The first obvious issue for any reader of this article is the title, since it strays dramatically from the norm of using “versus” to separate the two mediums. The reason for my word choice is because technology now enables anyone to self-publish for very little out-of-pocket expense.
This still doesn’t imply that self-publishing is not loathed by the major print publishers and upscale indies, along with the agents who support them with submissions, but the rising presence of this electronic medium seems to have created a degree of acquiescence for the digital aspect of self-publishing. I want to reiterate that this newfound tolerance should not be considered akin to support, since the stigma assigned to self-publishing by the mainstream industry remains as strong as ever, and the purpose of this article is solely to try to provide a degree of clarity.
POD is Not Self-Publishing
Print On Demand is confusing to some people, who assume this to connote self-publishing. POD has nothing to do with self-publishing, except that it enables a self-published book to be converted into a hard copy–and at a heretofore unavailable low cost. A single copy in a paperback book, including cover artwork from a template, can be printed for as little as $35, with the entire process taking less than an hour. And an even much shorter time frame is available if the latest technology is used (the “technology” is essentially a sophisticated printer, which I seem to remember has a price tag of around $100,000).
A run of a few hundred copies or less of a book, depending on the purveyor, can reduce the cost to under $10 per unit. According to industry figures, the average self-published book (average in this instance refers to the mode or most common number), sells 41 copies. For someone bent on seeing his or her name in print, I think most folks would agree a single shopping bag full of books is indeed preferential to a garage loaded to the ceiling with them.
Major Royalty Publishers are Utilizing POD
Because of the high cost of distribution and warehousing of non-bestsellers, especially since gross retail sales for a particular title are usually far from a sure thing, it only makes sense that major royalty publishers have embraced the POD model. Publishers can produce an exact replica of a soft-back book on demand–and at a profit–and not have to keep the book in inventory awaiting a consumer buying decision that might never come.
From a business standpoint, the POD model for a soft cover (and probably hard cover in the not too distant future) makes all the sense in the world. This might mean that the few major book retailers still out there will be reduced to kiosks in the mall, and considering the high cost of maintaining large retail space, this dramatic change could occur quite soon.
So What about Self-Publishing?
Self-publishing is changing too. Authors are now being solicited (okay, badgered), via a constant barrage of POD options presented by the self-publishing houses, to buy the books the writers themselves wrote. Rather than once again creating a new business model, it’s much easier for a self-publishing company to access the convenience of POD and not view it as a competitive medium. Unfortunately, self-published writers unwittingly fall for their respective publisher’s constant solicitations and still end up with a trunk full of unsold books (which once again I guess is advantageous to a garage full).
Self-Publishing is Still Self-Publishing
Like leopards not changing their spots, self-publishing is what it is. And my advice is still the same for any writer who has run out of patience and tossed in the towel: self-publish as inexpensively as possible. With E-publishing, a book can be made available with an ISBN number or its counterpart for less than $100 (and closer to $50 in many cases, I’m told). If a hard copy is necessary, the POD element enables this starting at $35 for a single copy. But once an author, and particularly a novelist, elects the self-publishing option, the writer needs to be aware, if it should be desirable at a later date to ply the major royalty publishers, it could be like springing Bernie Madoof and introducing him as the guest of honor at your fundraiser.
Before Self-Publishing, Consider the Regional Independent Publishers
The advance from a major royalty publisher (the big six plus Kensington) for a heretofore unpublished author for a work of fiction is generally in the neighborhood of $20,000. There are, however, some very well-respected independent presses (this “indies” name you’ve been seeing) that are worth looking into after the big guys have sent out their rejection slips. The advances will be smaller, but still in the $1000’s in almost all cases, and a writer might have to do more grassroots marketing (although the majors are requiring this, too, and more so than ever).
Publishers Marketplace is the “Old Reliable”
Publishers Marketplace, via its newsletter Publishers Lunch ( here’s the link to sign up for the daily free Lunch), shows which agents are placing what with whom, and a writer can learn which indies to ply for a specific genre by checking the respective links. A writer can also Google the words “Independent Publishers” and create a list. The problem with this, however, is sifting through the vanity presses that disguise themselves as legitimate royalty houses. This is why I always suggest Publishers Marketplace as the first, and in my opinion, best resource for accurate, concurrent information. But before jumping on the indie express, and to take one more precaution against ending up with that garage full of books I always warn against, I also recommend that authors make a visit to the Predators and Editors Web site ( here’s the link ). This will be time well spent and enable one more snapshot of what can be lurking in the bushes, which can be something with the body of a lamb but with a head that immediately morphs into a hydra the moment the contract is signed.
A Final Word
In fairness to self-publishing history, there are indeed accurate tales about people who have self-published and been wildly successful. But to my knowledge, all had one of two things in common: phenomenal marketing created via a gargantuan Internet presence or a highly successful commercial advertising career. In the nonfiction market, those who made it were also the undisputed experts in their respective niches. Most of us mere mortals aren’t fortunate enough to fit any of these categories, and this is why I keep stressing to self-publish the absolute cheapest way possible, should this be perceived as the only option still available.
Robert L. Bacon, Founder
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