Does self-publishing violate Yog’s Law?

Many opponents of subsidy publishing criticize it and even some forms of self-publishing because they violate Yog’s Law: Money flows toward the writer.

Who is Yog, and how did he become a lawgiver?

Back in the day, when the Internet was young and “kindle” was a verb you only heard at the campground, James D. Macdonald, a systems administrator who went by the handle Yog Sysop, coined Yog’s Law.

He was inspired to do so by a writer’s tale of woe—having paid an exorbitant sum to a so-called “publisher,” the writer was stuck with a stack of mass-produced books and no real way to sell them. The writer, having no knowledge of how publishing works, did not know that the publisher pays. Back in the day, many writers fell for this kind of underhanded sales pitch, and for all I know, many still do.

A business model that saddles clients with debt and unusable inventory is not a boon to the market. Some go so far as to call it a scam. Unless there’s fraud involved—lies in the marketing materials, or failure to deliver the specified product—I hesitate to use a term like “scam.” It’s not illegal. But it is rotten.

But while Yog’s Law correctly describes the writer’s need for profit, and goes a long way toward helping writers understand how publishing works, it does not examine the publisher’s side of the equation. The publisher, as we have seen, pays the bill. So money flows away from the publisher…until he starts earning a profit. Then he recoups his investment.

So there’s an interesting corollary to Yog’s Law. If the writer is also the publisher then, like any other businessperson, he must spend money to make money. The challenge, in any business, is to ensure that sales exceed costs, thereby yielding profit. It is extremely difficult to do this when you buy your books from the kind of operation Yog’s correspondent fell prey to. Such companies require authors to buy a minimum number of books. That’s how they make their profits. Royalty publishers, by contrast, must wait for books to sell on the open market before seeing a profit.

I am not totally opposed to subsidy presses, sometimes called “assisted self-publishing.” I’ve known and worked with writers who’ve been very pleased with the services they got from such companies. But I will say, if your contract with such an outfit requires you to buy X number of books, look elsewhere. There are plenty of such outfits that don’t have such restrictions. Examine the package to understand what you’re paying for.

Nowadays, with the arrival of print-on-demand technology, there’s no excuse for anyone selling you a press run of 10,000 books to store in your garage. But if you’re paying, you’re the publisher, and you must do the math, as we’ve seen. Because money should flow to the writer, even—no, make that especially—when the writer is also the publisher.

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1 Comment

  1. […] As we discussed earlier, this forms a seeming paradox if the writer and the publisher are the same person. But it’s not actually a paradox, because when the book sells, money flows toward the writer and the publisher. Therefore if the writer is the publisher, he makes more money than if he were not. […]

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