Psychographic profile for authors publishing their first book.
Authors may choose to self-publish for the following reasons: they are looking for more lucrative results, they are writing in a niche genre with a small target audience, they desire to publish their works faster, and because they wish to retain creative control. By contrast, an author may choose the traditional publishing route if they aspire to achieve higher levels of literary recognition, if they are seeking to devote the majority of their time writing (versus carrying out other publishing functions required by the self-publishing method), if they find value in the support, guidance, and help of a team of publishing professionals, and if they aim to fine-tune and significantly develop their talents as a writer.
Being able to objectively pinpoint the exact tipping points which make authors choose one method over another proved difficult, as our research findings suggest that different authors will choose different publishing methods for a variety of reasons in accordance with what best suits their own specific needs and desires. However, we feel that the insights we have provided offer a clear understanding of why certain types of authors might choose one or the other. These tipping points, as well as the pain points that authors face when initially publishing, have been woven throughout this response. Additionally, we have concluded this response with a section that directly outlines these pain points.
SELF-PUBLISHING Here we will examine the benefits of self-publishing compared to traditional publishing. These benefits serve as insights into the reasons why self-publishing might be more appealing to an author than traditional publishing.
According to sales data collected from Amazon over the course of 27 months between 2015 and 2016, “self-published books have an almost 45% share of the market (growing from 27% since February 2014).” Meanwhile, sales of books published by the top five major trade book publishers fell to 23%, down from 39%, over the same period. Based on this, we feel that an author might choose the self-publishing route due to its recently trending success. Another key advantage to self-publishing is that this type of publishing is more capable of reaching niche markets, and a publishing company is likely to reject a book that they feel does not have a large enough audience. From this insight, we feel it is likely that an author might choose the self-publishing route if they have a smaller or very specific target audience.
Additionally, a major benefit to self-publishing is that this method of publishing provides the author with a higher percentage of profit, versus traditional publishing. On average, an author receives about "42% of the dollars earned" through self-publishing. By comparison, the top five publishing companies give "less than a quarter of their proceeds" to the author. In pondering this insight from a mathematical point of view, we feel that a first time author might see greater earning potential by taking the self-publishing route, because they would earn greater profits for every book sold. While a 'quarter of proceeds' might be a substantial dividend for an established author, who is likely to sell a lot of books due to their following (i.e. the quantity of books sold will make up for the lower royalty payout per book, and therefore the author will still receive a large earning), we imagine that a first-time author most likely has not yet amassed a significant readership, and therefore will probably not sell a significantly large number of books. Therefore, for a first-time author, we feel the idea of earning a higher payback percentage per book would be the most appealing option.
In self-publishing, the author also maintains the exclusive rights to their work. This allows them total creative control throughout the entire publishing process. Loss of creative control over their work is a major pain point for authors who are considering publishing through traditional methods. One self-published author, Sheila Sheeran, explained in an interview how she "never felt that traditional publishing was the best route for realizing her dream, as she was unwilling to compromise her voice or the stories that she developed.”
Some other added benefits of self-publishing is the ability to publish one’s book in faster, as authors do not need to wait on “the return times of agents and publishers.” Self-publishing can also be beneficial for authors who write content which generally does not generate a lot of revenue anyway, such as poetry. One example of a poet who was successful through self-publishing is Walt Whitman. Additionally, influencers and gurus who already have a following for other reasons beyond writing, can find success through self-publishing as they can easily market their book to their existing audience.
Despite the obvious financial benefits of self-publishing, many authors still feel it’s best to forego them, preferring to stick with traditional publishing. We will now explore the benefits of traditional publishing, which will provide insights into the reasons why an author may choose this route versus self-publishing. To help substantiate an author’s perspective on this topic, we have sourced the following insights from an author who is dead-set on the traditional publishing method. We feel that this author’s insights are most valuable, because while this author is somewhat established already, they are not a 'rich' writer by their own proclamation, and yet they feel the financial benefits of self-publishing still do not outweigh the benefits of traditional publishing.
Ros Barber, a published novelist who also writes for the Guardian, says that “self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing, and 90% of their time marketing.” Barber goes on to explain that this breakdown of time expenditure is clearly not ideal for writers who are passionate about devoting a significant amount of time to developing their works, and therefore these types of authors may be better suited for traditional publishing methods. Additionally, Barber points out how self-published authors may resort to unappealing, guerilla-like marketing techniques, or resort to over-the-top social media self-advertisement, which can cast them and their work into an unappealing light. Overall, Barber feels that book marketing is best left to the pros.
Another advantage to traditional publishing, especially for new authors, is that this method sort of puts an author ‘through the ringer,’ thereby pushing them to really develop their talents and skills, and thereby becoming a better and more successful writer overall. Ros Barber implies that an author’s first novel is usually not going to be their best, and going through the process of having their work rejected will motivate a writer to become better and better until their work is accepted. In this way, an author’s first published novel is guaranteed to be a work that they can be truly proud of. Barber says that in the long-run, the author will be happy that they didn’t publish their first novel, because after seriously developing their writing skills, their first novel will seem “embarrassing and amateurish.” Furthermore, for writers of literary fiction, traditional publishing is the best option, because “literary fiction is dependent on critical acclaim and literary prizes” in order for an author to build a significant reputation and following. According to Ros Barber, books that are self-published “are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker, and getting shortlisted for major prizes is the only way a literary novel will become a best-seller.” Additionally, a self-published novel receiving a review in mainstream media is highly unlikely. The chances of a self-published author “being booked for a major literature festival” are basically zero. Given this, it is clear that the traditional route is ideal for writers who are looking for the chance to make a name for themselves as a reputable, bestselling novelist.
Probably one of the biggest draws to traditional publishing is the access it allows to a team of experienced professionals (editors, designers, marketers, publicists), and none of these services are then paid for by the author directly. An author who is self-publishing has to either pay for these services themselves, or do them on their own. Paying for the services from a professional is costly, and finding people willing to provide these services on the cheap will most likely result in a less polished, less professional looking final product. For an author to complete all of these tasks alone would require significant time investment which would probably not produce the same quality of results that could be attained through a traditional publisher. Barber states that at the end of the day, an author working completely independently could invest serious time into a product which might not even lead to the financial payout they were hoping for in the first place.
SELF-PUBLISHING PAIN POINTS FOR FIRST-TIME AUTHORS -- Lots of work and time investment in order to get the self-publishing process right. -- Unprofessional products will be poorly received. -- It takes a lot of time to carry out each phase of publishing without the guidance and knowledge of a professional team. -- It is expensive to hire professionals that can help.
TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING PAIN POINTS FOR FIRST-TIME AUTHORS -- Difficultly in acquiring a deal (finding an agent, writing a proposal, shopping the proposal, waiting for an offer, facing possible rejection). -- Lots of time investment. -- Loss of ownership rights. -- Loss of control in regards to marketing. -- Loss of control in regards to creativity and content. -- Low royalty percentages and small advancements.
SUGGESTION FOR ADDITIONAL READING We felt you might also be interested in reading further into this article written by Tucker Max, who has been involved in the book and publishing industry for nearly twenty years. This article may prove to be of further interest to you, because not only does it give a good deep dive into the reasons why authors may choose one publishing method over the other, it also provides a section on the common questions authors ask when trying to decide which publishing route to take.
To wrap it up, our research findings suggest that authors may choose to self-publish for the following reasons: they are looking for more lucrative results, they are writing in a niche genre with a small target audience, they desire to publish their works faster, and because they wish to retain creative control. By contrast, an author may choose the traditional publishing route if they aspire to achieve higher levels of literary recognition, if they are seeking to devote the majority of their time writing (versus carrying out other publishing functions required by the self-publishing method), if they find value in the support, guidance, and help of a team of publishing professionals, and if they aim to fine-tune and significantly develop their talents as a writer.