Traditional publishing, self-publishing, or paying a publisher to create a book – there is lots to choose from. Many authors, especially those who just wrote “The End” under their first novel, have no idea what is the best for them.
For a long time, the rule “Money flows towards the author.” was the gold standard.
This is how it used to work:
Traditional publishers print and market books. That is their job. In order to do it well, they choose a manuscript, run it through several systems of improvement and then send it to the market. A firm part of that improvement system consists of copyediting and proofreading, typesetting and of course, the creation of a cover. This is the responsiblity of the publisher, and an author who is under contract with a publisher is not expected to pay for this service.
Quite to the contrary, an author usually gets an advance (depending on the publisher), and royalties – that is a share of every book sold. Advances are simply advance payments of royalties. The publisher only starts earning money when the book sells. And money flows towards the author.
This was how it was not supposed to work:
Of course, there are also companies who help authors to publish their books – for a fee. In Germany, this is often called a “print cost share system”. In the US, they are known as “vanity press”. Some companies even charge extra for proofreading or the cover picture. All those costs and fees can reach four-digit levels. It’s possible that this kind of company earns more from the author than from the books they eventually sell. At any rate, there are enough experiences out there with this kind of company to point out one simple fact: Money flows away from the author in these cases.
Then the internet happened.
Authors could interact with each other a lot easier all of a sudden. The golden rule of “Money flows Towards the Author” became widely known. Things got very simple: As soon as a company wanted to be paid for printing a certain amount of books from a manuscript, it was called Vanity Press and avoided in the future.
Then the internet created ebooks.
Opportunities shifted and multiplied. It has never been so easy to publish a manuscript. It just takes a few clicks – and the author turns from being a writer to being a publisher, a self-publisher, to be precise.
However, all those things that the traditional publisher used to do don’t go away. Manuscripts still need proofreading, copyediting, typesetting and a cover picture. And to be brutally honest: Nobody can proofread their own novel. It simply does not work. I have given it my best, and I just cannot find the spelling mistakes in my own text (that is, tricky ones that spell-check doesn’t mark). Fortunately, I have a friend who tells me about them in her own frank way (thanks, it’s much appreciated!). And not every author is also a graphics wizard.
This is how it could be for you now:
All this means that an author who turns self-publisher has to pay for those services which the traditional publisher used to perform for him or her. And suddenly that golden rule no longer works. Money flows away from the author, at least in the beginning.
Of course, every self-publisher hopes that the sales will cover the cost and go beyond it. This is not entirely unrealistic, as the royalties from self-publishing are substantially higher than in traditional publishing. (We won’t talk about vanity press here.)
This way, the author spends money first, in order to earn more money later. Hopefully, that means money flows out, flows back in and turns into a much desired deluge. And it easily can, if the author puts on her or his entrepreneurial hat and does it well.
Best of luck for your books!
*Image Source: F. Moebius
This article first appeared in my writing blog here. This is an updated and edited version.