You don’t have to venture very far into the publishing arena to experience the fray over traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Each option has its pros and cons, and a route that’s right for one author may not be the best choice for another.
Within the self-publishing community, there’s no shortage of complaints about The Big 5 (traditional publishers) — low or no advances, dwindling marketing support, short print life. The list goes on. But we’re not here to argue those points. Today’s post is about your due diligence — educating yourself about publishing options so you can make an informed decision about what’s right for you and your book.
If you’re new to publishing and you’re hearing lots of trash talk about “greedy” traditional publishers, I want to first remind you that publishing is a business. Just like your grocery store is a business, the daycare where you take your kids is a business, and that place where you buy your new iPhone is a business. If they don’t make money, they don’t exist to continue providing you with goods and services.
So today I want you to step into the publisher’s shoes for a few moments, to hopefully increase your appreciation for the considerations that go into accepting a book for publication.
How Many People Does it Take to Make a Book?
My “other job” boss, Dan Blank, is a regular contributor on the Writer Unboxed blog. Back in May, he wrote a post titled The Trap of Your Comfort Zone. The main point of the post was to explore whether writers and creative professionals should be consistently placing themselves outside their comfort zone in order to achieve success. He presented this in the context of the three stages of an author’s journey — writing, publishing, and developing an audience.
I’m referencing Dan’s post, because in discussing publishing and comfort, Dan included a list–courtesy of his friend, editor Emma Dryden–of different people within a publishing company who typically read and/or work on an author’s book in some capacity before, during or after the book is published. There are 41 people on this list, and it doesn’t even include sales representatives, administrative staff, or support people. Be sure to check out Dan’s post–after you finish this one, of course.
Those 41 people represent a significant financial investment. If you paid for that much labor, wouldn’t you want to be sure the product you produced was going to succeed?
How Much Does it Cost to Make a Book?
Another post I urge you to read is Jane Friedman’s How Publishers Make Decisions about What to Publish: The Book P&L. In the article introduction, Jane writes:
P&L. Profit and loss. However you refer to it, the P&L is a publisher’s basic decision-making tool for determining whether a book makes financial sense to publish.
I love this article, because Jane offers a sample P&L process, complete with a sample worksheet (with numbers!). Jane walks step by step through the process, from the perspective of the publisher, in evaluating the profit potential of a book. She even includes a link at the end of the article to her sample worksheet you can use to run your own numbers.
Of course, a self-publishing project won’t involve 41+ people, nor will it incur costs as high as those referenced in Jane Friedman’s article. But for all the labor and the costs, traditional publishing still comes with more expertise and resources (consider the distribution element alone) than are available in self-publishing. Which brings us back around to pros and cons of each option.
As you explore your publishing options, do your research. If you’ve heard traditional publishers are greedy and will do nothing for you, take some time to step in their shoes before you assume that will be true for you.