OK, I think I am ready to write this. As ever, please excuse the odd typo, the books are professionally edited, but the website isn’t.
What’s the Difference Between Traditional Publishing, and Self-Publishing?
What, in terms of what actually happens, is the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing?
And what is the difference between assisted self-publishing and vanity publishing?
You could be forgiven for thinking that traditional publishing is the Holy Grail. But just getting a publishing deal does not mean you have “arrived” and you are by no means guaranteed to be rich. Far from it. Nor will you be immune to having to do a lot of hard work.
You may have decided that self-publishing is the route for you. You can’t face the rejection process, you’re not a TV celebrity, or you just can’t wait around to see your book in print. I did, and I don’t regret it. But boy did I make a lot of mistakes along the way. I still am making them!
Or you may want to have the creative control of self-publishing, without all the stress of having to learn every stage of the process. Getting experienced professionals to handle the production and distribution, while you focus on the fun stuff like writing the book and selling copies to friends and family.
Each of these routes is a viable way into print and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Of these, the one I admit to knowing the least about is traditional publishing. However, here’s what I do know.
Benefits of traditional publishing
The first andmost obvious benefit is, cachet or kudos. You have goen through a fierce selection process, some would call it a rejection process, and come out at the end a winner. You have run the guantlet of agents and comissioning editors, partial requests, full requests, and publishing deal offers, and you made it to the end. Hands clasped and raised in victory, you dance the happy dance of the published author.
Traditionally published authors do not have to find an editor, or a typsetter, or a cover designer. They don’t have to find the best price for printing, or worry about how many books to print. The publisher takes care of all that.
Trad authors don’t have to produce a marketing plan, or an AI sheet, or send out ARCS, or handle distribution, or stand in freezing market halls to sell their books. They get given a few free copies of their book when it is printed. They will even sometimes receive copies of the book in French or German or Japanese, if it does well.
Trad authors GET PAID up front. It’s not always very much. In some cases, especialy with very small presses, the payment is zero. But, unlike musicians signign record deals, they are not asked to pay any of that money back even if the book doesn’t sell. That’s a risk the publisher takes.
Drawbacks of Traditional Publishing
You don’t have much, if any, artistic control once you have signed over the rights. You may well still own the copyright, but the publisher can edit the MS, they have final say on the cover art, and the blurb, and how the book is marketed. Everything. If you write historical fiction, a publisher may not care as much as you do about anachronisms. That Edwardian dress on the cover of your Regency set novel may make you scream, but you can’t do a thing about it.
Although you don’t have to produce a marketing plan, you will still be required to attend events, book signings, etc. as part of the marketing plan that the publisher has made. They may assign you a member of their team to liase, but you are not off the hook completely.
You do get paid up front but, unless you’ve got a fantastic reputation, it won’t be much, and the subsequent royalties can be as low as 1.5% on rrp. One million books at £10 each would still give you £150,000 at that rate, but don’t count on selling that many books. It is staggeringly unlikely. I believe (though I may be wrong) that about 5% is the upper end of royalty rates for trad authors.
Benefits of Self-Publishing
Self-publishers have complete artistic control at all times. They get to chose their editor, they can play around with the layout until they are happy with it, they get to decide on the cover art, either doing it themselves, or engaging a cover designer, and they can write their own blurb.
Self-publishing authors can make a much bigger royalty on their own books. even using PoD (print on demand) like KDP and IngramSpark, you can earn about 10%-50% per book sold, and there are few or no up-front costs involved. (IngramSpark has a set-up cost per book. This can be eliminated with ALLi membership* using a spceial discount code.) *Affiliate link
When it comes to printing, you should be able to print a B&W paperback novel that would retail for £10 for about £2-£4 each on runs as low as 100-300, so you can expect 50%-80% profit – that’s your royalty rate!
You can produce a Kindle edition (and other ebooks formats for other platforms if you want to) and make extra money there for zero outlay.
Drawbacks of Self-Publishing
You won’t get rich; you may even lose money.
Having that artistic control means you have to learn all these skills of layout, design, editing, etc. Or risk producing a very poor quality unprofessional book that will embarrass you for years to come. I speak from experience!
You are paying for everything! So if you engage professionals, e.g. editor, graphic designer, cover atist, etc. it is going to cost you up front. Most self-publishing writers who make money from their work spend several thousand pounds on production. Thos who do not, usually don’t sell many books beyond their immediate circle of friends and family.
You have to decide on the print run. If you print more books they cost less per book to print. But if you print too many you could end up with boxes of unsold books that you paid for.
Low volumes. You are unlikely to sell more than about 300 physical copies of your self-published book. Any more than that puts you firmly into bestseller territory. You will need that exxtra income per book to cover your set-up costs.
Benefits of Assisted Self-Publishing
First, let’s be clear, this does not include “Vanity publishing” which often describes itself as assisted self-publishing.
Here is the difference as I see it, and I do have skin in this game so you don’t HAVE to trust me if you don’t want to.
Vanity publishers; take control of distribution, and they own your rights for a fixed period. They charge an up-front fee to you for production costs and printing costs that is typically several thousand pounds, and the deal allows you a small number, perhaps twelve or twenty, of author copies. You may also buy copies at a special author rate. That is to say, you are being permitted to buy copies of the book that YOU paid to have printed. Some of these companies are worse than others. The worst of these are flagged up in ALLi’s free Self-Publishing Advice website. (We’re too small to even get a rating).
Assisted Self-Publishing; is similar to self-publishing, in that you retain control and you still pay for everything. However, you also still own your books. Blue Poppy Publishing is that type of business. When an author has paid to have 100 or 300 or 1,000 books printed, they OWN those books. Blue Poppy stores them and handles distribution for as long as they want them to. If they decide to take over, they can claim all their remaining stock back.
Assisted self-publishing gives you the cachet of having a publisher. Most people don’t know the differnce between a self-publishing imprint and a traditional publisher. The Blue Poppy Publishing name, and logo combined with the quality production, makes you look like a proper published author.
You don’t have to handle distribution. Blue Poppy provides an ISBN, sends off the legal deposit books, and handles distribution through Nielsen and the wholesaler gardners. Shops can, in theory, order your book.
You are still free to produce a KDP edition, etc. If you want to sell the ebook on Amazon, you can set that up yourself alongside the print run. (though there’s a lot to be said for waiting until the print run is almost sold out before putting the book on Amazon. Local bookshops like the exclusivity.
Drawbacks of Assited Self-Publishing
The biggest drawback is if you mistake a dodgy vanity publisher for something like Blue Poppy. There are loads of small publishers like me springing up. I’m sure that all have come up with a similar idea independently because its time has come. Just be sure to check the terms of the arrangement. I don’t provide a contract, but I do explain the deal clearly to anyone who asks. Also, and I may be unique in this particular thing, I never take any money from anyone until my job is done and we are ready to go to print.
The other drawbacks are similar to those of self-publishing. Low volumes, high up front costs and the need for you to do a lot of hard work on marketing. Expect to sell 100-300 copies of your book, mostly to friends and family. The best will do better because of word of mouth, but nothing isguaranteed. You will probably lose money, but by avoiding some of the more costly errors, hopefully, the risk of losing money will be reduced.