Sunday, July 13, 2008

Some Realities of the Publishing Business

Mark Hurst, author of the book, Bit Literacy, recently posted Secrets of book publishing I wish I had known. While Mark's comments are jaded, the points he makes are valid. Joe Wikert, publisher of a technical imprint for Wiley and formerly Macmillan, pointed me to this post from his Publishing 2020 blog. Joe clears up some facts about Mark's post and makes some good points about finances and contracts.

I don't know which publishers Mark worked with previously, and it probably doesn't matter, but different publishers do have different cultures. I've often attributed those differences to being corporate or independent, but there are other factors too. Fact is, getting a book published is a dream come true for most authors, and many have very wrong expectations about the realities of book publishing. While much of what Mark writes makes me wince, I encourage you to read it. It helps me to remember how harsh some of these realities seem when seen through eyes that haven't been calloused by the business.

I do disagree about book lovers. Most of the people in this business (not all, but more than Mark implies) love books. I also love business. To me, smart business is fun, and smart book business isn't even work. I love it.

Mark also paints publishers as lazy opportunists who simply imprint their name on a book and sit back to rake in the cash. That's just not an accurate picture. I mentioned in a previous post that the average net profit on a book is about 5%. How does that compare to most author royalty rates?

Mark downplays the risk the publisher assumes. In 2007 Cumberland House spent an average of nearly $20,000 per book before it ever received a single payment. That is real cash going out the door for an advance, design, printing the books, and freight. Those are real checks we write for every book whether it goes on to sell 100 or 100,000 copies. It doesn't include the salaries of the editors who will edit, proof, and typeset the book. It doesn't include the marketing and sales staff who will create catalogs, sales sheets, Web pages, and distribute the information about your book and make personal presentations to all the distributors, chains, Web sites, and other booksellers. $20,000 may not sound like a lot of money for a business, but would you spend it? Would you spend $20,000 to develop, print, and sell your book? If so, you might consider self publishing. There are many viable options available today, and it seemed to really work for Mark.


DC said...

I can only think of one word for Mark's post.


Interesting he chose to self-publish rather than "publish your content online for free". I wonder if it had anything to do with "selling" his book to "make money".

A lot of what he says is true, however saying his comments are jaded is being very generous. I do wonder how many authors, or potential authors, share his sentiment.

Teresa said...

As a fellow author, with many colleagues who are authors, I can say that many of his comments rang very true from the authors' perspective. You get paid almost nothing for a great deal of work, and it seems that everyone (not necessarily just the publisher) is making money on your product but you.

The idea that a bookstore could return your book AFTER buying it and YOU would lose money was quite a shock - how many products are like that? So as far as the realities of the publishing world - yeah, most of this is stuff authors need to know, because it's real.

On the other hand, my publisher (Llewellyn) is better than what he described. I work in a niche market, and they are willing to continue supporting my books as long as they sell a reasonable number (e.g., 5000). They do a LOT of work marketing them, and it was a thrill to see my books in Borders as a result. And they keep them in print a long time, even after they have stopped selling so many copies.

All that said, I have seriously considered self-publishing as well. With the advent of on-demand publishing and the ability to sell these books through Amazon or your own website if you're an established author, the economics just don't add up with traditional publishing.

I made a lot less than a dollar on each copy of my books, partly because Amazon and others have a way of reducing the price. If I could sell my books on-demand for only $2 (for a book that a traditional publisher sells for $16), not only myself but my customers would benefit dramatically. And I would have a more personal connection to my customers, rights to the material, and ability to publish portions of it for free online (or use it in classes) should I choose to do so - intangibles that are actually quite important.

Just a few thoughts...

Teresa Michelsen

Paul Mikos said...

Teresa, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

The first time I attended BookExpo (actually it was ABA then), our exhibit was across the aisle from Llewellyn. I'm pretty sure they were in a little 20' booth. This year I noticed they were in a big custom booth that spanned the aisle. They've done well these last twelve years.

Are there any examples you can share of the marketing they do for your books?

Thanks again, Paul.

A World of Wine said...

As someone who got to the contract stage twice with a major publisher and then had to deal with a change of editor, revisios, and change of list and finally, walked away. I finally self published this year. I'm aware of the pitfalls of selfpublishing, but like thousands of other fine authors(we are not all pie in the sky novices, who have no idea, as so many editors will tell you),
I decided I had no choice. I had a professional book design, I had the book edited, I had an exact market, I had everything. I wasn't famous though, and so yes I agree with almost everything Mark says and so will thousands of other intelligent writers, who been through the same idiocy shown by the publishing industry, which needs to take a long hard look at itself.
Risk? there are countless businesses that take greater risks for a lesser reward.
Get over yourselves, you are jumped-up clerks in the majority.

Chris Bauerle said...

World of wine -

It is good to hear success stories from self-publishers. I believe that Bowker is estimating that more than 400,000 books will be published in the U.S. alone this year. If 100,000 of those (just a guess) are self published, that is 100,000 ideas that either intentionally bypassed traditional publishing or did not get accepted by the publishing "gatekeepers." Either way, that is a ton of ideas that are available for consumption that otherwise would not have been. Regardless of the impact on publishing, that is good for society.

I have followed your name link and don't see a reference to your real name or your book. With that level of anonymity, would you be willing to share the financial realities of self publishing? How much did it cost you to do the book right (which it sounds like you did), how many have you sold them, how have you sold them, how much profit have you made?

Self-publishing is a viable solution for many authors, and I think that a better understanding of it would be helpful as compared a traditional publishing relationship.