Almost everyone I know has a book in the works, and dreams of getting published. Self-publishing makes it easier than ever, but is it the right answer? That depends. As a published author, this is what I’ve learned about traditional publishing vs self-publishing:
Traditional publishing pros and cons:
- A traditional publisher gives you added credibility. When Wiley published Orchestrating Collaboration at Work in 2003, it helped add credibility to the use of arts as an instrument of learning in business, and many doors opened for me, internationally. The book earned respect from my peers, and it has been cited in business books and academic journals.
- Publishers do all the editing, design and printing. Our manuscript went through four levels of editing at Wiley, and an anonymous peer review, which gave us valuable feedback. (If our peers trashed the manuscript, our publishing contract would be canceled). If we had self-published, we would not have had the resources to do this crucial work, and after my Wiley experience, I see the value of having more than one editor.
- Publishers are not typically great marketers, and their promotion of non-fiction books is minimal, but they do publish catalogues, which they send to bookstores etc. It is still up to you, the author to promote and market your book.
- Financial rewards: You don’t make much money from royalties, unless your book is a best-seller.
Here’s what Seth Godin has to say about why he will no longer use traditional publishers:
…As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can’t think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade…My audience does things like buy five or ten copies at a time and distribute them to friends and co-workers. They (you) forward blog posts and PDFs. They join online discussion forums. None of these things are supported by the core of the current corporate publishing model. Read Seth’s full blog post here.
Self-publishing pros and cons:
When Wiley gave us back our copyright, I chose to go the print-on-demand route with Booksurge, because I do not want to be an order-taker and shipper. For a low fee, I submitted a PDF file of my book, and they made our book available on Amazon and other distribution channels. Orchestrating Collaboration at Work has made the bestseller list for business education books on Amazon numerous times over the past 5 years.
When I signed up with Booksurge, I was happy with the quality of printing, but I thought the service was poor. They have since merged with Createspace (both companies are owned by Amazon) and I have experienced a big improvement in service. Their website and user interface is well organized and easy to use. You can create your own storefront as well. See my store here.
When it comes to self-publishing, you have several options: Print-on-demand, volume printing, via a “vanity press” or printing books on your own. You can also publish and sell music or film on Amazon.com and other channels using free tools from CreateSpace.
Invest in good design
If you do self-publish, you will need to hire professionals to provide editing, layout, design and marketing, if you cannot do these yourself. An amateurish-looking book will reflect poorly on you. Createspace provides packages for these services, but I have not used them. I do help authors on occasion with book cover designs, and layouts, so if you are interested, please contact me.
Printing books on your own is potentially more profitable, but I only recommend this if you are 1) an effective marketer with a large following; 2) you speak to large audiences and can sell at the back of the room; or 3) you have the time and energy to slog your books to every store in town, and do your own shipping. (I know one self-published author who has a garage full of books in Vancouver, and she had to invest in dehumidifiers because of the damp climate, to prevent her books from spoiling.)
My friends, Richard Blair and Kathleen Goodwin are successful self-publishers. Their book, Point Reyes Visions, became a bestseller in the San Francisco Bay Area when it was first published, and they earn a decent income from the sales of their growing list of high-end photography books. They maximize their profits by doing their own design and production, printing the books in Asia, and by doing all the marketing and distribution themselves.
Options for self-publishing low volumes
If you want to self-publish a limited number of books to showcase your art or photography, I recommend Blurb. I used Blurb to publish a few books of my art and photographs to give as gifts to family members, and my gifts were a real hit. The colour, printing and paper quality was superb, and Blurb provides many layout options for producing a professional looking book.
If you need to build credibility go with a traditional publisher. If you have an audience, self-publish. If you are looking for a designer for your book cover, I can help.