A couple of months ago, I did something I never would have dreamed of doing when I began my career as an author: I turned down an offer from a Big Five publisher—and not, as would usually be the case, to take a better offer from another Big Five publisher. Why? Because, after carefully evaluating the deal and stacking it up against the risks and benefits of publishing my book (not my first, but my first foray into fiction) with my own press, the case for doing so was so compelling that even my deepest insecurities weren’t enough to stop me from seeing the light. Yes, it was hard to walk away from the validation and status that comes with a traditional book deal. But when I took a long hard look at what that deal had to offer and compared it with the thrilling new possibilities that thinking outside of the Big Five box now have to offer, it wasn’t much of a contest. This is partly because, in the years since I published my first book traditionally and now, radical changes in technology have made it possible for independent presses to do just about everything big publishing houses can do. But it was also because, in the years since my first book and this one, I founded a startup and learned, for the first time, to think like an entrepreneur.
This was instrumental because for 99% of authors (all but those who get the rare Really Big Deals from a major house, and believe me, I would have taken one of those if it had been offered), entrepreneurship has become part of our professional lives whether we like it or not. New books are like startups, and authors are their founders, CEOs, marketing departments, and human resources, all rolled up into one. In light of this, authors need to stop viewing the average traditional deal as the only legitimate way to publish, but to think instead as business owners evaluating the terms of a partnership, weighing what they get against what they give away. And I would argue that for most of the 99%, what traditional publishers offer is not worth what they demand in exchange—a whopping 85% of the ownership of an author’s book. With my newly launched press, I will get editorial and production support that equals what I would have gotten at a traditional house (we are published by a former Big Five Executive Editor, who uses all the same freelancers she did before), and, in the most exciting new development, we will be distributed to the trade by Ingram Publisher Services. Yes, I will pay for these things, but the price is affordable ($3900), and the backend is stupendous – I keep 70% of the net proceeds on sales. Of course this isn’t right for everyone, the biggest issue being the initial investment in a book when weighed against the possibility of an advance. But it certainly deserves the attention of any thoughtful authorpreneur, who should take a look before making the traditional-publishing-deal leap.
—Kamy Wicoff is the founder of She Writes–a community, virtual workplace, and emerging marketplace for women who write, with over 20,000 active members from all 50 states and more than 30 countries. She is also the founder of She Writes Press, a book publisher. A version of this article originally appeared here.