The blogosphere is full of articles about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. And I love how self-publishing has shaken up the (very) cobwebby industry, so here are my two cents worth:
Firstly, let me quickly explain what I mean by traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is done by either a large publishing house (think Penguin, Pearson, Pan Macmillan, etc.) or a smaller independent publisher (like Wordsmack). These publishers pay authors a royalty. The royalty percentage differs from publisher to publisher, but most pay 10%-15% although this is changing with the advent of epublishing. There are also vanity publishers who publish your books for a fee – this is a completely different form of publishing that is not being discussed here.
So, what exactly does a publisher do for you?
Firstly, you get a brutally honest answer about whether your story is worth publishing or saving. Fear of rejection, I guess, is why a lot of people self-publish … I had a long conversation with an author who said that all authors should self-publish because publishers take too big a cut. A few weeks later, I see she has found a publisher …
Secondly, if your book is accepted, you have a company who backs you, who believes in you and who wants to make you the best writer you can be. A lot of very big publishers might not cultivate young talent, but there are small publishers, like us, whose goal in life is to develop new authors and a writing community in Africa. That, and winning the lottery, the European lottery.
Thirdly, and this is the most important, there are all the costs that the publisher carries: editing, proofreading, cover design, typesetting, illustrations/photos, marketing, etc. You don’t pay for anything and if you do, you are with a vanity publisher. Therefore, publishers have a vested interest, they want your book to sell and sell well. If your book doesn’t sell, the publisher makes a loss.
This article on one of my favourite websites explains it quite well: http://io9.com/the-7-most-common-misconceptions-about-science-fiction-1189361443
So, marketing, how hard can it be? There seems to be a lot of self-published authors who do really well. Every day there is at least one author who comes out and says how well they’ve done, how easy it was, what worked for them and tells everyone that they should do it too. However, I am sure that for every successful author, there are at least ten who aren’t successful. This could also be because their writing sucks, but often that has nothing to do with it. Some people are born self-marketers. They write blogs, are extremely active on social media, have time in the evenings to punt their books and they have connections. Most authors aren’t like this though – they love to write in their little corners at night after a long day of work, but they don’t have time or the energy for all the rest.