Self-publishing vs. Small Indie Press Houses

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One relevant issue an author should evaluate before deciding on self- publishing concerns the small indie press houses.  There are many of these houses to choose from. 

To find lists of these indie publishers, go to Ralan.com.  Some of these indie presses will only publish eBooks or print books, others will put out both eBooks and print books.

The advantage of these indie press houses over self-publishing is that the indie house will do all the work of putting the book together and absorb the expenses of doing so.  Thus, they will provide a cover, edit your manuscript, design the interior of the book and take care of the other details.  If you self-publish, you would have to do all these chores yourself or pay for someone else to do them.  In summary, using an indie house relieves the author of a big chunk of work and expense.

authors
Courtesy Triskele Books Blog

There are many such houses in business and they are often open for submissions.  Their response times are much shorter than the traditional publishing houses who may take more than a year to respond.  Nevertheless, the response time can still be many months long.

What’s not to like?  Well, when it comes to marketing the book, the indie press houses disappear from the scene.  Almost all of them won’t do any marketing. The only marketing they will do is to put up a web page for your book on their site.  This page will include your book cover, a book blurb, your bio blurb and possibly a buy-link or two.

As far as they are concerned, marketing is the responsibility of the author.  So, whether you self-publish or use an indie house, you will still be responsible for the marketing campaigns and have to absorb the costs of all the marketing.

Let’s look at the royalties you can expect to earn with both self-publishing and using an indie house.  If you self-publish, you get most of the book revenue.  That’s usually 70% for eBooks and 35% for print books.  Note, with Createspace this percentage (35%) is based on the price of the book.  This a breakdown for Createspace revenue for one of my books, Falstaff’s Big Gamble.  The sales price for the paperback book is $13.99.

If the book is sold through Amazon, I’ll get $4.90 in royalties.  If the book is sold through a distributor such as Baker & Taylor, I’ll get $1.98 in royalties.  In this case, B&T keeps some of the money, Amazon/Createspace keeps some of the money to pay for the book publishing costs and their own profits.  I get what’s left, $1.98.

The indie publishing house will keep most of the book sales revenue.  On Ralan.com, you can see the actual revenue splits (sometimes).  Almost all of the indies will give considerably less than the 70% offered by Smashwords and Kindle on eBooks.  Many times, the percent on print books looks much higher then the values shown above (35%).  That difference is because the indie revenue spilt is based on net revenue, not cover price.  If the indie quotes the revenue split as 50% net, that doesn’t mean they are paying more than Createspace.

Here is an example of what it means.  If the book sells for twelve dollars and costs five dollars to print, you are getting 50% of seven dollars (the net revenue) not 50% of twelve dollars (the selling price).  If you see a publisher stating that the author gets 15% on print sales, this is a misleading statement and you have to ask for clarification.  Is the 15% on the cover price or the net profit?  The answer will make a big difference in your royalty payments.  For a $13.99 book that costs $5.00 to print the difference is $2.10 (on the cover price) or $1.35 (on the net profit)

For eBooks, the author’s royalty will be much less than 70% and will vary widely from house to house.

If you think the split with indie house is unfair, consider this.  The indie house will relieve the author most, if not all, of the publishing expense. In doing this, they take on an enormous risk.  The only way the indie can recoup its investment is through book sales and book sales depend upon the marketing skill and determination of the author.  If the author doesn’t market the book, the indie house will lose its investment.  This risk alone justifies the indie house keeping the lion’s share of the book revenue.

If you choose to go with the indie publishing route, make sure you read the contract thoroughly.  If you’re not sure about some of the terms, ask the indie house for a clarification.  Make sure the copyrights remain with you and the indie only gets the first publication rights.  If you join a site like LinkedIn (highly recommended) you can ask members in the writing groups for advice on confusing contract statements and rights issues.

With print books, here is another issue you must check on before making a decision.  It has to do with how much you will pay the indie publisher for books to sell on your own at book events and signings.  I know authors who use indie presses and the cost of buying copies of their books from the indie is so high, they can’t make a profit on their copies unless they jack up the price to a point where it drives potential customers away.

As an example, suppose your print book sells for $13.99 on Amazon and the indie press’s cost to produce the book is $3.50 each.  You order books to sell on your own and the publisher charges you $12.50 per book plus postage.  If the postage averages out to $.50 a book, you aren’t making much profit on your personal book sales.  If you sell your book for $14, you earn a dollar per book.  Further, you have no margin to discount the book if you wanted to do that.  While this example was made up, it isn’t far-fetched.

Remember, if the author chooses not to market the book, these book sales to the author may be the only ones the indie house gets.  In other words, this may be the only chance the publisher has to cover some of the publishing expense.

Finally, one last word on indie publishing houses.  These are often owned and operated by a single person and they frequently go out of business due to illness, death or the burden of all the work.  If this happens after your book is published by the indie house, you’ll have to get your rights back and try to get another publisher.

From my personal experience and that of other authors I know, indie press houses have a poor record of sending monthly or quarterly sales reports, even if these reports are stipulated in the contract.  Some of them also don’t distribute the royalties as specified in the contract.  Before you agree to an indie contract, contact a few authors who have their books published by the indie house and ask them about these issues.

The point of this article isn’t to criticize the small indie press houses, rather it is to present vital issues that authors must know when making the decision to self-publish or not.

This article is based on material in my Self-publishing a Book.

4 Comments
  1. Andy Bachman says

    Thanks Hank,
    For your unfaltering contributions on self-publishing and marketing.
    Much appreciated.
    Andy B.

  2. Hank Quense says

    You’re welcome, Andy. I think there is too much inaccurate and incorrect info on the web about self-publishing. I’m trying to lessen the confusion.

  3. Andy Bachman says

    I completely agree.
    Do you think most contemporary writers are women, and if so, any idea as to why?
    Andy B.

  4. Hank Quense says

    I never really thought about this, but yeah I think most are women and most of them seem to write (and buy) romance novels.

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