A lot of people ask me: “Why do you self-publish? Wouldn’t it be better to have your books published by a big publisher?” They say it would give me greater legitimacy and a broader reach. If one has solid credentials as I do, then there is no need to seek legitimacy. Besides, the only thing that publication by a big publisher means is that the publisher sees a low risk opportunity to make money. The author is legit to the publisher’s needs, not to the reader’s needs to be informed (but, if that happens along the way, then so much the better). As far as broader reach, that is indeed a concern, as I will soon describe.
The BIG reason why I self-publishing is to provide readers with a better product. It is one way that I apply the “Respect for People” principle in book writing and publishing. Let me share with you a few examples of what goes on behind the scenes:
When the manuscript for Better Thinking, Better Results was circulating among big-name publishers in 2002, the feedback I got was that they would like to greatly reduce or eliminate the quotes from Wiremold company senior managers. They also wanted to reduce the end notes as well. I said, “no way.” In this case, I was right. Readers constantly give me feedback that hearing about Wiremold’s Lean transformation directly from the mouths of the executives is enormously valuable. Remarkably, people also tell me they love all the little details I provided in the end notes. How many books do people say that about? Not many.
Recently, a big publisher wanted to take over publishing Better Thinking, Better Results, but their offer had a lot of risk and little in the way of financial reward. Sure, they offered broader reach in distribution and possible publication in other languages, but I felt I had to give up too much to get that.
The same publisher was interested in republishing my six-volume REAL LEAN series (they loved the color-coded covers designating each volume, by he way). But, the editor’s vision for it was a complete re-write from a totally new perspective. I would have lost the ability to say what I wanted to say, the way I wanted to say it. They would have had to find another author to re-write the books under my name, which most likely would have been a disaster. We never got to the point of an offer.
The ability to say what I want to say, the way I want to say it is important to me as an author, as you can imagine. But it is also important to you as a reader, even though you may not know it. I am able to give you an accurate picture without being forced to accept edits that are designed to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. I have an editor that helps me with things like this, but I am the one who makes the final call, not my editor. If I feel it is important to be tough on someone, then that is what I will do. And, of course, I sometimes pay the price for my mistakes. But, they are my mistakes.
Self-publishing means that I do not have to write lengthy and time-consuming book proposals, and wait months for them to be evaluated by book editors. Self-publishing enables me and my team to get a book to market in a few weeks to a few months, not years. Having a short lead-time is mostly a blessing, but it could result in publishing a book that is ahead of what the marketplace needs. Distribution is the clear weakness of self-publishing, as it is difficult to get my work into multiple sales channels.
In addition, self-publishing allows my to pursue work that no big publisher would ever support. Therefore, I can re-publish Principles of Mass and Flow Production solely because it is an historically important work. While the ROI on that book will be forever negative, I published it because it changes the timeline for discoveries and attributions of key accomplishments related to flow production.
Another reason why I self-publish is to be able to price my books affordably for readers (two of my books, PLL and MFF, are expensive because they are printed in color). Big publishers control pricing, and prices tend to be high because of their huge overhead costs.
Self-publishing also allows me to impart a bit of my personality into my books (some, but not all books). So, you get to know interesting details about me and my life, both professional and personal, without actually meeting me.
Lastly, the financial reward for self-publishing is much greater on a percent basis than going with the big publishers, which is important to me because book royalties provide financial support for my research.
Big publishers and editors can offer value in the services that they provide. But value, as seen by the author, tends to be situation-specific. I know of far more authors who were displeased with their publisher and editor than authors who were pleased – by a ratio of 10-to-one. But, at least they can say distribution is good (though advertising is usually weak).
In summary, self-publishing affords me a greater ability to actualize the “Respect for People” principle in book writing and publishing. In addition, I get editorial freedom (hugely important), copyright ownership (very important), speed to market (very important), pricing (very important), a bigger financial reward (important), and the ability to impart some of my personality into my books (somewhat important).