Since around the 1980's, when self-publishing and the subsequent vanity presses hit the book world, you, the Author, have had three basic avenues through which you could bring your brain child to the world:
- "Traditional" publishing.
This is what everyone thinks of as “publishing.” A major "brand name" or smaller publishing house, picks up your book. They pay you an advance—some handsome, some paltry, and everything in between. They handle everything—well almost everything—for you: editing, design, printing, distribution. Once upon a time, your publisher worked to publicize your book too. Because of the economy, the love they have to spread around to their authors in the form of any kind of publicity has become less and less. Blot against them? I don’t think so. It is what it is. Oh, and they owned everything, all the rights to everything, even the ISBN. You got paid a pretty dismal royalty. Only the really really really successful authors ever made a whole lot of money (in fact, I bet you have a better chance of hitting the lottery than you do hitting a hugely bestselling book. Don’t quote me on that, it’s just a guess. But there’s lottery winners every week, sometimes twice a week. I don’t see news about a J.K. Rowling every three days, do you?
- Self-publishing. a.k.a. independent publishing. This is the exact opposite of traditional publishing. You have a book, you want to bring it to market, you do everything. And, you pay for everything. The upshot—you get to keep everything too. However, you also lose your garage for the remainder of your life because you have cartons and cartons of books that you work very very hard to sell. Nowadays, there are distribution companies set up to help independent publishers, but they usually charge a chunk of cash, and sometimes all they do is get you on-line listings on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. If they have and “in” with Ingram or Baker & Taylor, they may be able to get you listed in independent bookstores on-line listings as well. This is a great way to publish if you are a speaker, for example, and can move a lot of books, and you’re hip to the various parts of publishing, and you’re able to eat a few thousand bucks if you make a mistake somewhere along the way.
- Then, there are the “vanity” presses, and these include many of the current "print on demand" publishing companies. It is also identified as "subsidy publishing". This is where you give your book to a “publishing” company, who is really a "churn-em-out by the thousands press" that doesn’t pay any attention to editing or design. They “publish” anyone who wants to get a book out. And they also have their niche. They’re a great way to put a book out and test market it. If you want to publish your family history or your memoir, this is a great way to do that—you don’t pay a lot up front (you do pay a lot for books that you buy though), and you can order 10 copies and be done with it. Oh, and they can also list you on Amazon.com and BarnesandNobles.com—but don’t get fooled by that hype—anyone in the publishing business should be able to do that. The problem with these “vanity” presses is that they market themselves as a "true-blue" publisher. They don’t have “distribution,” as they say they do, they list your book on-line through the various channels. And you really do pay a lot per book—and that defeats the purpose if you’re wanting to build your business with your book, for example, and want to pass it out as a souped-up business card, for example. It also totally doesn’t make sense if you’re a speaker and can sell books at the back of the room, anywhere, because your profit margin doesn’t really justify the cost of lugging around all those books all the time!
Publishing 2.0The marks of a good "2.0 publisher":
But that was all before. Lately, a new kind of publishing option is really coming into its own. It’s been referred to as Publishing 2.0, custom publishing, collaborative publishing, even Fusion Publishing™ (see it’s so new, it doesn’t have a set “name” yet!)—but whatever it’s called (a rose by any other name….), it’s becoming a viable alternative to traditional publishing. Let me explain. As the economy goes further and further south, publishers get pickier and pickier. They’re only going to take an author who can guarantee them 5,000 to 10,000 in book sales (that and you have to have a really good book, too, of course). It doesn’t matter if you have a market that you think that you can sell to. The market has to be a definite. So a lot of really good books aren’t getting their time to shine. And that’s what’s prompted a number of publishers to really step up to the plate and say “I can help!” What can Publishing 2.0 types of publishing houses offer you? A mix of the three existing models—and the good ones do it quite well.
- They have standards. They make sure their books are properly edited, from content through to copy (that means the book “flows” well and the typos are at a minimum. Books with no mistakes, just so you know, are very rare. It takes four or five rounds of good proofing to get that no-mistake book). The design is professional—the cover pops, the title catches, and the interior is easily read (very clean, no excessive do-dads, just good, clean text.) Another advantage is the opportunity to quickly make changes and correct errors in the new model.
- They have true distribution. And, there is a lot of variation on this one. You need to find out if they have ways of getting you into bookstores and libraries. If they don’t, then they are a vanity press. (The really good ones will also work to get you into specialty markets, including churches—a huge and often overlooked market for good books.)
- You have full copyright/ownership to everything—or have easy and inexpensive access to it. And “everything” includes design, text, even your own ISBN.
- You have real marketing and publicity available to you—you will have to pay for it, but it should be reasonable, and it should never be “cookie cutter” (beware the companies who promise you a “press kit” that is just book marks and business cards, or who charge you a ton of money for a “morning radio tour”—you’re on around fifty radio shows—in one morning. Do the math—you’re on for fifteen seconds, maybe a minute.)
- You get to buy your books at a reasonable cost—it should usually be the cost of printing plus a small fee--$2 to $3 at most!
- You get paid a decent royalty (anywhere from 20% to 50%), and you get paid at least quarterly. And any company that keeps back any amount of your royalty to cover returns is not working in your best interest.
- They have printing options—they can use print-on-demand technology and they can do off-set runs. Generally, you can expect, that the best economies are found in larger print runs - that is the more books you print, the less you’re going to pay per piece. But, both the immediate budget must be considered as well as the overall long term price.
There’s no one perfect way to publish your book. —and while any publishing venture is a gamble, you can and should stack the deck in your favor by knowing all the variables and options.
Dr. Patricia Ross is the founder of RobertsRoss Publishing. She is helping to define the new Publishing 2.0 enviroment with her innovative publishing model. For more information, visit RobertsRossPublishing.com.