Should You Publish It Yourself: Show Me The Money (a real-world comparison)

[UPDATED:  Robert Helmbrecht clarifies what Hazardous Press is asking for in the comments.]

Over on Facebook, Rob Smales asked this question:

I understand that agents are not interested in short stories – there’s just not enough money involved. But if I have a small collection, basically 2 somewhat long short stories and one novella (a little over 45K words in total), should I just go straight the publishers with it? I do have a good working relationship with 3 or 4 horror presses that I could show it to… or is this the kind of thing to shop to agents?

This would be the first thing I’ve tried to put out myself (not an anthology or magazine) so I’d love any advice I could get.

Pretty much everyone said not to bother sending to agents, but he did get two bits of advice pretty quickly:

  1. Submit to a small publisher that is explicitly looking for single-author collections to release in eBook formats.1  The publisher mentioned was Hazardous Press (please see the footnotes below).2
  2. Put it out himself.

Which is a perfect opportunity to compare the economics of self-publishing versus using a small press.

Hazardous Press is asking for 2 year digital rights (with automatic 1 year renewals) and a 45% cut of the net proceeds.  They seem to define net proceeds the same way I do:  Cover price minus fees levied by Paypal and Amazon, etc.3.  They are providing cover art and digital conversion.

Here’s the decision that Rob (or anyone else facing a similar decision) needs to make:  Is the publisher going to offer enough to offset their cut?

Here’s the actual breakdown using my prices and what Hazardous quotes on their webpage for Rob’s collection.

I would charge about $90 for the eBook conversion, an additional $25 for ISBN (optional), and then cover art can run you anywhere between $75-$300.  (It varies a lot.)  So that’s probably a minimum of $165 outlay on the author’s.    If the book is priced at $2.99, you’ll get about $2, or you’ll have to sell about 83 copies to make your money back. 

If you sell through Hazardous Press (again, according to the web page), you have no initial outlay, but get about $1.10 a copy sold.

If you don’t think you’re going to sell many copies in two years, then there’s no ECONOMIC reason not to let them bear the risk and expense.   (You will want to check what kind of veto power you have over copies, read the contract carefully, etc, obviously.)   BUT – every copy past that 83rd is giving them an extra $1.

Y axis is dollars, X axis is number of copies sold

Does that matter?  Again, it depends on how many copies you think are going to sell.  The two lines of the graph do not cross until you hit 184 copies.  Until then, you as the author are still making more by letting the publisher invest in the eBook conversion costs and cover art.

There are two other things to consider.

First:  What if they defined “net” as “after we make back what it cost to produce the book”?  That’s a far more common definition (you were reading the footnotes, right?).  It also changes this whole equation.  If that’s the case, the author doesn’t start making money until copy number 150 is sold, and your profits will never be more than if you did it yourself (or had someone pay to do it yourself.


Second:  I did not factor in other services that publishers might bring to the table.  Advertising, for example.  Editors.  Expertise.  Representation at conventions.  Access to an audience.  Those things add value.  How much value… that’s an individual decision.  (For example, “exposure” is still something I need among readers, but is worthless to offer to Stephen King.)  Maybe access to other editors or a publishing house.  Those value-added reasons might be worth ceding 45% of net profits;  again, it depends on where you’re at in your career and what particulars there are with the publisher.

Also note that you want to evaluate this sort of thing clearly, and definitely read the contract.  How new are they?  How many books have they put out?  What kind of reviews?  What experiences have other authors had with them?  All of those might be total deal-killers, no matter how good the rest of the deal is.

This post took about an hour to research and write, and I hope you found the information useful.  I chose to write this for you instead of just doing something that paid me directly.

If you think that’s worthwhile, use the coffeecups to the right to drop a buck or five my way, or pick up one of the books in the righthand sidebar.  (Those of you reading via RSS or Facebook, stop by the site at


1 Full disclosure: I am totally going to start doing this as well. But I’m not yet… and as I mentioned on Facebook, I use my prices as a comparison simply because I know them well.
2 I have no experience of this publisher. Doing a quick review of the publisher (using the same criteria as described here): They seem to have been releasing titles since June of this year (though that wasn’t as easy to find as it should have been). They don’t disclose who they are on their website. On the specific CFS for single-author anthologies doesn’t mention exclusivity, while the “Payment and Rights” page says they want renewable exclusives. I’d read the contract carefully.  [UPDATED:  See the publisher’s comment below.]
3 Be careful of this. Some (most) places consider “net” proceeds as “once we’ve made back all the money we sunk into the project.

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One Comment

  1. Robert Helmbrecht
    October 15, 2012

    Speaking as the owner of Hazardous Press…
    Those are all definitely things you should consider. Make sure it is very clear what rights the publisher is asking for, and what it is that they are giving you in return.
    To clarify what we ask for/offer.
    For the royalties, we consider "net proceeds" to be what we receive after Amazon takes their cut. No other expenses included. This is spelled out more clearly in our contract with the authors.
    Regarding exclusivity. We ask for exclusivity on novels and novellas. For single-author collections, we don't ask for exclusivity on individual stories, but we ask that they not be sold/published elsewhere as a group.
    Regarding renewals. The contract renews automatically, but can be cancelled by either side each year at the renewal period.
    Thanks for opportunity to clarify,
    Robert Helmbrecht
    Hazardous Press

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