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I was talking to my brother about the joys and otherwise of writing, over the weekend, and he asked a very interesting question.

"If so many traditionally published writers earn peanuts, why spend all those hours and suffer all that angst trying to land an agent and /or a publisher, why not just do it yourself?"

I came up with all kinds of objections - marketing/support/editing/etc etc - to which he said, 'Yeah fair enough but what if you can't get a publisher and you think your book is good enough - what then?'

That got me thinking and doing some research - a traditionally published writer who recently had a moderately successful book - sold circa 50,000 copies, mixture of ebooks and paperbacks - only netted enough for a family holiday in Ibiza - about £4500. 

I'm sure this is no surprise to the seasoned authors on here, the average earnings for a UK author seems to be somewhere around £3k so the question is why?

The author is last in line:

Publishers have fixed costs to pay - offices/staff/tax/publicity/marketing/promotion etc. Then any retailer takes their cut and leaves the author last in line and many publishing contracts according to the society of authors earn about 10%- 15% of a books sale price (sometimes less for a new author where the upfront costs are higher.)

So if a book sells in Waterstones for £5.99 the author will get between 0.59p and 0.89p. If you sell a million copies then great £900k in the bank, (probably more as most contracts have clauses in them that increase the % as sales rise.) Selling 50k copies should therefore net you about £40k but most books don't sell in Waterstones for £5.99 most neewbie author's books never make it to the shelves of major book stores, most are discounted and sold electronically for anywhere between ) 0.99 and £1.49 - so selling 50k copies at 0.99 will get you to about £4900, sometimes less.

So, should you hang out for a traditional publisher or DIY?

In terms of making money - it is probably easier to make some money self-publishing BUT it boils down to the product I guess. If your book is the most wonderful thing ever written then you're much better with a big name - if it's not then maybe you should do it yourself just make sure it's the best it can be.

I'm working on a series of books that traditional publishers probably wouldn't want - I'll try - but in my head they're good enough to be out there so I'll probably self publish though I haven't the first idea how to do that yet, but I'll find out.

If you are dead set on seeing your name on a book cover published by Harper Collins then great - go the traditional route, either way most of us on here are not in it for the money - just as well!!






Comments
  • The problem I have is a bias I still harbour, though I'm trying to get rid of it, is that alot of self-pubbed books just aren't as well edited or as interesting beyond being ridiculously fast paced books. There's so many thousands of them that finding really good ones is rare for me. I don't think I've bought a self-pubbed book in over a year, and the fact that I can go to waterstones and pick something there is something you just can't do self-publishing wise, especially if you don't want to work with the capitalist machine that is Amazon more than is necessary!


    Though, publishing just to hope to make a million in sales is a bit extreme, too. The bestseller lists are questionable at the best of times and it's the same in almost every artform -- see Kanye's recent rants on his music contracts over on twitter, for some equally brutal contracts!

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    • To date I have had books published by Harper Collins and have indie published two novels. If you are good at marketing I'd say go the self publishing route. The whole thing hangs on distribution.

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      • If I don’t get anywhere I think I’ll go the self publishing route. However the vanity in me really craves the endorsement of a traditional publisher!  I enjoy writing, not so keen on the marketing, even though in a past life I worked in marketing for a while! I think there are companies who will help with this at a cost! 

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        • I don't think it's vanity to want the endorsement of an agent and publisher. Self-publishing (as distinct from vanity publishing) is perfectly respectable but for many the waters remain a bit muddy. It is very easy to get a shoddy product out there. At least if you publish via the traditional route and then say "I'm a published author" nobody can look down their nose and mutter under their breath "Yes, by your good self." I can see the benefits of self-publishing, and may even do it one day, but I'm afraid I am still very heavily in favour of traditional publishing if I can only get a deal. At least for a debut.

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          • I don't think it's vanity to want the endorsement of an agent and publisher. Self-publishing (as distinct from vanity publishing) is perfectly respectable but for many the waters remain a bit muddy. It is very easy to get a shoddy product out there. At least if you publish via the traditional route and then say "I'm a published author" nobody can look down their nose and mutter under their breath "Yes, by your good self." I can see the benefits of self-publishing, and may even do it one day, but I'm afraid I am still very heavily in favour of traditional publishing if I can only get a deal. At least for a debut.

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          • Writers don't write for the money, although it's a nice side reward. Writers write because they love it.

            If self-publishing was that easy to make money then everybody would do it. Compared to the sheer number of books being self-published each year, the number that makes it is very small. In my book, you have as much chance to make it self-publishing as you have being trade-published.

            The choice really is down to how you prefer to work. Personally, I don't have the time needed to dedicate to the marketing, platform-building and other things involved in successfully self-publishing, I'd rather be writing anyway.

            I'm still at the beginning of my trade-published journey but so far I wouldn't have been able to achieve where I am now without an agent. That's just my individual experience.

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            • I agree, much prefer to write.

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              • Absolutely! If I'm going to make sod all either way, then at least let me do the thing I love, not be tied to a marketing regime 😂

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