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Best Posts on Book Publishing Options

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Publishing a book is easier now than it’s ever been—but it’s still not easy. So many options, so many variables. How do you choose?

To help, we’ve pulled together some of our best and most popular posts about publishing options.

You might also want to grab a free copy of The Author’s Guide to Publishing Options. Take the 10-question quiz inside and see where it points you.

And if there’s a burning question you still can’t find the answer to, you can always pop a note into the question box.

Best Posts
Let’s start with a review of the three main publishing models: royalty (traditional) publishing, self-publishing and subsidy publishing.

Amazon has recently made big moves into publishing. Amazon is a royalty publisher but with some definite advantages over the usual model.

Is one publishing model better than the other? These posts give food for thought.

Would You Turn Down a $500,000 Book Deal?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The blogosphere has been buzzing in the last month with news of two high-profile authors and their publishing choices.

On the one hand:
Barry Eisler, a bestselling thriller author, just turned down a $500,000 deal with his traditional publisher, opting to self-publish his next book instead.

On the other hand:
Amanda Hocking, an author who’s already made millions selling her self-published novels, has chosen to sign with a traditional publisher for a $2-million contract.

What gives? One successful author turns down a lucrative deal with an established house in order to self-publish, while a successful self-published author chooses to sign up with an established house. These seem like opposite strategies.

But both Eisler and Hocking have their well-considered reasons.

Hocking says it’s not about the money for her.

“Let’s be honest – if I self-published the Watersong series on my own, I could probably make $2 million within a year or two. Five years tops. I am fully aware that I stand a chance of losing money on this deal compared to what I could make self-publishing.”

Instead, Hocking’s looking for distribution muscle and mainstream exposure.

“Having large distribution is part of the reason why I wanted a deal, and part of that is having books in stores… I am getting an increasing number of emails from people who go into bookstores to buy my books for themselves or friends or family members, and not only does Barnes & Noble not carry my book, they can’t even order it for them. People are requesting my books, and they can’t get them.”

“I want to be a household name. I want to be the impulse buy that people make when they’re waiting in an airport because they know my name.”

Eisler feels ‘legacy publishers’ are out to lunch when it comes to the digital revolution. He wants the freedom to publish faster, charge what he considers optimum prices for e-books ($.99 to $4.99) and keep more of the revenue.

“I just don’t want to be part of an industry that doesn’t make sense, that’s fighting change rather than taking advantage of it. I want to make money by giving readers what they want, not by seeking ways to deny it to them.”

Hocking wants print books in bookstores. Eisler wants to focus on e-books.

Eisler says authors are leaving money on the table. Hocking says she doesn’t care about the money.

So who’s right?

They both are. Publishing with a traditional house has its benefits and its drawbacks. Same with self-publishing. One isn’t awful while the other is virtuous. It comes down to knowing what you want from your book and your writing career, having a realistic understanding of what each publishing route can offer, and choosing the one best suited to your goals.

Need help deciding? Try the 10-question quiz in our free Author’s Guide to Publishing Options. We profile both royalty publishing and self-publishing, along with the potentially tricky subsidy publishing model, laying out the pros and cons of each.

Subsidy Publishing: Managing The Minefield

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

row of books where one stands out
So far we’ve discussed self-publishing and royalty publishing, and why you might choose one over the other. There is, however, a third option: subsidy publishing.  Easily confused with both royalty and self-publishing, subsidy publishing can be a minefield for unsuspecting authors.

Subsidy Publisher: A company that makes money both from charging authors for production costs and from keeping a portion of sales revenue.

If you find yourself wondering if your “publisher” may in fact be using the subsidy model, here are a few defining characteristics:

  • Authors are issued an ISBN that identifies the subsidy publisher—not the author—as the publisher of record.
  • Authors are asked to pay for design, layout, and printing.
  • Authors may also be asked to pay fees for marketing, advertising, or other expenses.
  • Despite paying for their own production costs, authors are only paid royalties, rather than earning full sales revenue.
  • Sometimes the subsidy publisher retains the rights to the material.

Another area of confusion is Print On Demand (POD). If you assume POD is a publishing model, we’re here to burst the bubble. POD is simply a method of printing. It’s an alternative to a full off-set press run where many copies need to be printed at once for cost-effectiveness. Some royalty publishers use POD on occasion. Self-publishers can also use POD and still be truly self-published. Keep in mind that if a company tells you they are a POD publisher, you know only what technology will be used to print your book and nothing about their publishing model.

Download An Author’s Guide to Publishing Options, a free report that includes details on each of the three publishing models plus a 10-question quiz to help you identify the model best suited to your goals.

Ready to learn more about subsidy publishing? Let’s look at the pros and cons around money, creative control, credibility, and the chances of being published.

For a fee, a subsidy publisher lays out your book and designs a cover. These services are generally sold for a price lower than the cost of contracting directly with a designer (as you would do if self-publishing). However, the templates you’re offered are limited, and are also shown to other authors. You’re not getting a custom design that helps you stand out from the crowd.

Royalty payments from a subsidy press are generally 25-50% of the book’s full retail price when sold through internet sales channels. If a customer buys through one of these online stores, you receive your royalty payment. The catch comes when you try to sell your book to other outlets, such as bricks-and-mortar bookstores. First, you have to buy your books from your subsidy publisher, which could easily cost $7 or $8 per copy. Say your retail price is $14.95 — bookstores usually want a 40% discount on the retail price to stock your book. A distributor or wholesaler will take another 10-15%. That means you need to sell your books to the distributor at a cost of $6.73 each—but you can’t because it costs more than that for you to buy them.

With subsidy publishing, you can’t give the bookstores and distributors the discounts they need, so you effectively lock yourself out of those markets. And forget about book clubs, catalogs, corporate sales and other bulk selling opportunities, because the discounts they receive are typically even higher.

Creative Control
Subsidy publishers often acquire the print rights to your work in their contract with you. That means you cannot self-publish or submit the book to a royalty publisher until the contract is finished or broken.

Remember that a subsidy publisher is the publisher of record for your book. That might not be such a problem except that many subsidy publishers have horrible reputations with the mainstream book trade. Come out with a book under the label of a well-known subsidy publisher, and many people won’t touch your book with a ten-foot pole. While there are gems printed through subsidy publishers, there’s also a lot of junk. Reviewers and other book trade professionals don’t have time to dig through the dump for a treasure, so they ignore everything.

Chances of Getting Published
As with self-publishing, chance doesn’t factor into it. If you pay the fees, you’ll get a book.

If you want to publish simply for the sake of having a book in print, and you aren’t worried about selling through bookstores, subsidy publishing can be a fine choice. For example, if you have a family cookbook you’d like to print for 50 of your closest relatives, a subsidy publisher would be a great fit. However, if you’re serious about selling a lot of books, getting mainstream reviews, or building credibility in the publishing world, consider another route.

Subsidy Publishing: Pros

  • Good for limited run books that won’t be sold through traditional channels
  • Guaranteed to be published

Subsidy Publishing: Cons

  • Poor credibility in the industry
  • Poor pricing model locks you out of many sales channels
  • You are not the publisher of record
  • You may sign away ownership of your own material
  • Limited design and layout options

Publishing: Are You Traditional?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

row of books where one stands outRoyalty publishing (a.k.a. traditional publishing) means a publishing house signs you to a contract, gives you a nice author advance, polishes your manuscript, turns it into a book, and puts it on shelves. This model gets its name because the publishing house pays you royalties on each book sale.

But before you get stars in your eyes about author advances and royalties, there are a few things to know. Advances are just that—an advance against future royalties. If your book doesn’t sell enough the advance will be the only money you receive from your publisher. And the reality is that most authors could never live on advances alone, even if they were signed to one of the big publishing houses.

An article in a December 2008 issue of the National Post noted advances you might expect from a royalty publisher:

  • $10,000 to $30,000 from bigger players, such as Random House or HarperCollins
  • $5,000 to $15,000 from mid-sized houses, such as Thomas Allen & Son or Douglas & McIntyre
  • $1,500 to $5,000 from smaller presses, such as Cormorant or Coach House

Ready to learn more about royalty publishing? Let’s look at the pros and cons around money, creative control, timing, sales and marketing, credibility, chances of being published, and working with agents.

With royalty publishing, your financial investment is practically nil. Your publisher foots the bill for editing your manuscript, creating the cover design and layout, printing, shipping, warehousing, and other expenses. But your earnings with a royalty publisher are low. Typically, a publisher pays royalties of anywhere from 7 – 10% on the book’s retail price, and an agent takes 15% of the royalty. On a $20 book, you’d earn $1.60 per copy sold. If you sold 10,000 books, your payout would be just $16,000.

Creative Control
When you sign with a royalty publisher, they buy your print rights. As your book’s owner, your publisher has the final say in major decisions, such as the title and cover art. Your publisher also decides how long your book stays on the market and when it goes out of print. These are all decisions you many not agree with, but will have to live with.

Royalty publishing is not speedy. From pitching your book through to launching it in stores could easily take a couple of years. Timing a book release to coincide with another event, such as the launch of your new business venture, a new product, or a speaking tour, is not always possible. If you want to get your book out as quickly as possible, the royalty model may not be for you.

Sales and Marketing Support
With royalty publishing, your publisher secures distributors and gets your book into bookstores. The publisher sets pricing and discounts, negotiates with suppliers, issues invoices, and processes returns. In short, they manage the business side of selling your book. But marketing your book is another story. The bulk of most publishers’ marketing budgets go to the house’s well known and bestselling authors. The dilemma of how to become a bestselling author without marketing support is generally up to the author to resolve.

Royalty publishing is a vetted art. Long before a book becomes a book, a team of highly specialized reader-editors has judged it worthy of being committed to print. It’s true that your publisher’s name doesn’t typically factor into a consumer’s decision to buy or read a book. However, there are people who care who your publisher is and they are people it pays to know—distributors, wholesalers, booksellers, and reviewers. Self-publishing carries something of a stigma in the traditional book trade. Being published by an established house will eliminate that particular hurdle.

Chances of Getting Published
Getting signed with a royalty publisher is tough. Budgets and staff are being slashed nearly everywhere. If you talk to editors, many will say they’re looking for fresh new voices and that they like to take chances on books. They will also say they have to be realistic. Publishing is a risky, low-margin business for the royalty houses. They might take on publishing three or four unknowns out of the multiple thousands of manuscripts they see every year. If you pursue a royalty publisher, be prepared for rejection slips.

Working with an Agent
Most of the big publishing houses have closed their doors to unsolicited manuscripts due to the incredibly high volumes they receive—according to one estimate, between 3,000 and 5,000 manuscripts per week. That means if you want to be published by one of the bigger publishing houses, you’ll definitely need an agent. While some smaller publishing houses will accept manuscripts directly from the author, a good agent’s expertise can be invaluable when it comes to negotiating a contract. We’ll talk more about finding and working with an agent in an upcoming post, so check back soon.

Royalty Publishing: The Pros
o Requires little administrative attention
o Requires little to no financial capital
o Avoids stigma often attached to self-published books

Royalty Publishing: The Cons
o Earning potential is much lower than with self-publishing
o Can take a long time
o Publisher controls the details
o Manuscript may be rejected

Next up: A look at subsidy publishing and what all the confusion is about.

What Does It Take To Get Published By a Large Publisher?

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Kristina Holmes, literary agent

Today’s publishing industry operates in an incredibly dynamic environment. The “Big Six” publishers (Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, Hachette, and Macmillan) are finding themselves on rapidly changing ground, most notably with the appearance of the game-changing e-book. While many in and outside of the industry continue to speculate about “the death of the publishing industry” – here’s a recent piece in the New York Times — chances are that, at least for now, large conglomerates aren’t going to keel over and die.

So, while we enjoy what is perhaps the “old age” of traditional book publishing, what does it take today to work with a major publisher and are they a viable option for you?

As a non-fiction literary agent, I receive several hundred queries from writers every month. Maybe one or two are publishable by a major NY publisher. And yet most of these writers are hoping for that very thing. Clearly, there’s a disconnect.

What aspiring authors often don’t know is that large publishers are working on a rather, well, large scale. They expect book sales to be in the tens and even hundreds of thousands of copies. Furthermore, today’s publishers are typically providing less marketing and publicity support for their books. That means the responsibility falls on the author to sell their book, and to sell it in droves.

For many writers, perhaps particularly those that are right-brained creatives (for example, memoirists), figuring out how to promote their book can be a rather distasteful aspect of publishing. For some, it’s as if their brain doesn’t quite grasp the world of business or marketing, while others simply don’t want to “play the game.” It’s important to note that pursuing a large publisher isn’t for everyone. (And that’s okay! There are many options available in publishing today.)

Having said this, aspiring business authors are often uniquely positioned to work within the model of commercial publishing. They already operate in the world of business, so it’s not such a far stretch to understand how to develop the business of being an author.

If you’re thinking about pursuing a large publisher, consider the following questions:

  • Do I have a developed platform? If not, am I willing to develop one before seeking an agent or publisher? Ninety-three percent of published books don’t sell more than 1,000 copies. Major publishers know this and are extremely skeptical about the size of authors’ platforms and the likely conversion into book sales. An editor at HarperCollins told a colleague of mine that they can’t consider an author whose audience is less than 10,000 people. This actually struck me as quite low for a major publisher.
  • Do I have a truly unique idea? Hint: Get some feedback about your book concept. Your polling audience should include several people that are well-read and understand the dynamics of commercial publishing, such as published authors, publicists, and editors. Seek the advice of people who operate in the world you want to be in.
  • Do I have the passion and determination to work on this book for at least two to three years? It takes an average of one year for your book to hit the bookstores from the time you sign a contract with a publisher, sometimes longer. Authors wear many hats pre- and post-publication, from writing and editing, to promoting their book in a variety of ways. Once the book is published, you’ll want to stay with your efforts to promote the book.
  • Do I have financial resources to help me write and promote the book? Some authors can do a lot with a little money, so don’t let a lack of money alone stop you. However, things like creating your own website, traveling for media opportunities, or hiring a publicist or social media consultant, do cost money. Don’t depend 100% on your advance to pay for these expenses. Have your own funds to contribute as well.

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you may be in a great position to be published.

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Kristina Holmes is an agent at Ebeling & Associates Literary Agency, where she represents a range of non-fiction.

For more insight into what it takes to work with an agent and land a publishing deal, join Highspot for a free teleclass with Kristina on October 28. Full details and registration here.

Publishing: What You May Not Know, But Need To

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

You’ve written a book. Now you want to publish it and you face a big question: Do you look for a publisher or publish on your own?

When they think of book publishing, most people picture the traditional model: a publishing house signs you to a contract, gives you a nice advance, takes your manuscript, turns it into a finished book, and puts it in bookstores. This is royalty publishing, so called because you receive royalties for each copy of the book that sells.

Royalty Publishing: A royalty publisher buys the rights – often with an advance against future royalties – to produce a book from a provided manuscript. The publisher edits, designs, prints, and distributes the book at its own expense, and pays the author royalties as the book sells.

Though the traditional model is under increasing market pressures and is changing by the day (for example, some publishing houses are doing away with advances), there are many advantages to choosing this route. Prime among these advantages: you pay nothing to have your book brought to market, and a publishing deal with a traditional house confers status on you as someone who has “made the cut.”

Disadvantages include potentially lower earnings when compared to self-publishing. That’s assuming you’ve successfully battled your way through what can be a long and arduous process to get noticed and signed with a publishing house in the first place.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is self-publishing. The benefits of publishing on your own are significant: You’ll have greater earning potential, complete control over the project, you can publish quickly, and you’re guaranteed to get your book in print.

Self-Publisher: A self-publisher is an author who finances, produces, markets, and sells her own book. It does not necessarily mean that all the work is done by the author, but does mean the author contracts directly with editors, printers, and other specialty service providers for the pieces she cannot complete on her own.

Successful self-publishing, though, is not an easy route to take. A finished book you can hold in your hand is not the same thing as a book that will sell. It takes real effort, dedication, time, and money to create a marketable product and tell the world about it.

Between royalty publishing and self-publishing lies a third option called subsidy publishing. Subsidy publishing can be a minefield for the unsuspecting author who either confuses it with royalty publishing or thinks it is self-publishing. It is neither. Many subsidy publishers will play up this confusion by calling themselves a self-publishing company or a publisher, perhaps hoping you will assume the latter means royalty publisher.

Subsidy Publisher: A company that makes money both from charging authors for production costs and from keeping a portion of sales revenue.

If you have to buy copies of your own book and still only receive royalties on these copies, you’re dealing with a subsidy publisher. (If you have truly self-published, you do not receive royalties from anyone.) Two more telltale signs that you’re dealing with a subsidy publisher and not self-publishing: Yours is not the name registered on the ISBN, and you had to sign a contract giving someone else rights to your material.

In case you think any discussion of subsidy publishing versus self-publishing is a case of quibbling over semantics, think again. The difference could kill your book. The pricing model offered by most subsidy publishers will effectively lock you out of the majority of bricks-and-mortar retailers, as well as sinking any chances you have of making bulk sales to groups and associations.

Do your homework before you publish. Know what each of the three models – royalty publishing, self-publishing, and subsidy publishing — truly entails before making a decision about what’s right for you and your book.

You can start by downloading An Author’s Guide to Publishing Options, a free report that includes details on each of the three publishing models plus a 10-question quiz to help you identify the model best suited to your goals.