Thursday, 28 August 2014

Publish or Perish? Part Two

By Jeanette O’Hagan

In Part One of ‘Publish or Perish?’ we looked things to consider in the journey to publication and the pros and cons of traditional publishing. In the not-so-distant past, traditional publishing was basically the only way forward except for the dubious route of vanity publishing.  With the advent of the World Wide Web, e-books, Amazon and print on the demand (POD) technology, the publishing landscape has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades. On the one hand, writers don’t have to wait around like wall flowers waiting for a publisher to offer them a contract if they are prepared to go solo. On the other hand, because the market has become so tight, traditional publishers do less for their authors and expect them to be actively involved in platform building, marketing and promotion.

So what about the other options?

The Vanity and Subsidy Publishers

Some publishers will offer to publish your book for a price (a co-payment). As with a traditional publisher they will negotiate a contract for the rights of your manuscript and in return will pay you royalties. However, they will also ask you to pay upfront a portion of the costs in producing the book and/or may ask you to commit to buying a certain number of books (10, 100, 500, 1000 etc).

The difference between a vanity and subsidy publisher is that a vanity publisher generally charges exorbitant prices and often gives shoddy results in return (e.g. poorly edited work, terrible cover design or low quality materials). Vanity publishers make their profit from the money authors pay them, not by selling and distributing books. So they have little incentive to promote your book.

Some small publishers offer co-payment as a way of reducing their financial risk and to assist in publishing more authors and titles. A true subsidy publisher offers genuine services (such as thorough editing, good cover design, some form of promotion and marketing) at reasonable prices and, often, with access to a distribution network.

It may, at first glance, be difficult to tell the difference between a vanity and a genuine subsidy publisher. If in doubt check out websites like this and this on scammy publishers, ask around about the reputation of the publisher and/or look at the quality of the books it produces. Always check the proposed contract for gotchas. Don’t sign a blank cheque.

Vanity and Subsidy Publishers
Generally the publisher may be anxious to accept your manuscript – especially in the case of the vanity publisher – this may be despite of the quality of your work.
They require a substantial up front co-payment and/or a commitment to buy a certain number of books (often regardless of the quality of the finished product).
Publisher arranges editing, cover design, typesetting, printing and possibly distribution.
Despite paying upfront (sometimes an exorbitant amount), the publisher probably still gets a cut of ongoing profits (your royalties).
Publisher may provide some marketing and promotion – though this may be little more than a listing on their website. Make sure you know what they offer.
Your work may be poorly produced and/or the publisher may have a bad reputation.
Publisher may have access to distribution networks.
You will need to do your own marketing and promotion if you want your book to be successful.
It may be a less expensive option than self-publishing (then again, it may not!)
While you have some degree of creative control, this is limited. Some publishers can be inflexible on issues such as price or the format of the book.

You may be locked in with this publisher even if the book is a disaster or it is not selling, preventing you from seeking other publishing options.

Subsidy publishing may suit you if you have a good manuscript which you want to get published sooner or a manuscript aimed at a niche market where you have good contacts (a hobby group, a family history), or a sizeable platform. You are prepared to pay something up front but would like to rely on the expertise and experience of the publisher.

You need to be very wary that the subsidy publisher is not overcharging for their services, is inflexible or has unfavourable contracts that are hard to get out of and/or will give you an inferior result. Buyer Beware.

Indie or Self-publishing

With self-publishing, the author takes the financial risks and retains full rights of their manuscript. Using their own capital, they contract different services required to produce their book – such as editing, cover design, ISBN numbers, barcodes, typesetting, formatting, library rights, printing, promotion, marketing and distribution. They also receive all the net profits on the book (if it makes any).

This model has become more accessible with the advent of e-books and Print on Demand (POD) services like CreateSpace or LightningSource. Also companies like Book Whispers or BookCoverCafe will guide authors through the process of Indie publishing and/or offer different services.

Indie or Self publishing.
You don’t have to wait (sometimes for years, maybe never) for a publisher to accept your manuscript. You publish when you are ready to publish.
You pay all the costs involved in publishing your book upfront – this can vary depending on how much you are willing to invest. The more you invest (wisely), the more likely you are to be successful but the bigger the financial risk you take.
You receive full net profits and a higher cut from Amazon for your e-books.
You arrange everything, from editing, cover design, typesetting, ISBNs, barcodes, printing, promotion and distribution.
You have full creative control and flexibility.
You may lack experience and expertise in the industry and knowledge of the market.
You retain full rights on your manuscript.
You will need to do all your marketing and promotion. Having or building a ‘platform’ is vital.
You can join distribution or promotional networks for indie-publishers like John  3:16 Marketing Network
It is much harder for self-published authors to gain access to the big bookstores, including Christian bookstores like Word or Koorong.
Print on Demand (POD) means that you don’t have to print off thousands of print copies that don’t sell. You can print smaller numbers or at the request of the buyer.
You need to understand all the financial aspects of the process, including taxes, getting exemptions for US taxes, maybe setting up your own tradename, etc. Essentially, the ‘buck stops with you.’
Self-publishing has less of a stigma than it did in the past.
Some reviewing sites, groups, awards etc don’t recognise self-published works.
Many indie-authors are successful though they often have multiple titles or built their name through traditional publishing.
Covering all sides of the publishing business means that you may have less time for writing.

Self-publishing may be for you if have a good or outstanding manuscript that is timely or you are no longer prepared to wait for a traditional publisher to discover it or it appeals a niche market or it doesn't fit into the narrow categories often favoured by traditional publishers. You are prepared to pay up front and to invest your time and energy into both publishing and promoting your book.

You need to make sure your manuscript is at an acceptable standard and that you don’t skimp on quality especially in terms of covers, editing and formatting (for the printer or e-book). Unless you only wish to sell or give the book to a small number people (your extended family, friends, fellow hobbyists, church group), you need to tap into distribution networks and/or put a lot of hard work into marketing and promoting your book.
Self-publishing is not for you if don’t have expertise and are not prepared to learn or hire it; if you don’t have or wish to invest money up front and if you lack time and energy to put into it.

Regardless of the mode you choose, if you want your book to reach many people, you will need to put time and effort into promotion. Still, from a spiritual perspective, success does not depend on numbers or even on publication. Our writing may touch lives or change our own without being ‘successful.’
Ultimately, as Christian writers we write to please God and to use the gift he has given us.

Image ‘Hope Definition’ above courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Jeanette has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology. She is currently caring for her children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad fantasy fiction series. She is actively involved in a caring Christian community.

You can find her on her Facebook page or websites JeanetteO'Hagan Writes & .


  1. Thanks Jenny for another really informative article. I have a client at the moment who is looking at different publishing options and I'm gong to print off your two blog posts to give to him. You've given a great rundown of the pros and cons of each.

  2. Great post, Jeanette. Very informative and interesting.

  3. I really appreciate the wealth of information in each of those tables.

    1. Thanks Paula - I often hear one sided presentations - depending on who is presenting so I thought it important to look at the pros and cons of the different options :)

  4. Great work Jenny. Many thanks for another informative blog which was very useful. You've done your homework well haven't you? Well done to you! :)

    Loved what you said: "Our writing may touch lives or change our own without being ‘successful.’". I love it that often our writing process changes us as followers of Jesus. The truth is that success in the world's eyes is very different in God's eyes. May we writers always aspire for God's standards of success and not the world's.

    1. Well said Anusha - It's good to keep an eternal perspective on what we do :)

  5. I can just imagine the hours you spent in preparing these wonderful posts, Jeanette. Thank you for presenting both sides in such a clear way. I will also print these tables for future reference. This whole business of publishing needs to be weighed carefully.

    1. Thanks Rita. Yes, it's good to know the pros and cons before making a decision.

  6. I like the way you have laid it all out clearly in these two posts, Jeanette. Thanks.

  7. This is such an informative Blog. Thanks so much for the research and efforts you have gone through to create it. I really loved what you say in conclusion (something i never have really thought of). when you said "we write to please God"... that is an awesome concept... love it. "May the words of my pen and the meditation of my laptop be acceptable in your sight Oh Lord".

  8. Thanks Brian. I like that '"May the words of my pen and the meditation of my laptop be acceptable in your sight Oh Lord" - it would be a great poster to have over one's writing space :)

  9. Great posts Jeanette.
    My plan at present is to seek traditional publishing in Australia for my novel, and possibly self-publish some novellas.