In a week’s time I will be sending my book to a printer. I will get several hundred paperbacks delivered to my house, I will sell them on my website and I will post them to customers myself. There will be no publisher involved.
This is a conscious decision and here’s why…
Working with a publisher
In 2011, I wrote my first book and went through a publisher. It felt like a success just being accepted but I remember being surprised by the terms in the contract: effectively, I would get 5% of the sales price.*
I checked with a friend in publishing and was told that this was a fairly typical rate. It means that if you buy my book for £12.00 in Waterstones or on Amazon, I get 60p.
Here is a typical breakdown:
|Contribution to author||£0.60|
Twelve pound sale price. Sixty pence for the author.
Making money was never the primary motivation for writing my books but it seems mad to get so little in return for all of that effort into a product (18 months for the first book, over two years for the new one).
*Technically, I get 10% of what the publisher sells the book to a shop for. That’s usually around 50% of the sales price, hence I get around 5%.
If I sell my new book for £12.00 through my website, I’ll get closer to £6.00 from each sale.
Here’s the breakdown for selling my self-published book:
By self-publishing, I get roughly ten times the amount I would get if I went through a publisher.
For reference, for the electronic version of my book I have set the price to generate a similar contribution: £7.00 sale price, £6.74 contribution.
There are a few overheads associated with self-publishing that I didn’t have with a publisher. For example, a designer for the front cover and review copies for magazines/websites. However, they will easily be covered within the first 50 sales (which I’ve already had in pre-orders).
So, if self-publishing is so much more lucrative, why does anyone still use a traditional publisher?
**Printing cost is approximate for now. It depends on the final page count and the quantity I order, which depends on how many pre-orders I get.
Why use a publisher?
Here are some benefits to having a publisher:
If you go through a publisher, you will probably have help editing the book. Of course, even if you are self-publishing, you can still pay for an editor.
(As it happens, I received no editing worth mentioning from the publisher with my first book but have been much more thorough with the editing for my new one).
An advance is money paid to the author before their book is published, which is subsequently deducted from their profits after publication. It is not an extra payment, it is just payment upfront.
I doubt a publisher would have offered me an advance, but it would be of little interest since I am not in a hurry for cash.
Some will see having your book published as a stamp of approval or a guarantee of basic quality. You can pretty much self-publish anything, even if it is rubbish, whereas a published book will at least have met some basic criteria.
However, I don’t think the bar for traditional publication is high, particularly with travel books. If I was worried that my book was not good enough to get published then I would have spent more time on it to ensure it was.
4. Book shops
A good publisher will get your book sold in every shop on the high street. In contrast, a self-published book will probably only be available online.
The increase in online sales (e.g. through Amazon) have drastically reduced the importance of book shops but, for many, this will be a big stumbling block.
For me, however, I don’t think it’s too big a deal. I currently sell 50 books through my website for every one that gets sold in a book shop. Also, there are dozens of books about people who have been on big cycling trips. I would love to think that mine is the best and would immediately jump out as such but, realistically, it would probably just be one cycling book amongst many in a shop.
Self-publishing is for the way for me
Not long after having my first book published, I concluded that I would probably self-publish next time.
I still went back and did the research after finishing my new book though. I thought about it long and hard, compared costs and contributions for all sorts of permutations, but ultimately decided that self-publishing is a far better option for me.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Are you more likely to hesitate before buying a self-published book? Do you like buying through an author’s website or do you prefer the known quantity of Amazon / your local book shop?
My new book (self-published), With the Sun on Our Right, is about the people we met while cycling 13,000 miles around the world. Pre-order your copy here.
My first book (traditionally published), How to Get to the North Pole: and Other Iconic Adventures, is a guide to undertaking seven different expeditions. You can buy a copy here.
With the Sun on Our Right
Now available for pre-order!
The full story of Tim and Laura’s 13,000-mile round-the-world cycle
330 pages plus 8 pages of colour photographs
Order now for delivery in May
I agree with your point that a book from a publisher is “a stamp of approval or a guarantee of basic quality.” Unfortunately there are so many poorly written self published cycle travelogues available on Amazon that receive 4 and 5 star reviews. (the phrase “sock puppet review” comes to mind…)
As a reader – I don’t check to see if a book has been self-published or brought out via a publishing house. Nowadays there are so many good writers self publishing for precisely the reasons you mentioned in your article.
What I personally check for in a book is a professional looking front cover. If the cover looks a bit amateuristic – then you can bet that the writer hasn’t bothered to get their book edited / proofread.
Then after that – I go to the author’s website to read the quality of writing on their blog. If that’s also good – then I’ll be interested in reading their book.
It’s more the coffee table photo book / guides that really benefit from being published professionally. Two examples come to mind, https://www.amazon.com/One-Year-Bike-Amsterdam-Singapore/dp/3899559061/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523281941&sr=1-4-fkmr0&keywords=martijn+doolerd and https://www.amazon.com/Escape-Bike-Adventure-Bikepacking-Off-Road/dp/0500293503/ref=sr_1_129?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523278188&sr=1-129&keywords=bicycle+touring To put such a book together you need the help of a professional book designer. Plus these are the types of books that non-cyclists stumble across in bookshops and then decide to give them as a present to a cycling friend.
And something else; what I was surprised to read is that you are having so many books printed. Friedel Grant of the Bike Touring Survival Guide told me that the vast majority of her book sales comes from e-books (95% digital and 5% paper – if I remember correctly.) For her second edition – she has yet to bring out a paper version of the guide.
Thanks for the thoughtful response.
I agree about the poorly written books on Amazon getting 4 and 5 star reviews (often more and higher than, say, Bill Bryson or a Booker winner). It’s led me to conclude that Amazon reviews are not a good measure of quality.
That’s really interesting that you judge books by their covers. It makes me even more glad that I followed advice and paid a designer to make mine.
As for hard vs soft copy, my guide books sales are 94% ebooks and 6% paperback. But they lend themselves to being read on a computer and my customers are typically people who have Googled ‘north pole expedition’ or ‘ocean rowing book’. I imagine Friedel’s book is similar (e.g. searching ‘bike touring guide’).
In contrast, this book is a story and lots of the ‘customers’ will be friends and family, who I guessed would be more keen on having a physical copy. I will also sell it at events and after talks, which is easier with a hard copy.
Based on pre-orders received so far, the ratio is 30% ebooks, 70% paperbacks.
Andrew P. Sykes
I don’t disagree with anything that you have said above. It’s a shame that the publishing industry have not responded to the ability of authors to cost-effectively self-publish both electronically and via the traditional physical product and improved their terms. I learnt how to self-publish the hard way, by making the mistakes that you outline – not forensically proof-reading the text and not dedicating (initially at least) sufficient time and money to the design of the books – but when offered the chance to be ‘properly’ published, it was too tempting an offer to turn down. And the book that came out of the process was a much improved product albeit much less lucrative. Would I turn down the offer to be published again? Probably not because in the back of my mind lurks that tantalising carrot that one day I might be the next Bill Bryson or Tim Moore. Unlike my detractors, I never dismissed the possibility of selling thousands of books (it happened) or being accepted by a publisher (it happened). I haven’t yet dismissed the possibility of hitting the big time and becoming a full-time author who makes his living from doing just that. It might happen…
As for reviews… I think the world is now very wary of how the online system of feedback can be used and abused and Amazon (for example) does make efforts to police this. I have never entered the murky world of fake reviews but it’s inevitable that some reviewers will be kinder than others simply because they have a personal connection with the author. I have never gone further than suggesting to people, if they have given me feedback via social media or in an email, that they might like to put their thoughts in an online review (does that illegitimise it?).
I am contacted from time to time by people wanting to know ‘how to get published’. When replying to them I always make a point of stating that the tricky thing is not in getting published; the biggest challenge by far, is in writing something that people might want to read in the first place. Spend 90% of your time and effort doing that and the ‘how to get published’ question will be far easier to answer.
Good luck with the new book. Look forward to picking up a copy at the festival in May.
Thanks Andrew. That’s a really thoughtful, interesting response.
Good on you for ignoring the naysayers. From talking to you, it certainly sounded like the editing process was really valuable. And I can see why, if becoming a full-time author is the goal, working with a publisher holds a greater attraction.
See you in May.
I’m glad you included a section on the benefits of working with a publisher – I was worried this was going to be too polemic! Having self-published four books (two printed and two digital) and currently working with a publisher on my fifth, I agree fully with you that it’s far from black and white which way is ‘best’. There are pros and cons to each, and it has a lot to do with what the book is about, what kind of profile you have, who the publisher is, and what your ambitions are as an author.
Also, It’s very, very easy to look at the numbers (ie: 5% vs 60% royalty on the cover price) and assume that publishing companies are taking the piss. They generally aren’t, and it doesn’t take much to find out how narrow the margins are (no pun intended). Most published books make a loss and most printed books get pulped. Sad but true.
Another point is that the time cost and the cash cost of producing a book are shared disproportionately between author and publisher. You might spend two years writing a book for little more than the cost of the electricity your laptop consumed. A small publisher on the other hand might spend a few weeks critiquing, copy-editing, typesetting, cover-designing, proofreading, printing, shipping, distributing, marketing and publicising a book (not to mention paying your advance) at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds. With a financial picture like that it’s suddenly a bit easier to understand why publishers need to recoup through sales….
Looking forward to reading your book in any case!
Thanks for the comment. Great to hear that you’ve got a publisher lined up for your new book.
As for the article, there’s nothing polemic in there. I’ve not put anything against traditional publishing (only positives) and not put anything in favour of self-publishing (only numbers).
Similarly, I’ve not taken a view on whether the publishers’ percentages are ‘taking the piss’ or reasonable. I’m just stating the numbers.
I’m glad you mentioned all of the other things that publishers do (designing, distributing, marketing etc). Given the faff I’m going through at the moment doing those very things, I should have mentioned that as a big plus for traditional publishing. I suppose it’s for the author to decide if those jobs are worth the ‘tens of thousands of pounds’ they cost the publisher (and thus, indirectly, the author). In my case, I decided not, but I am sure it will be worth it for others.
I don’t think it’s true that most published books run at a loss. I am sure it happens in some cases but companies wouldn’t take on a book, or any other product, if they thought it would make a loss. Indeed, the crucial point for a publisher in deciding whether or not to take on a book is surely whether they think it will make a profit.
Best of luck with writing book number five!
Hi Tim. I’m no author (and barely a reader!) but these are my thoughts on your survey questions.
I’m no less likely to buy a book just because it’s self published. In fact, I may not even realise one way or the other. I would get frustrated by poor editing and proof reading, and I’m not sure working with a publisher necessarily fixes that.
If I have a “personal” link to the book (like I’ve discovered it by a bit of effort and not from a long list, or I’ve read the author’s blog) then I’d actually seek out the author’s website to try and ensure the author gets best returns. I do the same thing with music. But if I was browsing books on Amazon, or in a book shop, I’d probably just buy it there from convenience.
I’m probably just a bit weird! But I hope that’s of interest. I’m off to order a paperback copy of your round the world book, within which I’m particularly interested in how you managed your depression. Very impressive!
Thanks Pauli. That’s really helpful, and exactly what I hoped!
Thanks for the useful information. It is still an aim in my life to write a book! Interestingly I’ve always leaned towards self-publishing (when the time comes) rather than using a publisher. When it comes to purchasing books myself, I much prefer buying directly from the author than a high street shop. A self-published book tells me that the author has most likely made a lot more effort with their book, and I’m happier knowing a larger sum of the profit ends up in their pocket.
Some of the best travel books I’ve read are self-published. Let’s see if your new one will fit the bill – I’m starting it today!
Thanks Kelly. That’s an interesting perspective and I am sure those self-published authors appreciate you going to them directly. I do!
Good luck with that life aim.