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Which Book Publishing Option Is Right for You?

By Ken Lizotte CMC

Enjoy this excerpt from The Speaker’s Edge: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Locating and Landing Lots of Speaking Gigs (Maven House Press)

Speaker's Edge cover w border 150If you want to be respected as a “thoughtleader” and if you especially want to add speaking engagements to your marketing repertoire, you must consider writing and publishing a book. The credential of book authorship–despite the rise of social media, YouTube, and Internet marketing–holds no equal.
Which brings us to the next question: which book publishing option would work best for you? Do you want a traditional publisher to publish your book, or would self-publishing your book make the most sense? This critical early decision will dictate what your first step in the book writing-and-publishing process will be … so consider carefully.

The option that immediately comes to mind to many of us is the most ingrained one, i.e., to land a book contract with a traditional publisher. But before you automatically head down this path, let’s examine its pros and cons. Many folks assume, for instance, that having your book published by a traditional publisher offers every possible advantage such as being provided (a) an editor who will work with you on a deep level on your book’s content, (b) collaboration with a book promotion team who will pull out all the stops to market, advertise, publicize and sell your book once it’s published, and (c) the compensation of a significant advance payment so you may quit your day job (or at least take a sabbatical!) in order to devote yourself full-time to your research and writing. Unfortunately, for the most part, nothing could be further from the truth!

Though publishers wish they could provide this, the economics of the publishing world dictate otherwise. Whatever promotion money, for example, that a publisher may have on hand is typically reserved for its highest-visibility authors, e.g., famous film stars, top CEOs, political celebrities, and (of most interest to a publisher) a previously best-selling author. Ninety-three percent of the half million or so books published each year fail to sell even 1,000 copies in their lifetime. Therefore, authors with the highest-profile platforms suggest a better ROI bet for a publisher than does the typical author—even one with a terrific book idea but, sales-wise, only a meager limited network or following.

As a result, your publisher will probably not be sending you on a book tour, nor setting you up for bookstore signings or speaking engagements or radio or TV appearances. Instead, a publisher’s decision to offer you a “deal” in the first place will more likely revolve around its perception that you would be able to orchestrate such promotional actions on your own. This goes especially for working speakers.

A speaker who delivers 50 or 60 or 100 presentations every year, for example, preferably to audiences averaging 500 attendees or more, can easily find a publisher. Because despite the rapid and half-crazed rise of social media and Internet publicity, speaking to audiences still excites publishers more than any other tactic. They believe, rightly, that speaking can generate more excitement than any other medium in that you’re promoting your book in the most dynamic way, i.e., by interacting with real, live humans in the same room with you who may very well want to purchase your book. You’re simultaneously selling your book right there plus sending word-of-mouth advocates, i.e., your new fans, off to their workplaces, neighborhoods and homes, to further spread the word.

In short, these are the kinds of promotional and selling capabilities that a new author, especially one who speaks a lot, might bring to the table to grab a publisher’s attention. Though none of these are mandatory, thinking in this direction will carry you farther toward landing a book publisher than if you swallow the myth that a publisher will instead be doing all this for you.

The Case for Seeking a Publisher

But if traditional publishers expect you the author to do all the promoting and selling of a book, why would you choose to seek one out? Why not simply self-publish? Here are a few pros to offset the cons mentioned above:

• Prestige and Credibility: There is nothing more impressive than being able to answer the question “Who published your book?” with a bona fide response that names a “real” publisher. Though only momentary, such a credibility bump will impress whoever learns about it, causing them to proceed to the next, important step, i.e., seriously considering purchasing (and reading) your book.

• Publishing Costs: It’s the publisher’s job to edit, proofread, design and print your book. If you self-publish, you need to do all this and pay for it. Costs can typically run between 10 and 20 thousand dollars depending on fees charged by the vendors you hire. When you contract with a publisher, such costs are taken care of.

• Wide Distribution: Your book published traditionally will automatically be made available to the book trade via such channels as bookstores, libraries, universities and Amazon. Although some self-publishing companies can offer this service as well, the traditional publisher will usually be more aggressive and better connected in this regard and thus provide a useful advantage.

• Marketing Help: Though it is true that the bulk of a book’s promotional activity must be initiated by the author, publishers do provide some help in the form of press releases, book catalogs, publisher website displays, sending complimentary review copies to both event planners and reviewers (especially to EPs and reviewers unwilling to entertain self-published books) and occasionally partnering with authors on special promotions or advertising.

• Serial Rights: Established publishers know how to make your book available to foreign publishers and multi-media companies for a fee in return for granting “serial rights.” This means potential foreign translation editions, audio book edition, excerpts to be printed in magazines or newspapers, or even your book made into a feature film! The publisher of course shares the revenue with the authors for such serial rights opportunities but the arrangement is well worth it since publishers know how to make this happen while an author would typically have no clue.

The Case for Self-Publishing

Speakers know that back-of-the-room sales create an add-on income stream to any speaking fees or honoraria earned from speaking engagements. While the typical royalty rate from even the very best publishing deals will range not much higher than 15 to 20 percent, direct profit from a self-published book can easily climb as high as 80 percent and sometimes higher, depending on printing costs. This of course is because you’ve cut out the middleman, a.k.a. a traditional publisher, because, in this option, you yourself are the middleman-publisher!

Obviously however this is only important if your goal is to become (or if you already are) a full-time professional speaker. If instead your desire to conduct ongoing speaking gigs is to promote your expertise, product or service, back-of-the-room income may not represent the same priority. In such case, a traditional publisher’s royalty rate will do just fine.

However, other aspects of self-publishing can make this option an attractive alternative to seeking a traditional publisher, including control of concept, final decision of your book’s cover and interior design, choice of title and subtitle, chapter content and, finally, the ability to go back and revise your book anytime you like. In other words, no one can overrule you when you feel strongly about how you want your book to look, feel and read.

The Case Against Self-Publishing

Even so, it must be admitted that self-publishing still carries a bit of a stigma when considered by event planners, book reviewers, libraries and even some readers. This however derives from too many self-published authors over the years falling down on the demands of the publishing side.

So while there is no magical or automatic superior judgment on the side of even veteran traditional publishers, the self-publishing author must take seriously that working in a vacuum could be fatal (to one’s book, that is!). Thus an expert team of editor, proofreader, designer and printer must be assembled. That way professional opinions a traditional publisher includes automatically will be part and parcel of the self-publishing process as well. In other words, resist the temptation to go it all alone!

As mentioned previously, this will incur costs. Using the age-old method of printing books in lots, as has historically been the only way to go, costs for printing alone might be 15 or 20 thousand dollars depending on choice of paper, number of pages, color vs. black & white etc. An administrative assistant may need to be hired as well in order to help the self-published author keep everything—inventory, fulfillment, distribution–straight!

However, with the invention of print-on-demand technology, such exorbitant costs are no longer the only option. POD printing options mean book copies need be produced only as needed: one at a time, 10 at a time, 100 at a time, 500 at a time and so on. The cost to the author-publisher will usually be a set cost per book, sometimes as low as only a few dollars for a book the author has decided to price at, say, $25. So look carefully at both printing options before deciding which way to go.

What to Do?

In the end, the choice is yours. Reason out the pros and cons of both options and then trust your gut. There is no correct “one way” to do this. But the presence of both these options means that you can do this, you can publish a book!

And if your goal is to market your business in such a way that you rise above the competitive pack, then you not only can do this … but you must!

For a comprehensive breakdown of action steps to take regarding choosing the correct publishing option, see Chapter 7 of Ken’s book The Expert’s Edge: Become the Go-To Authority People Turn to Every Time (McGraw-Hill).

This article is based on Chapter 3 of The Speaker’s Edge, “Authoring a Book”

1 Comment for this entry

Doug Hardy
July 28th, 2016 on 1:04 PM

Great summary of the pros and cons, Ken! I’ll add one more factor to consider — most publishers need 6-9 months from the receipt of a manuscript to publish a book. They are bound by their marketing seasons as well, so for example they would rather publish a business-oriented book in January than November. If you want greater control over the timing of your book’s publication, you should consider self-publishing.