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Home PUBLISHING Self-publishing Self vs royalty publishing
Benefits of self-publishing

Self-publishing versus royalty publishing

One of the decisions an author has to make is whether to go the conventional publishing route or the self-publishing one. In order to make this decision, it is important to understand the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing (also known as royalty publishing) and what each can offer you.

Here are some comparisons to help you with your decision.

Self-publishing can offer good returns if the book does well. This is because, by making a financial investment in the book, you are entitled to all the profits from the sale of each book. By selling directly to your customers, you can make approximately 50-70% of your retail price (depending on your production and printing costs).

With traditional trade publishing you receive a royalty which, in South Africa, is usually 10-15% of the trade price of the book. The trade price is the price bookstores pay the publisher for the book. The trade price usually equates to 60% of the retail price.

Self-publishing offers you the opportunity to dictate your own success. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out. Your marketing efforts will not be wasted. You have the opportunity to determine your own income.

With traditional publishing, you’re totally dependent on the publisher’s efforts. Publishers tend to heavily promote the books of their better-selling authors and may not put the same time and effort into your book.

Self-publishing includes you in the production process and allows you to have input and control over the presentation and delivery of the end product.

Traditional publishing often excludes you from these decisions as publishers' decisions are usually based on economic viability and what they believe will sell. While this makes perfect business sense from the publisher's point of view, it is not necessarily compatible with the author's vision for the book.

Self-publishing allows you to retain full ownership of your book. You own the electronic file used to print the book, and you are free to use the file yourself and/or take it elsewhere for printing.

With traditional publishing the publisher owns all rights to the book for the duration of the publishing contract. During this period, you may not take the original manuscript and have it published elsewhere unless this has been specifically written into the contract, and even then, it is likely that you will be restricted in how that material may be used. Once the contract has expired, you will again own the rights to the original content of the book, but the publisher will continue to own the copyright to the book in its published format (i.e. the look, design, layout, editing, and size, as well as all the printing material and plates). Should neither party choose to renew the contract, the book's files will be archived. If you decide to publish the book yourself, you have the option of starting production of the book from scratch using your original file, or you can usually purchase the existing material from the publisher, for a fee.

Self-publishing allows your dreams of seeing your book in print become a reality - no hassles, no fuss, no rejections. However, any good and reputable author services company will make recommendations on what needs to be done to your book to make it a professional and marketable product. If you are serious about successful self-publishing and producing a book that will be accepted by bookstores and book marketers, it is essential that you invest in professional book production. While you may not notice the difference between a low-cost self-published book and one produced by a professional publishing or author services company, people in the trade certainly will.

With traditional publishing, it is very difficult to have a book accepted, and even a good book may never see the light of day for various economic and strategic reasons. With fierce competition and the high cost of distribution, publishers have become extremely selective about what they take on. They also work to very strict budgets and these budgets are normally worked out a year or two in advance. Also, some publishers may funnel the bulk of their budget towards specific genres for the year - those that have shown an uptrend globally. Your manuscript may unfortunately fall into the ‘wrong’ genre or appeal to too small target market to make traditional publishing viable. Well-known South African publishers receive a couple of hundred manuscripts a month while overseas book agents have been receiving up to 1000 manuscripts a month (each!). Your manuscript has to compete with all of these other manuscripts.

Self-publishing requires a lot of hard work, especially when it comes to marketing and distribution. The commercial distribution chain is not geared towards the self-publishing author so most of your sales will have to be generated through your own efforts and through sales made directly to your customers.

With traditional publishing, the author has none of these headaches. The publisher has the resources, volumes, contacts and marketing experience to get the book 'out there' and selling. Furthermore, traditional publishers have a broader (international) book-buying market that they can appeal to which the self-publishing author most likely won't have.

Self-publishing, done professionally, carries financial risk as there will be production and printing costs to cover. South Africa has a small book reading market when compared to the rest of the world and a book that sells between 3500 and 5000 copies is considered a best-seller! If you're not a self-motivated and entrepreneurial author, your financial risk is even greater as the likelihood of moving the volume of books required to cover your production costs is greatly reduced.

With traditional publishing there is no financial risk for the author. The worst that can happen is that the book doesn't sell and the author doesn't make any money.

Self-publishing is often synonymous with poor quality. This is especially true when authors do not invest in quality editing and production. Good editing and cover design is an art, and the expression "you get what you pay for" is usually very apt when it comes to these services. Poor quality self-publishing destroys credibility as well as customer trust.

With traditional publishing, editing and production standards are usually high and this builds customer confidence. Customers will buy what they believe they can trust.