To the writer who wanted to know whether he should risk rejection and waste time begging agents to accept his book or go the quicker route and self-publish it, my answer left little doubt as to where I stand. If you have any questions after reading it, just let me know!
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Should you go the conventional publishing route? Absolutely. Should you plan on begging, cajoling, or bribing agents to accept your manuscript? Absolutely not. There's a right way and a wrong way of doing everything in life, and that's especially true when pitching a literary agent or even a publisher, for that matter. Write an enticing, one-page pitch for your book. Then, write the perfect complete book (fiction) or sample chapter with an outline (nonfiction) on a hot, marketable topic, and I guarantee you success.
And, since you brought it up, what's so enticing about getting your book published quicker, anyway? Even if it took only 24 hours to produce (which won't happen), if it sells two copies, what's the advantage? See where I'm going with this? Quicker isn't always better.
Here are a few other publishing-industry misconceptions I'd like to clear up.
- Fallacy: Conventional publishers take 85% of your book's generated income and pay you 15%. Truth: Conventional publishers earn 85% of your book's generated income; they get to keep only 12 - 15% of the profit from each sale. That's about the same as they pay out to their authors. Repeat: Conventional, advance-paying publishers make just about the same amount of money from every book sale as the author! The rest of the funds go to printing and fulfillment expenditures. The single greatest percentage of sales goes to your book's distributor—you know, the people who take your published book, warehouse it, and deliver it to stores and sales outlets around the world as required. And, no, publishers and distributors are not the same thing by a long shot. So, when you complain about all that money you're leaving on the table by going with a conventional publishing deal, you're mistaken. Publishers get to keep damned little of the income generated by a book's sale, especially in light of the overhead and other expenses they have. Not to mention the risk they're taking should the book fail to sell.
- Fallacy: Self-publishing gives you complete control over your book; conventional publishing doesn't. Truth: You may have a little more control in self-publishing than in conventional publishing, but if the results are fewer sales for your self-published book, how satisfying can that thought be? If you use an amateurish, poorly designed front cover instead of a professionally crafted cover provided by an experienced graphic artist, you've gained nothing. If you use weak, ineffective cover blurbs when they should be sales motivators, what have you achieved? Conventional publishers do certain things their way because history has taught them it works. Self-publishers do certain things their way because they want to, whether or not they work. And, usually, they don't. Read the sales statistics for POD (Print-on-Demand) books, or look at some poorly produced PODs and see for yourself. Again, if complete control to you is worth more than income from sales, go for it.
- Fallacy: Getting offered a conventional publishing contract means experiencing a lot of pain from months or even years of rejection. Truth: Nothing is more painful than investing all the time required to prepare a book for publication, self-publishing it, and watching it sit like a slab of cold meat on some butcher's backroom table. The fact is that, if you're a writer and can't stand rejection, you're not really a writer at all, and you'd better get used to that fact.
- Fallacy: You can spend years looking for the right literary agent to represent your work and possibly have success in selling it to a conventional publisher, and your time could be put to more valuable use by self-publishing. Truth: You'll spend months or even years going either route. In conventional publishing, you'll spend them searching for an agent willing to take you on as a new, untested client and then still more time waiting for some good news from the agent. In self-publishing, you'll spend that time professionally editing, formatting, and providing cover art, front and back, for your book. You'll spend even more time laying out your book and uploading it in a style and format that's acceptable to your chosen publishing aggregator (Kindle, IngramSpark, Lulu, etc.). And, you'll spend time proofing the results, correcting any errors, and then resubmitting the manuscript and repeating the proofing process all over again. Once your book is finally published, you'll spend still more time searching for that elusive best way to market and promote it and then to increase lagging sales when that doesn't pan out. Much of that time will go to researching and preparing various copy required for promotional purposes. And we haven't even touched upon how much money all this free self-publishing stuff could end up costing you. Either up-front on talented professionals with plenty of book-publishing experience or on the back end through poor or even no sales.
Remember, while no publisher—either conventional or POD—can guarantee you book sales, self-publishing can virtually guarantee you poor sales, if any. The number of sales you'll see will most likely be far fewer than you'd get by conventionally publishing your book. Chances are, if you have to hire anyone to do any portion of the pre-press work on your self-published book, you'll end up in the red, wondering where you went wrong. A conventional publisher, on the other hand, will pay you an advance against royalties (future earnings) that you'll get to keep no matter how well or poorly the book sells.
What's that you say, bunky? You don't care? You have this overwhelming gnawing deep within your soul crying out to see your baby in print at any cost?
If that's the case, self-publishing is the only way to go. But if that's not the case, I would highly suggest you grit your teeth, learn everything you can about writing a good pitch letter and, of course, the "perfect" book, and go the conventional route. If that doesn't work and you still want to see your name on a published volume somewhere down the line, you can always give some serious thought to self-publishing.
Meanwhile, smoke if you've got 'em.