Beating the Odds? I don’t think so.

I recently read a post by someone who compared the publishing business, primarily print publishers, to a lottery. I think that is a fair comparison except your local Mega-Million will at least give you the odds of winning. The print publishers don’t even to that. There is this growing argument between the declining print publishers and the constantly growing digital publishing market as to which you, as an author, should strive toward. The print publishers are hurting and personally I couldn’t be happier at that pain.

I can give you my answer hands down as to which I prefer, but first let’s look at some of the presumptions floating around out there. The print publishers all point to Stephen King and J.K. Rowlings and Scott Turow as examples of how you can make millions publishing with them. To paraphrase some of the aforementioned poster’s points, if a lottery offered a million dollar payoff and the odds were two to one and your ticket only cost two bucks, you’d be a fool to turn down a 50% chance of picking up a cool million. But, if the payoff is a million bucks and the odds were 1 to 2 million and the ticket cost you $50 you probably would be better saving your money.

And it’s true. Print publishing is a high-stakes pay off, but the odds against you winning are astronomical. That is why they only point out their tiny number of those who “made it” in print like King, or Rowlings. They might include James Patterson in that group, it is rumored that he makes 90 million dollars a year – which is possible because he writes about six books a week. (I think he takes one day off to rest his fingers.) At the sake of appearing jealous (which I am) let me say that, in my opinion, if you’ve read one Patterson you’ve read them all. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Patterson gives his followers what they want, and they reward him by buying lots of his books.

There is also the problem of “rights.” If your agent manages to put your book with a print publisher, you pretty much give up your rights to the material. So if a movie prospect or a shot at a TV series comes along using your book as the premise the publisher will make the money, you won’t. Should your book become popular enough to go into a digital form, the print publisher will only give you about a 12% royalty, while you can publish your book yourself on Amazon and receive a 70% royalty. And you don’t have to wait forever to get it. Getting a book into print at a publishing house takes at least a year. You can upload your book to Amazon as soon as you are satisfied with it, and it will be for sale in 24 hours or less.

And there is the matter of control. You would hope that your print publisher would have a great editor, proof reader, and design artist along with a terrific sales and promotion department so your book would get the best treatment possible. Dream on. That scenario played out years ago. IF your book gets published, it will get a minimum first run of a couple thousand copies and if they don’t sell out in two or three weeks, you are toast. You’re also at the mercy of the bookstore owner who may place your mystery/whodunit behind “Quilting for Seniors.”

Why do you think that print publishers only tout the biggies (Stephen King, Rowlings, Nelson DeMille etc.). It is because for everyone who does make it with print publishing there are literally hundreds of thousands who never get past the slush pile. The odds of you even getting in the door are just overwhelming. It ain’t gonna happen.

On the other hand if you self-publish on Amazon you keep your rights, you have complete control over proofing, editing, cover art, and you get a 70% royalty every time someone purchases your book. It is up to you to do the marketing, but who is to say that you won’t do a more serious job of it, than some anonymous salesman at a print publisher? Of course, it is not all roses and money with Amazon. Since they will publish anything (almost, they do have their limits but they are small) there is the problem of anyone FINDING your book. There are over 100 million titles in Amazon’s library and thousands of them are trash. Word of mouth advertising is absolutely the best, so if you do a few promotions, give away some free books, people who enjoy your work will spread the word. Don’t you recommend good books to friends? Sure you do, and people will do the same for your book, if it is any good.

This has been a long post so let me sum it up for you. All of my adult life and even with the aid of two agents who were really good at their jobs, I was continually rejected by tons of print publishers. The very same theme I presented to them is the one I now sell on Amazon. Am I going to make as much as James Patterson? Never, but I am gradually building a following and people are accepting my work. And, at long last, my “family,” my characters are acting out their adventures and giving pleasure to thousands of people – and that, after all, is worth more to me than money.

About johnbeckmanbooks

John Beckman, a retired meteorologist, was known as “Johnny the Weatherman” in a career that spanned forty years. He forecasted the weather on WSJS-TV in Winston-Salem, NC, at WFGA-TV in Jacksonville, FL, and for thirty-three years in Atlanta at WSB-TV and WXIA-TV. Also a well published author Beckman now devotes full time to writing fiction. He currently has several eBooks on Amazon.com, "Tropical Knights," first in a series of adventure/mysteries about a sailor and his lovely CIA cohort on a mission to save America. Now available the sequel, and second in the series: "Tropical Daze." The third Jack & Amy adventure is "Tropical Rage" which became available on 30 April 2014. All of his books are highlighted on http://johnbeckmanbooks.com and available from Amazon.com. . .
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