Welcome to AskALLi, the self-publishing advice podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it's our monthly beginners' self-publishing salon with advice, tips, and tools for indie authors just starting out.
Topics discussed this week include:
- Financial risks of self-publishing
- What about bookstore distribution?
- But don't you get advances with traditional publishers?
- Do you get the best of both worlds with hybrid publishing?
- Amazon imprints look for self-published authors
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
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About the Hosts
Jyotsna Ramachandran is the founder of Happy Self Publishing and author of the international bestseller Job Escape Plan.
Tim Lewis is the author of three time-travel novellas in the Timeshock series and three fantasy novels in the Magpies and Magic series under his full name of Timothy Michael Lewis. He is the host of the Begin Self-Publishing Podcast and is currently working on the book Social Media Networking- a guide to using social media to find your dream job, find love and boost your travel experience.
Read the Transcripts of this Month's Beginners' Salon
Jyotsna Ramachandran: Hello everybody. Welcome to yet another episode of self-publishing advice podcast. Beginners salon and I am your host Jyotsna Ramachandran, founder of happy self-publishing. And with me we have our cohost, Tim Lewis. Hey Tim. How are you doing today?
Tim Lewis: I'm doing great, thank you.
Jyotsna: Awesome. So, in this episode we are going to be talking about should you self-publish, or you shouldn't. Right. So, I think that's a great topic because Tim, a lot of self-published authors would like to consider other options as well but let me make it very clear I'm a huge advocate of self-publishing. All my books are self-published, but I do know some self-published authors who have taken other routes as well. So I would love to know your opinion on that.
Tim: Yeah, well I mean, I suggested this as a topic mainly because we're obviously biased. We're self-publishing advocates and the thing is I think virtually any book can be self-published now, but I think there are certain cases where it makes sense to go with a traditional publisher or use some other means of doing it. So I felt that it's kind of interesting as a topic to consider this. So that's kind of my initial thoughts on it.
Jyotsna: That's true. So what could be the other options and should a person wait for these opportunities to come to them or do you think they should actively look out for other options?
Tim: Well, I think there will be people who have come to self-publishing because they've tried to pitch to traditional publishers or they've tried other means, or they've been waiting for a publisher to approach them and they haven't. So I think it's actually, it's important to know why you're trying to publish your book. If you're trying to maximize your revenue then, and you're okay with costs, then I think there is no other real option that makes sense apart from self-publishing, but if your primary objective is either validation, so you want somebody to pat you on the head and say, well done or to basically think that you've been chosen, then obviously traditional publishing is certainly the way to go. In that case. I think there is more cache if say Harper Collins or somebody comes to you and says we want to publish your book. There is credibility and social proof in that and there's no denying it, but don't expect necessarily to make more money than you would if you were self-publishing.
Jyotsna: Yeah, that's true. For some people, that credibility that, that big brand name associated with their book could mean a lot. I think that's a good way, a good point because, Tim, there are so many traditional publishers out there, and many of them are not known and there are these top five who are really, really hard to get through. So if somebody gets a publishing deal from a lesser known publisher, would you still recommend them to consider that if they are not a big name?
Tim: Well, yeah. Well, I mean certainly a couple of reasons why you might want to go with a smaller publisher. One is the financial element. I mean obviously there are ways, for things like crowd funding, the way you don't have to have money upfront or borrow money to spend on things like cover design and editing. But if you have literally no money and somebody approaches you and says, I'm a small press and I want to publish your book, or you pitched to them and then they accept it, then that makes sense because you are not taking the financial risk. Well you can't take the financial risk because you haven't got the money in the first place. So the book wouldn't happen apart from that, I suppose the other situation where it makes sense. Is again a variant of the social proof element where you've got a small press and they are known for one particular kind of like nonfiction writing or for some kind of ticket genre and you get the same social group because you've been published by that specific. They may not do anything else apart from that and that's when they're small, but they all like a prestige name in that niche, so it's kind of like if you get your. If you write an article and you get it published in the Guardian, that's very different from having that same article published in like business news.com or whatever website you've ever never heard of may pay you, but the Guardian doesn't. I think most people would go for the Guardian because it's just something you can put on your CV, but on your website you can side that. You've been published by them, so I think the same applies with traditional publishing.
Jyotsna: That's true. Yeah. I think it's really important to go through what is it that they are offering, right? Because one, as you said, the initial advance that they pay. If that's really, really a very lucrative, then that could be one option if the author really doesn't have the resources to invest the money into cover design editing and all of that, but that could be a lot of other benefits that certain publishers could offer. For example, I've heard a podcast where I think an interview of this person who's written the book called the Miracle Morning. Do you remember?
Tim: Hal Elrod.
Jyotsna: Absolutely. So, Hal has been getting a lot of, big publishers who want to publish his books, but he chose to retain his self-publishing rights for all his English language books because anybody doing a lot of marketing, he has the money to publish more and more books. I think he's done a series of books under that title. However, he has chosen to partner with traditional publishing houses for foreign language books. So his books get translated to various other languages and those publishers distribute them in countries which Hal, wouldn't have otherwise reached out to. So I think that those could be other benefits of traditional publishers if they are really good in certain markets and as an author, it's a nice feeling right when our book gets read in Korea or Japan or India. So I think those could also be other reasons why you would. You might want to consider a traditional publishing.
Tim: No, that's a very good point actually. I mean I would think of that as self-publishing, but you're making the most out of your rights, but you're right. There are traditional publishers and certainly if somebody approaches you from Korea and they pay, they're willing to pay you in advance of $500. Are you going to translate into Korean? Really? It's kind of like, well yeah, you just take that. Yeah. Your traditional. You are being traditionally published in a market where you would never got around to. I think the general consensus is that most of the time translations are not that viable for self-publishers. I think this is Joanna, Joanna Penn's kind of opinion on it and that may well change with cost coming down and partnerships and varies ways of doing translations. But certainly if you can sell the rights to your book for a particular obscure languages in areas then that's a fantastically good idea. There's another point that I make the people don't appreciate about advances though. It's in the name. It's called an advance. It's not, we're going to pay you this and then pay you royalties on top of it. It's an advance on your royalties. So you'll be earning like five percent royalties or whatever from your books plus the advance and until you get through to earning your advance. You won't get any more money. So that's something that a lot,
Jyotsna: And that could even be ten years right? Yeah.
Tim: And that's the thing. So from a financial perspective, it can, it can make less sense to go traditional, to a traditional publishers so to speak. I mean there were a lot. So, there's lots of options between traditional publishing and self-publishing, assistant publishing services, some of which are a bit of a scammy side. Unfortunately,
Jyotsna: That's true and a lot of times the problems I see is people sometimes get excited that finally somebody has chosen my book. And even if the advantage less, they just go ahead and sign up the agreement without reading through the final details and a couple of years later they realize that the book is doing pretty well and they just on five percent royalty and then they start to regret. So, I think if you'll see that the book has great potential and you want to make money out of the book, then I think self-publishing is a no brainer because it's just like another business venture. You invest money upfront and then you reap the benefits for the rest of your life. But for some people, maybe they are an entrepreneur and the book is just a small fraction of what they might own. Their businesses is the bigger thing for them. Just the prestige of being published by Penguin or Harper Collins could mean a lot. So I think I totally, as you started off, it depends on what that person really wants. When I talked to some of my clients and the one thing they asked me is, if we self-published using your services, then we know that will be available on Amazon, but I want to see my book in a bookstore or inside an airport store and that is something which only a traditional publisher can help me with. So the only thing I'd tell them is that is just again, a very fanciful thing. Your book maybe there for the first week, but after that you never know it's going to be lying in a warehouse unless it becomes a New York Times bestseller in the very first week. So the chances of your book being on that bookstore and selling week on week is very, very slim. So just, you know, if you just want to take a picture of your book standing in front of a bookstore, you could just carry a book and stand there, but don't wait for a traditional publisher to do that for you because that's not a very long term game is what I feel. What do you think?
Jyotsna: Well, I mean that's another potential reason to go traditional publisher, but I would say that really for bookstore distribution, you are looking at one of the big five publishers and you're right, even if you do get your book available, unless your like Wayne Mooney or some international [inaudible] or some celebrity, it's unlikely that your book is going to be at the front of the bookstores for that long at all. Now obviously the least possible for self-publishers to get their books to be available and be stocked in bookstores. Debbie Young, um, I mentioned it in one of the advanced salon on podcast, but I know her and owner of spent a lot of time writing books about how to get indie books into bookstores. But there is an advantage of scale for the traditional publishers because this is the transformation in the book industry in the last 20 years or so. So even though if you list your book on Ingram Spark, it's an older one the Ingram system in bookstores. You still need to convince a bookstore to order your book in stock it. Um, and this is where, which additional publisher has an advantage because they can, they have teams of people who can go around to bookstore chains and start selling books, get them to stock it. But again, the bookstore owner needs to have a reason to put that book on the shelf and to put it on the front. So unless your, um, unless you're kind of like really high celebrity status like super mega status, you're unlikely to get your book featured in a bookstore. Um, I know with some of the airport bookstores you can actually pay to have your book, I think it's like $10,000 or something ridiculous like that stopped in airline bookstores and most publishers will not pay that for your. And you pay yourself if you're self-publishing it. So it's kind of like, yeah, you, you are taking advantage in that case of the traditional publishers network of sales people for book distribution. But bookstores are where the smallest margins are by far in, in self, in publishing. Really because you've got the print costs, you've got half the cost of the book or more goes to the bookstore. And then you've got your publisher and all your car in the rest of it. That's actually very small compared to an online sale or to an eBook sale. So from a financial point of view, it doesn't make a lot of sense to really push to get your stuff into bookstores. But again, if that's what you're looking for, and Harper Collins or somebody comes along, Penguin, I can't think of the other, is penguin random house. They keep changing every five minutes. But if they come, if your primary objective is to get right at the front in all the bookstores in the country for a week or two, then yes, traditional publishing is a potential way to do that. But I wouldn't necessarily think that just because you're signed up by one of these companies, they are going to put your book in front of every bookstore in the country and you'll have big, big sign and picture in every bookstore. It doesn't generally happen like that. It will be on one shelf in whatever department you're in for a week or two. And then it will get sent back when it doesn't sell. So
Jyotsna: That's so true. In fact, for being in a bookstore, as you rightly mentioned, you don't have to necessarily be published through traditional publishing. I know a person, I am sure most of you know Pat Flynn from smart passive income. So he did something really smart. It was, it was one of his dreams as well to be inside the bookstore. So instead of going to a traditional publisher, he made use of his raving fans. So he has a huge email list and a few weeks before his launch he started telling people that as soon as the book is out, go to your nearest Barnes and Noble and ask them for my book, you just need to do that. Don't you? You don't have to do anything else. So people went all the way to the Barnes and Noble and they just made a request for the book. And when it all a few hundred or maybe even a thousand people do that across the United States. There is some, you know, waves happening there and the merchandiser or whoever's the manager of the store, who takes care of the stocks, they started checking about this book and it was already available and Ingram spark as you mentioned. So then they ordered the book, they call back all the people who asked for the book and those people had to go purchase that one copy, send them the invoice, and he actually returned the favor by sending some tee shirt or something, something cool, some special gift for them because they went out of their way to do this right. And within a couple of weeks he was able to see his books inside bookstores. So I think if you have a huge list of followers who are willing to do that, take that extra mile to help you out. You don't really have to depend on a traditional publisher a to make that happen.
Tim: Oh No. I mean this is the thing there's very little now in today's online economy that you can't do yourself as a, as a small business person. It's not that the business or publishing is any easier than it has ever been. It was all, it was hard to ever to get sale, but the costs of doing it so much cheaper and is accessible to the one-man band self-publisher now, which wasn't like 30, 40 years ago. You used to have, you print on demand, you have to keep copies of your book and we didn't have any eBooks but now those have democratized everything.
Jyotsna: Alright. So publishing 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. Traditional publishers had huge advantages, so if somebody gave you a deal, it's a no brainer to take it out. But as you mentioned, a lot of authors, even now we're not aware of things like print on demand feel that if they have to invest money in printing and stocking, but thanks to print on demand, they don't have to do any of that. Right. So they don't have to. So I think if they go with a traditional publisher, they do it for the right reasons that they should be clear about the reasons and not for stuff like, I'll have my, I'll have the books printed by them and things like that because I don't think that really justifies the, the bigger reason.
Jyotsna: I think the biggest delusion I see from people in terms of how they think about traditional publishers is this idea that I'm going to be published and then I'm going to be like rich. Um, And generally speaking, most traditionally published authors on it, certainly from a fiction side or not what you recall remotely rich, because royalty rights for traditional deals, you aren't paid in advance and those advances are not big anymore for most like most offers. And then the actual royalty rates are a lot lower than what you would get yourself and they're focused on bookstores and the paper side of it more than eBooks. So it's biased into financially that your. They are taking a risk on you. But then if your book is a success, then they're taking more of the money. So it is traditional publishing is a de risking option for an author. There's a lot less risk because the publishing company is taking the risk. But if your book is successful, then they're taking a lot more money than you would if you. That should be going to you if you're self-publishing. So as kind of the, I mean there will always be a role for big publishing companies because of the bookstores and because of this element. Um, but for a lot of people, self-publishing is the way to go. I believe.
Jyotsna: True and as you rightly mentioned, risk and return are inversely proportional. So the more risk you take. Actually no, they are directly proportional the more the risk you take the more returns you get. So yeah, true.
Tim: Yeah, I mean. Think of any other reason. There are a few kinds of genres and types of books where the costs make it a lot more sensible to go to maybe traditionally publishing as opposed to self-publishing. So things like graphic novels or things where you've got a lot of cookery books. We have lots of recipes, designs and I've talked on a panel or the guild of food writers, where there will a lot of people who had self-published cookery books and they can be very difficult because of the whole art and design element of it. And the same with graphic novels.
Jyotsna: Yeah. And they don't want that normal print quality. They want that glossy sheet of paper because that's what looks good. Right. Like probably a coffee table book. It would be damn expensive to print a single copy. Right?
Tim: I mean, I, I know that you can print hardback books with Ingram Spark. I've never tried. It's on my to do list as something to try. Um, but I think I feel on a coffee table book. You probably talking about using some sort of small run print job. So then you do need to print like 500 or a 1000 copies and then you've got to store the books. And that's an issue. So something like that it could make sense to go with a traditional publishing company that is used to doing that and has the connections knows who's to talk to and similarly like something, some kinds of literary fiction where they sell much, but you kind of, you feel the validation and the fact you're looking at some genres makes sense, possibly to go with a traditional publisher. I mean you certainly can self-publish virtually anything now, but there are some cases where the costs, the costs are higher than expected or the revenue will be lower than expected. And in those cases when we can get somebody else to pay for it kind of makes sense.
Jyotsna: Have you heard of this thing that's in between traditional publishing and self-publishing? Quite hybrid publishing or vanity press as they call it. So have you heard of that term?
Tim: Yeah, well I mean I, I kind of call it assisted publishing. Hybrid. When people talk about hybrid publishing, they usually talking about an author who has been both traditionally published and is self-published and or done or sell their rights, their books to traditional publishers for varies reasons. Well what I would call assisted publishing ranges anywhere from somebody who helps people to self-publish. So, if somebody like you, for example, who's coaching but providing services but kind of an all the way to basically. Small press ones, but they have a kind of pay to play, like publishing options. I'm thinking somebody like Troubadour, Matador publishing, they can be very. When they work well. Silverwood books is another one that I've heard of that's supposed to be quite good in the UK. When they work well, they work really well because they basically got the traditional publishing infrastructure, so editors and connections and you're making use of that by paying for those services up front. The problem is there have been a huge wave of companies where they've basically taken advantage of authors by providing, low quality editing or generally speaking, terrible marketing packages. They're like charge 500, pound for in a press release or something like that. Um, and some of them have been associated in the past with some of the big publishing companies. It was one in particular, well known company that I won't mentioned on here. Even though a little bit of googling, especially if you go to somebody like David Goggins website, you can find out about which said some of the companies to maybe avoid if you're thinking about trying to go to a self-published assisted publishing company. So yeah, you're right. They have a whole range of companies in between. Generally speaking, if you're paying for it, then it's assisted publishing, possibly vanity publishing. Vanities in the old days before like print on demand. A vanity publisher basically took money and printed you a whole set of books and send them to you and that's what you really what you got. Now there are companies that will, you pay them money, but they will do some of the marketing for you. They will do the editing. They will do the cover design and that they are. But it's like with anything, you need to be buyer beware when, whenever you use any kind of self-publishing service.
Jyotsna: True absolutely. And the good thing about these assisted publishing companies is as a self-published author. You are so busy doing everything yourself and that's an extra task to go around and find the best of designers and best of editors. So these guys already have an infrastructure and it's good to make use of that with the problem I have with these hybrid publishing companies is a lot of them charge a percentage of royalties. So I think that's where the problem is because if they are taking the. Anyway, that's going to charge you money for the services and you pay them, I think that should be good enough and they shouldn't be really taking royalties from the author. So if anyone is going with hybrid publishing, they must really be aware of this and probably. Yeah. I'm so sorry what was the last thing you heard?
Tim: Yeah, I think you were just starting to talk about sort of assisted publishing and the good thing about them.
Jyotsna: Okay, so I'll just repeat from there. Anyhow you need to do some editing now.
Tim: Oh Wow. I mean these guys. I mean you should do editing anyway. So if you see an enormous two minute gap in it. You probably know that it needs editing.
Jyotsna: Alright. Um, so this is my opinion on these hybrid publisher, so what I feel is for self-published authors, there is a lot of work already, so it actually makes it easy for them when somebody has an infrastructure of good editors and interior designers and cover designers and all of that. But the problem is many of the hybrid publishers, apart from charging the money upfront for the services also take a huge chunk of the royalty, which I think is insane. If it's a small portion it is still okay, but some of them, take even more than 50 percent. And I think that's crazy because, the, the author is anyway investing a lot of money in the services. So if at all going with a hybrid publisher, assisted publishing, they must read these terms and conditions carefully and probably even post it inside our Ally Facebook group and ask for other experienced author's opinion on that before going ahead and signing up. Because once you sign up, it's like a bond and you don't have to go with it. Right? So it's, it doesn't make sense when you pay and you still don't end up making your royalties.
Tim: Yea things to be aware of. If you were giving away books, so you don't want to be signing a contract where it says they get English language rights worldwide or something like that or where you can't break from the contract with that particular company. And this is another, I mean, it's bad enough with some of the traditional publishers, but some of them more unscrupulous assisted publishing companies. They will take basically all the rights to your book and then you can't get it back. And I've heard of stories where people have to go through like courts and all the rest of it to get the rights back to their book so they're not happy with this assistant publishing company. But then they found out that they've signed off the rights to the book. So actually that company now owns your book. So there's something definitely if you sign any kind of contract, get legal advice or at least to the Alli Facebook group or Alli itself does provide these services I believe in terms of advice on contracts. So yeah. And that's something really to be aware of because you don't want to be signing up to somebody and they say it so nice. And then they take your book and then they don't do anything cause they now own it. So that's something to be aware of.
Jyotsna: Yeah, absolutely. So it's a good thing that today authors have so many different options and each of them has its own pros and cons. So, I think before getting into anything other than self-publishing, one has to really be careful and ask them why they want to go for it. And if it really makes sense then yeah, by all means they should do it. But I think it's really important to go read those contracts. Check if it is all of you know proper and they understand the contract because most of them have a lot of legal terms which is beyond the understanding of the common man. So one has to really be sure of that before signing up for anything. Yeah.
Tim: We'll often really confusing contract that is in legal language is something to be suspicious of anyway because they're often trying to hide something in the, in the actual legalese in the document so as somebody to be aware of in itself. So it's always worth getting advice with these kinds of contract.
Jyotsna: Yeah, and if they're offering something which you can add as a self-published author, you don't have access to like getting published in a country where Amazon is not there, and these guys are promising good distribution in bookstores in that country where you feel you could have a good readership. Then things like that are really exciting for a self-published author and they can try all these other routes for that.
Tim: Yeah, I mean this is the thing you have. If you create a book, you've got something that you can potentially sell rights to all around the world in every format. So I can sell Indian rights to my book to you. I can sell even just eBook Indian rights to you and then audio book rights to somebody else in India so that. I mean, at the moment nobody's approached me to buy my rights, but it might be one book I write in the future really takes off and then all my other books come, all those books have got a whole set of rights that have value. So that's where I've been in a self-published author. You don't. You want to be very careful about the rights to your books and you can, you can mix and match and sell. So never sell, if you want to sell worldwide English rights to your books in all formats. It's just Scott traditional for traditional publishers. Make sure you're getting a good deal. Um, so I mean, I suppose it is, it's common sense, but a lot of people are just so over roared that these big companies coming, asking them to, but they don't check the contract and they should be checking the contract. I mean, if you, if you do something, you go into something and you understand that you're selling all of your rights to this. You're giving away your rights to this traditional publishing company, but they're giving you a bigger advance and you gain prestige and you aware of that. That's fine. Just don't do it accidentally. Which a lot of authors have done in the past.
Jyotsna: And if they just want that prestige thing. Then for a lot of first time authors who don't get picked up by a traditional publisher, what they do is they self-publish the book first and they really promote the hell out of it inside Amazon and they sell thousands of copies and a year later they then go to a traditional publisher and tell that, hey, this is what I've done on my own and these are the reports. So if I partner with you, we can do a lot more and that's when they get a deal. And that's also possible with the same book, first self-publish it and later change it into a traditional contract. If you feel the benefits are good.
Tim: Well there's one specific type of publisher who is just looking for self-published authors and that's the Amazon Imprints. For example, Adam Croft, who's a thriller writer, he self-published quite a few books on his own and then her mastered Facebook advertising and he had like a big seller and then he was approached by an Amazon Imprint and since he's been on this Amazon Imprint, he's been number one in the whole Amazon store, best seller. So, but the Amazon, Amazon has its own, they're not really a publishing company, but they're not traditional publishing companies in the traditional sense because they don't go into bookstores apart from the Amazon bookstore bookstores, but by paying royalty rates and they promote like anything on Amazon. So if you get a call from an Amazon Imprint that's certainly worth thinking about doing because you're going to have Amazon behind you pushing it from a marketing perspective. So that would be a caveat if you self-published and then an Amazon Imprint comes to contact you then that may be worth thinking about from a financial point of view as a marketing ploy if nothing else, but again, be careful because nobody in this business world is trying to do anybody else favors, there are nice people and bad people, but most people are trying to get as best deal for them as they can. So sometimes it's certainly very keen go through and maybe try and negotiate a better deal for yourself on a contract. So it's like with anything, people aren't doing things in business for charitable reasons most of the time. They are trying to do the best for them and trying to get the job promotion on their side by getting good. Lots of good offers in and so you need to be like, don't think, oh, I've been picked! It's like I don't need to work again I'm going to get my thousand pounds in advance.
Jyotsna: Yeah. It has to be a win win, right?
Tim: Yeah. It has to be a win win. And you have to be tough enough to stand up to sort of say like, no, I'm not going to have 50 pound advance. and sell my English rights for the entire. Or just because I wanted to be published by penguin. So be prepared to say no and see what they come up with.
Jyotsna: If you say no there's nothing to lose because establishing is anyway another great option. Yeah, so thank you so much Tim, for all the different perspectives about when you should sell, publish and when you should not, and I hope the listeners and people who are watching this episode have got tons of value from this and authors if you have any other questions about this, make sure you go to our YouTube channel and hit the subscribe button of the Alli channel and then post your comments below this video and either Tim or me will give a happy to answer them so I will see you next month with yet another episode. Bye
Tim: Bye everybody.