Chip MacGregor

January 24, 2012

Who Needs a Publisher?


In these times of self-publishing, ebooks, bookstore closures, agents turning into publishers, and the crumbling of the traditional publishing model—who needs a publisher?

May I offer an indie publisher’s perspective on that question?

First: Ask yourself if you know the industry. Many writers seem to have no clue about the changes in the publishing market. You need to do your research, learn book marketing, and educate yourself. One day your publisher is going to ask you, “What is your marketing plan?”, and if you say, “I can email my friends and do a book signing…”, there is a good chance your book will fail. No matter what path you take to publish, you will be responsible to market your book. Not the publisher—you.

Second: Ask yourself if want a publisher. You may feel you don’t need a publisher these days, as you can do much on your own. But a publisher can do it faster and better, and brings expertise to the process… so do you want a publisher? (And when I say “publisher” I mean the indie publisher, the new model publisher, the partner publisher, or someone who is not stuck in the old way of doing business. I do not mean the Big 6 or old-school, dying on the vine publishers who seem to think eBooks and news of thinking are evil.)

The fact is, a good publisher can do a few things for you that you can’t do on your own. But that will cost you something. You will give up part of your royalty to cover their services. Think of a publisher as someone who knows 50 people that you need to meet in order to get your book into reader’s hands. All a publisher does is make the introductions:

·      A publisher can get your book into bookstores. To sell with Ingram you need 10 titles before they will even talk to you. You can go through a third party to get in, but it will cost you 10-15% of your sales. Why do you need to be with Ingram? Because they are the big dog in distribution. Most stores buy from them.

·      A publisher can sell special rights, foreign rights, movie rights, mass market rights, blah blah blah… Now to be fair, you could do this on your own, but the publisher knows who to talk to and who is buying. It is all about contacts. Remember when your dad said it is not what you know but who you know? It turns out, he was right.

·      A publisher can work to get you into a better deal through an agent. I know I am going to open a can of worms here, but the agent’s job is changing. They are almost not needed for a book deal with an indie publisher. Why would you give up 15% when you can talk directly to the publisher and hire someone to look over your contract? Most charge a one-time fee for things like that. I use Chip and other agents to sell subsidiary rights—they work and get paid based on the deals they bring in. This works out well for the agents, as they are free to use their contacts to make money without being tied up with the time it takes to sell a book to big OLD publishers.

·      A publisher can put out a better product. Some of the books going up on Amazon are awful. Covers that make your eyes bleed,  no editing, poor layout. With the changes in the industry, many cover artists and editors are leaving or getting fired. Most can be hired as freelancers or go to work with a small press. If you doubt what I am saying, look around Smashwords or Amazon.

·      A publisher can help you market. Notice I did not say, “they will market for you”? They know how to market, so they can hold your hand and show you the ropes. Most publishers market their line of books, not just one book or one author, so they have learned where to go and what to do.

·      A publisher can make the process easy. I can’t tell you how many writers I have worked with that are happy to have someone on their side who knows what to do. Selling books can be like a giant puzzle, but once the various pieces are put together, it gets easier with every try. Why invent the wheel all over again? Besides the industry is changing so fast that if you create a new design it can be outdated as soon as you are finished.

·      A publisher can make you more money. A small press or new publisher usually pays higher royalties than the big guys, (40-60% vs 12-25%). This means you make more money per sale and can make a living on fewer books with lower sales.

Who needs a publisher? If you’re an author trying to make some money writing books, the chances are YOU do.


Aaron Patterson is the publisher at StoneHouse Ink, which has sold more than a quarter of a million books in the past two years.

Twitter: @StoneHouseInk

Facebook: HERE

Blog: HERE

Website: HERE

StoneHouse University: HERE




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  • Silversolara says:

    GREAT BLOG……I am stopping by from the Top Writing Blog competition.


    Just wanted to say hello. 
    This is a great way to find new blogs and visit ones you haven’t visited
    in a while.  🙂


    Elizabeth – Silver’s Reviews


  • I also wanted to say that this is part #1 of the post, the other part will be out soon and answers a lot of questions here. But I am not a publisher, I am an author, a new author only in this game for 3 years. But I helped one author get her book in print and another and woke up with a publishing house. I am an author first and a publisher last. I make my money on my books so my house is run with the author in mind. I don’t need to make money off my authors, if I do great but I am here to help. That is why guys like bill Myers work with me and do not call me a publisher, he calls me his friend which he will not say to any other publisher he has. I run this house and I hope it will become a trend, but it is run to help authors and not rip them off.

    My take, publishers suck, most are only out to make a buck. But some of the new ones really do care so be sure to make the connection. I could go on and on, but check out my blog, for more info, I am not shy.

  • Gina Gates says:

    Aaron Patterson’s idea of a publisher would be more accurately describe a large, well-known company with the clout to work with authors who are already in the public spotlight. Sure, their books are coddled all the way up the best seller list, as their publishers have astounding connections and a foot in the door with Hollywood.

    The rest of us are nearly invisible and relegated to small publishers or the self-published route. Sure, if a small publisher would do for me what a big house does for a famous author, I’d be very interested. But, I personally don’t know of any “everyday” author receiving such royal treatment, so I fail to see the advantages of a small publisher over self-publishing. An independent author can outsource the same level of expertise in cover graphics or editing, with the advantage of maintaining creative control. An author can duplicate many of the marketing efforts by a small publisher. No publisher can guarantee bookstore shelf space, but the e-book has revolutionized publishing anyway. In the long-term, I don’t see how the giving away of rights and royalties adds up to a plus for the author. 

    • Stonehousepress says:

      I tend to agree with you. You can do everything I can do, there is no magic here. If you know me and follow my blog you will find I am a big pusher toward small press and DYI. I did it on my own, I did my first book the end of 2008 and SH is only two years old. I had no contact and knew nothing about publishing.

      Every author I sign I have the “you can do this yourself” talk. No one needs me, but what I can do or a small press can do is, I can do it faster and better. U can find a great editor, I know them, you can find a cover artist, I know them…no magic, I just met and know the people to make a book happen. Time is money in this eBook market, I turned a book once in 30 days, from MS to online.

      But again, you can do all this yourself, some just choose to pay me a part of their royalties to do it for them so they can write more.

      The big thing that I am finding is most who do it themselves think they are doing a good job but have bad covers and poor marketing. It helps a ton to be able to talk to a pro and get feedback when most self published authors get their feedback from Facebook or friends. Both will not tell you the truth or do not know how. If you are a good business person and get marketing you will be fine on your own, but for most writers they do not know or want to run a business.

    • K.C. Neal says:

      StoneHouse Ink published my first book in November, so I
      thought I’d offer my perspective on the experience. I spent over a year reading blogs and articles from agents, self-pubbers, traditionally-published authors, and others. I was a student of sorts, really just trying to understand the
      industry. Before I began that education, I assumed I’d query agents and go that
      route. After a year of reading, I decided the industry was a mess and I’d be better off self-publishing. Then I met Aaron, one thing led to another, and I ended up signing with StoneHouse instead. For me, this set-up has been an ideal
      mix of help from someone who knows a lot more than I do and is much better connected than I am, and control over all the decisions that affect my book.

      Here are some of the reasons why publishing with this indie
      publisher has been a great experience for me:

      Speed: The time from first draft to published (ebook,
      paperback and audio) was less than a year. No way traditional publishing could match that, but frankly if I’d been self-pubbing on my own I believe I would
      have been much less efficient as well because I would have had to learn the entire process every step of the way and spend a ton of time finding the right cover artists, editors, etc.

      Connections: Aaron hooked me up with one of the best cover artists in the business. Does that designer work with self-pubbers, too? Of course. But I doubt I would have found her on my own. Same thing with my
      editor.  Aaron’s connections have saved me a lot of time looking for the “right” freelancers to work with, plus he’s
      connected me with other authors and people in the industry who haven’t necessarily directly affected my book, but have become friends, resources, and supporters. I have a wide network.

      Control: I’ve had a say in literally everything that’s
      happened with my book. I got to choose the photo for the cover, give input on the design at every step, pick the voice actor for the audiobook, choose the title of my book, decide what copy to put on the back cover of the paperback, help set the price, decide when to raise/lower the price…. you get the idea.

      Proxy Risk Taker: I don’t think I’m particularly innovative,
      and I’ve never been much of a risk taker. Aaron is both (he’s also a published author, so he gets what the entire publishing experience is like from the author’s erspective). He has great ideas and he likes to experiment, and I benefit from all of his ideas and experiments.

      I could go on, but you get the idea.

      Yes, I do (almost) all of my own marketing. But I imagine I’d be doing the same if I had a traditional deal (after all, this is my first published novel and I’m coming into all of this a “nobody”), and I KNOW I’d be doing the same if I’d self-pubbed.

      Could a motivated person do most of these things without a publisher? Sure. But really, there are no drawbacks for me. I get a ridiculously high royalty (I can’t divulge the terms, but trust me, it’s RIDICULOUS) that I don’t have to share with an agent, and I’m supported by someone who is knowledgeable, connected, and innovative.

      [Edited to fix formatting… yikes not very successfully, haha.]

  • Karen Baney says:

    As a self pub author I can make 70%.  I can change my price and also avoid overpricing my book.  I hire a professional artist and a professional editor.  Writing is a business for me.  And I’ve had tremendous success.  In the past few weeks two of my titles have been consistently in the top 100 for religious fiction (kindle – but that’s where the money is).  One of my titles hit as high as #3 on the overall Kindle best seller list.

    One of the very important changes in the publishing industry not mentioned above is the Kindle Select program.  This is a game changer that will definitely hit the pocket books of all traditional publishers whether big or small.  Amazon is giving huge incentives to authors that makes it worth their while to go exclusive.

    • You have done a great job and as an author show the way it should be done if you are going to DIY. I have seen your books around and you are doing great. But you are going about it like a business, the way you should.

      For you, going with a publisher would only be smart if you were doing it for one or two titles and for marketing. Maybe take you to a bigger audience and make the money on your self-pub books. The best situation is to have some on your own, some with a small press and one with a big boy. That way you get the best of all worlds to really make it in this land of eBooks.

      I guess what I and Chip are saying is that most are not like you, they need a publisher to help out, but you will give up some power and royalties.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Just because you can build a house by yourself, doesn’t mean that you should — or that it would be wise to attempt to do so. While some can do it and come out ahead, most shouldn’t. I think the same is true with publishing.

  • Ruth Douthitt says:

    Good to know I am headed in the right direction!  Great post!  Thanks for all the insight. It can be a bit overwhelming for a new author like me.

  • C. S. Lakin says:

    Well, I can see your points to a point. I tend to disagree with them, however. I have been/am being traditionally published, and I also have put three unsold books up as ebooks on distribution sites. The experiment is on. I find traditional publishers are moving away from supporting their authors, marketing for them, etc. You can hire a great editor and cover designer that will do a better job than what you get with a traditional publisher (the editing for many commercially pub’d books is atrocious–if you don’t believe me, read any of the Twilight books). 
    Traditional publishers limit your distribution and access to a worldwide audience whereas ebook distributors can get you everywhere, just about. You make more money off your ebook sales–way more money–per book than sold by a traditional publisher. I sure am getting more money per month off my ebook sales (from the books I uploaded) than any of my print books, and I have friends who pay their rent from the revenue from theirs.For those who want to see the real stats that show traditional publishing is on the decline, go read my posts at http://www.livewritethrive. I think you’ll be shocked by the statistics. I don’t think the pubs care much to help you, the author, market much at all. In fact, by the time your book is released, they are done and have moved on to their next season’s catalog. And they don’t necessarily make a better product for you. You can create a book at Amazon’s Create Space that is every bit as good-looking and professional as one from a traditional publisher. The best part is you, the author, get to control your sale price, content, look of your book, etc. Sure, there are a lot of badly edited ebooks with terrible covers. And there a ton of badly written traditionally pub’d books with ugly covers too. I think my point is made. Come join the discussion at my blog and look at the stats, and learn how you can find success and joy in this new age of publishing as the traditional publishers go under. My two cents…

  • Charity says:

    Also, editing. That would be another reason to chose a publisher, and to help decide on which one. God found me the perfect small publisher for my niche market, but I did learn how much time editing takes and ended up hiring an experienced editor for some work and consulting. You would want to ask: who will be editing my book? How many books similar to this have they done? And, What kinds of editing will they be doing–substantive/macro, copyediting or both. I would think ideally you’d want them doing at least 2 passes through the entire book, preferrably three. Or else, be prepared to spend money (maybe $2000 for an entire book) on hiring a copyeditor. And read some good books/do research on self-editing for a macro-level edit. Correct me, someone, if I’m wrong, but that’s something I didn’t know a year ago that would have been helpful!

  • Bri says:

    Here…here! Don’t laugh but I hit the Smashwords link thinking its go directly to a particular bad cover. Sadly it was three. LOL

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