I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but what pushed me to it this time was Hugh Howey’s excellent post about Brenna Aubrey who turned down a six-figure contract deal to self-publish, and found the gamble worked. Sure, her spectacular results are atypical, but I wanted to answer Hugh’s points about self-publishing with a caveat. I have (and will continue to) self-publish, but I also work with publishers. Not the traditional big houses, but small-digital press. Here’s why.
Investment. Brenna spend just over $1800 dollars on the production of the book. Hugh’s point is well taken.
This is a reasonable sum, and should be seen as both an inexpensive hobby, and a paltry start up cost for a small business.
I would add, however, that sometimes an author doesn’t have $1800 dollars (or even the $1000 I tell authors is near the minimum if they self-publish) to invest in just the production of the book. If you do not have at least this much money to invest, you should not self-publish. A small press may be the answer, in part because the shoulder these costs (editing, a cover, and formatting) for you, and since they do them in house, they likely cost them less than what an individual would pay.
Very few books make money. Most self-published books make less than $100. If you have $1800 dollars invested, that is a lousy return, and you have a moderately expensive hobby. However, if you work with a small press it is in their interest as well as yours to promote your work. Simply put, they at least want their money back, in other words your novel to earn what they paid to bring it to market. So although they do not market for you, they will do some things to promote your work, and you can send readers to their website or groups to find your work. For a debut author, this may be an answer.
Hugh’s second point is that pound for pound, self-publishing pays more. True. But this is also a part of a simple business premise. Pay now, or pay later. If you can invest both the time and money needed to self-publish, your return will be better long term. However, if you do not have the money to invest up front, you can pay later by giving up a portion of your royalties to a small press for a few years at least.
This leads to Hugh’s third fact: it is all about ownership. One of the big downsides to the big five is two issues: a non-compete clause (something you should never, ever sign) and the length of their contracts, often seemingly indefinite. My novel Stray Ally will be published by Tirgearr Publishing (a small, digital press) March 4th. The contract is relatively short (5 years) and if I am dissatisfied at the end of it, the rights revert back to me. Also, with a small press you will likely have more input into editing and cover design than you would with a larger house (if you want it).
The final fact presented is that a lot of luck is involved. This is true no matter what path you take. One thing I have observed about authors almost universally is the ones who invest time and money in their work and treat it like a business (it is) tend to be luckier. By using a small press, you can take what precious money you have and invest it in advertising and promotions. Use what works for others, and hire professionals if need be.
Small houses have already seen the light big houses have not. They don’t demand you sign non-compete clauses (I don’t sign one of those when I edit for small presses), pay higher royalties for ebook sales and keep prices lower, and have contracts limited to a number of years.
More writers should be as brave as Brenna. As Hugh has also stated, the Work is the Work, the Path is the Path. Self-publish, work with small presses, or do a little of both (like me). But get your work out there, and together lets change the publishing world.