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Ten Million Eyeballs

Book Publishing Alternatives:
Vanity Publishing, Self-Publishing,
P.O.D., or Traditional Publishing

An Interview with John Kremer

The following interview of John Kremer was conducted by Heather Vale of Publishing Unwrapped. Her questions are bolded. His answers follow the bolded questions.

What is self publishing?

Publishing a book on your own.

What is vanity publishing?

Paying someone else to publish your book.

What is Print-on-Demand publishing (POD)?

A tool that anyone can use to publish books one at a time or in small quantities. Authors might use POD to self-publish a book. Publishers use POD for galley copies, to keep older titles in print, and to experiment with new titles.

What is subsidy publishing?

A form of vanity publishing, but where you might have a greater stake and responsibility in publishing the book.

How do the above models compare to traditional publishing?

For authors, all of the above models involve paying to have your book published while in traditional publishing, the publisher pays you for the rights to publish your book.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Vanity Publishing has no advantages. Lots of disadvantages, too numerous to mention.

Subsidy Publishing, if done with a good company and for good reasons, might pay off.

Self-Publishing, whether via POD or regular offset printing, is a good option.

Traditional Publishing is, however, often the best option.

Self-Publishing advantages: Control over content and packaging, fast turnaround, control of all subsidiary rights, opportunity to sell reprint rights to traditional publisher for more money if book is successful as a self-published venture

Self-Publishing disadvantages: Costs money, takes commitment of time and resources, not as good bookstore distribution as traditional publishing, not the same reputation as traditional publishing, publicity may be harder to get

POD versus offset advantage: less money commitment upfront, great for keeping books in print, great for galleys, good for testing the market

POD versus offset disadvantage: much higher cost per book sold

Traditional Publishing advantages: they pay you, better bookstore distribution, better reputation builder, more publicity opportunities

Traditional Publishing disadvantages: takes a year or two to publish, loss of control over content and packaging, give up more of the subsidiary rights income

How long does it take to get a final product out to the reading public in these various options?

Vanity Publishing: 3 months to 2 years

Subsidy Publishing: 3 months to 2 years

Self-Publishing, Offset: 3 months or more

Self-Publishing, POD: 2 days or much more time (generally depending on the POD service used and the author’s turnaround time and cooperation)

Traditional Publishing: 6 months to 2 years

How does the quality of the output compare?

Vanity Publishing: poor

Subsidy Publishing: can be equivalent to traditional publishing

Self-Publishing: variable, totally dependent on editorial, design, and printing choices. POD is generally not as good as offset printing quality.

Traditional Publishing: generally good, sometimes great

How does a writer check the reputation, legitimacy or quality of a publishing company?

Ask booksellers and librarians. Consult with me (John Kremer).

What are the pros and cons of e-books (vs. paper-based “tree-books”)?

E-book pros: fast production, low or no cost, downloadable sales, opportunity to change content continuously and rapidly

E-book cons: nothing to hold on to, hard to give as a gift, no retail store exposure, generally harder to read for long periods of time, not collectible, not as likely to get reviewed by major media

Tree book pros: nice feel, great tradition, holds value longer, collectible, reviewable, signable, giftable, retail sales, reputation builder in a way no e-book can match

Tree book cons: longer production time, higher cost, must be shipped, shipping costs, not amenable to fast or frequent changes

Why has the publishing world changed over the years, and how do you expect it to change further in the future?

Changes in past 35 years that make self-publishing economically possible:

1. Better distribution, more distributors servicing the market

2. Better knowledge and support via publishing associations, books like mine, consultants and publicity services, web sites, etc.

3. Short-run printing. More printers have opened to serve the needs of shorter runs. And now, with POD, the costs to self-publish are even lower.

4. Computers have made it possible to design and typeset your books at little or no cost compared to $12 to $20 per page former cost. Computers also make it a lot easier to track and handle direct sales and customers, with specialized software being developed for the needs of smaller publishers.

5. The Internet has opened up the world to smaller publishers and self-publishers. It has made it possible to sell foreign rights economically, sell books to overseas customers direct, and develop promotional campaigns that cost little money.

What kind of stigma is attached to self-published books vs. those published by a major publishing house?

Some media still ban self-published books, equating them with vanity presses. Very little other stigma applies as long as the books are well edited and well designed. There have been many, many self-published bestsellers. See John Kremer’s Self-Publishing Hall of Fame at

How much money involved in each publishing model, both in terms of what is spent and what is potentially earned?

Vanity Publishing: Spend $3,000 to $25,000. Earn very little.

Subsidy Publishing: Spend $1,000 to $75,000. Earn variable.

Self-Publishing: Spend: $95 to $80,000, but generally around $5,000 to begin with. Earn: From $10.00 to millions. But the typical self-publisher does not make his or her money back. I would guess (this is an informed and reliable estimate) that 70 to 80% of self-publishers lose money on self-publishing when printing via offset and spending money on promotion. Similarly, 30 to 50% of those who self-publish via POD probably break even or make some money.

Traditional Publishing: If the author is paid an advance and spends no money on promotion, the typical author probably makes $10 to $15 thousand.

If an author is accepted by a major publisher, should they still consider self-publishing?

Yes. There are good reasons to self-publish. The most important ones being greater control over content and faster turnaround. If the book is timely and needs to get out right away, traditional publishing will rarely work. If your market is very specialized and you know it well, then self-publishing also makes more sense.

Most of the time, however, I recommend authors to take the traditional publisher's deal — as long as they negotiate their contract vigorously so they get the best deal possible.

Who holds the rights to the content in the various publishing options, and why should the writer care?

Vanity Publishing: Generally the vanity press holds the rights and shares income (if any, which is rare) with the author.

Subsidy Publishing: Negotiable, but generally shared.

Self-Publishing: The author holds all rights unless really stupid.

Traditional Publishing: The author grants most or all rights to the publisher and shares in the income, which can sometimes be substantial.

The author should care because subsidiary rights can bring in significant income. Even if going with a traditional publisher, the author should negotiate to retain as many rights as possible.

As a writer, which publishing models have you used (and why)?

Self-Publishing: Because I wanted books published and couldn’t wait for a publisher to make a decision. Because I knew the market better than any publisher.

Traditional Publishing: Because I wanted better distribution or was through doing the self-promotion for the book.

Print-on-Demand Publishing: I've used it several times where I am updating the book frequently.

Which publishing model would you choose for your next book (and why)?

Which model I would choose would totally depend on the book, its need for wide distribution, its content, its audience, and how much the publisher would be willing to pay me for the rights. I would tend to favor self-publishing or traditional publishing.

What kind of earnings have you been able to make from various books?

From several million dollars to $5,000.

How does someone know if they really should embark on writing a book?

Do they have passion for the subject? Do they have time and commitment to write a book?

How does a writer know if they’ve chosen a good topic?

If they can’t sleep at night because their book is always on their mind. If they wake up in the morning raring to write. In general, the writer does not chose the topic; the topic chooses the writer.

What style should modern books be written in?

Short and sweet is the key nowadays. Shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, shorter books. As for style, keep your own voice. If you don’t have one, develop one by writing a journal every day.

How should the manuscript be formatted for self-publishing?

In self-publishing, you format so the book is camera-ready or PDF ready. That means typeset at some point, with an appropriate choice of type fonts. If using a typesetter, then formatted double-spaced in any type font.

What software is required (word processor, MS Publisher, PageMaker, Quark, PDF writer)?

I currently use Ventura Publisher, but if I were to make a choice today, I’d use Adobe’s InDesign software for typesetting. If you are going to hire a typesetter or type designer, then you can use any word processing program for input.

How does an author choose a service provider (publisher, printer, etc), when there are so many options available?

Make use of the many listings at for printers, typesetters, editors, cover designers, POD printers, and publishers, etc. Then query them with requests for quotations. Also do your due diligence and check out their references.

What is the editor’s role, and how does a writer find an editor (or proofreader)?

Almost every self-publisher needs a substantive editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader.

A substantive editor edits the book for clarity, structure, style, etc. A copy editor checks for spelling, sentence structure, grammar, etc. A proofreader reads the typeset copy to make sure no errors have slipped through the process of editing and typesetting.

To find people, again check the listings at

Where should books be marketed and sold?

They should be sold wherever the audience buys books. That might be bookstores, but it might also be other retail outlets, the Internet, direct sales, book clubs, catalogs, TV, etc. It really depends on the book. There are a 1001 ways to market books.

How important is it for books to be found in major bookstores?

Depends on the book. If it is a gift book or novel, very important. If it is nonfiction how-to, much less important.

How important is it for books to be found at online retailers like Amazon?

Absolutely imperative. Also easy for anyone to set up.

Why is there a trend of moving away from bookstores towards alternate niche-market outlets (like a flower shop for a flower-arranging book)?

Because bookstores can’t begin to stock the number of books available. The largest physical bookstore stocks 150,000 titles. There are 6 million titles in print. It’s not hard to do the math.

How does a writer get their book into various outlets, including bookstores?

The short story: Persistence. Good cover and interior design. Lots of publicity.

What are some of the best methods an author can use to sell books direct to customers?

The Internet, email newsletters, blogging, direct mail, publicity, radio interviews, speaking. There are 1001 ways to sell books.

What kind of promotion is the author responsible for?

These days, if the author wants her book to sell, she needs to get out and do a lot of promotion. She should take complete responsibility while still making use of whatever resources her publisher offers her.

1001 Ways to Market Your Books, 6th Edition describes more than 1,000 ideas, tips, and suggestions for marketing books — all illustrated with real-life examples showing how other publishers and authors have marketed their books.

“Without glitzy idealism or funky hopelessness, Kremer does a sound job of talking about marketing, telling stories from his own and others' experiences. He knows his subject, imparting important information in a fast-paced, very open way. Extremely good stuff here.” — The Book Reader

May, 2008. 704-page softcover. $27.95. ISBN: 0-912411-49-X.

Copyright © 2012 by self-publishing expert John Kremer

Open Horizons, P O Box 2887, Taos NM 87571