Ask yourself this: Do you really NEED a publisher?

This is a post by Pavarti K Tyler

In my day-to-day life I’m an accountant. I spend all my time looking at numbers, tax law, and planning strategies. One of the most important skills I’ve had to develop is being able to do a Cost Benefit Analysis. In super simple terms this is just asking yourself, “am I getting enough from X to make it worth doing?”

This is something we subconsciously do all the time, but in terms of publishing it seems the emotional reaction to having a publisher or agent sometimes outweighs the math of the situation.

No longer are we constrained to a system where you cannot publish without a publisher, and no longer are we in a position where without an agent no one will talk to us. Quite the opposite in fact! The technological revolution of the past few years has completely changed the way people are looking at and buying books. And yet emotionally, many of us still long for the credibility and endorsement that goes along with having a publisher or agent.

Let’s break it down by the numbers. Right now it is possible to get 100% of your royalties. From that you need to pay out to distributors and possibly offer discounts. However you make the decision about what you will be paying for. This is one of the driving forces in the Create Space vs. Lightning Source debate. Create Space is cheaper but takes royalties. LSI charges you for everything but takes no royalties.

Say you’re publishing a book for $10. Subtract printing fees of $5.41 and the remaining $4.59 is all yours! However, you had to invest some capital in the book before making those royalties including editing, cover design, interior formatting, distribution, etc. Those items are all your cost of doing business.

With a publisher, I would assume those capital investments would be made for me. However, I’m seeing more and more small publishing houses that are asking their authors to contribute to the initial investment, and yet they still take a substantial portion of the profit.

The question is: What are you buying?

Like any transaction, each party is ultimately looking out for themselves. While we like to give altruistic motives, and there may be a few people out there truly selfless, few people would be in business if they weren’t looking at their bottom line. As authors, you should too.

The cost benefit analysis will be different for each of us. Perhaps you find the whole process tremendously stressful and having someone else spearhead the project is worth the loss in royalties for you. That’s completely reasonable. Perhaps you don’t have the money to invest in those items so letting someone else carry the risk makes sense.

For me, I’m a completely co-dependant and anal retentive author. I want control over the project, and even if I had an agent or publisher chances are I’d still be as hands on. I like using my editor and I like using my book cover designer. I can format ebooks and get a kick out of learning new things. For me, so far at least, the cost benefit hasn’t worked out.

That’s not to say I would never consider a publisher, I’d just have to ask myself, what am I buying? Exposure? That’s certainly worth a lot, and being with a credible, known entity can get you that. Marketing Assistance? That would be great, but again, I’m such a loon I’d likely still do a lot of it myself. Unfortunately fewer publishers are offering marketing budgets or assistance unless their cost benefit analysis tells them they are going to make a return on that investment. Leaving most authors, even with big name publishers, to either pay for or do their own marketing efforts.

So before you sign anything make sure you know what you’re getting and boil it down, in real dollars and cents, whether your potential cost is proportional to the expected benefit.


About this post’s author:

Pavarti K Tyler, Marketing Department DirectorPavarti is a member of the Novel Publicity Team as a PR Campaign Manager. She also provides content editing as a consultant or for her Novel Pub clients. Her unique experience as a dramaturge, both on and off Broadway, has provided her the opportunity to work closely with many playwrights and directors, allowing Pavarti to consider both the literary and audience perspective. Pavarti K Tyler’s novel Two Moons of Sera is a Fantasy/Romance and is being released in a serial format. Her next novel Shadow on the Wall is scheduled for release in early 2012. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.


Deeone Higgs

Very informative post, Pavarti! I’m new on the author scene. These are really great tips you’ve shared. I’ve been doing my homework on figuring out the pros and cons of self-publishing; so this article is a great addition to my findings. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. 🙂

Ricki Lewis

I’ve published both ways. With on-demand publishing, yes, I had control and took a higher royalty cut. But marketing was up to me and the book went nowhere. Higher royalties are meaningless if the book doesn’t sell.

I had a book published 2 weeks ago with a mainstream publisher, and it is in bookstores all over the world, and available electronically. Bookstores ask me to do signings — with my on-demand published book, they wouldn’t give me the time of day. Ditto radio, and reviews. So yes, my royalty cut is low, but for me, the peace of mind and exposure are worth the sacrifice. It would be different for someone who really knows marketing, but that’s not my area of expertise.

    Pavarti K Tyler

    Ricki, yes! See the cost benefit analysis in what your saying makes TOTAL sense. Having a book in stores and with that kind of marketing would be fantastic, and the trade of royalties for exposure is definately a risk worth taking, especially since they seem to be coming through for you. I’m so excited for you to have that kind of support. Unfortunately few authors seem to get that support. And Indie publishers are losing their status amongst bookstores and media outlets.

    Now, does your publisher wanna see my stuff? 🙂

      Carole Gill

      Excellent and very informative post, Pavarti!
      And very timely for me.

      I am thrilled to have the control over my books, one being re-edited and re-released, another (sequel) following and a third to follow that.

      I like the freedom to hire a professional editor and publicist and to know, all the while, exactly how my book is doing.

      For me, I couldn’t be more pleased with this freedom to self-publish.

John F. Harnish

Hello Pavarti… I’d like to expand on your excellent article with a few key points that will hopefully help authors to save money and avoid publishing pitfalls.

I’m an author with almost two dozen books currently in print—sixteen of them are ebooks available from the Kindle and Nook ebookstores. I recently retired prematurely as VP of Author Services from a mid-size digital publisher after twelve years. I’ve been involved in some aspect of publishing for over five decades. To put it frankly, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the “you gotta be kidding me” parts of publishing.

The most important number for authors to know is their breakeven point. Simply put, this is the number of books that must be sold to recover the total cost of publishing your book. For example, take the total cost of $1,000 (copyediting, cover art, setup fees, etc.) and divide that by what you earn in royalties from books sold $2.00 and the result is you must sell 500 books before you are in the black and realizing a profit—and that does not begin to cover the months of time you invested writing the book.

The majority of the authors publishing through a publishing service rarely sell more than 100 books during the first year. The authors who do surpass that number are motivated to shamelessly promote their books. The publishing service isn’t going to invest money in promoting your book. They’ve already made a profit from the setup fee and add on services. Sadly the new publishing service business models that have evolved from the turmoil in the industry earn the bulk of their profits from selling services instead of from selling books.

Carefully read and understand the publishing agreement before you grant permission for them to publish and distribute your book. Check out the publisher’s reputation in the industry, and more importantly with other authors who have published with them. Your reputation as an author is linked directly with the publishing service. When you publish through a publishing service, you haven’t self-published because the ISBN identifies the service as the publisher of record in Books-in-Print and their imprint is on the book.

Beware of ebook publishing services charging a fee to convert your content into ebook files and posting them to various vendor websites. They will take anywhere from 10% to as much as 50% of your royalties for doing nothing but eventually sending you a check. Amazon and B&N account for 95% of all ebooks sold—they dominate the ebook marketplace. They do not charge a fee for using their conversion programs—they profit in the traditional way of publishing by selling ebooks. You don’t need an ISBN because they assign their own unique identifier to your ebook. They pay royalties—up to 70%–monthly via direct deposit into authors’ checking accounts.

When the author stops promoting their book, the book stops selling.

Enjoy often… John

Sue Curd

Just starting out and so your postings are invaluable. Thank you, this confirms my thinking and gives such a sense of freedom.

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