vs. Being Self-Published
By Patricia L. Fry
The concept of self publishing has been around for as long as writers have been writing. Early self-published authors include Mark Twain, Carl Sandburg and Mary Baker Eddy. More recently, Dan Poynter, James Redfield and Deepak Chopra are among those who have experienced success publishing and promoting their own works. I have published about a dozen books since 1983 through my publishing company, Matilija Press.
Enter the twenty-first century and the parameters around the term self publishing began to blur. Authors, when discussing self-publishing, discovered that they were sometimes comparing apples to oranges. But there's only one way to self-publish, right? Well, maybe not.
Something happened during the last six or seven years to create some confusion. Enter the new breed of fee-based publishing services. While paying to be published is not a new concept, these services have never been so numerous and so obvious. And hundreds of authors are responding to their hype.
These companies cater to folks who believe they're dealing with royalty publishers, but they've also caught the attention of those who prefer thinking of themselves as self-published authors. In fact, the options provided by fee-based publishers are actually mutations of time-honored publishing standards. This isn't to say that it's a bad thing. But I believe the terms need clarification.
A traditional royalty publisher, for example, is a publisher of any size who puts up the money to produce a book and pays the author royalties for the books as they sell. A fee-based POD publisher or pay-to-be-published company or subsidy publisher requires money from the author to produce the book. They might give the author a couple of free copies of his book and he can purchase additional copies at a discount.
In all cases, the author must participate in promoting his or her book. Books will not sell by the gazillions through bookstores nationwide unless the author finds a way to attract those gazillion buyers. Except in rare cases and when working with the most prominent traditional publishing houses, your book will probably never find its way into even one mega bookstore anywhere. And this is not a bad thing. There are plenty of customers for good books outside of brick and mortar bookstores. It is important that you understand these two facts before becoming attached to unrealistic expectations:
In spite of what your fee-based publisher tells you, your book will probably never see the inside of a bookstore. (Read the contract carefully, folks. Does it say that your book will be sold through bookstores or does it say, "We will make your book available to bookstores?" Translated, this means that if a bookseller comes along and asks for a book like yours, they will certainly tell him about it.)
There are hundreds of book promotion activities that don't involve bookstores. Read my books, "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book," "Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book," and John Kremer's books on book promotion.
What is Self Publishing?
Self-publishing means that you put up the money to produce your book and you own the publishing company. You apply for a fictitious business name for your company and file it with the county. You purchase the ISBN block and the bar code. You set the price. You hire a printing company to print and bind your book. You make all of the decisions. And, as with all methods of publishing you, the author, are responsible for promoting your book.
While this may seem like a long, complicated to-do list, in reality, you can set up your company within a few days. What about the costs? Once you've paid the one-time fees involved in starting a publishing business, you should be able to produce your book for about the same as any of the least expensive fee-based publishing services.
Let's explore the pros and cons of self-publishing versus going with a publishing service:
When you set up your own publishing company.
- You are in charge.
- You are responsible for quality control.
- You reap all of the profits.
- Your chances of publishing success are greater.
- You could have a published book within weeks instead of months or years.
- You are responsible for promoting your book.
If your book does well, you might be able to land a traditional royalty publisher.
When you sign with a fee-based publishing company.
- You have little opportunity for input.
- Quality control is beyond your control.
- The average number of books sold is around 100 per title.
- You are responsible for promoting your book
It is more difficult to promote your book because it is often overpriced.
As you may have noticed, publishing/promotion and writing are at opposite ends of the spectrum. A writer does not a savvy publisher make. Study is required. An open mind is necessary. Before making any publishing decisions, it is important that you take the time to learn something about the industry. Find out how books are sold. Quiz other authors-especially those who have worked with the companies you are considering. Speak with those who have self-published. Read Dan Poynter's book, "The Self-Publishing Manual." And my book, "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book." Learn what promotion entails.
No matter what method of publishing you choose, your ultimate success will be in direct relationship to your knowledge of the industry. And understanding the difference between self-publishing, traditional royalty publishers and the services offered by fee-based publishing services is a definite start.
Patricia Fry is a fulltime freelance writer and the author of 24 books. Her latest book is "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book," (Matilija Press, 2005). To order: http://www.matilijapress.com/rightway.html. Follow Patricia Fry's informative blog at
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Publishing New Writers,
September, 2006 (no. 709)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
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Aren’t Just For How-To Books
Write the Book Proposal Early
By Patricia L. Fry
I hear it all the time, “I don’t need a book proposal because I’m
writing a novel.” One woman told me, “My book simply defies the need
to write a book proposal first. I’ll pitch it to publishers as already
written.” Or the classic, “Sure, you might write a book proposal for a
how-to book, but not a memoir.”
Excuse me, but I beg to differ. Every book should start with a book
proposal. The only exceptions are books for personal distribution to
family members and friends and, perhaps, instructional or educational
books with limited distribution to a specific company, organization or
industry. Books written with a national, international or even regional
audience in mind, in order to be successful, require tremendous
forethought. And this means, write a book proposal first.
You wouldn’t invent and manufacture an odorless perfume or a new type of
screwdriver without first exploring the success potential. You would
determine, is there a need for this product, what is the competition, who
would use it, what steps are necessary in order to produce it, how much
would it cost to produce it and how would you market it? Well, HELLOOOOO.
A book is a product, too.
In order to determine the potential for a product, you develop a business
plan. When that product is a book, you write a book proposal.
Even before writing a book,
there are certain things that you need to know. And this is true whether
you’re writing a memoir, novel, children’s storybook, chapbook,
historical, how-to, self-help or coffee table book. If you are seeking
some measure of success with your book project, you must find out:
Is there a market for this book?
What titles compete with yours?
How does your book differ from others on this topic?
Who is your target audience and how can you reach them?
What are your publishing options?
What are the possible consequences of your publishing
What are your responsibilities as a published author?
How will you promote your book once it is published?
A well designed book proposal
will answer these important questions. It will also help you to determine:
How realistic is your vision for this book?
What is the best way to organize your book?
How can you make it more salable?
I’m one of many
professionals who recommend writing a book proposal even before writing
the book. You might argue (and believe me, many new authors do), “But,
I’m in creative mode—I need to write this book now.” Sure, go ahead
and write a book on a whim. I’ve done it. It’s great fun—an
enjoyable exercise. But should you decide that this book must be
published, be aware that you might need to do some rewriting. Sure, it’s
possible that you can find a publisher for your book, as is. Kudos to you.
However, many countless disillusioned authors tell me, “I was rejected
by every publisher I approached so I paid to have my book published. I
should have listened to those publishers and editors who suggested changes
to my manuscript.” Or “If only I’d taken the time to learn more
about my options.”
Memoir authors seem
especially reluctant to let anything outside of them influence their book.
I was told recently, “This is my memoir and it must be told my way.”
Okay, but if you write a book proposal first, you might discover even
subtle ways to make your memoir more desirable to a publisher.
Let’s say that you plan to
write a chronological account of your life. Unless you have celebrity
status, you probably don’t have even a slight chance of finding a
traditional royalty publisher. Weave some fascinating bits of historical
information throughout the book, play up your involvement in a major
national organization or give your memoir a self-help or how-to flavor and
you just might have something worth pitching. What difference would these
ideas make toward the success of your memoir?
These added dimensions give
you a wider range of publishers to choose from. For example, there are
over twice as many publishers of history than of memoirs, and over three
times more publishers of how-to books. Your book would be easier to
promote. The historical aspect might make it suitable for inclusion in
public school curriculum, for example, and that’s a large audience. If
you involve a national organization in a positive way in your memoir, they
might help to promote your book. And self-help and how-to books generally
come with an audience and have a longer shelf life. Here are a few
examples of memoirs that could transition into self-help books:
You have overcome a lifelong fear such as
agoraphobia, ailurophobia or caligynephobia.
You traveled the world with a cat.
You endured childhood abuse.
You are a triplet.
You care for a loved one who suffered brain
damage in an accident.
You were mauled by a dog (bear, ostrich or
You are an amputee who participates in
You’ve traveled to many exotic places
If you are serious about
getting published, do not write your book on a whim. Start with a book
proposal and this is true for nonfiction, memoirs and fiction.
Another reason for writing a
book proposal is for the advance. Many publishers of all sizes offer an
advance against royalties. Now wouldn’t it be nice to have the money to
sustain you while you work on the manuscript?
Patricia Fry is a full-time
freelance writer and editorial consultant. She is the author of 24 books,
including The Right Way to Write, Publish
and Sell Your Book. www.matilijapress.com.
Read her informative blog at www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog
We Write Because We Must Write
have always admired the African
writer, even though I sometimes fall
into the trap of Gorettis statement:
that it is easy to lose hope when one
lives in Africa. We Africans live in a
society where the government is more
interested in perpetuating itself in
power than nurturing literacy, where
oppression is a ravening lion seeking
to silence any creative voice.
I wonder why I am still motivated to
even write. Maybe because there are
lots of stories to tell and things to
say. I carelessly ventured into
writing in 1996, in order to escape
the prevailing bleak realities of
living in such a society, where
everything is ailing. Deplorable
social amenities, incessant workers
strikes, traumatized educational
system, tribal and religious mayhems
are just a few of the crushing
problems. Professor Ike has lamented
the Nigerian governments shocking lack
of appreciation of the centrality of
culture to national development in one
of his celebrated essays.
it is the lot of every writer in
different environments to pass through
certain challenges. Writing demands
sweat and patience, so does every
challenge. The writer doesnt need to
be overwhelmed anyway, neither should
he allow his or her spirit to fall
apart. For me, I have decided to be a
writer. Writing, though, is yet to
become my vocation, because I am
compelled to scrounge for bread. But
the Muse has been gracious to me
allowing me to express my longings and
hopes for a better society, my angst
and fears for a dear country tottering
on the brink of self-obliteration, my
hope and love for a people who show
uncanny ability to press on through
the ever-swelling marsh of
exploitation, hardship and
we must write because we have been
chosen to represent the quiet mass. We
have been chosen to speak out with the
tongue of poetry or prose, or any
other genre. We writers, regardless of
any challenges life flings on our way,
should persevere to produce works of
brilliant significance, works that are
endearing and sensitive enough to
impact on peoples lives. And perhaps
make a better humanity of us all.
crowning glory should not only be
manifest in the number of literary
awards won, but in how relevant we are
to the growth of literacy, literary
development and social education of
Techniques: Quick Tips
" Research does more than add authenticity-it often opens the door to subplots and additional scenes.
" Check out news events during the time period of your manuscript. Maybe John Lenon's death didn't affect you dramatically, but if your character is a rock 'n roll musician or a Beatle fanatic, it would be worthy of an emotional response.
" Don't put thoughts (or internal dialogue) in quotes or Italics. Since you must be in the viewpoint of the character in order to be privy to his thoughts, it isn't necessary to say, "he thought" or set off in any other way. Just maintain tense and point of view (such as third person, past tense). Example: "I don't want to go there," John thought, is better written: John didn't want to go there.
" Use current music (titles and even lyrics) to not only add substance to your time setting, but also to make use of another sense (sound).
" Read everything you write aloud. Especially dialogue.
" Keep pen and paper with you at all times. You never know when inspiration will hit or when you'll be stuck in traffic.
" Make a scene feel "complete" by ending it with dialogue (internal or external) or action from your viewpoint character.
" Keep paragraphs, sentences and parts of sentences in chronological order. For example, don't say, "Jacob jumped when he heard the explosion." He must hear the explosion before he jumps, so say, "An explosive sound vibrated the windows. Jacob jumped from his chair." Doing this also forces active voice. :
" Write sentences in the positive form (avoid double negatives).
" Vary the length and structure of your sentences. Don't start every sentence with a proper noun or pronoun. (John watched the Arrivals screen for news. He hoped her flight wouldn't be late. He wanted to see her. He had missed her way too much). Instead, try to start each sentence in a paragraph with a different part of speech: John watched the Arrivals screen for news. Surely, her flight wouldn't be late. And she would be there soon. He had missed her. Way too much. If you find yourself stuck in the "he/she" beginning for each sentence, decide to start each sentence with a different letter of the alphabet. It will take some creativity, but hey, that's why you write, right?
" Focus is what gives your story cohesiveness. You must be able to describe your story in one sentence. Yes. One sentence. Forcing this focus gives you a home base to return to and reflect from, and ensures that you don't drift too much in other directions.
" The purpose of fiction-whether short story, novel or children's literature-is to take the reader away from his life and expose him to a new experience. Hopefully, the reader learns from the experience of the characters, and, at best, the reader views his own life in a new way.
" The only way to finish a novel is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keypad) and do it.
copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All
rights reserved, except for those
listed here. November be reproduced
for educational purposes (such as for
writer's workshops), as long as this
copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com
are distributed with the pages. For
use in conferences or other uses not
mentioned here, please contact Sandy
Tritt at Sandy@InspirationForWriters.com
for permission and additional
resources at no or limited charge.