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Questions to ask if you're debating self-publishing or signing a deal:

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Famed author Barry Eisler has a fantastic blog post (on Joe Konrath's blog) discussing more of his views on the publishing world.

I particularly liked his section discussing the questions you need to answer yourself before making a decision concerning whether to self-publish or to do a deal with a publisher:

Reasonable questions to ask would include, How much is the advance? How much do I need the advance? Do I think that with higher self-publishing royalties, I can beat the contract (to see what I mean with that concept, follow the last paragraph in this Daily Beast interview)? If so, how long do I expect beating the contract will take? How important is paper distribution to me, and how important is digital? How important to me is control over things like pricing and packaging? How important is time-to-market? How much do I like, and how good am I at, running my own business vs. outsourcing business management to someone else? How much do I trust my potential business partner to manage things well? How much do I hate what legacy publishers are doing today vs how much do I fear what Amazon might do tomorrow? Which system gives me more personal power to influence my odds of success, and how important is that power to me? Etc. If you make a decision without asking such questions, you're making a mistake, at least in your process (though you can still get lucky in your result). If you are asking these questions, then regardless of the path you choose, you're making an informed decision, and for you, the right one.

That seems like a useful checklist.

initiated Nov 11, 2011 in Lessons Learned by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   58 99 160
   

3 Responses

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For me there's a missing question about how much value do you think the publisher / publishing house is going to add. Expert editing can be priceless, sticking a cover off and making a print run, less so.
response added Nov 17, 2011 by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22
@blinddrew definitely a good point... though, I'm guessing it's tough to know how good an editor they'll provide until you reach that point...
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True, which is where asking around and building a network helps I guess. Still, the important thing is to be asking the questions. A lot of them transfer to music deals as well interestingly. I think a lot of it just comes down to: Is this deal going to be better for me in the long run than doing it myself or in partnership with someone else?
response added Nov 18, 2011 by drew stephenson (3,370 points)   3 10 22
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As someone who has self-published two photobooks, I'd like to throw in some of what I've learned from my (admittedly limited) first hand experience.

"If you build it, they will come" is a huge lie that self-publishing companies love to tell their users.  They will talk about how they have an online bookstore which you can submit to for free; they wont talk about how few sales there are on these bookstores.

With self publishing, you really only get out what you put into it.  You will have absolutely no sales outside of your own circle of contacts and fans.  As a part time photographer with a very small roster of very regular clients, I dont have a lot of reach or reputation for people seeking photographs.  My mom and aunts bought my book, followed by a few of their friends; and that was it.  

Only a handful of people emailed us requesting a copy of the free PDF version of the book, (at this stage, a contact list is more important than money, so this seemed like a good trade off for me - free digital or paid physical)  The really depressing part -  not a single one of them put the digital version up on the pirate bay.

 

If you are someone who has a vast personal network, or a built up fan base, self publishing is easily the right option for you, but as a complete unknown, having a more tradirtional publisher might have been the better option. If they are able to give you that much needed marketing push to move you onto the public stage, that is a good advantage to have early on.  Just be sure you can drop them later on when they are no longer needed.
response added Mar 17, 2012 by Kyle Clements (2,460 points)   3 9 17

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