From the Archives: “Avoid these 5 mistakes when choosing your publisher”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.


[ Originally posted: April 23rd, 2010 ]

Avoid publishers that claim to publish in 24 hours. After the time it took to write your book, do you want it published right, or overnight? Avoid overnight publishers no matter what they charge because the only one looking at your book will be a computer. It should take between 6-15 weeks.

A royalty is simply a percentage of another number. The actual dollars and cents you earn depends upon that second number. The truest royalty is a royalty based upon the retail price of your book. Many publishers use “net royalty” which is a royalty based upon their profit. To be sure, always confirm your profit in dollars and cents.

The main advantage to self-publishing alternatively with a on-demand publisher is that you keep all the rights to your work. The rights are valuable. Read the contract. Your rights should clearly stay with you.

If a publisher normally offers discounts to an author who buys their own book in bulk, that tells you two things. 1) It tells you they are more concerned with selling to you than to other readers. 2) It tells you they are charging you too much for lower quantities. Do you really want to be forced to buy 100 books at a time just to get a fair price? “Bulk” discounts simply trick the author into buying more books than they need, which defeats the whole advantage of on-demand printing.

As an author, your per-book price should be based upon the production cost of the book, not the retail price. No wonder publishers inflate their retail pricing. You should always receive a below-wholesale price, regardless of how many you buy. You will never make money if you have to buy your own book at wholesale from the publisher.

When push comes to shove, all five of these points boil down to the same core idea:

You ought always to look for a self-publishing company that puts you––the author––first.  A company that shares your ethics and vision for rendering stories accessible to readers.  A company that knows how to treat people right and does so consistently, day in and day out.

A company that works solely to satisfy its bottom line and invested parties is a company that has forgotten the human element … and the whole point of self-publishing, to be perfectly frank.  Responsibility to shareholders and investors is one thing, but the deliberate choice to inflate profits at the expense of quality products, customer satisfaction, and author empowerment is unconscionable and inexcusable.  I sometimes wonder how much of the corporate soullessness we see in certain corners of the world today has its roots in people not loving the work they do––not finding value and meaning in enriching the lives of others in addition to their own, and not seeing the significance of their daily tasks or the opportunities to craft a career that is as much art as it is science.  But here I’m rambling!

Looking back nearly six years to this original post, I now see the five mistakes noted above to be more a list of symptoms than a list of “to-not-dos” … because each and every single one points to a company that prioritizes itself over its product and clients:

  • If a company maximizes profits by creating artificially high prices that only seem reasonable when reduced to a bulk or “author-only” rate, it is clearly a company that cares very little about balancing the need for profit and survival in a competitive market with the reality that self-publishing is a market and industry that demands transparency, accessibility, and progressive thinking.  It is a company that looks to trap its customers into a long-term, toxic, parasitic relationship.
  • If a company prioritizes speed over a quality product or quality customer service, then it’s a company that sells itself using gimmicks … and gimmicks, as we are all well aware, are the desperate empty gestures of a company lacking imagination.  Innovation and creativity do not produce inferior versions of a thing; they find new and fresh ways to look at problems and to improve upon that thing.

constraints in self publishing

In short, no, nothing really has changed in the six years since this post first hit the Self Publishing Advisor front page.  There were ungenerous self-publishing companies in existence then, and there are ungenerous self-publishing companies in existence now.  We haven’t changed that fact in half a decade, and we’re not particularly likely to change it in the next.  What we can change, however, is our own degree of discernment.  We can spot the warning signs––the symptoms above––and steer well away from companies that manifest them.  We can choose not to sell ourselves short, and to choose instead a publishing option that respects us as authors and empowers us to better ends than a bottom line.

If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog,

Trade Discounts and Distribution: One of the Many Self-Publishing Perks

The self publishing industry is a reaction to the traditional publishing industry. For years, the only option for authors to see their manuscripts published was to hire an agent and/or submit their manuscripts to the traditional houses in hopes of being selected for publication. In most cases, this process took many years, involved substantial changes to the manuscript and most importantly, forced the author into giving up the rights. Retail pricing and the author’s royalties were out of the author’s control as well. Self-publishing allows authors to maintain control over their material and allows them to select the type of distribution that is appropriate to their material and marketing goals.

Speaking of distribution the desire for shelf space is always a popular subject for new authors, and its requirements are very strict. Books that make it onto the shelves of the brick and mortar chain book stores have to carry a very high trade discount (50% to 55%). “Trade discount” is our industry specific term for “profit margin.” For example, when you purchase a book within a Barnes & Noble bookstore for $14.95, 55% of the retail price ($8.22) is divided between the store and the wholesale distributor for their profit. When you subtract the $8.22 from the $14.95, you are left with $6.73. This remainder covers the cost of the actual book. The balance that is left after the price of the book is the author royalty. Typically, authors receive very low royalties in these scenarios.  

In addition to needing a high trade discount, authors also need to provide the bookstore with a “Retail Returns Program.” This program allows the bookstores to return books to the wholesaler and get their money back if the books do not sell. You must provide this program to the retailers, but having it is no guarantee that they will agree to stock your book. 

Conversely, authors that elect to focus on internet sales may select a much lower trade discount as the internet book sites do not require as large of a profit margin. So that same $14.95 retail priced book under a 25% trade discount would look like this mathematically: $14.95 – $3.74 (25% of the retail price) = $11.21 – the actual cost of your book = your royalty. Obviously, $11.21 is a larger number than $6.73. Therefore, your royalty will be greater if sold by an online distributor, assuming the cost of your book remains the same in each equation.

Freedom to choose your trade discount and distribution center is just one of the many perks of self publishing. To learn more about trade discounts, check out Cheri’s post titled Trade Discounts 101. It provides a great overview of industry standards and questions to ask yourself before setting your discount.

Wendy Stetina is a sales and marketing professional with over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industry. Wendy works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; and together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction, or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Wendy Stetina can put you on the right path.

Wednesday Weekly Podcast: Trade Discounts and Why they Matter for Self-Publishing Authors

Today, we’re introducing our Wednesday Weekly Podcast. Our introductory topic will be trade discounts.

As a self-publishing author, one decision that you have to make (unless your publisher chooses for you) is how to price your book. One part of the pricing equation is determining your trade discount.

In today’s podcast, we discuss:

  • What is a trade discount?
  • What are the most common trade discounts?
  • What impact does a trade discount mean for your book’s distribution?
  • What impact does a trade discount have on a self-publishing author’s royalties?

DISCUSSION: What would you like to us to talk about in next week’s podcast?