Category Archives:Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

Self-Publishing an eBook: To Amazon or Not to Amazon? 

In my previous post, The Challenges of Self-Publishing: Why So Many Indie Authors End Up on Amazon or iBooks, I discussed many of the surprising and very real challenges to self-publishing an eBook. These barriers to entry drive most exasperated authors to choose either Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Apple’s iBooks Author.

To their credit, KDP and iBooks make self-publishing super easy. All you need is a Microsoft Word or other word-processing file. These platforms take it from there, generating all the different eReader-friendly formats and transforming your manuscript into a salable eBook in minutes. They handle getting your book available for sale on Amazon or iTunes and all the eCommerce back-end as well—you don’t even need a website of your own.

Sounds great, right? Self-publishing with Amazon or Apple may be easy, but there are significant downsides.

Instead of keeping all the proceeds of each eBook sale, you’ll only get a royalty (technically a commission). Amazon will keep between 30 percent and 65 percent of the price of every book you sell. If you choose the higher royalty option, you’ll be subject to download fees, which can really add up depending on the size of your eBook file. Apple takes a straight 30 percent commission of the sale price of all iBooks sold.

Amazon and Apple effectively set the price of your eBook, not you. You’ll be forced to price your eBook low in order to be competitive with the millions of other eBooks available there, most of which are priced at $5.99 or less. In fact, Amazon not-so-subtly pressures authors to price their books below the $10 price point (often well below it), as low-priced eBooks are the key to selling lots of Kindle devices.

With KDP and iBooks, you’re just another eBook in the sea of self-published eBooks. So your eBook will compete with nearly 1,000,000 other new eBooks on Amazon, and hundreds of thousands on iBooks. How will yours stand out? KDP and Apple are no help to you here. You’ll still need to use a service like BookLife or do your marketing yourself—or both.

If you self-publish with KDP, Amazon has all the power and control. Same goes for iBooks and Apple. Check out self-published author Marcy Kennedy’s great guest post by attorney Kathryn Goldman about the KDP contract. In it, Kathryn highlights a number of concerns you should be vigilant about. (For extra credit, check out Kathryn’s guest post on Marcy’s blog about the critical importance of guarding your copyright.)

You have no control over reviews. And bad Amazon or iBooks reviews can sink your eBook. There. I said it. Every one of us has read a doltish Amazon review that gives an eBook one star because the person’s wifi was out that particular day, or because he or she didn’t know how to resize the text.

While KDP and iBooks market themselves as platforms, not publishers, many of the more frustrating parts and perils of an author–publisher relationship persist. Wouldn’t you prefer to set the price for the book you’ve worked so hard to write, and keep all of the proceeds?

If you build an author website and sell your eBook directly from it, you have 100 percent of the control. You control your message and your brand. You receive every penny of every eBook purchase (less those small pesky PayPal or credit-card processing fees, but that’s sadly unavoidable). You have 24-hour access to site traffic statistics and sales data. You can decide to do a free download period or deliver discount coupons to a particular market and just do it, with no hassle. You can choose to approve (or not approve) reviews that users post to the site.

There are countless articles and services that can help you create your own website, even one with eCommerce. I won’t bore you with them, as I’m sure you possess the Googling skills to find them yourself. But not everyone wants to, and that’s why KDP and iBooks Author are easy solutions for so many people. The vast majority of self-published authors also have day jobs, and after they devote much of their free time to writing, there’s little left over to learn web development or the intricacies of eCommerce.

If this description fits you, and you want the kind of control an author website with eCommerce can provide, a self-publishing consultant may be the answer. They’re experienced in one specific type of web development—strictly author websites. They can handle the whole project, including securing the domain (or not, if you already have one), setting up your eCommerce accounts, designing the site, and copyediting (or even writing) the site’s content. They’re much less expensive than traditional web developers. They can get your website up and running, and enable you to sell your eBook directly to readers, fast. Since they know publishing well, they can provide helpful guidance as you launch your site.

Perrin Davis is a veteran professional book editor and the founder of Three Muses Creative, a self-publishing consultancy. Three Muses offers cradle-to-Kindle (or iPad!) self-publishing services, including all levels of editorial development, consulting, and direct-sales author website creation.

The Challenges of Self-Publishing: Why So Many Indie Authors End Up on Amazon or iBooks

In my previous post, Why Is It So Hard to Get a Book Published?, I discussed the risky nature of publishing and the shockingly low financial benefits that most traditionally published authors receive. But millions more authors never surpass the enormous hurdles that lie in front of selling a book to a publisher. Enter self-publishing.

The advent of eBooks and eReaders completely flipped the financial equation, as the cost to duplicate and deliver an eBook is almost nil in the Internet age. In 2016, it’s estimated that more than 600,000 books will be self-published. Any author can self-publish an eBook, but barriers to success exist: quality issues, publicity and marketing, getting your eBook into a salable format, and making your eBook available for sale to readers.

Quality issues. Trade publishers spend lots of money and time grooming manuscripts prior to publication. The average book is content edited, copyedited, and proofread before it is published. It’s never a good idea to edit or even proofread a book yourself—you’re much too close to the content—and asking a friend to do it will likely yield little benefit.

Good editors are expensive and worth every penny. They will thoroughly vet your book and ask hard questions. They’ll transform the language to make it as reader-friendly as possible. They’ll serve as the reader’s advocate and head off lots of cranky online reviews by addressing holes and inaccuracies before paying customers have a chance to. Plan to spend about $80 to $100 per 1,000 words for content editing (the initial developmental edit, which involves heavy author interaction, lots of back and forth, fact checking, and, frequently, extensive rewrites on the part of author and editor alike), $40 to $60 per 1,000 words for copyediting (a line-by-line check to make sure grammar, punctuation, and spelling are sound), and $20 to $25 per 1,000 words for proofreading (the final look, after the pages are typeset or placed in an eBook format).

Publicity and marketing. Remember, close to a million new eBooks will be either self-published or published by trade houses in 2016. Trade publishers have staff who relentlessly publicize each title they release. You can hire a publicist, but most self-published authors find doing so to be prohibitively expensive.

As a self-publisher, you must do that legwork yourself. It’s up to you to find avenues to your market—bloggers, websites, radio and television programs, speaking engagements, or any other form of publicity—and impress them enough to get your book noticed and written or talked about. You’ll need to flog your eBook on a near-constant basis using every social media channel you have (and create ones you don’t).

If the idea of badgering bloggers doesn’t appeal to you, consider Publishers Weekly’s (PW) BookLife website, which is dedicated to connecting self-published authors with the resources they need (editors, designers, etc.) and handling all the marketing and publicity for an eBook. PW knows publishing, inside and out, and BookLife provides a relatively inexpensive way to get your book noticed with professional polish.

Getting the eBook into salable form. So you have a manuscript in digital form (well, I certainly hope it’s in digital form). A reader can’t download a Microsoft Word file or Google Doc to her Kindle, so how do you get that manuscript into all the different formats necessary to view on different eReaders, tablets, smartphones, and computers (to name a few: AZW4 [Amazon Kindle], EPUB, PDF, iBook, MOBI)? It’s certainly possible to do it yourself, but most self-published authors pay vendors to do it for them.

Making your eBook available for sale to readers. Imagine that you’ve got your eBook all edited, converted into eReader-friendly formats, and ready to go, but either you have no website at all or you have one—say a blog—that doesn’t have eCommerce capabilities. You’d like to sell the eBook on your own website and keep all the proceeds of each sale, but how? You could pay a web developer thousands of dollars to create an author website that enables the sale of the book—or instead you could do what most self-published authors do: Choose Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or iBooks Author.

In my next post, Self-Publishing an eBook: To Amazon or Not to Amazon?, I’ll go into detail about the potential risks and benefits of self-publishing on the Amazon or iBooks platforms, versus doing it yourself with your own author website. If you haven’t already read it and are interested in learning some of the back story of why it’s so hard to get a publishing contract in the first place, check out Why Is It So Hard to Get Published?

Perrin Davis is a veteran professional book editor and the founder of Three Muses Creative, a self-publishing consultancy. Three Muses offers cradle-to-Kindle (or iPad!) self-publishing services, including all levels of editorial development, consulting, and direct-sales author website creation.

Why Is It So Hard to Get a Book Published?

Since the time of Johannes Gutenberg, publishers have held the key to the kingdom. As an author, you or your agent must polish your proposal or manuscript (or both) until it gleams in order to get noticed. You’ll be asked to simultaneously differentiate your book and point to similar titles that have met with success.

Publishing is a tough and risky business. Typically, a book’s publisher takes on most of the financial risk—the book’s editorial development, cover and interior design, printing, shipping, marketing, publicity, and warehousing—and hopes it finds its market and sells. If a bricks-and-mortar bookseller purchases 500 copies of the book wholesale and only sells 200 copies, the bookseller can return the other 300 copies and get every penny paid for them back from the publisher. At any time.

Thus, the decision to acquire a book isn’t made lightly. A publisher must be convinced, either by the author or agent, that the book has a message or valuable content that readers are willing to pay for. Each year, more than 300,000 new books are published in print by trade publishers. (Virtually all of them are also available as eBooks.) Publishers must be confident that the books they acquire will be able to stand out in such an enormous competitive field and find a market.

Let’s say you manage to do just that, and your book is acquired by a trade book publisher. It will be edited, packaged, and marketed by that publisher, and you may well not agree with many of the decisions that are made. Its title will likely be changed. You might get an advance on your royalties, or you might not. And those royalties will probably be somewhere between 8 and 15 percent of the publisher’s net sales, which means based on roughly half the cover price. (In some genres, like romance, you might be looking at more like 5 percent.) Those royalty payments will only come two to four times a year, or not at all if you don’t earn enough royalties to make back an advance.

Some authors write books that sell millions of copies. Even 5 percent of half the cover price of millions of books is a lot of money.

But let’s be honest. The vast majority of books acquired by publishers do not. The average nonfiction book published by a trade publisher sells around 2,000 copies over its publication lifecycle. You can do the math: Let’s say your book has a cover price of $19.95. Its wholesale price would be about $10. If you’re fortunate enough to get a top royalty of 15 percent, that means you’d get $1.50 per book sold. If only 2,000 copies of your book are sold, that’s $3,000—over the entire publication lifecycle.

Self-publishing has shattered this paradigm. If you’re dipping your toe in the self-publishing market—perhaps after getting shut down by trade publishers or being appalled by the financial realities of a publisher’s offer—you need to know about all the risks and all the potential benefits.

To start your journey, check out my follow-up posts, The Challenges of Self-Publishing: Why So Many Indie Authors End Up on Amazon or iBooks and Self-Publishing an eBook: To Amazon or Not to Amazon?

Perrin Davis is a veteran professional book editor and the founder of Three Muses Creative, a self-publishing consultancy. Three Muses offers cradle-to-Kindle (or iPad!) self-publishing services, including all levels of editorial development, consulting, and direct-sales author website creation.