Traditional and Independent Publishing

I’ve realized in talking to friends lately that many people are unaware of what independent publishing is, that you can publish a book directly to Amazon. So today’s blog will talk about the differences between Traditional Publishing and Independent Publishing.

I really should have posted this before the last two posts, on marketing for Independent Publishers, but I didn’t realize people didn’t know about it. After all, it is probably the biggest discussion in the author business.  It’s been going on for at least ten years, since Amazon opened the floodgates to individuals to post their own works. And to be fair, it was going on long before that, with people getting cases of their books printed and then selling them directly.  But it really came of age with Amazon’s support.

Let’s start by walking through a typical experience for a new author going the Traditional Publishing route. He or she sends the novel to a punch of publishers and agents, and when one decides it’s worthy, the author gets a contract. The publisher typically pays some amount up front, and then the author works with the publisher’s editor to finalize the book. Meanwhile, the publisher also designs a cover (author has no say in this), and decides how to market it.  It’s typically at least a year before the book is available for sale. The author gets no royalties on the book until sales “pays back” the initial payment the author received. In many cases, this is a long time (or never).  If the publisher chooses to stop marketing, the author has little recourse, until the rights revert back.

So how is Independent Publishing different? Just as the Internet opened up all sorts of media to anyone to produce and distribute their content (e.g., YouTube), it gave people the ability to post their work without an intermediary. Naturally, the author retains all rights and control, but also all responsibility for distributing and marketing  Some authors don’t want to deal with marketing their books, and Traditional Publishing is probably the best choice for them. But for those who are interested in the business side of books (like me), it can make more sense to go Independent.

The development of e-books definitely helped Indie Publishing to flourish, as it lowered the cost of entry. Amazon charges nothing up-front to distribute your book, and pays the author 70% for each e-book sale.

But what about hard copies? It surprises me, again, Amazon-kindle-gen2.jpghow many people still want physical books (I was an early adopter of e-books, and bought one of the earliest Kindle models).  For an Indie Publisher, there is Print-on-Demand (POD), where they don’t stock copies of the book; they print an individual copy when ordered by the consumer. Hence no up-front costs. And no, it doesn’t look like some guy printed it on the office printer and stapled it together. It looks just like any mass-market paperback, with high-quality covers and pages, and a comparable price. Amazon didn’t invent POD, but they did make it commonplace with their CreateSpace service (there’s a little confusion right now, since Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which handles the e-book side, has now expanded into print, so now Amazon is competing with itself). There are many non-Amazon POD services (like Ingram Spark) available as well, since other retailers like Barnes & Noble and iBooks don’t like to deal with Amazon.

What are royalties like for Indie Authors?  On a $3.99 e-book, Amazon pays 70% to the author, or $2.80.  For a 300-page print book selling for $11.99, the author receives $2.74. A Traditional Publisher typically pays 10% for paperbacks and 25% for e-books, which makes sense because the Traditional Publisher is taking the risks on the up-front costs like editing and cover design, as well as on-going marketing costs.

Of course, to be successful as an Independent Author (or Author Entrepreneur as Joanna Penn calls it), you must first ensure a quality product, which usually includes hiring an editor, someone who is willing to tell you your baby is ugly (and I’m due to hear back from my editor today, so I’m bracing for that).

To summarize, the advantages of Independent Publishing include retaining all control, and higher royalties. The disadvantages include retaining all risk, and up-front costs of editing and cover design. The author must also assume the responsibility for marketing, and often has fewer opportunities available.

For me, the opportunity to see the business side of publishing is fascinating, so this is the course I’ve chosen. I’m not even going to send my book to agents to see if a Traditional Publisher wants to print it.

Author: RickAAllenSF

Semi-retired engineer, now a SF author

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