It's time to get your book published. You may have been offered a contract by a traditional publisher. Or you may be considering a self-publishing company. Maybe you plan to be a true self-publisher taking complete personal control of your book's publication. Before you go any further, ask yourself a simple question: What’s in it for me?
Wise authors have become comparison shoppers. Weighing all of the factors in each route to market, which is the best deal for you?
Set up a spreadsheet in which you can make a side-by side comparison of your options. Here are some things you’ll want to include in your comparison:
Book Production Costs
When you self-publish you may incur costs if you get professional help with editing and book design. Even if you do all of the work yourself you will likely have some printing costs, even with print-on-demand.
What is the publisher offering as an initial payment to purchase your book?
Look not only at what you will earn per book. If you go with a traditional publisher, you won’t earn royalties until the book has earned enough to cover the advance you were paid. How many books must you sell before you reach the level when you begin to receive royalties?
Who sets the price? (This is particularly important with some self-publishing companies and some small presses.) If the cover price is too high your book will not be competitive with comparables. Sales of your book may not be the publisher’s highest priority. (See below)
Which Rights Are you Selling? And for How Long?
Mark Levine’s excellent book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing does a fine job of making this comparison for self-publishing companies. It is equally important to consider the issue of rights with traditional publishers, particular some of the smaller “traditional” publishers who are parts of larger media companies. They may be seeking to buy all rights to your book which will then find its way onto websites, into anthologies, appear as part of an ebook and in a variety of other channels. If you aren’t careful you won’t be compensated for these ancillary uses of your book.
If the publisher takes the book out of print do you have the right to take it elsewhere? If you are unhappy with a self-publishing company’s service can you take your book elsewhere?
Having any contract reviewed by an intellectual property lawyer can help you avoid surrendering rights you may not even be aware of.
One of the supposed advantages of having a publisher is that the publisher will make sure your book gets the widest possible distribution. What exactly will the publisher do to distribute your book? Can you do those things yourself? Can you hire someone to do them for you?
Publicity, Promotion, and Marketing
What will the company do to get the word out about your book?
With a traditional publisher this means, what can you expect the marketing department to do to get stores to order your book? How will publicists create a buzz through media placement, advertising, social media, etc.? A key question is, what’s the budget for marketing and publicity?
What will the company expect you to do? Authors, even successful writers with a track record, are finding that traditional publishers are requiring them to take an increasing share of the responsibility for marketing and publicity. If that’s the case, do you need the publisher?
With self-publishing companies you’ll want to do a cost benefit analysis of the often high-priced marketing packages they offer. Look critically at whether these packages will really create a buzz about your book. Generally, they do not.
What are you willing and able to do to promote and market your book yourself? Can you hire someone to do it for you?
Having a good understanding of what each possible road to publication offers will allow you to choose what’s best for you. If you are dealing with a traditional publisher it may help you negotiate a better deal. If you are self-publishing it may help you decide whether you will be better off truly self-publishing or using a self-publishing company. The more you know and understand the better business deal you can make.