Let’s debunk some of the most pervasive myths and look at the top ten publishing lies told to indie authors. If you’re a novice to publishing, you’ve probably already come across a ton of conflicting information. A big reason for this is that the publishing landscape has changed immensely in the past decade or two and what was true for an author who published their first book twenty years ago is not necessarily true for a new author today.
1. The Lie: Money Should Always Flow to the Author
This is at the top of our list of publishing lies for good reason: it can have a damaging effect on an author’s prospects and derail the potential success of their book.
Early in his career, author Jim Macdonald coined Yog’s Law as part of a campaign to warn authors against vanity publishers. Yog’s Law states, “Money should flow toward the author.” The idea is that you shouldn’t be paying exorbitant amounts of money up front for publishing services that you’re not going to get or that will be subpar, as is often the case with predatory vanity publishers.
The truth: However, many have misinterpreted Yog’s Law as saying that the author shouldn’t be paying for anything, ever. This is simply not true. Even in a traditional publishing setup, you may be liable for certain cost — such as part of the permissions costs — and these will be subtracted from your royalties. As an indie author managing your own publishing process, where you’re actually in the role of publisher, not author, you’ll carry more of these costs: editing, cover design, formatting or typesetting, and the like.
The often vitriolic commentary in many author groups on social media on this topic risks doing a great disservice, however well intended. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a hopeful author seek advice when reviewing a contract and payment plan from a hybrid publisher expressing interest in their book—only to be told they’re about to be a victim of some horrible scam.
It is almost never the right choice to refuse to engage (read: pay someone for their expertise) anyone else during the writing or publishing processes. It would mean no editor, no cover designer, and in the case of a hybrid publisher, no partner through the entire journey, including post-publish.
2. The lie: You have only three publishing options: traditional, self-publishing, or vanity publisher
The second on our list of publishing lies relates to the misconception that if you don’t publish through a traditional publisher, your only options are to self-publish or to publish through a vanity publisher.
The truth is that in today’s publishing landscape, there are two more main options: assisted self-publishing and hybrid publishing.
- With assisted self-publishing, you pay a publishing services company a one-off fee to guide you through the process and provide services like editing, beta reading, proofreading, cover design and formatting. You still publish under your own imprint and manage all distributor and retailer interfaces.
- With hybrid publishing, sometimes called partner publishing, you bear part of the cost of producing, marketing and distributing the book but you publish under the publisher’s imprint, and you don’t have to manage those distributor and retailer interfaces.
Neither assisted self-publishing nor hybrid publishing are forms of vanity publishing. Oh sure, there are bad actors in any economic sector. Be sure you choose a reputable organization. Most of these companies care very much about their reputation and will help you publish the best book that you can. (Look for membership badges for groups like the Independent Book Publisher’s Association or the Alliance of Independent Authors aka ALLi, for example.) Seek out authors who have published with the hybrid or indie publisher you’re considering working with and get some references.
3. The lie: If you self-publish, you have to do everything
The truth: If you self-publish, you’re responsible for everything. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything.
In fact, to produce a better book, you really should hire professionals to edit, proofread, design the cover, design the lay-out, format or typeset, market the book, and more. It’s up to you to find those professionals, brief them on what you need, provide them with a contract, and pay them for their work. (This is wearing your publisher hat.)
4. The lie: You’ll make more money through self-publishing
With self-publishing, you get 100 percent of the royalties, compared to the 5–15 percent you typically get with a traditional publisher or the 40–60 percent you can get with a hybrid publisher. This doesn’t equate to earning more actual money, though, and claims fourth spot on our list of publishing lies.
The truth: With self-publishing, you also bear all the costs of producing the book, whereas traditional and hybrid publishers share this burden with you. They also have the expertise to help you produce the kind of book that will sell more, earning more money overall, so that there is a substantial amount that will go into your pocket.
5. The lie: You can’t land a book deal without a completed manuscript
The truth: The Big Five publishers normally prefer to see a completed manuscript before they’ll even consider giving you a book deal. That’s unless you’re very, very, very famous (very famous). Best-selling authors who have already proven their worth and celebrities with a high level of name recognition may land a deal, sometimes for multiple books, without having much more than an outline.
Of course, if you aren’t famous already, you’ll find it harder to sell just the idea of a book to a traditional publisher. Hybrid publishers, however, tend to be more open to taking a chance on a good book idea. They can provide author coaching to help you get the manuscript done or, if needed, suggest a ghostwriter to put your idea into words. Since you’ll be bearing part of the costs, they have less to lose if you don’t deliver. And you have more to gain since you’ve got an experienced partner in your corner helping you get to the finish line — when you might not otherwise working totally on your own.
6. The lie: You need to have an agent to land a book deal
The truth: To land a book deal with one of the Big Five publishers, it’s certainly recommended that you have an agent. These publishers get so many submissions that they prefer working with agents who have already separated the wheat from the chaff. However, even these publishers may accept a certain number of submissions directly from aspiring authors.
Hybrid publishers tend to prefer submissions from the authors directly. They want to get to know the author and their goals for the book, especially since they’ll be working so closely with the author to develop the manuscript.
7. The lie: Once you’ve chosen a publishing route, you can’t go any other way
Some people think that once you’ve self-published, you can never get a traditional book deal.
The truth: As erotic romance author E.L James showed, that’s not true: she originally self-published the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy as ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks. When book sales soared, she landed a deal with Vintage Books — a subdivision of Big Five publisher Penguin Random House — to re-release the trilogy.
There are also many authors who have published different books in different ways: books with traditional publishers, books self-published, and books through hybrid publishers. Even Stephen King, one of the bestselling authors of all time, has self-published online as well as having books traditionally published.
8. The lie: Nobody will take you seriously as an author unless you’ve published with the Big Five
The truth: Landing a book deal with a Big Five publisher comes with prestige, yes, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll be taken seriously as an author. E.L. James, for instance, is often criticized for how poorly written the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is.
While the Big Five generally strictly vet the books they decide to publish, they ultimately focus on what will sell, which is often a celebrity name. Meanwhile, authors who have self-published or went with independent publishers include Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain.
9. The lie: Indie publishers will publish anything
The truth: While it’s certainly easier to get an indie or hybrid publisher to publish your book, this doesn’t mean that it’s an automatic “Yes” from them. They’re more willing to take chances but they still have a reputation to uphold.
So, if they don’t think that your book idea has any potential, they won’t take it on. Even when they do see potential in your book, they won’t necessarily publish your manuscript simply after giving it a copy-edit and proofread: they’ll work with you to rewrite the manuscript until it’s something that people will actually want to read.
10. The lie: It takes a set time to publish a book
The truth: Some people will tell you that you can publish a book within a month or two. Others will tell you that it takes as long as three years. Neither of these timelines is wrong (though we must raise our proverbial eyebrows at the claims of a month or two).
There are many variables that will determine how long it will take from manuscript to published book. These include:
- The length of the book
- How much polishing there is to do to the manuscript, including rewriting, editing, and proofreading
- Whether or not you outsource jobs to freelancers
- The availability of the freelancers you use
- Whether or not you are going to use illustrations and if so, the type you’ll be using
- Whether or not you need to apply for permissions to quote from other authors’ work.
- How much time you invest in pre-publish marketing activities like getting reviews between when the book is technically finished and your publish date
- and more….
It’s important is to be realistic about how much time you need. Rushing it is seldom a good idea because it will inevitably mean things slipping through the cracks. Slow, steady and thorough will get you there too and you’ll likely have sorted out all the issues and you’ll have a better chance of publishing a book that you’re proud of and readers gobble up.