Recently I met Jeffrey Archer. I think as a storyteller he’s got the whole thing nailed on pretty well. He’s also sold 352 million books worldwide. Whatever your opinion of him, you’d have to say that he’s done well from writing. You could say the same thing about George R R Martin, Stephen King, Dan Brown, E L James and J K Rowling. They live the life that most authors crave. Millions of readers, adulation and wealth. No wonder that being an author remains the number one dream job.
However, the truth for most authors is that it is very difficult to become published. Going down the traditional route, some authors send their unsolicited manuscript off and await to hear back from the forty-seven (pick a number) publishers they sent it off to. To be frank, this is a waste of stamps. Virtually no one is ever published like this. The manuscript will join the slush fund of every publisher you send it to at a rate of 10,000 manuscripts per year. One in every 30,000 will be published. It’s better odds than the Lottery, but in real terms, not by much.
Far better is to get yourself a literary agent. By no means easy either. For a start, choose the right type of agent for you. If your book is fantasy fiction don’t seek an agent that specialises in business non-fiction. If you’re accepted, then the agent will seek to get you a deal and a major publisher. Which is by no means a given. They can circumnavigate the slush pile, but they are still up against the competition.
By now you might be thinking I’ll go down the self-publishing route then. Which brings us back to the original question. What is the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing? The first difference is money. With traditional publishing you are usually given an advance, but don’t get too excited. It can be as little as £500. The publishing house will then take over the publishing and marketing costs and your book will come out eight months to eighteen months after you sign the contract. How much you earn per book will vary from around 50p to £1 per copy, on average.
Don’t think that you won’t have to do any marketing either as the publisher will expect you to do social media, radio and possibly tv interviews. For the writer that wants to avoid marketing and just write, this is bad news.
What happens if you self-publish? The first thing to talk about (again) is money. You’ll be paying for the upfront costs and the marketing. This can vary from very little to quite a lot, depending on the publisher and package you might go for. However, here is the first bit of good news about self-publishing. All the royalties are yours. If you sell your book at £7.99 that’s how much you’ll receive, not 50p. This does depend on bookshop royalties too, but the principle holds true if you sell the book yourself.
You will also hold all the copyright. In traditional publishing often the copyright reverts to the publisher once you sign a deal with them and that means you no longer own your characters. For some authors this is the point at which they decide self-publishing is the way forward.
The other major difference is speed of delivery. If you are a business author with your book needed for a talk then you might have a deadline of four months away. With self-publishing this is imminently possible to achieve. With traditional publishing, as we have mentioned, it takes much longer.
What about editing, proof-reading and layout? All the things that you’d expect a traditional publisher to do. All of this is possible with self-publishing too.
The fact is that over the last ten years self-publishing has improved massively and with the best companies, the idea of shiny covers that fold up and poor-quality paper is long gone. Your book should be indistinguishable from a Penguin book sitting on a Waterstones bookshelf.
Done well, self-publishing can be lucrative and help you to achieve all your writing dreams. Done poorly, you can end up with a low-quality product that few people ever see. Traditional publishing done well can put you up with the greats of writing. Done poorly, you will have a nice-looking book that achieves low sales and characters that remain the publishers.
As always, if you have questions please give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss any of your thoughts and concerns. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and it has given you something good to think about.