IDEASMYTH Writer’s Ed—Self-Publishing

Many of my clients ask me often about the pros/cons of self-publishing. I do believe that if you are clear about your reasons, it CAN be worth it–and if you already have a very loyal fan base of over 5-figures, you may even make some money. However, while we all have read articles about the scrappy self-published author who eventually wins over a Madison Avenue publisher, THAT’s why you’ve read about them: those cross-over success stories are still so rare, they’re newsworthy. I do predict that the future will have more and more self-publishing options but for now, I do believe that any author having to go through convincing an agent and then a publisher that their project is worthy of their speculative time and money to sell is a process that makes the book better and the author more money–for now. While this writer BELOW is more adamant than I am, here are some of the most compelling reasons to think twice before self-publishing (thanks to

Whether it be through Xlibris or any other vanity press I would urge anyone to consider the following ten facts about self-publishing:

1) No money. If you want to earn a profit, subsidy publishing isn’t the answer. Costs may run to thousands of pounds, while royalties range from 10% to (in rare cases) 40%.

Let’s do the math. You spend $10,000 for publication, and receive 15% royalties on “net” sales (the amount received after discounts). Your book is priced at $10.95, but often sold at a 50% bookstore discount. This means you’ll receive 15% of 50% of $10.95 — or 82 cents per book. Thus, you must sell more than 12,000 copies (a staggering number even by commercial terms) just to regain your investment — before you see a penny of profit!

2) No bookstore distribution. When was the last time you saw a subsidy imprint in a bookstore? Bookstores rarely carry subsidy titles. But if your book isn’t in stores, it isn’t reaching the vast majority of book-buying customers — for this is the one place people who have never heard of you can “discover” your title.

Your book may be listed in online bookstores such as and Barnes and Noble, because any book with an ISBN can be included in an electronic catalog. Unless customers know about your title in advance, however, they’ll have no reason to look for it.

3) No library distribution. Like bookstores, libraries rarely invest in subsidy-published books. This cuts off another opportunity for readers to “discover” your work.

4) No reviews. Most book reviewers ignore subsidy titles. In addition, subsidy publishers often send out only a limited number of review copies, and expect you to pay for any additional copies. This greatly limits the opportunities for people to “find out” about your book.

5) No publicity. Most subsidy publishers promise a certain amount of advertising. This is rarely in the place you need it most, however. For example, if your book covers women’s health issues, don’t expect it to be advertised in health magazines, women’s magazines, or other publications that target prospective readers. The general rule about publicity for subsidy-published books is that if you want it, you must do it yourself — at your cost.

6) No editorial screening. Most subsidy publishers do not accept books on the basis of quality or marketability, but simply on the author’s willingness to pay. This is the primary reason that such books have such a poor reputation with reviewers, genre organizations, bookstores, distributors, and consumers. In addition, many subsidy publishers offer little or no editorial assistance, publishing books “as delivered.” While some authors relish the idea of “no editorial interference” with their vision, rare is the book that couldn’t benefit from the suggestions of a good editor — not to mention copyediting and proofreading.

7) No industry acceptance. Most writing guilds and associations won’t accept a subsidy-published book as a qualification for membership, or for consideration for an industry or genre award. To qualify, a book must be “commercially published” (as defined by sales figures or an advance).

8) No ownership. Do you simply want a book to distribute to family and friends? If so, subsidy publishing isn’t the answer. You’ll usually receive no more than ten free “author copies;” if you want more, you’ll have to buy them. This means you pay for your book twice: Once to publish it, and again to obtain extra copies. Authors usually receive a 40% discount, but some subsidy publishers don’t pay royalties on sales to the author.

9) No subsidiary rights sales. This varies from publisher to publisher. Some subsidy presses openly acknowledge that they are in no position to exploit subsidiary rights (such as movie, audio, electronic, or translation rights). Others, however, issue a “standard industry contract” claiming those rights — or demand that the author pay them a percentage of any such rights that the author happens to sell. Review your contract carefully, and never sign away rights that your publisher won’t actually use; don’t accept the argument that such a transfer is “standard” in the industry.

10) No respect. While many authors have been successful with self-published books, subsidy publishing is rarely a stepping-stone to fame. The reading, writing, book buying, and publishing communities regard subsidy publishing as the last resort of the truly desperate — i.e., of authors who can’t get their work published any other way. This means that no matter how good your book is most consumers will assume that it is of poor quality and won’t give it a chance to “prove itself.” If you’re a serious author, therefore, keep in mind that subsidy publishing is more likely to damage your reputation than to enhance it.

In closing I would like to add, although it may seem heavily weighted, short cutting the checks and balances system of the publishing industry just to see your name is print is paramount to sending roses to yourself on Valentines Day. You want to get published, write better.

Mick Lexington


Ever bestly,


10 Jan 2009

“Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” ~Charles Mingus

~ The Independent Project Workshop: The Best is Yet TK (8 Tuesdays starting Jan 27th)
~ Group Creativity Coaching: for People Playing While They Progress (10 Mondays starting Feb 2nd)

Victoria C. Rowan
Creatrix-in-Chief, IDEASMYTH
Desk: 212-842-5956; Cell: 917-716-7587

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