Scribes in the fifteenth century must have hated Johannes Gutenberg. What blasphemy it must have been, for a goldsmith to invent a machine that could crank out the Bible and other religious texts much faster than they could. It’s not the same, they probably said. There’s no calligraphy, they’re ugly books, they debase the Holy Scriptures. If you want quality, you still need a scribe.
But deep down, they knew their game was over. The movable-type printing press took over Europe in a few decades. The smartest scribes would diversify and become journalists, accountants, public servants, what have you, while those who clung to their excuses would soon be out of a job. Economic reality hits hard; adapt or die.
A similar story is unfolding today. The scribes are now the traditional publishing houses (tradpub), while the new printing press is now the internet. Tradpub was necessary until the early twenty-first century because how else would you sell your book to many thousands of people? You simply couldn’t, so you spoke to an agent who spoke to tradpubs that could market and sell your book to a huge audience. In exchange, they took most of the money.
That’s no different today. Tradpubs still market your book, sell it, and take most of your book royalties. In Brandon Sanderson’s excellent (and free) YouTube series on writing fantasy, he said you can expect around $5,000 as an advance payment for a first novel and somewhere between six to fifteen percent in book royalties. Maybe a little more for hardbacks if they like you.
Can you imagine selling a book for $3.99 and receiving only $0.60 for it six months later? Sure, you may have gotten a $5K advance, but you need to crank out a book every two months for that to be sustainable, because you’re likely not gonna make it on royalties with tradpubs.
I dare you to look me straight in the eye and tell me that new authors are getting a good deal here. They’re not. Not anymore. You can reach people on your own. That’s the power of technology: It’s leverage. You don’t need a massive team to build a website or a brand or a newsletter. You don’t need to go on book tours anymore to show people who you are and what you write about. Your books don’t even need to be in physical bookstores anymore.
Besides, even if you’re going tradpub, you’re still gonna have to market yourself. You’re still gonna need a website, you’ll still need social media, you’ll still need a following. Tradpub won’t do any of that for you. So why give them almost all your royalties? It’s a bad deal. You may as well put in that little bit of extra effort to figure out how other self-published authors have done it, and then have full control over your books, your money, and your future as an author.
At least that’s what I think. I’m working on my first book (release date 2023) and I’m absolutely going to self-publish it. I’ve yet to come across a convincing argument in favor of tradpub. If you’re a new author and you want to make a living writing books, self-publishing is easily the best option.