Shaking Hands With The Devil
by A.P. Fuchs


Self-publishing is on the rise. More and more writers are putting their own work out themselves nowadays than at any point in recent history. Unfortunately, many who are doing so are kissing their writing careers goodbye by getting sucked in to can't miss deals and falling for a wealth of misinformation.

This is an address to the serious writer who, for whatever reason, has chosen to put their work out themselves, the writer who is set on making it in an unsympathetic industry—the mad, mad world of book publishing. I say "book," as in the fiction novel. There are self-publishing "give ins," such as poetry collections, chapbooks and cookbooks, items where it is very, very difficult to land a traditional publisher for a project unless you're an established literary figure and/or celebrity to begin with. But these types of books are another topic altogether so let's just stick with fiction book publishing.

The biggest pitfall is the misuse of the word "self-publishing," which in turn has led many hopeful writers down the path of let down and despair and, for some, the victims of criminal behavior. By definition, self-publishing is the act of an author putting out his/her work by themselves through their own publishing company even if that publishing company exists solely to put out that particular author's work. It has been misconstrued that self-publishing also applies to subsidy print-on-demand outfits like Authorhouse (formerly 1st Books Library), Iuniverse, Lulu, Xilbris, Heliographica Press, Aventine Press, Page Free Publishing and others. It does not, and that point must be emphasized. This is shaking hands with the devil, my friends, and I will tell you why.

Print-on-demand is a beautiful technology. It saves trees by only printing books as they are required and, in the final cost analysis, are easier on the struggling writer's wallet and for the publishing company who uses it to keep their backlist in print. However, it is a technology that has been abused by subsidy outfits, who in turn accept works "submitted" by writers and "publish" them for a fee. (In other words, they accept all works submitted provided the author has enough money to pay them; even Lulu, who has no upfront costs, makes their money on the heavily marked-up per-unit cost of their print-on-demand books when a reader purchases an author's title.) There is no editorial input or correction. These companies' jobs is to format your book for print, do up a cover and make it "available" for sale-all for an especially high fee (which varies company to company).

For the serious author who has elected to self-publish his/her work by joining forces with a subsidy company—whether they use print-on-demand or offset printing (commonly used by vanity "publishers")—they are stomping on their own foot in their goal of one day writing fulltime and/or publishing for a living. The drawbacks to using a subsidy company are plenty, but there are two issues that arise that, when weighed against the others, are the most detrimental: high cost/little return and zero respect, both from the publishing industry (including, but not limited to, other writers, editors, agents, traditional publishing firms, bookstores) and, eventually, and most importantly, the reader.

High cost/little return. On average, these companies charge anywhere from $400-$800+ to "publish" your book. Pretend it ends up costing you only $400. On average, these companies pay out only a 20% Net royalty, typically defined as book cover cost less any wholesale distributor discounts less per-unit print cost of the book. For this example, let's take the average cost of a self-published book, which would be about $15 for a 250-page paperback novel. Using the above formula, $15—40% industry standard discount—$5 (average) per unit print cost = $4 (Net). 20% of $4 is 80 cents. For you to merely break even on your investment if you paired with a subsidy print-on-demand "publisher," you will need to sell 500 copies of your novel never mind being compensated for the thousands of hours it took you to write it and polish it. Can you sell 500 copies of your book by marketing it yourself, which you have to do with these outfits? And this is best case scenario, mind you, despite what most authors actually pay to these places. Think about it.

Lack of respect. There is a stigma associated with self-publishing. Well, there are many, but the main one centers around the fact that the vast majority of self-published books have not been edited by a professional editor, in turn allowing a product riddled with spelling errors, poor grammar, terrible punctuation and more, in to the marketplace. Subsidy "publishers" in spite of what printing method they use do not care about these things. They have your money from the start and if your book is full of errors, they don't care. They've already profited. Bookstores, agents, editors, professional writers and traditional publishers have wisened up to these places and know them all by name. If they see that your novel was "published" by one of these places, more often than not, you will not be taken seriously as a writer despite how serious you may be. In an industry where image and respect and networking are important ingredients to getting one's literary career off the ground, these are people you do not want looking down on you. Sure, there is the occasional subsidy—"published" author who lands a book deal for their subsidy—"published" book, but these are few and far between compared to the thousands of authors who subsidy—"publish" their novel each year. Please do not use them as an "if they can do it so can I" example. The hard reality is you will most likely wind up with a hole in your wallet and zero credibility to your writing ability because you have chosen to "publish" your book this way.

But there is hope: true self-publishing. Do everything yourself save for at least farming out the editing of your book to a professional editor for clean up.

More on that later.

© 2006 by A.P. Fuchs


A.P. Fuchs finished writing his first book, A Stranger Dead, at age 19. It was published in 2003. Since then he has written and completed 6 more books, ranging from fiction to non-fiction to poetry.

In 2004 he founded Coscom Entertainment, a publishing firm specializing in superhero and speculative fiction. Coscom Entertainment also has a comic book division.

Known as an advocate for the independent press and self-publishing author, Fuchs believes it is there that the future of great literature lies, where authentic voices will be heard and where excellent reading will be born for years to come.

Visit his website