With the recent explosion of cheap publishing options—most of which are not “self” publishing, but subsidy publishing incorrectly labeled “self-publishing”—I have to wonder: Is it really less expensive in the long run?
This leads to a slew of other questions: Is there a commercial market for my book? Who is my audience? Will they buy the book? What is my competition? How will I let them know the book exists? Can I price the book so that I will still make a profit? Will I sell enough copies of the book to make a profit?
A subsidy press (aka POD self-publisher) will print your book with a cookie-cutter, templated cover and interior design that likely will be marginal at best. If they offer editing services, it’s probably little more than a proofread. Sure, you can invest just a couple of hundred bucks—and you’ll be in print. But remember, you’ll need to purchase the books from them at a much higher price than offset-print books (or even from print-on-demand printers that offer printing only, such as Lightning Source). Your book might be priced too high to compete with others in its genre. The margins make it nearly impossible to make a profit if you want to sell books in the traditional book market.
Most of these books sell just 50 to 100 copies. Part of the problem is that reviewers shun them because they are immediately identified as subsidy published. Distribution is a challenge. If you are lucky enough to get into your local bookstore, you’ll probably be shelved in the “local author” section with the rest of the “self-published” authors.
If you decide to invest more—at least $2,000 or $3,000 plus printing—and self-publish (i.e., start your own publishing company, obtain your own ISBN, etc.), yes, your investment will be higher at the onset. But, if you put together the right team of experts, you will probably end up with a well-edited, nicely designed product that will stand up to any other book on the bookstore shelf. Distribution is doable. Your book will be priced appropriately because you won't be paying inflated prices for each book, and with a well-planned and consistently executed marketing and promotions plan, you have a much better chance of turning a profit.
Many of my clients have sold thousands of books, more than earning back their initial investment. Their books are available through major distributors and shelved under the appropriate subject at the bookstore.
So, which is cheaper? I guess it depends on whether or not you really want to sell books.
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