As I navigate the world of publishing (self-publishing in my case), I keep learning more about it. However, the more I understand it, the less it makes sense to me. Let me explain myself. Say an established house published your book. You are a freshman author and lets say–for argument’s sake–your novel will not set the world ablaze, so you are a mid-list author. Your publisher estimates their projected sales for the first year and how much it's going to cost to do the editing, the cover, the binding and printing, as well as shipping costs. Then they figure out how much money you, the author, might make based on the royalty percentage. This number becomes the much coveted–and even more misunderstood–advance they will offer you. This could be as low as $3,000 and as high as $20,000, or so I’ve heard.
So what does that mean? Well, you just got an advance on your royalties. Let’s say your advance is $3,000. Until your book’s sales surpass this number, you won’t see another cent. Oh, and your agent takes 15% (sometimes 20%) of that. But here’s the kicker, the publishing house won’t promote your manuscript. The only people that get that–and the romanticize lifestyle of the literary author for that matter–are the big sellers. Your Rowlings, Browns, Kings, Clancys, etc. Everybody else has to hustle. You want your book to be promoted? Well, then welcome to the wonderful world of self-promotion. Guess where that advance money is going to end up? Mid-list authors (read: everybody but the top stars) have to hit the road on their own and peddle their titles. Even if you’ve gotten a $20,000 advance, that will just buy you some fair Internet exposure. Forget any meaningful print, TV or Radio marketing. Ah! But you are a published author; surely the media will review your work. That’s true, but reviewers are swamped with thousands of books to critique and not everyone will be reviewed. Known writers and whatever is commercially viable at the time will take precedence. In the end, the publisher takes about 90% of the royalties (if there are any); authors get to keep less than 10%.
Hmm, so to recap: you have to do all the work, you might not get a review and you are taking royalty crumbs for your hard work. The phrase “Don’t quit your day job” applies to writing with dreadful accuracy. Suddenly self-publishing starts looking pretty good. The differences are you have creative control, you don’t have to wait years for your novel to fall into the publisher’s printing queue, and you get to keep most of your royalties–as it should be. No wonder best-selling authors like Barry Eisler are turning to self-publishing. http://www.npr.org/2011/10/07/141116856/barry-eislers-detachment-from-legacy-publishing. I mean, after learning all of this, I’m beginning to think I am fortunate to have gotten my work out on my own. Who would have thought?
Keep on running!