Three Reasons to Skip Traditional Publishers

The other night I was giving a seminar for Columbus Creative Cooperative on the different paths available to writers when it’s time to publish their work.  One attendee asked “How many rejections should you get from traditional publishers before you consider self-publishing?”

My answer is simple–zero.  Self-publishing is not the path to take because everyone else has rejected you.  In fact, if small and large publishers alike are rejecting your manuscript in substantial quantities, you might want to scrap this manuscript and move on to a new project.  Choose self-publishing because it’s a path that makes sense for you.

The truth of the matter is that if your book is as good as you think it is, and you have $5,000 to invest in producing and marketing your book, you’re not getting much from a traditional publisher that you can’t do for yourself.

Here are three reasons to skip the line for traditional publishing, and decide that self-publishing is right for you:

1) Pennies on the dollar.  The standard first-time author contract through a traditional publisher pays 7% of net.  That’s 7% of whatever the publisher makes comes to you, the author.  On average, this equates to 30-50 cents per book sold.

Working with a company like Columbus Publishing Lab, or Boyle & Dalton, among other reputable providers, you receive 80% of net, which is more like $3-$8 per book sold.  Even if you only sell 10% of the number of books you would through a traditional publisher, you’re still going to make more money.

2) Time is money.  On average, it takes 3-5 years to see your book in print through a traditional publisher from the time you query your first agent.  During those years, you’ll spend hundreds of hours writing query letters, jumping through hoops and grovelling.

What if you could actually apply all that time to your writing, and to selling your book?  About 1% of manuscripts that seek an agent actually find one, a fraction of those actually find a home with a publisher.  Is this really how you want to spend your life?

If you self-publish, you can see your book in print in as little as 6-12 weeks, including all 5 steps that a traditional publisher would use to produce your book.  All that time you would have spent contacting agents and publishers (which will likely result in nothing), you can now spend finding readers for your book, and writing the sequel.

3) You’re not a trained pony.  A traditional publisher will pay you pennies on the dollar, takes years to produce your book, and they’re going to rip your baby out of your hands and do whatever they want with it.

When you traditionally publish, you forfeit all creative control of your book.  A nice small press may allow you to voice your opinion and exercise influence, or they may not. Rest assured that at the end of the day the publisher is going to do whatever they think is best.

And don’t forget about all of the time you spent querying agents, jumping through arbitrary hoops and brown-nosing to get your book into the hands of a  real publisher.  Half of the criteria you have to meet and the tasks you have to complete (and all of the query formats and conferences and blah, blah, blah) have no relationship whatsoever to what it takes to write and sell an awesome book.

When you self-publish correctly, you should still work with real professionals and allow them to exercise their expertise to make your book the best that it can be.  But at the end of the day, you make every decision.  You retain all creative control.

You also don’t waste your time jumping through hoops and putting on a show.  If it makes sense and it’s good for your book, do it.  If it doesn’t, or it’s just not your style, don’t do it.  You’re the boss.

This advice only applies if… your manuscript is excellent, and you commit yourself to producing a great book.

Don’t choose self-publishing because you’re out of options.  Choose self-publishing because your work is awesome, and you’re ready to invest in yourself.  Choose self-publishing because it makes sense, and it’s the best path for you.

How many rejections should you get from traditional publishers before considering self-publishing as an option?  ZERO.  Choose self-publishing because it’s right for you, and if it is, don’t waste even a minute of your life on those bloated, pompous, bureaucratic traditional publishers.

Life is short.  You’ve got better things to do.