Self-publishing is the only way

Despite the terrible things people say about self-publishing, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the only way to make any money as a writer.

Please note that I hate money as much as the next artiste, and I don’t want to have to sell myself short in favor of a paycheck. However, I will admit that I enjoy writing for money, because I feel it’s the best way to pay for my not-so-extravagant lifestyle, while also affording me the free time to do the things I enjoy, like reading a book a day, watching old-timey movies rented from the local library, and laughing at the so-called artwork at the museums nearest my house.

"self publisher" by Flickr user Matt Westervelt

Self-publishing vs. vanity press

Self-publishing is often derided by “real” writers with “legitimate” publishing contracts as “vanity press publishing,” suggesting that writers who are worth their salt will subject themselves to the humiliating and often insanely long process of trying to find a publisher for their work, while anyone else (i.e. anyone who has failed to pass the “legitimate” publishing test) goes on to publish their necessarily badly-written manuscripts themselves.

Daguerreotype of Charles Dickens, notorious self-publisher (image via Wikimedia, by Jeremiah Gurney)

First of all, I disagree with this assessment. Brilliant writers like Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens have self-published their works, and no one disputes their genius or talent (check out the Self-Publishing Hall of Fame if you don’t believe me). So right there, the whole notion of “vanity press” is null and void.

But even if those writers hadn’t self-published, I would still say that self-publishing has an important place, and that is because traditional publishers are, to put it bluntly, thieves.

Artistic wage-slavery and corporate thieves

I say this because I recently had a chat with a publisher that shall remain nameless. Said publisher informed me that he was interested in publishing my book, but that he would only be able to do so if I myself procured a “partner” who would supply some of the money up front to print my book. Even then, he would only be willing to print a run of perhaps 2,500 books, and this only if I could find someone to do a simultaneous translation of my English version into French. While you might assume that the publisher would pay for such a translation, you would be incorrect: this publisher proposed that I would find said translator myself, and also that part of my royalties would be shared with this person.

To break it down numerically, the publisher was proposing that I would split my 8% royalty with my translator, 50-50, entitling me to a royalty of 4%. If there were a print run of 2,500 books, with a retail price of $25 for each book sold, this would results in sales of $62,500, with my 8% royalty totalling $5,000, split between myself and my translator, leaving each of us with $2,500. That might not sound so bad, except that we would each only be entitled to half of that fee upon publication ($1,250 each), with the possibility of receiving the other half if the book actually sold. If not, we wouldn’t see a dime more.

So that means I would only be guaranteed $1,250 for a book-length manuscript I wrote entirely on my own (including years of interviewing, research, transcription and accompanying photography), while a translator would also receive $1,250 for putting all of my words into another language, tweaking the text where necessary and possibly even adding his or her own bits and pieces to play to a completely different audience (i.e. essentially writing a whole different book). That hardly seems fair for either of us.

Add to that the fact that my publisher also wants me to find a financial backer or partner to put up more money up front, and you can see why I find this to be a very bad deal indeed. The publisher is going to get rich (generating over $60,000 in revenue by doing nothing more than hitting “print” on a computer and spending perhaps $500 to print my books), while I am going to make a measly $1,250? How is that fair?!

You can, perhaps, begin see why I don’t think “traditional” publishing is the way to go.

The principle of the thing

It’s not that I’m greedy. I’m not sure what I would say my manuscript would be worth, but I certainly believe that if I am putting in most of the effort in order to get it published, I should also receive most of the benefits of having done said work. Why should a middleman make 99% of the profit while I stand idly by and get screwed? It’s the principle of the thing.

$60,000 is a lot of money. One might buy a home or an expensive sportscar with 60 Gs. One could finance an education, or live comfortably for several years on that sum. I certainly don’t think that my manuscript is worth that type of money, but if it were, I propose that I would definitely be more entitled to reap that benefit than some third party who has never even had the merest inkling that such a manuscript could exist, much less the talent to write it. (And if you think this publisher is going to front a wad of cash for publicity of this dual manuscript, I think you’re mistaken. If he needs money from a partner just to print it, given the mega-low prices of printing these days, I doubt he is going to cough up for any “extras” like marketing.)

Anyway, based on what I have learned today, I don’t think I will be relying on any traditional publishers to get my book out to its intended audience. Instead, I will either find that financial backer to finance self-publication, or I shall go another route entirely. Whether that will be print-on-demand or selling e-books or giving it away via Kindle, I’m not yet certain, but I do know there has to be a better way.

Traditional publishing has only existed this long because writers have been afraid to be business people. I am not afraid to be a business person. Look out, world: the future is here.

P.S. I would also like to add that without self-publishing, I never would’ve found The Naked Blonde Writer, and that would be a crime beyond forgiveness indeed!

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