How Self-Publishing Is Becoming the American Idol of the Literary Community, Part Two


In part one of this blog post, How Self-Publishing Is Becoming the American Idol of the Literary Community, I shared the growing trend of publishers seeking out successful self-published authors on the Amazon “stage,” similar to how talented new singers are discovered on American Idol.

The question I posed was whether or not this “discovery”—and the subsequent courting of the author by the publishing company—was beneficial to the writer. The short (and not so glamorous) answer is: It depends.

Let’s paint a picture:

You’re an author who independently published your book, performing the necessary steps to ensure an impeccable result.

    • You hired a professional editor and endured the many phases of polishing your words to perfection.
    • You engaged a professional book designer to create an appropriate, audience-targeted cover for your genre and a beautifully designed interior layout.
    • You wrote—or hired a professional to write—a strategic, thoughtful, kick-butt book description to draw your reader, utilizing that copy for the back of the book, online retailers, and other promotional materials.
    • Promotional materials? Yep. You had a bookmark, postcard, and/or website for the book created by a professional, too.
    • You hired a professional e-book designer to create at least one electronic version, not leaving any reader out of the loop.
    • You put your finished book(s) up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, etc.

In short, you invested the amount of time and money into your book that a publishing house would (minus the website—you’re on your own there) … and then you went a step further.

Putting on the next hat (self-publishing authors have quite a wardrobe of these), you researched how to market your book to your audience and carried it out to the best of your ability—a multi-layered, not-so-easy task for most. And as a result of this seemingly endless commitment to doing it all the right way and garnering the attention you desired, you actually sold a lot of books—hurray!—enough to place you in the top ten on Amazon for a time, maybe even hitting number one.

Now here’s the thing: Readers aren’t the only ones looking at your Amazon ranking; publishers are looking at it, too. When you’re in the top ten, no matter the genre, you’re going to capture the eye of those in the business—perhaps even those who might have rejected your work. Why? If you’re selling that many books, you’ve clearly done something right. And now they’d like to share in the profits, which leads us back to our original question: Is it to your benefit to sign a contract with a publisher at this point?

 For straight sales profits, the answer is likely no. As a self-published author, you’re making 3-5 times more in royalties than you would under contract with a publisher, big or small. Of course, you put your own money out, so you had to make that back before you started seeing real profits; but you experience a similar scenario when a publisher pays you an advance, only you have to sell a lot more books before that advance is met and profits begin to come your way.

For example, if your book is listed at $20.00 and you’re making a direct royalty of approximately 40% per book, it’s a no-brainer that that’s far from the 6% (paperback) or 10% (hardcover) you’d receive from a publisher after they keep their share.

So the question clearly becomes:

How will I make more money with you than I’m making on my own?

Unless they present you with a knock-your-socks-off marketing plan that they’re committed to carrying out for you, and you’re confident it will increase your profits in a worthwhile way, you’ll likely want to retain the rights to your domestic print and e-book sales, at least for the time being. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to negotiate to your advantage.

A major area where publishing houses can offer a boon to your book is through their contractual savvy with foreign and movie/TV rights, an arena where you on your own have little chance of success. It is becoming increasingly common for publishers to settle for navigating two or three channels of the book trade rather than wield “the entire book package or nothing” approach. If they truly believe in your book, they stand to gain in the big scheme, even if not the whole scheme.

The important thing to remember is that you are in control of your book’s path in the labyrinth of publishing. No one can take success from you that you’ve achieved on your own—if someone is waiting around a corner to gain from your prosperity, there must be a clear benefit for you. Simply having a big publisher’s name on your cover is no longer a sound motivation for a contract, as evidenced by a recently released statement. Though cryptic, it is nonetheless indicative of the self-publishing climate:

“A major author will choose to publish independently instead of traditionally. Gnashing of teeth will ensue.”

—Steve Laube, President of Steve Laube Agency


Case in point: Don’t be too overwhelmed with excitement over a known publisher wanting to represent you now that you’ve attained a level of success; be smart, ask questions, and be diligent in determining that what they offer is clearly advantageous to you, not just to them. Engage a lawyer in this field to ensure you’re protected, and don’t make any rash decisions in reaction to a feeling of hard-won validation. Your book could be destined for more exposure, broader markets, maybe even the big screen … but even if you largely remain behind the scenes, you as the writer should absolutely finish first.

Stay tuned for my personal story next week: “How Learning to Embrace Deletions Saved My Writing,” where I’ll bare my soul for the benefit of other writers (yep, it’s true!). In the meantime, I’d love it if you’d share this post on Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn if it resonated with you. And, as always, I wish you love and all the best on your publishing journey.

Write from the heart,


Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscript into the book they’ve dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.

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