Scalzi has a good post up about going with a publisher versus self-publishing. One of the things he addresses is the idea that self-publishing is good because you get to keep 100% of the money. As he explains in very clear fashion, this is simply not true. There are costs involved in putting out a professional product and getting it sold to the public at large, and if you’re the publisher, you’ll be paying them.
This is a conversation I get to have every so often. I’m epublished, and a lot of people think that epublishing must have very low costs because you don’t have to pay to print, store and ship physical copies. Thus, the suggestion goes, I should self-publish and get 100% of the cover price instead of 35%.
Well, no. Because the cost of creating and handling the physical item is a relatively small fraction of the cost of bringing that book to market. Good cover art costs money. Good editing costs money. These and other things are necessary if you want people to look at the first book, and then to buy more books. Running a commercial website costs money as well.
And then there’s something that you can’t measure in cold hard cash, but that is vitally important — reputation. My publisher has a good reputation in its own little niche. Readers know that they can try a new author, and have a decent chance of getting a book they’ll enjoy. A book that has had someone other than the author’s friends look at it and say, “Yes, this is competently written,” and then work on it with the author to make it even better. That’s why I can put out my next book through them and reasonably expect it to sell a thousand or so copies over the course of the initial two year contract, without having to spend large amounts of my own time and money trying to get people to look at the book.
A thousand copies doesn’t sound much by the standards of the mass market paperback market, but it is still well above the average sales for a self-published book (around 75-150 copies for print books from the major POD vanity presses, by their own publicly stated figures on titles and total copies). Maybe I could do better than average, especially as I have an established fanbase now. But really, I’d rather take my 35% on 1000 copies and let my publisher do the hard work of publishing it. I’ve *done* my stint at being a publisher, back in my zine days, and while I got a lot of enjoyment out of it I’d rather spend my time writing. If I feel the urge to scratch that itch again, it’ll be on a project that doesn’t fit the commercial needs of my publisher.