I’m afraid that when I tell you what I am about to tell you, you’ll either be offended or think I’m a jerk.
But, because I always tell you the complete and unvarnished truth about the subjects we discuss, I’m going to go ahead and tell you anyway.
So here it goes: for more years than I can count, I secretly looked down upon people who self-published their books.
I was a mainstream book publishing elitist and snob.
Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me or call me a philistine, remember that I grew up in the traditional book publishing world…and so that was what I knew and loved.
If I had self-published my first book, I might well have become a self-publishing cheerleader.
But as it happened, when I wrote my first book proposal in 1981, the first agent I took it to agreed to represent it …and the first publisher he showed it to, McGraw-Hill, bought it for an $8,500 advance (and it was a short book).
For all my books since then…more than 80 to date…I have had them published by mainstream publishing houses including John Wiley & Sons, HarperCollins, Henry Holt, Prentice Hall, and New American Library.
I always preferred traditional publishing to self-publishing for these reasons:
1. It was a lot less work. I only had to write the book. The publisher took care of designing, printing, storing, shipping, and selling it.
2. It cost me nothing out of pocket. And it paid me immediate income—an advance—even before the book was published.
3. There was much more prestige in those days being published by a ‘real’ publishing house than by having it printed at your own expense.
At least one famous self-publishing guru disputes me on this. He says, “The reader doesn’t look to see or care about who published the book; he only cares who the author is and what the book is about.”
From years of personal experience, I can tell you flat-out that this isn’t true, and people are more impressed when you are published by a traditional publisher regardless of whether they should be.
Once, when I was giving a speaking engagement, one of the attendees volunteered to chauffeur me from the airport to the convention center because, he told me, doing so would give him some private time with me.
“So you’ve written 35 books?” he asked me. “Yep,” I replied.
“Self-published them, I suppose,” he said lightly, but I could hear the undertone of something like mockery or mild denigration in his voice.
“Nope,” I snapped backed proudly and confidently. “My publishers are McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, and Wiley.”
He looked at me with new-found respect, and the only reason was that in his eyes I was now a ‘real’ author instead of a guy that paid to have his scribbling printed and bound.
But today, book publishing is a lot different than what it was in 1981. Here’s how I see your book publishing options in 2013:
1. Sell your book to a mainstream publisher.
The traditional book publishing industry has been beaten down in a dozen different ways – from the Kindle to the growing preference for online video over print.
However, I maintain that if you are writing books to build your reputation and gain prestige in your field, the best option is still to go with a traditional publisher, even though the advances get smaller with each passing year.
2. Self-publish a paper book.
This is still less prestigious than having your book come out under a major publisher’s imprint, but it’s a viable option if you either can’t or don’t want to sell your book to a John Wiley or McGraw-Hill.
You keep a greater percentage of the revenues from the sale of each copy, and you buy your own inventory at a much lower cost per copy than the 50% author’s discount major publishers give their authors.
3. Kindle e-book.
There are a number of advantages to doing a Kindle e-book not available with other formats.
First, it’s dirt-cheap. Just create an electronic file in the format required by Kindle and you are good to go. It’s a no-brainer.
Second, by investing a few hundred bucks or so in professional cover and page design, when your Kindle e-book is posted on Amazon, it looks as good and professional as any traditionally published book being sold on the site.
Third, there’s no real commitment of time or money. You can publish and promote a Kindle e-book as aggressively as any other book. Or just pop it up there and see what happens.
Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.