Someone wrote in to ask the other day what at first seemed a simple question. It was more complex in the end, though. Here's what I said to "Is choosing a publisher such as Amazon Prime Publishing worth it for an author or not?" Here's my response:
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First, Amazon Prime Publishing is not a publishing house in the traditional sense of the phrase. It neither publishes nor promotes books the way a conventional house does. Nor does it place your book with an independent or chain bookstore. Instead, you (the author) are the publisher pulling the strings normally reserved to a conventional publisher. Amazon (and all self-publishing aggregators such as Lulu, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Draft 2 Digital) merely set up a system whereby you do all the pre-press work yourself, and then they act as printers to produce either a hard copy or a digital version of your book. That's something all printers and even many copy centers can do—at least theoretically.
Where publishing aggregators differ from conventional printers is in having a limited means of book distribution. Amazon peddles the books it produces for you right on their site. Ditto B&N and Lulu. Others join forces with various outlets to offer your book for sale to visitors to those outlets, such as Apple through its Apple store.
Now, with that distinction out of the way, is "publishing" with Amazon worth it for an author? Let me ask you a question. Wouldn't that depend upon the author's specific goal in publishing a book to begin with? If the goal is to get something out into the world that resembles a book and do so quickly and easily, then Amazon is just as good a source as anyone else. It's free. It's relatively painless. And, with a little luck (okay, a ton of luck), you just might sell a bunch of books and actually make some money in the process.
But don't count on it. The amount of money that authors average in Amazon sales proceeds is well under $100. Many authors earn less than $10 or even nothing at all. That's because Amazon does absolutely no promotion unless you opt-in for a potentially costly ad campaign, in which case the prospect of publishing with them is no longer free.
Conventional publishers, on the other hand, do at least some marketing and promotion. They have catalogs in which your book will be listed. And they have sales people who visit brick-and-mortar bookstores to sell them the publisher's latest offerings.
Of course, all this comes with a caveat. Conventional publishers are notoriously selective when deciding what they want to publish, and the market is glutted with authors salivating at the thought of becoming a published author: You know: "Pick me, pick me!" Your chances of getting picked up and published by a conventional, advance-paying publisher, though, are nearly nil.
Still, that doesn't stop damned near every author in the world from trying. And some succeed. I've had more than 250 books published by conventional publishers, which has enabled me to sustain a career as a full-time freelance writer and author for the better part of half a century. I've also helped dozens of other authors break into conventional book publishing. In short, I'm the person for whom society coined the phrase, "He's living proof."
Proof? Most definitely. Living? Sometimes I have to wonder. In the meantime, as you ponder all the above, I suggest you sit back, put up your feet, and ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His Website is at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)