Help Selling More Books – What Good is a Publisher Today?

Yeah, it might seem like an odd question for someone who runs a small press to ask, but bear with me.

It is easier now than it has ever been to make money self-publishing. There are more ways to dissect the market, more tools to create and distribute a quality product, and more people making a solid living self-publishing their own work than ever before. So why would you want to work with a publisher? Particularly a small press, which might not be able to do anything better for you than you could do yourself.

I teach classes on this shit. I’ll be teaching this very thing as a workshop at Penned Con in St. Louis at the end of the month. That workshop is about choosing a path to publication, and it dissects the decision-making process about going indie, small press, or shopping a book to agents and then New York. Since I’ve never sold a book to a Big 5 publisher, or any other press that doesn’t accept unaccented submissions, I can’t say a whole lot about that.

I know, it’s never stopped me before. 🙂 It won’t this time, either. Don’t worry.

But for today, let’s look at the reasons you might want to use a small press publisher over self-publishing.

You don’t want to learn how to do all that shit. 

There’s nothing wrong with that as a response. I’ve been at this for seven years and I still can’t design a decent cover wrap. Hell, I can barely design a serviceable cover at all. But I do know how to hire those people. But there are parts of the process that are non-writing related that you have to learn when you are a publisher, whether you are the entirety of the client list, or you have dozens of writers in your stable. You need to learn how to build an ebook, how to create a cover, how to create a cover wrap, how to navigate ISBNs, deal with CreateSpace, deal with Ingram, find an audiobook producer, navigate ACX, upload to Amazon, get the book listed on all other ebook distribution sites, and make decisions about pricing, exclusivity, and all sorts of other market factors.

That’s a lot of shit. If you have a family and a day job, you might just not have the bandwidth to learn all that shit, no matter how intelligent you are. My buddy AJ Hartley is a hell of a writer. He publishes with several big houses, and has had quite a successful career to this point. He also has a day job and a kid to raise, and his wife has a thriving career as well. He should never self-publish (I’m sure he’s glad to hear this, since he also has never wanted to), because he has too much other shit going on in his life. It’s all I can do to get him to send out his newsletter. 🙂 Love ya, buddy.

So not wanting to learn how to do all the things a publisher does is a perfectly valid reason to give up part of your royalties. Conversely, if you are very interested in how the sausage gets made, selling one book or one series to a publisher and following it through the creation and distribution process can also be a great way to learn.

 You want to learn to be a better writer. 

This is why Bell Bridge Books publishes The Black Knight Chronicles. I have often said that I consider working with Deb Dixon and Bell Bridge to be my MFA writing program, with a fair side of editing classes thrown in. I couldn’t have learned as much in five years of college as I did in the two years we spent taking the first three Black Knight books apart and rebuilding them. Every book I do with Deb, I learn more about story, pacing, plotting, building a series, and writing good, tight fiction. I sincerely hope that someday some of my Falstaff authors say the same thing about their work with me and my team. If you’re not learning, you’re pushing up daisies. So if you can find a bunch of people who you like working with that will help you grow in your craft, then the amount of money you “lose” by working with a publisher is insignificant in comparison to the increased earnings you’ll see down the road.

Let’s also be clear: I 100% made more money on The Black Knight Chronicles with Bell Bridge than I would have on my own, even if I had stayed 100% indie and pushed books out as fast as I can. In addition to the education I’ve gained, getting a Kindle Daily Deal feature several times sure doesn’t hurt!

You need a confidence boost.

It’s a tough world, and a lot of the time it feels like nobody is on your side. A good publisher will always be on your side. Sure, the interest is also partially self-serving, since you selling more books makes money for both of you, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m a fan of enlightened self-interest. It’s a motivation that I understand. So I try to be a cheerleader for my authors. I suck at it, so I usually give them a little Simon Cowell-style tough love and then bring in somebody else to be all huggy, but I try. But whenever you get down, and think it’s too much and you should give up, having a publisher behind you gives you at least one person who really wants you to succeed. And they believe that you can. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have wasted the ink sending you a contract. And they sure as hell wouldn’t have spent time editing your work, and building a cover, and doing all the other shit that we do. Even if we don’t put any money where our mouth is as far as an advance, we do put a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears into making every book the best it can be. That’s another thing that a publisher does – we spend a fair amount of time as career counselor and cheerleader for our authors. Because a happy author is a productive author. And a productive author writes better.

There are a ton of people out there who’ll tell you why you don’t need a publisher today. And everything they say is correct.

But I don’t need a Krispy Kreme doughnut, either. Like, ever. But damn, a lot of times I want one.

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