I keep hearing the question, “Why bother with a publisher? After all, authors are doing a lot of the marketing, and their work is the core of the book.”
My answer: Money, distribution, time and quality.
Money: You’re not risking your own money, and a publisher will invest a lot more than you want to risk. A trade book will usually cost more than $20,000 to launch. Yes, self-publishers can substitute time for money, and there are other ways to economize, but any commercial publishing venture takes a big old wad of cash.
Distribution: Even a modest-sized house will have better distribution than you’ll be able to secure on your own. Yes, anyone can sell online, even through the biggest sites, like Amazon. But that leaves a lot of potential sales and readers that you’re not reaching. You can trade volume for margin, but it’s a move that needs to be carefully examined.
Time: Publishing well is a lot more complicated than it seems. You can certainly learn to do it. There are even books on most parts of the process, and if you read three or four overviews, one or two on design, a couple on editing, three to five books on publicity and book marketing, and a couple on the general business aspects of running a publishing company, you’ll learn a lot of the basics, but that’s eleven to fifteen books, plus time to try the techniques and practice. By the time you’ve learned to publish at all well, you could have written another couple of manuscripts.
Quality: Most “civilians” don’t consciously see the difference between a pedestrian cover design and a good one, let alone the difference between a pro’s text layout and an amateurish job. But these “trivial” differences do matter in the end. They can make someone decide to buy or not to buy your book, on an unconscious level.
All the people who decide what gets onto the bookshelves can tell the difference at a glance. These standards are the way they are because they work.
So, yes, Virginia, you can self-publish successfully. There are even a few people who use one of the so-called “self-publishing companies” successfully. But your chances of getting a larger readership, or of getting a decent living, from the effort are much better if you sign up with an experienced publishing team.
So, that’s a very short answer to a very complicated question. Which points did I gloss over, or even get completely backwards? If you’re still with me after that last hiatus, you must have an opinion. Let’s hear it!