Publishing,  rants,  the writing life

No More Outside Publishers. Period.

I made a solid decision at the beginning of the year to no longer work with any outside publishers. There are two exceptions. The first being my friend Bernadette’s publishing house, 5 Prince Publishing, where Saving Sarah May (my first, and perhaps only, sweet romance) was published. The second, being my friend Andre Gonzalez publishing house, M4L Publishing, which publishes me and Andre’s co-authored Amelia Doss series.

What was the final straw, you ask? It wasn’t a straw really. It was more like I had a realization of what my work is actually worth, and that people were coming to me with TERRIBLE publishing deals and offering to pay me what professional writers were making back in 1990. YES – 30 years ago professional rates. I’ve been writing for almost 30 years, and I’m really not doing anything for other writers in the industry, or myself, by accepting anything less than .20 cents a word for an article (plus more if newsletters and videos are required).

Modern day, professional advances on non-fiction books are running $5,000 – $20,000 ($2,500 is noob, rock bottom), and I’ve had publishers contact me and offer me $500 -$700 and tell me that’s a professional rate. Uh, no. Sorry. Not for a professional writer who’s been at this game for over 30 years, and who is one of the foremost world experts on her subject matter. Advances on non-fiction haven’t been that low since the 90’s, and if you’re working for that — you’re fucking yourself.

What is even worse is when you know what these publishers are selling the books for, and that they’re only paying their authors $4-$5 per copy sold toward the advance of $700, and you know the publisher is making $36 a copy (after you deduct the $10 print cost). Yet — it was the AUTHOR who did all the work. Especially in occult publishing, I’ve learned, no one is hiring editors, and layout is often done by the publisher him/herself. I know this because I’ve later found mistakes in my own work published by certain publishers that any editor would have caught.

Frankly, coming to a professional author who isn’t just starting out, and offering them 1990’s rates for professional content, is FUCKING INSULTING. And between last year and this year, I’ve been insulted enough to realize – hey – I’m worth getting paid professional rates!

Especially when I can publish my own work, do a fantastic job, AND make 100% of the profit without having to include a middle man, and not only make my professional rate, but also the publisher’s cut (minus printing, editorial, and formatting fees). But still, the difference is huge. Let me just spell it out for you.

ARTICLES: A 7,000 word article at .20 cents a word (which is the rock bottom professional NF rate in 2021) is $1,400.00. If you’re writing NF articles for someone and they’re paying you less than that…. WTF are you doing? The last one I did has barely netted me .10 cents a word, which is what I was being paid to write articles for a trade magazine back in 1996. Not kidding.

BOOKS: Let’s specifically talk the economics of limited edition hardcovers (LEH). Let’s say a publisher prints 250 LEH. They offer the author a $700 advance with an 8% royalty toward that advance (that means you have to sell at least 175 books before you earn out that advance and start actually making money, of which there is approximately only $300 more to make.) This means you’re being paid, AT MOST, $1000 to write a content rich book at a minimum of about 30,000 to 40,000 words. SERIOUSLY. Now, take into account that the publisher is likely only paying about $2,500 in printing (including shipping, taxes, etc) and the book, with all copies sold, the book stands to bring the publisher $12,500. Even if the publisher hires an editor for about $400, that means it’s only $4000 out of his pocket. The author gets $1000. The printer and editor get $3000 between them. The publisher walks away with over $8,000. Seems a bit predatory to me since without the author, you don’t have the book. Period.

Now I’m not saying the publisher shouldn’t make money. After all, they have to hire the editor, format it, get it printed and do the distribution, marketing, etc… But honestly — that’s the easy part nowadays. I know because I’ve been indie publishing since 2006. The hardest part is learning how to format or finding a formatter, where to find editors, where to find a printer, and how you’re going to distribute it. Once you have those things set up – you sit back and delegate. You line up orders, you package them and ship them out. Hell, you don’t even have to leave your home office to do that. You can print your own mailing labels directly from most point of sale systems, or via USPS online. USPS will deliver your mailing material, and they’ll pick that shit up for you if you arrange it. After the initial rush of sales on a book, your time spent packaging orders is minimal (unless you do that as your primary business).

There are some publishers that are doing better splits with authors, but the sad fact remains that many of them are just putting out the up front money to have the books printed, hoping the author ran it by a few friends who edited it, they quickly format it via word (which literally takes maybe an hour depending on length), and distribute it. For that, they’re taking half, or more. They don’t edit. They don’t market. (They’ll tell you they do, but they don’t. One post on their social media page doesn’t count.)

I published one book with a publisher who honestly didn’t know how to sell my books. We did have a 50/50 split, but this guy was HORRIBLE at selling the books. I got the first few royalty payments okay, but then, like a lot of small publishers do when they start to go under because they don’t know what they’re doing, he started spending the money as it came in and when it was all said and done, he owed me a little under $1000 and basically whined that it was my fault the book wasn’t selling. That I wasn’t well-known enough and the books were worthless to him. (All this so he could get out of paying me my $950 or whatever.) So I told him that instead of cash, he could send me the books he couldn’t sell. He did. I made well over that $950 he owed me on those books. A lot over, actually. I had no problem selling them. He couldn’t figure it out. ::shrug:: To this day, I don’t know what was so difficult about selling them and my only guess is HE wasn’t putting forth any effort to market them, and was expecting me to do it. And so I did and I ended up doing well on that book.

So — there’s that. Not all publishers know what they’re doing beyond distribution, and if they want to pay an author peanuts for a book and expect the author to do all the marketing — well seriously, fuck that. Let’s not even get into the hourly rate you’re making. If you make $1000, divide by the minimum wage in your state (it’s almost 12.50 in Colorado) — that means you have to be able to write a full book in 80 hours (two weeks) just to make minimum wage. That means all outlining and research, all the writing, and all the revision. 80 hours. Considering most NF books can take authors six months to a year to write — how much you think authors are actually making per hour at $1,000.00 for a book? Even for a 30,000 word book at .20 cents a word – the author should be making a minimum of $6,000.00. That at least pays the author for 480 hours, which covers twelve 40 hour work weeks at minimum wage (12.50 an hour), or three months of their time. (I could write a solid 30K book in 3 months).

Then the question is — if you’re going to do the bulk of the work anyhow, why not just add managing the project and distribution to the mix and do it yourself? You can have readers fund the printing costs through paid pre-orders. You only need 50 people to pre-order to pay for a 250 print run. 56 if you want to hire an editor. At least then you’re the one making the eight to ten-thousand dollars. Yes, you’ll have earned every cent with writing, hiring editors, formatting, dealing with printers, and doing your own marketing and distribution, but you won’t feel used – like a cheap whore.

If you are a professional writer, you charge professional rates because you’re WORTH PRO RATES. End of story.

Is there an instance where I would consider a traditional contract? Absolutely. The contract would require the following:

  • Contract limit of 3-5 years, at which time 100% of all rights revert back to me.
  • It better be a million dollar book deal.
  • I get full creative license.

HAHA — contracts like that don’t exist. But if I can do what a publisher can do, and I could do it better and actually make what I’m worth, then why wouldn’t I? That said, I don’t often deal in LEH anymore. I prefer my books to be affordable for readers which means ebook, paperback, and hardcovers that won’t break the bank. Which means I do make a lot less than the above example, but at least I’m not handing most of my wages to a middle man who is basically my pimp while I do the bulk of the work. If I’m doing the bulk of the work anyway — I’m doing IT ALL. Eventually each book will earn out the work I put into it. Some books it happens faster – others it happens slower.

Okay, I’ll quit bitching. I am simply fed up with being offered insulting contracts.

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at

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