self-publishing--is it worth it? [Archive] - Glock Talk


View Full Version : self-publishing--is it worth it?

Miss Maggie
08-24-2004, 07:31
I've noticed several people have mentioned they've been published. Have any of you self-published? Or has your book been accepted by a publisher? What're your thoughts on the subject of self-publishing?

Any thoughts on which is the best route to go if a person can even attract a publisher to begin with? I know a publisher would take the worry of distributing off a writer, but are the much smaller profits per book and the danger of the book being dropped right away if it's not a blockbuster worth the risk?

I have a friend who has self-published, and she's thinking the advantages far outweigh the risks. She's had fewer sales, but she's been able to keep more of the money from each sale, and if she's out there pushing the book, she's making sales.

08-24-2004, 08:49
I would strongly suggest doing some detailed research on self-publishing before going that route. They are not called vanity publishers for nothing. In some cases you are much better off working with a local print shop than going through some rip-off self publishers. When I took creative writing classes in college we were told that 90%+ of vanity publishing houses are scams. But then again that means that perhaps 10% of vanity publishers are honest folks worthwhile dealing with if you really want to go the self-published route. If your book is regional, or deals with a niche market, which you can reach, then it makes sense. I have heard that is pretty good, but I have not researched them personally.

I have written several California state exam study guides, and some very specific regulatory compliance guides which were published in-house by my employer; we have access to most of the potential market; we have a couple of folks who buy and resell our study guides to 90% of those who we don't have direct access to. We donít invest in thousands of copies at once; typically running several dozen at a time, though sometimes a whole lot more. I wish we had good records for how many we have published; somewhere in the ballpark of 20-30K copies I would guess based on our net profits. Iíll have to ask our office manager if and what records she has as to the numbers published. We probably could have saved some money printing all these up front; but by keeping our inventory down, it keeps our capitol outlay down, and it makes it relatively easy to add addendums or to re-vamp the books completely.

08-24-2004, 09:05
If you are self publishing, you probably will need to research hiring your own editor, filing for your ISBN or if your publisher will do it for you, and many other issues and expenses which I am sure I am omitting. My wife is currently editing a book for a guy who is going the self-publishing route; if he were not a shirttail, "sort of relative" (I have never met this guy - he is an in-law's, ex-husbands' nephew - I think.) her services would be costing him a WHOLE lot more money than he is paying. As a first time novelist, his work is pretty rough, which entails a WHOLE lot more work on my wife's part to edit his work and provide feedback. I have no doubt that we could pay for our last vacation (it was a fairly inexpensive vacation ;f ) with the services she is giving away to this guy.

Miss Maggie
08-24-2004, 17:42
Thanks for the information. My friend who self published hired an editor, set up her own publishing company, took care of obtaining her own ISBN number and readied the book on disc to send to a company which actually printed the book. She got in pallets of the books in the beginning and has sold quite a few. She's offered to publish my writing under her company name, but I'm not sure that's the route I want to take. I trust her, but I'd feel the same way about any vanity press, I think. If I have to supply up-front money to do the publishing, I want to be able to make the calls myself without having to depend on the judgment of someone else.

I know all I personally want to know about trying to edit the work of someone else. I made the mistake once of agreeing to edit a term paper for a fellow classmate who was in deep trouble with it. She knew I was not a professional, but under the circumstances figured any help was better than none. (I'm not sure if she was right or not on that one.) Anyway, the paper was only around thirty pages long, but I about went crazy working on it. I found out in a hurry that it's easier to do the writing to start with than it is to try to figure out where someone else has gone wrong and help clean up their mess. I about went crazy just trying to discipher what she was trying to say to begin with. Then there was the little matter of where editing stops and rewriting starts--I never could decide on that.

I learned that lesson in a hurry and will never get involved in anything like that again.

08-27-2004, 12:13
My feeling is only worth it if you are doing it as a business venture -- that is, if you know what you are writing, who you will sell it to, have stocking access to retail venues and can come up with a sales projection based on actualy knowledge of how similar stuff has sold. In that case, it's just a form of entreprenuership (sp!).

I would definitely agree with using a local print shop. If you are doing this, you want to know the process well enough to get stuff ready to shoot to film yourself or through people you contract. If you don't know what you're doing in the publishing business and just wrote the great American novel, peddle it to publishers conventionally. If nobody will buy it, then that is something to think on.

Printing books requires a big capital investment for a relatively low margin, you want to know things well enough that you can cost it out before you get started. People who want to take a fee to help you do this are making their business off the fees, not the sales receipts.

Lobotomy Boy
09-07-2004, 06:03
I agree with Raindog.

I am an acquisitions editor at a publishing house specializing in transportation and motorsports-related titles. I am in charge of motorcycle titles, but have published a number of best-sellers in the automotive area too. Most of the books I publish sell between 10,000 and 70,000 copies in their first year. These are substantial numbers, since about 70 percent of the 200 titles our company publishes sell less than 4,000 copies in their first years. In other words, I have a bit of experience in the publishing business.

I am also an author. My first book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motorcycles," has sold well over 100,000 copies. It is almost 7 years old and is still on Barnes and Noble's top 20 best-selling transportation titles. A third edition is being published this fall. The book was originally published by Alpha Press, an imprint of Simon Schuster Macmillan, a company that no longer exists in its orginal form (Alpha is now owned by the German megapublisher Pearson). Simon Schuster Macmillan was one of the largest publishers in the world at the time my book originally came out.

I published my second book with a small publisher specializing in motorcycle titles. My last three books have been published by the company I know work for as an acquisitions editor.

I know two people who have made a fortune self publishing books. But these people have not simply written a book and then self published it. Both have developed highly specialized presses with sound business plans. And it took both years of hard work to make those presses profitable.

I do know a number of people (mostly former college classmates) who have gone the Kathy Acker route and had their own books printed and marketed them themselves. It seems Kathy Acker is the only writer who has ever made this system really work. A rare few, like your friend, break even or even make a few dollars, netting a profit that amounts to a fraction of a penny for every hour of hard work invested in writing, printing, and marketing the book. Most end up with crushing credit card debt and a basement filled with their great American novel.

I am biased towards publishing houses, but there is good reason to go that route if you don't have the infrastructure to market and produce your own book. First and foremost, publishers pay you to produce your book, rather than you paying a printer. And publishers have the editorial, production, marketing, and distribution instruments to create your book and get it in front of readers. It doesn't matter how well-written your book is if all the existing copies are moldering in cardboard boxes in your basement.

If no publisher accepts your submission, it might not be because they are all Philistines. The people making those decisions are professionals, and they know what will and what will not sell.

If your book is good enough, it will find a publisher somewhere. You might have to get 100, 200, or even more rejection letters, but that is part of the writing process. I would exhaust all publishing options before even considering self publishing.

Miss Maggie
09-07-2004, 16:50
Thanks, to all of you. You've given me a whole lot to keep thinking about.

Lobotomy Boy
09-08-2004, 20:00
I have a bit of insight into getting published, but most of it involves publishing in niche, specialized markets. For example, all of my books have been about motorcycles and motorcycling. I am still trying to figure out how to crack open the fiction market. I'd appreciate any advice people may have in that area.

10-04-2004, 17:07
I have about 30 magazine articles to my credit, mostly dealing with use-of-force and tactical issues. I did publish one book entitled Merchants At War, a survival guide for the armed merchant or retailer. It was published by Varro Press, a small firm specializing in police titles. I did write one fictional novel, a detective/crime story. Frankly, I couldn't get a literary agent to even look at it. And, I carefully followed established submission and query guidelines. It's a tough market. There are more talented writers available than the market can support. Conventional wisdom is that it's harder to find a literary agent than a publisher. The experience was so discouraging that I simply stopped trying.

Incidentally, if you get published in non-fiction, don't assume this will automatically open the door to the fiction market for you. Unfortunately, very few authors successfully make the transition from non-fiction to fiction. So, that coffee table tome you wrote on collecting Clinton era Tupperware will hold no currency with the fiction houses.

I nearly forgot to mention that those of you in law enforcement must be extremely careful not to allow any officialese to creep into your fictional story. Some of my sins, picked up by my editor include:
"he exited his vehicle," "he noted," "he observed the situation," "he drew his service revolver." etc.

10-11-2004, 13:36
I wrote four books and self-published them through my own company. They worked out pretty well because I promoted them myself through advertising. None of the books was ever sold in a single bookstore.

So I think you can self-publish profitably but you need to have a plan to do your own marketing and you need to consider channels other than bookstores.

Miss Maggie
10-11-2004, 15:21
That's encouraging, cognitive fun. Congratulations on your success. May I ask what types of books you write?

10-11-2004, 15:30
I have written books about sales and marketing.

10-14-2004, 08:28
I have read, critiqued, and occasionally edited screenplays for various producers at Universal, Disney, and elsewhere. I have one (unproduced) videogame script to my credit for which I received excellent compensation from Hasbro Electronics. I have been a writer all my life, and applied the skill in whatever industry happened to be hiring -- including (since I moved back to Indiana) technical documents for Defense Department projects, manuals and proposals for a driver licensing computer firm, and nationally distributed ad campaigns for an agency.

I worked at the movie studios for 20 years, and frankly I was shocked at how many people think they can write screenplays -- people from all over the country sent in submissions to the studios, scripts which were nearly always returned unopened by the legal department. 99.9% of the amateur submissions that we DID read were not good, if you know what I mean. It seems to me that the reason it is so difficult for real writers to get through to a publisher or a movie producer is the cacophony -- you may write well, but your manuscript will be surrounded at its destination, and lost in the deluge. I have concluded that people will write a screenplay like they will buy a lottery ticket -- hoping against hope. Most of them shouldn't.

Having said that, I think the best way to approach a publisher or a studio is probably to submit your work to boutique sized literary agencies in the destination city until you find one that is willing to represent you to the right people. Then, if your work is really good, it will be considered through legitimate channels.

As for self publishing, if you really want some copies of a book to pass out to friends or even sell on eBay or your website, I say go for it if you can afford to do so. BUT -- don't shell out the money if you have to go into significant debt. Self publishing is something people should probably only do with "disposable income." I have seen too many folks, WAY too many folks, who were absolutely convinced their writing was great -- and it wasn't -- to recommend going out on a limb financially, no matter how great you are certain your work is. Of course, if you're getting lots of superb feedback from objective strangers (I don't mean "good," I mean "superb"), maybe you do have talent and should roll the big dice. But those cases are fairly rare, as you might imagine.

Self publishing, as long as you understand what it is, and what it isn't, is fine for those who can afford it. Many people probably find satisfaction that way, even if their books don't reach too many eyeballs. My family produced an inexpensive cookbook of old family recipes and passed it out at one of our reunions; the recipes are good and the book, which is in a spiral binding, is worthwhile on a small scale. But if you are looking for national marketing, once your book has been self published, you will have to put your webmaster/auctioneer hat(s) on and either create a web site or some auctions and market it yourself. And you STILL may well end up with a basement full of unsold books. If that possibility doesn't deter you, I guess I'd say, why not? If you can afford the costs involved, what's to prevent you? Only if you have expectations of significant sales numbers should you pause to reconsider -- since vanity books, as has been said, attract no distribution.

That's my .02.

Lobotomy Boy
10-14-2004, 21:09
In my day job, I'm the guy at the other end of those submissions. I am an acquisitions editor at a mid-sized publisher, and more and more I prefer to work with a small group of trusted agents and authors. When I first started I tried to give everyone an equal chance, newcomer and established writer alike, but over the years I have been burned so many times that I've withdrawn and am one of those editors who now returns unsolicited manuscripts unread. I still take a chance every now and then, and I have discovered some great authors, but for the most part I have a stable of trustworthy, productive people, and I seldom venture outside of that group.

I've been working extremely hard and traveling a lot lately, so I haven't posted in this forum, but when I get a chance I'll post some advice on how to get through to people like me at established publishing houses.

10-15-2004, 05:57
Lobotomy Boy: I'm sure I'm speaking for a number of people in that we would like to hear what you have to say about effectively reaching the right people. In the interim, a vacation looms and I'll be in computer withdrawal for nearly three weeks.

Miss Maggie
10-17-2004, 23:14
Originally posted by Lobotomy Boy
I have a bit of insight into getting published, but most of it involves publishing in niche, specialized markets. For example, all of my books have been about motorcycles and motorcycling. I am still trying to figure out how to crack open the fiction market. I'd appreciate any advice people may have in that area.

I have a friend who is on the payroll of a national non-fiction magazine and has been for a few years. Before that he wrote for a newspaper for years. He says that neither of these full time jobs has helped him to get his fiction published, that it's hard to make the switch.

10-24-2004, 11:07
Self-publishing can be very rewarding. Get the books by Tom and Marion Ross and Dan Poynter. (

And, understand that you are in the PUBLISHING business. You pay for editing, for printing, for shipping, for warehousing, for promotion, for advertising, for fulfillment, for overhead, etc.

You are in BUSINESS. If that's okay, then jump into the deep end with the rest of us.

Writing a book is easy. SELLING books is hard. When people tell me they can probably sell 10,000 copies of their book, I always ask, "Who will you sell the first one to?"

Books are sold one at a time. Most of the 50,000+ books published each year sell fewer than 5000 copies.

But, it can be fun and rewarding. Just understand that it is expensive and demanding. I've written several books, published several in my own small press, and have actually paid the light bills with it (barely).

By the way, Lobotomy Boy, I think I have a query for you! <grin>

11-02-2004, 17:43
Originally posted by Lobotomy Boy
but when I get a chance I'll post some advice on how to get through to people like me at established publishing houses.

..........wait, wait, wait...........

I have a marketing company promoting my book now, and I have made some reasonably good $$ so far, but would like to do some selling/promoting myself.

I know the "unsolicited manuscript" way does not work....

Your info might be a great HELP.....

Lobotomy Boy
11-02-2004, 21:18
Sorry, things have been a bit crazy. My wife had surgery yesterday and we've been busy getting our ducks in a row before that. I'll have a little time while I stay home and take care of her for the rest of the week. I'll try to post something.

11-19-2004, 16:58
I've self-published my novel, THE JUSTICE COOPERATIVE. However, after reading the books by Poynter and so on, I decided I didn't want to do all that work. I went with Elderberry Press, which does the work of arranging for printing, getting ISBN, etc. I've been happy with them.

However, I still have to promote my book. I've gone the book signing route, buying ads in likely places, etc. No question about it, it's still work, but I'm glad I did it. I couldn't get a regular publisher or agent to consider my book, but everyone who has read it said they liked it. My problem is getting it to the attention of people who would like it (gun owners and self defense enthusiasts, mainly).

My advice is to do you homework first. Check up on the publisher before you commit to one. Can they get the book listed on Amazon? Do they have a stable of good cover artists? What other support can they give you (Elderberry listed me in a magazine that goes to talk show hosts, and I've been on several talk shows)? Be prepared to do a lot of promotion, though.

Lobotomy Boy
11-19-2004, 20:46
Author promotion is one of the most important factors for a book's success. I have one author who wrote a book on high performance motorcycle riding techniques. It was an excellent book, arguably the best book in a very competetive market, and the book would have done very well without his self promotion. But this guy is a self-promoting machine. A former motorcycle magazine editor, he makes his living selling gloves of his own design, primarily over the Internet. He worked his butt off promoting the book and it is one of our best-selling titles, even two years after its original publication.