When Should Writers opt for Self-Publishing over Traditional (Trade) Publishing?

When should writers opt for self-publishing over traditional (trade) publishing? This is a loaded question because the answer might be different for one person than it is for another. It all starts with your own personal preferences and goals as detailed in this blog post from a while back: Ten Questions To Ask Yourself Before Publishing Your Book. From there, it’s important to research the various publishing options available to you to determine which one best complements your goals. I talk about these three book publishing business models in one of my most recent free downloads titled Your Ebook is an Asset … if You Own the Copyright. Here is a brief excerpt from that ebook:

Some authors will submit their manuscripts to a traditional (trade) publisher for consideration in the hopes it will be published for them free of charge. What they might not realize is that whoever is paying for the publication of a book is the one who ends up with primary control over that book. Trade publishers don’t pick up the bill simply out of the kindness of their hearts. They are business people who are buying a product to try to turn a profit for themselves, and that “product” is the copyright ownership of your work (whether permanent or temporary, whether full or partial—it varies with each contract and each publisher).

The grant of rights clause in a publishing contract is one of the most important clauses because it enumerates the specific rights granted to the publisher by the author. Negotiation of this clause has become even more important in today’s world where increasingly more uses are being developed for literary content.

The scope of the clause may vary widely, it could be all inclusive — granting all the exclusive rights and interests in the author’s work, or the grant could be very narrow — only including a single specific use of the author’s work, or it could be somewhere between these extremes. The critical point is that the publisher only has the right to exploit those rights that are specifically granted to the publisher and any exploitation of rights exceeding the author’s grant could be deemed a copyright infringement of the author’s work.

Copyright ownership of a literary work consists of a bundle of rights which an author, at least theoretically, may assign to the publisher in any manner they choose. Thus, an author may assign all or only a part of his/her rights to one or more publishers while retaining particular rights for himself/herself. (Thomson Reuters, n.d.)

Unfortunately, many authors unwittingly grant all their exclusive rights to one publisher without fully understanding the implications of doing so. As a result, these individuals usually retain only basic rights that recognize them as the author of the work and allow them to be paid a small percentage of its retail price in royalties (usually only up to 10 percent per copy sold). The publisher keeps the rest of the profits because the publisher owns the copyright.

Most trade publishers do not ask for an outright assignment of all exclusive rights under copyright; their contracts usually call for copyright to be in the author’s name. But it’s another story in the world of university presses. Most scholarly publishers routinely present their authors with the single most draconian, unfair clause we routinely encounter, taking all the exclusive rights to an author’s work as if the press itself authored the work: “The Author assigns to Publisher all right, title and interests, including all rights under copyright, in and to the work…”

…The problem is that most academic authors—particularly first-time authors feeling the flames of “publish or perish”—don’t even ask. They do not have agents, do not seek legal advice, and often don’t understand that publishing contracts can be modified. So they don’t ask to keep their copyrights—or for any changes at all. (The Authors Guild, n.d.)

If you choose to follow the traditional route toward publishing a book, you must read and fully understand the contract being presented to you before signing anything away. You should only grant a publishing company the primary and subsidiary rights that it has the full intention (and capability) of exploiting on your behalf so the relationship benefits you both. If any publisher ever tries to tell you otherwise, then walk away.

Interested in reading more about your other two options? You can download a free copy of Your Ebook is an Asset … if You Own the Copyright from your choice of either Amazon, Kobo, or E-Sentral to continue reading. Click on the link for details.