It’s every author’s dream. Their grand idea of a story, the one they nurture as if it were an only child, is going to make them millions. It’s going to be beloved by all critics and reviewers alike because hey, it’s yours. The author will be rolling in the dough and wiping their toosh with 20 dollar bills. Well, let’s get our heads out of the La La Land, and get back to the land of the real, Neo.
I recently just published my first picture book, Priscilla and the Sandman. After months of research and emailing publishers and agents, I decided to self-publish. I am by no means an expert on this subject but I will explain and share with you what I learned to you in this short article of why I decided to do self-publish.
Like many authors out there, I thought my book was the most awesome, most unique, most different and beautiful. I thought that everybody will love it once they pick it up. Heck, I still do! I thought there would be no way agents and publishers would pass it up because it is just too good. So to start, I started looking for agents and publishers. I researched the agents and publishers that liked similar books and found publishers that had similar books geared towards similar ages. Well, after sending out 50-100 emails to these researched agents and publishers, I got very few responses. In a nutshell, “No”.
What I’ve learned from this experience is, unless you are a somebody already, it’s very unlikely to even get your foot in the door. I’m a new author under a pen name, and I have yet to build up any kind of following or audience. I was, or am still, a nobody. Had I had a few thousand likes on a fan page or a blog with thousands of followers, it may have turned some heads or at the very least, gotten more responses. However, the truth of this can’t be confirmed at this point. When I get a few thousand followers and a new book, I’ll write an update.
At the same time of me wasting my time emailing uninterested parties, I kept doing research on why I should publish vs. self-publish. I stumbled upon a video on YouTube that really struck some chords with me. The video had a panel of a few authors of different genres. Some were published and some were self-published. In the video, a self-published author mentioned stats which I can’t necessarily confirm or verify validity.
The first chord struck when the woman in the video mentioned that only 10 percent of authors at a publishing house make a whopping 90 percent of the publisher’s profit. On the flipside, the other 90 percent of authors make only a tiny 10 percent of the house’s profit. So let’s make it more simple. A publishing house has 10 authors. One of those authors is going to make 90 percent of the house’s profit. This same author is going to be the one that you see very visibly on the shelves at bookstores. They’re going to have their posters on the walls, and book signings lined up. They are the ones that a publishing house will be pushing out in the consumers’ faces. Now, those other nine authors making around only 1.2 percent of the profits each are merely a waste of time, a what if, so to speak. A publisher won’t spend money on marketing an author that is going to make such a low percentage of the profits. What does that mean? That means that even a published author will have to market their own book and do a lot of the leg work. They need to do it if they want any sells at all. Wait a minute, isn’t that what a self-published author has to do anyway?
Back to the YouTube video. The same author in the video then mentions that the average published author (yes, published) will sell an average of 200 books a year. I thought to myself, “Seriously, a measly 200 books?” So not only are you self-promoting your very own book on behalf of the publisher, trying to set up your own book signings (with the permission of the publisher), you also aren’t making any money. Well, most likely for that first year or two, maybe three. Let me explain. When the author got signed, they got some money up front after signing a contract which is called an “advance”. That advance could probably be anywhere from 2,500 to 7,000 dollars. There are a few different contracts that publishers use, but the more common one is an “advance” that goes against the publisher’s profits until that advance is paid back. So, the author isn’t going to make any money until their advance is paid in full. The publisher needs to get back the money on their investment. So, me being a nobody gets a publisher’s contract deal at, let’s say, 3,000 buckaroos (shooting low). Let’s make an assumption that I could make 3 bucks off each book (shooting high) after paying off the printing fees, and the illustrator and house fees. The house would need to move 1,000 books to pay off my advance and after that, I could start making some money again. Now, if you recall, according to the unverified stat from the YouTube vid, the average author sells the average of 200 books a year. If I could just humble myself enough to call me an average author, we’d be talking about roughly 5 years before I’d see another payment from the house. “Well, at least I got 3,000 bucks and didn’t need to fork out the cash for printing.” It’s a fair point. Touche.
I asked myself, one, could I wait for months to years hoping for a yes. What would be the benefit of waiting if, in the end, the responses were all negative? Would I want to wait that long? Two, I asked myself if I could I sell more than 200 books a year on my own? If you broke it down into profits per sale, I actually could sell less books to make the exact amount of money that I would be making with a publisher because I wouldn’t have that publisher’s fee. If I could double my profit being self-published, then I would only need to sell 100 books to be that “average published author”. If I could triple my profits, even better!
For me, my logical reasoning, the fact that I had some saved up cash, I couldn’t or wouldn’t wait for an agent or publisher to respond, and I was confident enough in my project that I could sell more than 100 books a year, was my reasoning to self-publish. There wasn’t a logical reason for me to be sitting around waiting for a publisher, or biding my time until an agent would give me a chance. In fact, my first month, with the help of friends and family, we’ve already moved around 200 books. The downside? Well, a self-published author needs to fork out the cash for printing up front. This can be fairly costly, especially printing in the US. I felt fairly confident that I could break even at the least. I figured it would take around 300 book sells to make back the money I put into printing.
Another valuable lesson I learned was that no matter how good your book is, or how good you think it is, there are millions of people that feel exactly the same way about their book. Instead of seeing the future you getting rich quickly, give yourself some smaller goals. My first goal was to sell 200 books. My second goal is to pay off the printing fees. I’m almost there. Your idea is your baby, no doubt. Cherish it and love it. Just remember that babies are undoubtedly the most beautiful to the parents of that baby, and there are millions, if not billions, of babies in the world.
So what are the downsides? Well, a self-published author needs to fork out the cash for printing up front. This can be fairly costly, especially printing in the US. I also felt fairly confident that I could break even (money wise) at the least. I figured it would take around 300 book sells to make back the money I put into printing. The other downside is the extent of my reach. I’m a recluse. I’ve had to depend on the quality of my product, and the hope that friends and family would be willing to share the book with their friends, word of mouth. So far, I can’t complain. The question is, when will that reach end? Or will it? There is also a lot of work that goes into marketing your own book. I’ve emailed lots of bloggers and bookstores. I’ve put in countless hours of making my publishing dreams come true. I spent lots of dollars and time on the design and artwork. Lastly, it will take time away from friends and family. So, if you are a social person and need constant company all the time, I’d keep waiting for that contract deal.
So, have I convinced you that self-publishing is the route you’d like to take? Consider these options. If you don’t have the cash to dump into printing or the storage space to store 32 boxes of books (in my case), you really only have 2 options – one, keep emailing the agents, publishers, and wait for that golden moment in which an agent or publisher sends you a contract, or two, you can self-publish with online services and stick to POD (Print on Demand) and Ebooks. I plan to do another blog about my experience with POD and Ebooks. POD and Ebooks will limit your upfront cost and still allow you to publish. Fantastic, right? The thing is if you are self-publishing, and you use these services, it’s as if you had signed a contract with a publisher anyway. The reason being is you will have to pay these retailers their house fee, and their printing fees. So, you’ll still be making a buck or so per book. In fact, you can print off a bunch to take to an event at an authors discounted price which in turn, increases your profit. That’s good. The bad? The quality of your book will suffer with these POD services for the most part. Believe me.
I know, it’s a lot to take in and digest. I hope that this article has given somebody some insight on publishing. Even with all this being said, I would love to be published by a traditional publisher. That is, if the numbers worked out right. I won’t approach another agent again, nor will I waste my time seeking out publishers. Instead, I hope to build my reader audience alone and see where I am in a few years. Publishers or agents may start emailing me as time progresses. I warmly welcome that.
Please check out my first picture book, Priscilla and the Sandman. It has great reviews on Amazon and from bloggers.