The past four posts looking at the evolution of the novel have been mostly geared towards the reader’s perspective. Now I want to look at these changes from the perspective of the author, especially those aspiring to become authors. In the picture above the late Steve Jobs is giving a presentation discussing Apple’s ibook format. On the screen are the five companies that make up what is referred to as the Big 5 publishers. Those five companies, and the rumor is it could become four with Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster merging, are what’s left of the major publishing companies.
I wanted to highlight these companies because before the digital age these were basically the only real way to make money as an author and get recognized for your work. The Internet has changed all of the that. Today authors have a few different options to consider when deciding how to publish their work.
The first is to of course attempt to get one of the Big 5 publishers to do so. That will require and agent, because none of these companies accept unsolicited manuscripts, and of course a whole lot of luck. Another is to go with an independent publisher, most of whom have some kind of more narrow specialty and focus solely on that genre. Then of course there is self-publishing, which because of companies like Amazon and Apple has become a far more appealing and realistic option than it ever used to be. Self-publishing used to consist of paying out of pocket for copies of your book to be printed and then selling them to local bookstores or out of the trunk of your car.
So which option is the best you ask?
This is where a lot of research will come in handy. It’s not an easy choice at all and it depends on each individual situation, but I will try to provide a little breakdown for the two most popular choices. Traditional vs. self-publishing.
Want to see your book on a shelf like this someday? If so, then traditional publishing may be the best thing for you, but writer beware, only the lucky few will ever end up with a massive stack at your local Barnes and Noble or Costco, and even fewer will ever see their name on a New York Times bestseller list. The competition is stiff and you will need to catch lighting in a bottle to get your books flying off the shelves. Here are a few of the benefits and drawbacks of traditional publishing.
- Massive distribution channels with all major retailers and digital retailers.
- Connections to the media for press and promotional opportunities.
- Potential cash advance deals that give author guaranteed income.
- Tons of expert editors, copy-editors, cover designers, etc.
- Years of experience promoting successful authors.
- Relinquish rights to your work.
- Small percentage of sales revenue for commission.
- Time consuming process to get published.
- Loss of creative control, including title, back cover, etc.
In the digital age self-publishing has become a much easier endeavor. When I say easier I mean far less expensive with a much greater chance at success. Please don’t confuse that with it being easy, because it’s not. The difference with self-publishing today is that it costs far less, usually around $2000 or so to get a cover designed, the book edited and formatted to be ready to upload. Also by self-publishing in E-book form you have the potential to sell your books globally for very little additional cost.
One major question here becomes, who do you self-publish with? For now it seems that Google, Barnes and Noble and others are lagging behind the two major tech behemoths, Apple and Amazon. Here is an article that breaks down some of the differences between the two. Amazon is still the biggest and most dominate force in the arena. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to self-publishing.
- Easy access to millions of readers with little upfront cost.
- Much higher earnings per book sold. (Between 35 to 70 percent)
- Ability to be part of programs like Kindle Unlimited.
- Immediate publishing with no limit to how much work you can sell.
- Total creative control and some or all price control.
- You keep the rights to your work.
- You have to do all the work. Editing, marketing, etc.
- Some limits on who you can sell through.
- No access to traditional retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Costco, etc.
- No assistance from professionals unless you pay for it.
So what’s a new author to do? I am asking myself that very same question. I am writing my first novel and am very curious to what direction I should go. I learned a ton from reading this article called the 7K Report, it really broke down some staggering information on the amount of money out there to be earned by authors. Take a look at this diagram.
This is just one graph that shows how the self-published author has the potential to make far more money going this route than traditional. Which brings me back to my own situation. Even with all of this data, I think I will try to go the traditional route first, before deciding if I should self-publish. Why would I do that you ask? The main reason for me is because I write mainstream thrillers. I have been influenced by authors like Tom Clancy and David Baldacci, so for me the chance to become the next bestseller and have my books piled up at a Costco near you is still the dream.
I will have no problem self-publishing if that dream does not become reality. My advice is that if you are writing in any genre that is unique or a bit of niche market, then self-publishing is probably a better way to get started. After all, if your work takes off online, the traditional publishers will find you, but many times they are only looking for something they can mass market.
The good news in all this? Never before have so many authors had the opportunity to get paid, and even make a living doing what they love to do; telling stories.