Why I Left Traditional Publishing in Favor of Self-Publishing: Part 2

Thursday, October 26, 2017

In part 1 of this blog post series, I explained how I ended up landing my first book deal, signing with an agent, and signing additional book deals. Following is how I came to the decision that I no longer wanted to be involved with traditional publishing.

Deciding Traditional Publishing No Longer Worked for Me

During the production for the second book we sold to a traditional publisher, I received a call from the editor asking me to cut a chapter from the book. “We don’t care which one, but we need to reduce page count to cut costs.” I was mortified. How do you choose a chapter when they’re all important? Didn’t the publisher realize that cutting 20 pages from the book would only save pennies?

I had no choice but to comply, and ultimately turned lemons into lemonade. The end of the book featured a hearty Resources section. I cut that and turned it into a free download that readers could access upon registering on my website. (Today, this is a strategy I use in all of my books—offer one or more free downloads as a way to give readers extra value while also building my email list.)

But, removing that chapter left me with an awful feeling. I didn’t like realizing that ultimately the publisher had all the control. Worse, I was doing all the work with book marketing and book publicity, yet they were reaping the rewards.

Publisher Compensation

I earned an average of $1 per book, and sadly, that’s the current average royalty earned in traditional publishing. The book advances I had received had to be earned back $1 at a time before I ever saw another dime. It was also frustrating to purchase copies of my own books for resale. I knew it only cost the publisher around $2 or $3 to print the books, yet I was forced to purchase them at a wholesale “discount” of 50% off the cover price ($10 each!). I still find it outrageous that the publishers profit from the author’s own purchases.

In fact, some publishers now put into their contracts that authors MUST commit to purchasing a certain number of copies. One author told me that he received a paltry book advance of $5000, and was then required to purchase 1000 copies of his own book upon its release—at a “wholesale” price of $8 each. When you do the math, you see that he actually LOST MONEY on this so-called book deal. And this reputable publisher has now flipped its revenue model to actually generate income from the authors it grants these deals to!

Ultimately, I began questioning whether traditional publishing made sense for me. There was no arguing the math. I earned an average of $1 per book, but self-publishing authors were earning between $4 to $10 per copy, depending on whether the books were sold through retailers or directly.

Find out what you'd earn for every sale with the IngramSpark publisher compensation calculator.

The Turning Point

After much debate, I decided to fire my agent in the nicest way possible (we remain friends today), and I took back control of my own publishing destiny. I’ve since released five additional titles, for a grand total of nine books, and I have never for a moment regretted my decision to self-publish.

I maintain all of the control and earn more royalties on sales—I would only receive a fraction of those revenues if I were with a traditional publishing house. I make the investment up front to ensure the highest quality production, which includes solid editing and book cover designs that I love. I was already doing all the book marketing, but now I no longer have to share the rewards of those efforts.

Check out part 3 in this blog series where we will explore how to decide if traditional publishing makes sense for you.


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Stephanie Chandler

Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan: Online and Offline Promotion Strategies to Build Your Audience and Sell More Books. Stephanie is also founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, a vibrant educational community for experienced and aspiring writers, and the Nonfiction Writers Conference, an annual event conducted entirely online. A frequent speaker at business events and on the radio, she has been featured in Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, and Wired magazine.