How micro-publishers fit in the publishing industryIt seems like I need a page to explain how micro-publishers fit in the industry. I really don’t like talking money, but we need a little reality orientation here. I’ve published six books through traditional publishers. I was an unknown expert in digital publishing which was just starting.  They took care of the publishing and revenue collection. I received between 6% to 11% of the gross royalties [income minus printing costs]. From what I have heard since then, I got a really good deal by getting the 11%. The average for non-fiction was less than that.

That was in the 1990s, and since then publishing has radically changed.

Commonly, fiction now experiences about 95% ebook sales, with about 65% going to Kindle (though many self-publishers are exclusively Kindle). These ebooks normally cost from $0.99 to 4.99, with the sweet spot at $2.99 to $3.99 in most cases. Non-fiction varies a lot. But commonly it is 30% to 50% print and the rest are ebooks. Non-fiction ebooks go for $1.99 to $5.99. Technical non-fiction can get $9.99. Only the tradpub companies get more than $10 for an ebook and their sales are dropping fast because of that fact. Tradepub still sells in the few bookstores remaining. They increasingly deal with celebrity authors only, plus the very popular fiction authors. But this end of publishing remains very difficult to break into. Book sales are now mostly online, and Amazon gets the bulk of them.

Now let’s talk about how micro-publishers fit in the early 21st-century industry

The traditional publishing route has not changed much

As I hinted, they very rarely take on unknown authors, and then only through an agent. It commonly takes a year or more to get a book published once the contract is signed and the manuscript is completed. Tradepub normally requires editorial control. Often, authors are forced to rewrite their books to fit within a publisher’s style. It can be argued that these changes make the books better. But, that improvement rarely helps anything but sales. If your books are for a small niche, they won’t help you at all.

Authors need a proven track record. They normally need to prove they have at least 10,000 to 20,000 followers, subscribers, seminar attendees, and the like. Or, they could have a previous book which sold well [20,000 copies or more]. But the best hope remains—the celebrity.

Prices for these books run $15-$40 for print and $10 to $15 for an ebook. Their ebook sales are abysmal at those prices. Authors get around 10% of gross royalties, as mentioned. It costs these companies thousands of dollars or much more to publish a book with a large labor force under massive bureaucracies.

Their marketing can be massive, but only for a quick push. After a few months, their marketing basically ceases.

New for the 21st century: the self-publisher.

They are doing quite well, in some cases selling over a $1,000,000 a book. The books can be released within a day or so after the final proof. But a more convoluted release schedule works better. However, the basic truth remains. Most self-publishers sell less than 200 copies of a book. Many sell less than fifty copies. But, even selling a couple hundred books per title can be real income if you write many books. In addition, the self-published book can sell for years and the marketing gradually builds over time. This can result in excellent sales over the long haul.

Self-publishers use on-demand printing companies like Lightning Source, Ingram-Spark, Createspace, Blurb, and Lulu for printed books. Kindle, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo, plus several smaller entities, provide the distribution of the vast majority of the ebooks. The self-publishers usually depend on ebooks sales. These authors are entirely responsible for all the costs of publishing.

Typical costs incurred:

  • a couple hundred to $1500 for professional copyediting [though many go cheaper with the obvious problems]
  • $100-$500 for proofing
  • $50 to $1000 for formatting the book [the $50 to $200 range are published directly from Word—and look like it]
  • $50 to $500 (or much more) for the cover
  • up to a few hundred dollars in production costs (like proofs) with Lightning Source, Ingram-Spark, or on-demand printing companies
  • hugely varying costs for advertising and marketing
  • plus 1-4 hours a day on social media
  • a blog post or more a week
  • sales
  • offers
  • a monthly newsletter to the email list built with the blog
  • and more

The books sell for a few dollars over cost for print and $0.99 to $4.99 for ebooks. The author’s royalties for print are around 30% to 80% of the book’s price, minus the cost of printing. For ebooks, the royalties run from 35% to 95% of the book’s price. Kindle gives 35% to 70%. The rest give about 65%. Selling them yourself off your website can garner 95% or slightly more.

In between these poles are vanity presses and micro-publishers

Now we can talk about how micro-publishers fit. They meet a real need for some authors.

Vanity presses [avoid these] 

These claim to be self-publishers, but they normally charge the author thousands of dollars for a printed version [$10,000 to $15,000 is not unusual] with usually a 500-2000 copy minimum order. These books just sit in the author’s garage, getting dirty, and rarely sold. Vanity presses often do not do an ebook or do one grudgingly. Their marketing efforts are poorly done and the author has no input, in most cases. Often the author gets 100% of royalties. But you need to sell thousands of books to make a profit. These companies exist to prey on unsuspecting authors! The horror stories are legion.

How micro-publishers fit the new industry

These are traditional-style publishers with much smaller overhead, a tiny staff, and much quicker turnaround. They normally do not charge the author anything. Their books prices run the gamut between tradepub and self-pub. Their income comes from royalty income, out of which they pay the author 25% to 60%. This percentage varies by how much sweat equity the author is willing to put into the process.

Some can do all the production—some job it out. Just the time spent on bookkeeping can be substantial for the micro-publisher. The author can get higher royalties by paying for some of the services and then self-publishing with the help of the micro-publisher.

This is what I do

My work runs the gamut between offering full publishing services and simply providing professional formatting services for hire. How micro-publishers fit depends on what the author wants or needs. For me, it is a ministry to believing authors. I do work for non-believers, and I can give you good references in that area. But my real uniqueness shows up in bringing the power of the Holy Spirit into the process. Once I get involved with an author, I mentor him or her until he or she is satisfied—if they allow that possibility, of course.