardcover paperback gift is almost unheard of for a new author). Now you have 97 cents per book sold. That leaves, at the top, 15 percent to the agent (if you had one). So your net royalty per book is 82.7 cents per book.
Now, if you can produce the book for $10, and it’s something you can actually sell for $19.95, you’ll make $9.95 per book if you publish and sell it yourself. The tricky part, of course, is making sure your production costs don’t exceed the price you can sell the book for. The problem with many “publishers” such as lulu.com is that you can easily be priced out of the market. You have to be very careful and very realistic about what the market is used to paying for your type of book.
The other trick is to make sure you have an audience, or can build an audience, for your self-published book. If you can talk and sell it from the back of the room, that can be very effective. If you already have some kind of platform, some kind of audience, you can learn internet marketing strategies and sell it online. The web is becoming more and more effective for promoting and selling books, which is why I’m so excited to publish these days.
3. You get published faster. A legacy publisher can take 9-18 months to produce your book, once they have received your manuscript. It might only take you half the time to do it yourself. Reap the rewards faster if you publish yourself.
What are these rewards? Publishing a book positions you as an expert like almost nothing else. According to Kevin Hogan, author of The Science of Influence, nothing increases your credibility and expertise in the minds of the public like your own printed book. A higher degree is actually the second degree after you have published a book. You can leverage your experience before, during, and after writing the book and reap the rewards of being a published author faster.
Once your book is published and you start promoting it, you make connections that you can’t imagine now. Doors will open for you. When you are perceived as an expert, people approach you; you don’t have to work so hard to go out and find them. You can charge higher rates for your services, products, speaking, whatever your book supports.
Then there is the incomparable satisfaction of hearing someone say, “Your book changed my life…”.
You might as well start collecting those rewards sooner rather than later!
4. As you learn the ropes of promotion, you can attract a legacy publisher. One who will then be willing to pay you a bigger advance than before. You’ll need to learn how to promote your own books anyway, regardless of how you initially publish. If you successfully promote your self-published book and build a large audience, chances are you’ll be approached by a legacy publisher.
This is another result of the self-publishing phenomenon. Increasingly, publishers are looking for successful self-published books to take on. It’s just good business. You (or perhaps a smaller publisher) have taken the initial risk and shown that you know how to promote your book. The risk is much lower for them.
Your advantage to being picked up at this point by a legacy publisher is that they’ll give you wider distribution (ie, to bookstores and chains and other outlets), and you might get a decent advance. (At this point, you’ll be in a position to know whether you want to sacrifice revenue for greater distribution and take the hassle out of producing, storing, and distributing the books. You may decide that you prefer to maintain them yourself ). -published.)
If a traditional publisher picks you up, you can still sell your book and build your platform while they produce your book. You can usually keep selling your book for up to 60 to 90 days before your new book is published. Then, of course, the publisher will want to be able to sell the new edition, and you will have to withdraw your initial edition. (Often, this will include supplementary materials – beware! For more information, see the “Know Your Copyrights” article.)
I predict that more and more legacy publishers will look to successful self-published authors. They would be stupid not to.
5. You’re more likely to work hard for a return on investment if it comes out of your own pocket. Isn’t that human nature? Don’t you think you would work harder to get $5,000 back from your book if your own money was invested? And that motivation may be just what you need to propel you to success.
Ultimately, you are the one who will have to promote and sell your book, regardless of how you publish it. Always, always remember that. You are your book’s best advocate. Writing is only part of the picture. The real work comes later, in promoting it and making sure your investment of time, energy and money pays off.
But this is where the fun begins.
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