I already wrote a post comparing traditional to self-publishing, https://britdarby.com/2012/01/19/traditional-or-self-publishing/, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. Okay, maybe just a little repetition.
I’ve been following David Gaughran’s blog for a few months now. David’s posts are always informative and refreshingly honest about the business of writing. Last week he wrote about his one-year anniversary since self-publishing, offering his thoughts on whether or not his decision to self-publish was the right one. http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/was-self-publishing-the-right-decision/
I was particularly interested when he explored where he might be now if he had chosen not to self-publish but went the traditional route. He does a great job of breaking down the hypothetical sale to a traditional publishing house, but I would like to add a couple things to his time- and bottom-line.
He does remind us that his alternate publishing scenario is an absolute best-case possibility. So, let’s go with it. You have the agent, which can be harder to get than the publisher, but you can’t get a publisher without the agent because most houses won’t read a manuscript that wasn’t solicited through an agent. Say your hot-shot agent takes six months to land a deal and gets a $5000 advance. And, let’s be positive, you may even get one-half up front. Of course, it all goes to the agent and they take a generous helping first, before passing on the leftovers to you.
The dream is happening now; you’re slated for release somewhere between a year-and-a-half to two years from signing the contract. Life is good. Even if you’ve signed all your rights away for the next seven to ten years, including e-book rights at much less than self-publishing on your own. And who cares if the royalty rate is pathetic, you’re going to sell millions, right?
Now let’s not forget the edits to the book. Not the edits you may have already done to get an agent, but the edits they ask you to make before publication. Then there are the edits your editor will make to your work in addition to your own. The editor has the final say. If your work is too long, you will have to take out a little, or a lot, depending on their strict guidelines. Word length gets shorter as costs go up.
Don’t get attached to your title; it may be changed as well. The cover is always a surprise; the final produced work is generally the editor’s or artist’s interpretation, not necessarily yours. All before you even get to see galley proofs. Want something changed at this point? Check your contract, it may or may not happen, or there may be a cost if you request too many changes, and only if your editor agrees.
Mr. Gaughran is absolutely correct about getting any sort of marketing from your new publisher—it will fall on your shoulders. There may even be the case where they are so late releasing your book, that the next month’s book is right on its heels, giving the bookseller little option but to send yours back before it gets onto the shelves. Mass-market books have a shelf-life of about a month, and most sales are made in this timeframe; this is the one time you don’t want to be late to the party in order to make an entrance, because a late arrival will plummet your sales into the toilet.
Still, you may actually get a royalty check, less your advance of course. Just remember, payday is six months, sometimes even a year apart. And don’t forget the “reserves against returns” that the publisher holds on to. You may or may not get an accounting of book runs, in many cases there is only a magical number on your statement showing books they are paying royalties on.
There are “special” or “bulk” sales that earn the author pennies per book. Or books appearing under a different imprint, but no royalties earned at all, yet you have seen them, usually dumped in a discount bin. What you do receive in royalties can take five to seven years to get paid-out for a single book.
Okay, you’ve survived being traditionally published. The years have rolled by and you ask for a reversion of rights on your literary masterpiece. Good luck with that—it may happen easily, or not. I’ve heard many horror stories on that subject, and have personal knowledge of my writing partner’s own trials with her former publishing house. I guess I was lucky with my former publishers, but it shouldn’t be luck that returns rights back to the rightful owner.
If you count the time spent writing the book, getting an agent and publisher, actual publication, and final pay-out … Well, do the math, it’s not a pretty picture. Golden dreams end up a bit tarnished, egos battered and bruised, and, for many writers, their day job has to keep paying all the bills.
I think David Gaughran made the right choice. I hope we did as well.