Five reasons to turn down a Big Five deal and self-publish

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She Writes Press aims to be a third way of publishing for writers.

Kamy Wicoff finished her first novel recently and her agent started shopping it around publishers. One of the Big Five firms made a good offer for it but after some thought, Wicoff turned down the deal and opted to self-publish.

Wicoff has her own publishing operation, She Writes Press, and had thought she would self-publish her novel as an SWP book but her agent reckoned she might get a trad offer she couldn’t refuse.

But Wicoff says although the offer she got had a good advance it wasn’t enticing enough both in financial terms and in terms of the publisher enthusing about her book.

She says this aspect should be considered by all authors who might do better with the “third-way” publishing model being pioneered by SWP. She Writes Press was set up by Wicoff and Brooke Warner a year ago after Wicoff had been running the She Writes website for women writers for four years, building up a membership of 20,000.

The press is an author-subsidised operation where the writer pays for services and gets the benefits from the overall infrastructure. SWP has already produced over 30 titles which are all published simultaneously in paperback and ebook formats.

Wicoff says there are five important points she took into account when turning down the traditional deal.

Curation

The editors approached all agreed on the quality of Wicoff’s book but found problems in more corporate areas such as branding, being on trend and hardback suitability (publishers make more cash from hard cover than from paperbacks).

Advance

Wicoff says the advance wasn’t big enough for what she would give up, particularly as the advance was to paid in three parts over two years and she would be handing over 15% to the agent.

She thinks she has a good chance of selling 10,000 copies of her novel and she sets out the economics of her decision.

For design, production and traditional distribution of the book to the trade, Wicoff would pay SWP $3,900 (no freebies for the owner) and would earn 70% net on a paperback ($3 a book) and 80% net on an ebook, (nearly $5).

She reckons her break-even number publishing with SWP is around 1,150 books, assuming 25% of sales as ebooks.

Wicoff then considered how many sales would be needed to match the advance. She would have earned around 15% net ($1) per paperback) and 25% ($1.75) for an ebook.

She would have had to sell more than 10 times as many books to earn out the advance as to break even with SWP.

Marketing and publicity

Nowadays publishers basically leverage the author’s own platform. As Wicoff puts it: “It was like a job interview for me as my book’s publicist. These days, the advance reflects a publisher’s assessment not just of a book, but of an author’s ability to promote it. When I asked what the marketing budget would be, I was told there wouldn’t be one, because in their experience nothing works better than authors making personal pleas to readers.”

Distribution and review

Distribution is probably the single biggest reason to publish with a traditional publisher but Wicoff points out that She Writes Press recently signed up Ingram Publisher Services, the biggest traditional distributor in the country.

This means her book will benefit from a team of sales reps selling SWP titles to the trade, a catalogue marketing them to libraries and metadata management of on all the big ebook platforms.

The Ingram link-up also means Publisher’s Weekly became interested in SWP and is now accepting its titles for review.

Format

Unless you desperately want to be published in hardback, the question of format isn’t a problem for choosing self/third-way publishing, so ebooks and paperbacks cover the waterfront, but many trad publishers still look for books they think will be suitable for hardback publication.

Wicoff’s experience and her conclusions point to a growing threat to traditional publishers who increasingly find themselves unable to better the prospects of self-publishing, particularly with third-way firms such as SWP offering valuable support throughout the process.

You can read the very interesting and informative (and very long) post by Wicoff about her publishing decision at She Writes.