Recently, someone sent me an e-mail asking if I intended to send my manuscript to actual publishers (a.k.a. legacy publishers such as Hachette, Penguin Group, or HarperCollins) instead of self-publishing through Amazon. He suggested that a legacy published book would appear "more professional" than a self-published book, and I would benefit more in the long run. While I was flattered that this person had a high opinion of my writing, I disagree with his stance on legacy publishing for many reasons.
A few years ago, I dated a lady who had two romance novels published through HarperCollins. She had many friends and acquaintances who were also published authors, and I met many of them through her, including her mother who made The New York Times Best Sellers list several times over. I'm not going to list any of their names because I don't think they'd want me to divulge the following information about them. Let's just say that meeting these people shook up my perceptions of the publishing industry.
I used to equate published authors as the epitome of success in the creative writing field. They were a shining example of someone who made it in the industry. I assumed that they earned a lot of money and made a living doing something they loved, which is writing.
Then I met these authors and faced a bitter shock. Most of them were poor. Half of them had to continue their day time jobs (one worked at Best Buy while another worked at Barnes & Nobles) while the other half lived off government handouts. All of them entered into dubious contracts with the publishers where they hardly earned any money while the publishers kept most of the profits. On top of that, the publisher owns all the rights to their books, including the story, the series, the characters, or whatever else the author devises.
The only exception was my ex-girlfriend's mother, and that was because she sold millions of books. Even then, her publishers constantly screwed her over. She once had to threaten legal action against one publisher and managed to get her way when she made a public statement to her fans about the publisher's actions. Most of the time, she simply resigned to whatever fate the publisher had in store for her. My ex's mother made a decent living off of her book sales, but it seemed like the publishing companies kept the majority of the profits, along with the rights to her stories and characters.
The rest of the authors entered into shabby contracts where they signed all their rights away for a meager advance (an advance is the amount of money paid to the author to make a living while he or she writes the novel) and a small percentage of the royalties from each book sale. Only the bestsellers got offers good enough to sustain a normal living. The rest of the authors had to live off of regular jobs. Some resorted to government handouts because they feel that that anything beyond writing is beneath them, so they dipped into the taxpayers' pockets for sustenance.
The atrocities would not end there.
Most authors usually get a one or two print run, where their books would be on the store shelves for a limited time. Usually, they would be lucky to have two books on the shelf at Barnes & Nobles with the spine facing out so the customers would have to pull the book out just to view the cover. After a short time, their books would disappear off the shelves, and unless they sold exceptionally well, they would never appear again. My ex-girlfriend would occasionally have one book on the shelf at a random Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, or Borders store, and even then, it was difficult to find in the stacks of romance novels surrounding it.
The authors had no say over their book covers either. Even my ex's mother had to accept whatever cover the publisher had in mind. Most of the time, these covers had nothing to do at all with the book. Unfortunately, most people judge a book by its cover. A great cover can sell a shitty book. So when a publisher decides the cover of the book, the chances of getting a good cover are about as consistent as winning a game of roulette.
Then, there's the money. Authors earn "royalties" from book sales, which is a small percentage. Hardcover books earn more royalties than paperbacks. The percentages differ according to contracts, but the average royalty rate for a paperback tends to fall in the 6% range. That means an author having a paperback book on the shelves at a retail of $7.00 would make $.42 royalty on each copy sold. So if that author sold 10,000 copies of that book, he or she would only made $4,200. Considering that it usually takes 2 years for their books to reach the shelves once the final manuscript is submitted, that's not very much money.
Many authors have their contracts cancelled because the initial orders of their books do not reach the desired amount. Overall, authors constantly bend over to get fucked in the ass by their publishers.
With all of this given bullshit associated with legacy publishing, I chose to go with self-publishing. Here are my following reasons:
- I receive a 70% royalty rate for each ebook sold through Amazon. Even if I sell my book for 3.99 (which is cheaper than the $7.00 paperback price tag I listed earlier, I would earn $2.79 for each book sold. If I sold 10,000 books, then I would earn $27,900. That's a lot better than the $4,200 from the legacy published paperback sales of 6% royalties.
- I set the price of my book. Cheaper price means more sale. Most legacy publishers place their ebooks at a higher price than their paperback counterparts. There is no reason why an ebook should be $15 when there are no printing and distributing costs involved. Legacy publishers don't understand this concept.
- I own the rights to my book. Not the publishers.
- I can make changes to my book at anytime.
- My book stays on Amazon indefinitely (or until Amazon or whatever publisher goes under, which is unlikely). I don't have to worry about the publisher yanking the plug to my book, even if my book doesn't sell well.
- I choose the cover of my book.
- I can sell through other self-publishing outlets such as Smashwords instead of Amazon.
- I can sell paperback copies of my book via print-on-demand, and control the price. In fact, I plan to order several hundred physical copies of my books and sell them at bachelorette parties.
- Once I complete my manuscript (receive the final edit), I can upload it and have it on the market immediately. I don't have to wait a year or two without pay for the publisher, printer, and distributor to drag their feet with my product.
- I don't have to send hundreds of query letters to literary agents (who will take 15% cut of my profits) in hopes that one will accept me and negotiate a contract with a publisher that will involve signing all of my rights and most of my profits away.
The above reasons are just what I can remember off the top of my head. Now there are some people who think that legacy publishing is superior. They say that self-publishers don't have the "quality writing" of legacy published authors and "cannot hack it" in the industry. That kind of statement may have been true a decade ago, but more and more legacy published authors are turning to self-publishing as a means to distribute their product because of the prominence of ebook readers and distributors now. Besides, there are many low-quality legacy published authors that no one would ever bother to read.
Legacy published does not determine quality of a book. The customers do. They are smart enough to determine if they like something or not. If someone self-published a load of rubbish, then no one is going to buy it. A perfect analogy of this is Minecraft, the video game. This is one of the best-selling games out right now and it comes from an indie developer, not a big corporation. The customers determined its success.
There is the misconception that legacy publishers will market their authors, thus earning them more sales, and that self-publishers have no one to market. That may be true for big time authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings. This misconception does not take in account the average published author. In fact, most of the authors I have met constantly bitched and moaned about their publishers telling them that it was their responsibility to do the marketing. They assumed that their publishers would market for them. Many of them considered marketing and sales beneath them.
That said, I had a literary agent interested in the manuscript of my memoir. Given what I've seen of the legacy publishing industry, I'm going to stick to self-publishing. I don't mind marketing on my own, and my blog gets enough web traffic that it's a good place to start. I can also sell physical copies of my books at my shows. From there, the networking possibilities are endless.
I believe that ebooks are the future of publishing. They will gradually replace paperback books just as digital music has replaced CDs and cassette tapes, and steaming movies has replaced movie rentals such as Blockbuster. Sure there will be the person who prefers the physical copy of books, but the big six publishing companies can no longer act as the gatekeepers to determine what books are good enough for people to read. The customers will do that.
That's why I'm self-publishing. I have more to gain from it than legacy publishing. And I maintain all the control.