Self-publishing is where the author also takes on the role of the publisher, usually with the assistance of an editor or a self-publishing company. The greatest single advantage of self-publishing – and the reason many authors choose this route – is that it guarantees your book gets out there.
With self-publishing, the responsibility for the book lies completely with the publisher (which is also the author, which is you). You have the final say on every decision, and many authors self-publish precisely to have this control.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch; with all the decision-making power comes all the financial risk of the project. Although this can be managed with good advice, as with any business project it’s never eliminated. Realising that as a self-publisher you’re taking on all of the business risk of the book is very important.
As well as self-publishing there are a couple of other forms of publishing to consider when working on your book: Traditional and Partnership publishing.
Traditional publishing is the form of publishing most people are familiar with. In traditional publishing an established publishing company – big, such as Penguin, or small, such as Sleepers (one of my favourite small publishers) – finds a book that they think they can make profitable. The book has to be high quality and marketable, and the publisher must be satisfied that they can work well with the author. They then negotiate a contract with the author and – if a contract is agreed upon – take on production of the book. The publishing company is responsible for paying all the costs and managing the publication of the book, and shares the profits with the author in the form of a royalty payment, usually around 10 per cent of the recommended retail price of the book.
Partnership publishing is an area where inexperienced authors can get caught out. It’s a hybrid model, somewhere between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Nothing is inherently wrong with the partnership publishing method, and it can produce excellent results, but it does open up unwary authors to being ripped off. The ‘partnership’ is formed by the publisher signing up the author to what is much like a traditional publishing contract, but also asking the author to contribute to the costs of the book or to commit to buying a large number of books from the publisher, or both.
Where authors can run into trouble with this model is if they’re unaware of where the risks and rewards lie. With traditional publishing, the author contributes the time and energy to write the book, the publisher contributes the money and skill to publish and distribute the book, and the profits (or losses) are shared. Shared risk, and shared reward. All good. With self-publishing, the author contributes everything and keeps all the profits (or losses). All the risk, and all the reward. All good again. But a dodgy partnership publishing deal hands most or all of the risk to the author but then shares any rewards with the publisher. That’s not good at all.
Like anything in business, if the terms of the agreement are reasonable and the risks and returns for the publisher and author are equitable, partnership publishing is fine, and can be very successful. A good friend of mine runs her publishing company this way; she is very successful with many happy authors. But it is the area of publishing where we most often hear about authors having unsatisfactory publishing experiences.