Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How and Where Will Your Book be Sold?

This is the sixth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the past few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past five weeks:

In both self-publishing and traditional publishing models, the most critical stage is determining how or where your book will be sold. Sure, most of us want our baby in every bookstore and e-book marketplace that will take us, but that wish is very hard to accomplish. These decisions, ebook only or e-book/paper, must come early in the process of the book's journey. We authors want our books in independent bookstores, chains, and on-line booksellers. And we want them in libraries as well. For this we need book distributors.

If you are going to develop the final book yourself and market and sell the book online through e-book purveyors such as Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, and a host of others, the path is fairly clear. Follow the stages outlined in the previous blogs (1-5) and then load your book onto the various sites. There are also many people and companies in the publishing business that will help you through these steps for nominal fees. Sign up with the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), there are sources advertising in their monthly magazine as well as on line. Attend publishing seminars; many are associated with writers workshops and through regional writers groups.

In fact, self-publishing with only an e-book product is relatively easy. Many writers such as Amanda Hawking, Russell Blake, and Hugh Howey have made a very comfortable living doing just that. And their e-book platforms led them to lucrative contracts with traditional publishers as well. For most writers this is the best way to jump in and see what the water is like.

It's when we want to see our work on paper with hard and soft covers in bookstores that everything changes. Here are two important points to remember, 1) Most authors don’t know how book distribution works, and 2) Book-distribution is extremely difficult and expensive for authors to do on our own.

Traditional Publishing:
A contract with a traditional publisher includes distribution. They are not going to spend money on bringing your work to the market (editing, book design, cover design, etc.) without making sure that it's available. They have a sales force to put your book in front of buyers for chains and bookstores or they use a national distributor to get them to the marketplace. And remember that many distributors focus on specific genres or subject matter – match your book to the distributor. If there is one critical aspect of the process that sets the traditional apart from the self-published is their access to and their understanding of book distribution.

With a co-publishing arrangement where you the author handles many of the tasks (and costs) and your partners handle the marketing and distribution make sure that they have the experience necessary for distribution. Without this experienced partner in the process the book will flounder.

But the self-publisher can use the services of a book distributor to their advantage. This is critically important to the prolific writer with many books. Remember as a small publisher (multiple books) you will be able to offer the book distributor a bigger package for them to consider adding you as a client.

Be careful here, self-publishing costs can easily get out of hand. It is a matter of scale. Printing 10 to 100 books is expensive through the print-on-demand process (POD). It can easily be one third of the book's price. Add in shipping and then distribution percentages and the bookstore percentages, you can be quickly in the red. Every nickel must be watched. If you chose to distribute through your own blog or web site, these same numbers apply. The costs of shipping or mailing are rising; remember packaging and storage/warehousing as well. But again you will not be in bookstores except for your book signings and a month long consignment. It is very disheartening when they send your unsold books back – at your expense.

I suggest two venues that help the independent self-publishing writer. IngramSpark and CreateSpace. Each has their plusses and minuses. I suggest their web sites to better understand their models – each is different yet can produce the same result: An on-line order converted to a paper book that is sent directly to the customer. Ingram is one of the largest distributors of all types of books in North America (and the world as well), their Spark division allows the author a chance to get their books to the independent and national bookstore marketplace. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and has distribution across the world through their on-line portal. Seen as an enemy of bookstores though, most shops will not order your book for their shelves through CreateSpace. This is just one of those facts of life. Be in both.

Publishing is a fast-changing business; in fact for such a staid industry we are now at warp-speed. There are now hybrids of hybrids where agents are taking books not placed with a traditional house and producing books themselves with their own team of editors, designers, marketers, and channels to distributors. And most are going with IngramSpark.

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Can You Control the Costs of Publication?

This is the fifth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past four weeks:

Let's assume for this question that you decide to set off into the wilderness on your own, no agent, no traditional publisher, no distributor. Like intrepid explorers before you, here are a few things you are going to pay for yourself:

1. Story Editor – see question #1
2. Copy Editor - see question #1
3. Line Editor - see question #1
4. Book Designer - see question #2
5. Cover Artist - see question #2
6. Printer – Hardcover and softcover
7. Ebook Designer
8. Shipping – from printer to you to distributor, etc.
9. Distribution – Foreign and domestic
10. Promotion, Promotion, and Promotion
11. Marketing, Marketing, and Marketing
(And a bunch of others that I'm sure will hit your pocket when you least expect it)

I good guess would be somewhere between $2,500 to $10,000 to publish a book. The spread is a reflection of whether you even decide to go paper or stay with just an ebook. This can substantially reduce the costs in items 4, 6, 8, 9.

Don’t scrimp on editing. This is by far the most critical stage of the book's production. Reread question one and think about your team and how to create the best manuscript possible. At every stage there are ranges of costs, sometimes you get what you pay for, check credentials, and experience. Most writers protect their editors but realize they too have to eat, so they recommend them prudently. Saving here can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

The same for printing and shipping savings. There are now a number of print-on-demand (POD) houses, many locally, again get recommendations or call them and ask for samples. Never prepay a printer – never. And stay away from publishing packages, they will steal your money and do almost nothing for it. But I will tell you they have some of the best copywriters and dream weavers in the business – be extremely careful. And this is not a place to save money anyway. And a local POD means you can to your own pickup.

In addition there is CreateSpace, Ingram-Spark, and others that can help you produce a finished paperbook.

Co-Publishing – an old idea brought new
Some agents, writers, and even non-traditional publishers have formed what might loosely be called a publishing collective or association. Each talent brings to the table part of the many steps above. The author pays for the editing and promotion while the publisher pays for the cover, design, and publication. The agent may help with distribution and promotion giving direction and advice. The permutations are as varied as the talent of the individuals, some authors can do cover design (with guidance) and even ebook production. The arrangements are all laid out in their respective contracts and agreements. And it is critical to have a mutually agreed to contract before beginning. Just think what would happen if you pulled it off and the book made the bestseller list, huge sums of money pouring in – how do you split it equitably with each person having taken some risk (BTW – get a good lawyer as well, this is one of those unanticipated costs that pop-up).
Do not be discouraged. The opportunities are significant and well worth the effort. The days of just handing in a messy manuscript to an agent with a book popping out the other end are over. Self-publishing, co-publishing, associations, and even traditional publishing all go through the same steps, it is you the author and writer who now holds control.

More Later . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do You Want to be Traditionally Published?

This is the forth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past three weeks:

Of course you do, we all want that publishing contract from one of the BIG publishing houses. That means that your work is outstanding, you have a fantastic literary agent, and you have the skills to keep producing a new work every six to nine months. And, by the way, you are thrilled that the manuscript you wrote will be handed over to these people and you will have very little control over the editing, the cover, and the future of the book itself.

These are some of the harsh realities of going the traditional publishing route. It is a tough road; patience and careful driving are required as well as a decent road map. But, for many writers it is an appropriate course and possibly even the best way to go to see your work in bookstores.

The traditional process is as follows (with obvious variations in every case).
  • Manuscript completed,
  • Manuscript edited,
  • Query letters written and sent to potential agents,
  • Agent likes the manuscript,
  • Agent signs you on,
  • Agent offers the manuscript to publishers,
  • You and agent agree to publisher's contract,
  • Publisher publishes the book,
  • You go to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Easy-peasy. Unfortunately this process absolutely never happens that way. At every level there are rejections, refusals, unanswered query letters, months of wait, and heart wrenching disappointments. This is the way it is. Consider that traditionally published books may make-up less than 20% of the total number of published books you understand the pressure on them to be selective and thorough.

The traditional publishing house does know what they are doing. This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of self-publishers that have to learn a whole new business in addition to their writing. The traditional house will handle the final editing, design of the inside and outside of the book, printing, distribution, and promotion. Some houses pay a royalty against the potential book earnings, some don't, but for the writer it's hands-off. I have done both traditional and self-publishing and there are strong merits for both.

The key is finding an agent who can place the right publishing house with your book. Even the big publishers tend to print certain genres and themes. That's why there are smaller imprints within the large publishing house, each imprint may focus on a particular reader and their interest, i.e. romance, thrillers, history, children's, etc. And this applies to non-fiction as well. 

This blog can't give a list of books to read and paths to follow - there's hundreds, all I'm trying to do is lay out the overall issues of self-publishing or go traditional. The Internet and the library and even your local bookstore (i.e. Barnes and Noble, etc.) have references and lists for agents and publishers. Spend a lot of time learning the process, go to writer's workshops, and talk to other writers. Every road traveled will be different.

I'm an impatient person and I also want to be involved with the final product. I don’t wish this curse on anyone, as a result for many of my books I self-published them. I took the time to learn this new and exciting industry and I have some skill in Photoshop and InDesign. But for most writers these skills are difficult to learn and master, it was hard enough getting the damn book written.

So, the decision is yours. But keep in mind that you, the writer, are like a farmer that produces the best corn in all of Iowa. But you still sell it by the bushel to a market that is inundated with millions of bushels of corn. You, the farmer, will be paid by the bushel but that bag of frozen organic corn at the local Safeway is sold by the ounce. That bushel is worth about $5.00, but sold in bags in the frozen section that bushel is now worth more than $250. There are a lot of hands out between the agent and your royalty check.

Next week: If you self-publish how do you control the costs?

More later . . . . . . . . . . . . . .