Travel adventure memoirist Pamela J. Olson breaks down the pluses and minuses in detail.
After three and a half years of work, I finished writing a book of travel adventure memoir journalism called Fast Times in Palestine. I spent much of those three and a half years dealing with the publishing industry. In the beginning I got a top-notch agent, developed a book proposal, put together three sample chapters, and sent them off to the Big Boys in New York.
Two of the publishers asked for five more chapters each. But between their asking and my finishing, the financial crisis hit, and it was pretty much crickets after that. In the meantime I racked up several kind rejections that all said pretty much the same thing: “Love the story, love the writing, I just don’t know where to position this or how to market it.”
. . . .
I tried my luck with smaller publishers, and two offered to publish my book. I hired a consultant to look over the contracts, and I gave them both a great deal of thought. But in the end, as a first-time author with a genre-bending book about which I am deeply passionate, I decided it didn’t make sense to publish on their terms. And I’m not convinced a major publisher would have been much better. Here’s why.
Basically, here’s what a publishing house offers:
An advance. Ah, the lure of the six-figure advance. Everyone dreams about it. I certainly made a few fantasy plans about what I would do with it. But in reality, publishing houses are giving less and less to untested authors, and of course it’s only an advance against royalties. The vast majority of authors never earn out their advance, which means that’s all you get. And $25,000 (if you’re lucky) for three years of work puts you waaaaaay below the poverty line. (Small publishers rarely give any advance at all.)
. . . .
Another point to consider: A lot of publishing houses are cutting costs in part by cutting the quality of editing, and many won’t take on a book unless it already looks almost ready to go. In fact, many people who get published in New York had to hire their own editor to even get their manuscript in good enough shape to be considered by an acquisitions editor. So you may end up doing a lot of your own editing regardless of what happens.
. . . .
Publicity. New and midlist authors are stuck doing the vast majority of their own publicity even at major publishers. Only the mega-best-sellers get advertising dollars and serious public relations pushes.
Distribution. There’s no doubt publishers have the best chance of scatter-shotting your work to all corners of the country in a relatively short time. But most people buy their books online, and you can sell on Amazon just as easily as anyone else. It can be disappointing not to see your book in many bookstores, but keep in mind most new and midlist authors don’t get good placement in bookstores anyway. A few spine-out copies in a back corner aren’t going to do much for your sales numbers.
The worst part about signing with a publisher is that if you don’t make a splash in the first few weeks, they simply move on to the next book in their line-up, and your book languishes indefinitely with virtually no support at all. And your own creative marketing options are limited. Because you don’t own the words, you can’t decide when, where, or at what cost to sell them. You can’t even do giveaways without permission.
. . . .
Meanwhile, here’s what publishers take away from you when you sign with them:
Creative freedom. If they want to stick you with a hideously ugly, inappropriate cover design, they can. If they want you to take out the kissing scene, they can make you do it. They always hold the power because you can’t opt out of the deal unless the publisher breaches the contract or the book goes out of print (a slippery concept in a world of eBooks and print-on-demand, and it can take months or years for it to kick in).
. . . .
Rights to your words. Once you’ve signed on the dotted line with a publishing house, you no longer own your words. You can’t use them or post them or give them away whenever you feel like it. You might have an opinion, but you won’t have much of a say.
Control of timing. With a mainstream publisher, it will take at least a year from signing the contract to seeing it on the shelves. And that’s assuming you get a deal, which itself can take months if not years. Then the publisher can put you anywhere in her stack of priorities. She can promise a May release only to realize a similar book will be released at the same time and push it back six months. And so on.
With self-publishing, if you want it published in April, it will be published in April. See how that works?
Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review