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Should You Pay For Publishing?

Jeremy Collier

Jeremy Collier

Founder, Steam Powered Dreams

Authorpreneur, Editor, and Publisher


Feb, 2018

I hear it all the time, “Publishing your book should not cost a dime”, but is that true? This may be the first generation we have a choice on how we publish, but it’s also a generation full of uncertainty within the industry. At one time it was common for a publisher to take care of everything, but today it’s not the case. This is why I decided to share my experience and knowledge on what you can expect to shell the cash out for and what you should never have to pay for. Should you pay for publishing? Let’s find out.
If you take nothing else from this article, I want you to understand this. Unless you do all the work yourself, you will have to pay at least something out of pocket. Even if you get signed by a major publisher. It’s as simple as that.

Alright, it’s not really that simple, I’m just being dramatic. But the truth is whether you’re paying now or paying later, publishing does cost money, with the exception of the aforementioned DIY Author.

Before we delve deeper into this topic, it’s important to make a distinction here between paying someone to publish your book and paying to be published. When you pay someone to publish your book, you’re paying them for their time and efforts, not actually hitting the “Publish” button. This means that your money is their compensation for doing a job for you. On the other hand, paying to be published means that you’re giving someone money for the right to click that Publish button under their name. Often times a percentage of your rights go along with it, and that’s something that you don’t want to do.

I know it sounds a bit vague, so let’s look at two examples.

Paying Someone To Publish Your Book

You’re an indie author and you’ve finished your manuscript, had it edited, designed. It’s ready to go, but you’ve never published anything before and don’t have the time (or desire) to do it yourself. You search online and you find someone who is willing to take your book and put it up on whatever bookstores you ask them to. The book appears under your name and you retain all the rights. They charge you a small fee, concluding the contract between you and them, and everybody is happy. This isn’t “pay for publishing”, this is paying someone to publish your book.
“Paying to be published means that you’re giving someone money for the right to click that Publish button under their name, and often times a percentage of your rights along with it, and that’s something that you don’t want to do.

Paying For Publication

On the other hand, that same author finds a company who is more than willing to publish their book. The company tells the author it will be published under the company “publishing house” name and you’ll be paid through them. It usually costs a small fee up front. Sounds great at first, but after a few months you realize your royalty payments are very small, or non-existent. You are sure friends and family have bought the book, so where’s your profit? You contact them and they remind you that your contract stated that they get x amount of money each month. This is the compensation to be published by them. This is paying to be published and should be avoided at all costs.

The worst part of the second example is it happens every day to authors. While there are a few of these vanity publishers who are legit, most are to be avoided at all costs.

What About Traditional Publishing?

I mentioned above that even traditional publishing costs these days, and that is true for most authors. If you get signed by a smaller publisher, they may ask you to split the costs of editing or designing. They also provide providing little to no marketing for your book. The sad truth is that traditional publishing is making less profits for the services they provide. This makes it harder for these companies to survive. More and more being published is becoming a partnership, rather than a one-sided deal as it used to be.  Since the royalties tend to be pretty high, as much as 90%, you should earn this upfront cost back over the lifetime of the book, and hopefully a lot more.

Even big name publishers have cut way back on their budget for lesser known authors. Many times the only marketing you’ll get included with the publication is a place on their website, an announcement in their newsletter, and a few social media posts scattered here and there. This leaves you to foot the bill for marketing. And since they’re providing the high-quality edits and design, your royalties are a lot lower, usually less than 10%.

So, Should I Pay For Publishing?

This might all sound daunting as if there’s no possible way to win in publishing. The truth is there is more profit being made now from writing than any other time in our history, as long as you’re willing to put in the work yourself. Whether you decide to go all in and DIY or try for one of the big-name publishers, it is hard work. But, if it was easy everybody would do it.

My advice is to avoid vanity publishing, make sure you get all the details of any contract straight before you sign, and put in the hard work to market your book. Following this as your guide will all but ensure the success of your masterpiece.


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