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Know Jack #339 Selling Your Soul the Highest Bidder

You’ve written a book. The journey is not over, you’ve just come to a fork in the road. Assuming, of course, you wish people to read your masterpiece and don’t own a printing press, you need to publish it. There are essentially two ways to go—publish it yourself or find someone willing to publish it for you. There is no one right answer.

Years ago, I bought a fifth-wheel trailer to use as my home while traveling as a nurse. The first thing I learned in the process was that there were no perfect trailers. There are tradeoffs to make as far as features, and floorplans—no one trailer had it all. The best I could do was to choose the one that had the greatest number of highest priorities items. I made a choice and am glad to say I was very happy with it.

Finding a publishing solution is a lot like that. Self-publishing and traditional publishing each have their good points and not-so-good points. Choosing which fork in the road to take is usually a matter of opting for the one that fits your priorities best. I have gone down both paths.

Self-publishing is just what the name implies. You’re on your own. You bear the cost of editing (don’t skip this step) cover design, posting your book for sale, and promoting it. You also do all or most of the work. The upside is that you get all the profits, and you have total control. Total control sounds good but it can also be dangerous.

One of my Facebook friends complained that no one was buying her book and she didn’t understand why. Like a fool, I volunteered to help. I got a copy of her work, read the introduction and one chapter, and knew the answer. I suggested she get an editor. Stupid me, I again agreed to help with this in hopes of saving her hundreds of dollars. I send her back my suggestions. Her reply was that every single word of this outstanding creation was sacrosanct—and so it died right there.

Of course, if you want your unadulterated words, just as you wrote them, out there for sale—self-publishing is the only way to go. Amazon has made the world of self-publishing relatively simple. A technologically semi-literate person like me can do it (even without the grandkids helping). There you have the best and the worst reasons to self-publish.

If you choose to publish in the traditional fashion, the most important thing to know is that you are selling your work to the publisher. You sign that publishing contract, and while you still own the copyright, you no longer own the publishing rights to it. You are no longer in control of your book’s destiny. The publisher now has the final say about things like the title, the manuscript itself, and the cover design. The publisher has no requirement to consult you about any of those things.

It’s like selling the piece of your soul that went into writing the book to the devil. The upside—and yes, there is an upside—is that the publisher’s chief goal in life is to sell your book to recoup his investment and show a profit. Which, by the way, is the sole reason you have been offered a contract.

This is why most major publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. They want work vetted by an agent. If you can’t get an agent interested enough to sell your book for fifteen percent of your royalties, the publisher has no time to bother with it.

So, if a traditional publisher buys your book, they are going to make your book the best they can, for their own sakes if not for yours.

Publishing, like any business, is profit-driven whether you are self-publishing or are using a traditional publisher. You can say you’re not in it for the money, you might even believe it, but book sales are not just money—they are readers. If you didn’t write your book for people to read, forget about publishing altogether and save yourself the headache.

I said that I have done both. So, which do I recommend?

The best answer I can give is that I now own a traditional style publishing company—House of Honor Books. I (sort of) like other people looking over my shoulder and telling me my work stinks—that I should say it another way, I should delete that paragraph (or chapter), or that I misspelled rougarou.

There’s that and I still haven’t learned not to try and help out people wanting to get a start writing. I will readily take a chance that I won’t make a profit on a book. I still encounter those like my former Facebook friend who has written an already perfect book. The real goldmine is meeting people grateful for a hand up. They are why I edit, design, and fret over books I didn’t write. My reward is sharing the joy they experience holding a book with their name on the cover. I love that feeling.


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