Versatility is one of the best things about being a freelance writer, and while the uncertainty in income may be a foremost concern, the massive earning potential is there. One of them being self-publishing. [Read more…]
I’ve had five novels published professionally, through an internationally-distributed publishing house. I’m contracted for one more, which will be hitting stores next Summer. And like all good authors, knowing that there’s an end in sight to my current contract, I’m on the hunt for a new one.
After my first three books, getting a second contract for three more was easy. My books weren’t bestsellers, but they sold enough to turn a profit for my publisher, so getting a new contract was a no-brainer. Yet now, suddenly, after almost six published books under my belt, landing a new contract is proving far more difficult.
Why is it so much harder to get a contract after six published books, when it was so easy to get one after just three? Shouldn’t cumulative publishing experience count for something?
My fan base is growing slowly but surely, so my sales numbers are small but respectable. So why is this happening now? What’s the difference?
We all know the answer to this question by now, and it’s a problem that a surprising number of established writers are dealing with. I just heard from my agent today, and she confirmed the ugly truth we all know. And I quote: “publishers are continuing to publish fewer titles a year.”
The problem, it turns out, isn’t so much on my end. Sure, my sales history could be stronger. Who’s couldn’t? And I always seek to better myself as a writer. But these things actually have surprisingly little to do with getting a contract.
The issue is rooted in the industry itself. The tanking economy and the advent of ebooks have led to a floundering publishing industry. The firm foundation that this industry has been standing on for its entire existence has turned to shifting sand. And thus, everyone is in survival mode. Everyone’s looking for ways to cut costs, so employees like editors and marketing staff are being laid off. Publishers aren’t taking as many risks on new talent, and they’re scaling back their production numbers with existing writers.
So what’s a writer to do? Published or unpublished — unless you’re among the elite few with huge sales and name recognition, your current status just doesn’t matter all that much. It’s an even playing field in some respects, and I’ve used a lot of words in this column describing the options available to writers, from self-publishing to e-publishing and everything in between.
But there’s no substitute for a contract with a publisher. Even if we’re talking about web publishing or ebook publishing or book apps or some other form of new media… writers need publishers. And if you don’t believe me — if you genuinely think that self-published writers can do just as well as published writers, thanks to “a little hard work and some ingenuity” — here’s a brilliant and sobering article from one publisher who explains just exactly why the writer/publisher relationship is crucial to bookselling success. An excerpt:
It takes a long time to build… trust with a large reader base and that’s the real strength of the publishing company and what an author really gives up by going alone. Publishing companies are businesses designed to make connections with readers both directly and with intermediaries (book reviewers, bookstores, etc) for the purpose of selling stories. Publishers keep the connection open with the reader even when the writer is on a break from writing. By going alone you only maintain that connection with your readers for as long as you are producing content.
More importantly, publishers pull resources that individuals do not have access to on their own.
…no one can reach a large enough audience alone. Cross promotion is an obvious and necessary next step that will benefit everyone, but it can’t be done without capital (read: $$) and that can’t be done without agreements that make it clear who’s putting up the capital and what they’re getting in return, that requires publishing houses.
That says it all. You can come up with the coolest new publishing ideas ever, the most “wow” concept of a story, and write some of the best prose this world has ever seen. But if you don’t have the infrastructure in place that a publishing house provides — to publish and promote it to the mass audience of readers — you’re never going to have anything more than just another self-published title with a small, niche readership.
Self-publishing is great, and I’m not knocking it. I’ve expounded on its virtues before. But if you hope to make at least a portion of your living from book writing — even in this wildly changing landscape — a publishing house is all but required.
So here’s the rub: how do you land a publisher in this increasingly uncertain publishing climate? On the one hand, there are lots of different types of publishers, and the digital publishing realm is bringing about even more of them. Even ebooks and web-books are seeing publishers or special arms of established publishing houses dedicated just to that form of publishing. But that doesn’t solve the core issue.
It’s hard enough to merely define the new landscape of publishing, much less navigate it. In the future, I’ll talk more about attracting the attention of publishers of all kinds.
In the meantime, let’s open a dialogue between authors, editors, publishers, marketers, and everyone else in the industry. How have things changed for you, what does the future hold for us, and how can we all get there successfully?
After reading Robin’s great post last week about writing ebooks and publishing my comparison of traditional vs. self-publishing, I wanted to take a step back to further explain the types of publishers that are available to aspiring book writers. Bottom-line, I don’t want anyone to be confused about the options available to them to get their manuscripts turned into books.
There are three primary types of book publishing — commercial publishers, vanity publishers, and self publishing. Each type is described in more detail below. Keep in mind, the descriptions below are generalized, and of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
Commercial publishers (sometimes referred to as traditional publishers) are at the top of the publishing food chain. These publishers pay writers an advance to write a book as well as royalties on sales of the book. They handle editing, marketing, printing, distribution, cover design, and so on. Some commercial publishers leave the copyright of the work in the writer’s name while others hold the copyright. Commercial publishers ensure your book is available through Amazon.com and other online and offline booksellers, and provide the writer with a supply of author copies as well as a discount on additional copies. Commercial publishers include well-known companies like Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and so on as well as many smaller publishers. Writers are not required to pay fees of any kind to work with a commercial publisher.
Vanity publishers may or may not be print-on-demand publishers (meaning they print copies of your book as they are ordered). With a vanity publisher, you cover all of the actual expenses to print and distribute your boos, and those books may or may not be available through major booksellers. Furthermore, vanity publishers may or may not leave the book’s copyright in the author’s name, and they may or may not offer editing, cover design and other services for a fee. Vanity publishers also take a percentage of sales earnings to cover their overhead and other management expenses. When your book is published through a vanity publisher, it may or may not be distributed to major booksellers such as Amazon.com but it’s unlikely to get the level of widespread distribution that a book published through a commercial publisher can get.
The majority of vanity publishers are not very particular when it comes to choosing books to print that are submitted to them. There are many reputable vanity publishers (many romance novels are published by vanity publishers) out there, but unfortunately, there are also many dishonest vanity publishers. Avoid vanity publishers that don’t disclose fees up front, instead presenting themselves as your “partner” or labeling their service as a “joint venture” or “co-op” because those descriptors are often used to make fees sound more palatable.
When you self publish a book, you retain all control (including copyrights) and pay all expenses. You must find a company to print and bind your book, create the cover design, ship it, and so on. There are some print-on-demand services that can help writers self-publish and sell their books (such as Lulu.com) by providing the equipment and technology to do so in return for a percentage of sales. It might also be possible for you to have your book listed on Amazon.com when you self-publish, but getting it into other book stores is unlikely.
There are pros and cons to each form of publishing, and each writer must decide for himself which option will best help him meet his goals. The important thing is to understand the differences between publisher models and know what to look for, particularly if you’re choosing to go the vanity publishing route.
Many aspiring authors who have not published books yet spend a lot of time thinking about how they can get their books published. It’s difficult to get a large, traditional publishing house to put up the necessary money to print, market, and distribute a new author’s book. Self-publishing is much easier, and rather than waiting months, perhaps years, for a traditional publisher to accept your book, you could have already offered it through a self-publishing, print-on-demand website like Lulu.com.
So which choice is better — self-publishing or traditional publishing?
The answer depends on your goals as an author. Following are pros and cons of both publishing methods to help you decide which option will enable you to reach your goals.
When an author’s book is accepted and published by a large publishing house, the author has achieved a goal that many writers wish they could add to their own list of accomplishments. However, it can be difficult to sell your book to a big publisher (even if you’re able to get a literary agent to represent you first), and just because a traditional publisher produces your book doesn’t mean millions of copies will sell. Many first-time authors are surprised to find out that due to budget restraints and issues related to illegal downloading of books, the recent recession, and other business conditions, publishers don’t do much to market books anymore.
Unless you’re an established author with a track record of selling a lot of copies of your books through your own self-promotion, don’t expect much marketing help from a traditional publisher. These days, 95% of marketing efforts are expected to be carried out by the author. That means you need to have a strong online and offline presence that will enable you to reach and promote your book to a very wide audience in order to boost sales. In other words, you’ll need to do the same type of self-promotion if your book is published through a large publishing house as you’d have to do if your book was self-published. Depending on the book, traditional publishing houses may work to sell foreign rights to publishers in other countries so translated versions can be made available (you receive royalties on those, too).
Furthermore, when your book is published through a large publishing house, you’ll have to give up some control. The publisher will provide editors and a marketing team that will have expectations for the book. Decisions related to elements such as content, the title, the jacket design, word count, the price, your earnings on sales (royalties, which you’ll receive once or twice per year), and more are not only yours anymore. When you work with a large publishing house, it’s also important to ensure that you retain the copyright to your book in your contract, and that you retain the right of first refusal to edit the book if the publisher requests revisions for reprints in the future.
Of course, when your book is published by a large publishing house, you and your book instantly have more credibility than a book and author that self-publishes. Your book is likely to be added to the Library of Congress cataloging system, and it will be included on the publisher’s website, in the publisher’s catalogs, and more. In addition, if the publisher’s distribution team is good, your book will be available through major book sellers’ websites and possibly in brick and mortar stores. If your book isn’t actually stocked on the shelves of brick and mortar stores, it can be ordered from those stores.
When you self-publish your book, you use a service such as Lulu.com to print and ship copies of your book to customers as they are ordered. Typically, you can set your own price, ensuring that you make a specific amount of money on each book sold. Some of these services also allow you to list your book for sale on Amazon.com.
Self-published books are at your mercy in terms of sales. The author has to do all of the marketing to sell copies. Typically, self-published books are not carried in bookstores (online or offline), and authoring a self-published book doesn’t carry the same level of credibility that authoring a book published by a large publishing house does.
In addition, you have to handle all administrative functions related to the sales of your self-published book, including the creation of e-reader versions or translated versions if you want to make them available.
Which way should a new author go — traditional publisher or self-publishing? Again, it depends on your goals. Use the following factors to help you decide which publishing route you should take with your book.
- Self-publishing allows you to retain control of your book.
- Self-publishing allows you to set your price and keep all of your profits when you earn them (rather than waiting for annual royalty checks to come from a traditional publisher).
- Traditional publishing gives you a lot more credibility as an author.
- Traditional publishing can give your book wider reach, thereby increasing sales potential.
- Traditional publishing ensures your book is available through traditional book sellers, both online and offline.
As technology advances, art always finds new ways of taking advantage of it.
For Music, vinyl records were the first major format to catch on, until cassette tapes came along. Years later, we ditched out cassettes in favor of CDs. Today, the format of choice for most music lovers is the downloadable MP3. The technology got better — with new benefits such as higher quality recordings and instant distribution over the Internet — and the entire art form grew because of it.
Movies started out as silent black & white films, then graduated to sound and color. Today we can watch them in high-tech 3D. And recorded movies and TV shows were once on VHS; video tapes gave way to DVDs, and today we have Blu-ray discs and downloadable movies.
Even Artwork has adapted and expanded by leaps and bounds, as artists are always finding new techniques and wildly creative new mediums for crafting their art.
The Book is the only major art form that hasn’t undergone a change in format since it began. Sure, the technology for printing and binding has advanced over time, but the printed books of today are essentially the same basic medium they’ve always been.
Perhaps this is because books have been around a lot longer than recordings of music or film. Those are relatively new inventions compared to books, which have been with us, even in its most primitive form, since around the 5th Century A.D. Before Guttenberg came along, people had to read unbound, handwritten pages and scrolls. Before that, people were carving crude drawings and symbols onto stone and clay. The “pages” changed, but the books remained the same basic concept. Fifteen hundred years of tradition is a hard thing to overcome, after all.
There’s a certain stigma of “tradition” attached to printed books, even today; the feel of printed pages in one’s hands is such a beloved thing that books have lagged far behind other art forms in upgrading its medium.
Change Is Good
At loooooooooong last, times are a-changin’!
eBooks have arrived — the publishing world’s version of downloadable MP3s — and they’re here to stay. And we the writers must adapt, or we’ll be left behind as our art form evolves into this new format.
If you’re looking to self-publish, or you’re published but you still hold the digital rights to your book yourself, there’s no better format than the ebook. Since it’s merely a digital file with no printing required, it’s an incredibly inexpensive format for selling your work. And the distribution is simple and instantaneous.
(I should interject that if you’re a published author, and your publisher holds the digital rights to your book, then there’s no need for you to read any further. Just ask your publisher what their plans are for the ebook marketplace, and gently encourage them to embrace this new format if they haven’t already.)
eBooks also also make for great promotional items. Say you’re writing a series of books. You could give away the first one as a free ebook, to entice readers to pick up the rest of the series. I know many authors who’ve used methods like this one to real success.
The bad news is that there are a gazillion ebook formats in which you can choose to create your ebook. How do you know which one(s) to pick the right one?
If you’re serious about wanting to sell your ebook, there really are only two formats you need to concern yourself with: Kindle and ePub. You may feel intimidated at the thought of doing this kind of thing yourself, but I’m going to take the mystery out of it for you, and show you how to make both.
Kindle’s proprietary format is of course the ebook format used by Amazon on their wildly popular Kindle device. These days, even non-Kindle owners can get in on the fun as well, since there are downloadable Kindle apps for just about every kind of device out there — PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android — which drastically increases the value of Amazon’s ebook catalog.
The only downside is that Kindle is Amazon’s proprietary format, and isn’t used by any other ebook publishers or sellers. But Amazon got out ahead of the ebook race by embracing the format very early on, so they have a sizeable lead on ebook sales over everyone else combined. That makes the Kindle format a must-use.
Creating a Kindle ebook is very easy, but there are some details that are important to note. First, go to Amazon’s Digital Text Platform website and make sure your contact and billing details are correct. Next, you just need to fill out a simple web form that asks you for chapter titles, cover art, and that sort of thing. Then you’ll need to upload your document.
Amazon will automatically convert your document to the Kindle format once you upload it to the DTP website, but this can be a bit tricky. Amazon can convert .zip, .doc, .epub, .pdf, .txt, .mobi, and .prc files into its Kindle format, but I’ve seen some conversions go bad when the formatting of something like a Word .doc or plain .txt file doesn’t create attractive ebook pages. Your best bet to ensure that your Kindle ebook turns out exactly the way you have in mind is to convert it to a PDF and upload in that format.
From there, you’ll set pricing details and give Amazon some assurances that you have the digital rights to publish your work. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for Amazon to approve your book and put it up for sale in the Kindle Store. I know that in the past, this process could take a months, but my understanding is that the process has gotten faster and more efficient these days.
ePub is the format of choice for pretty much every major player in the ebook business aside from Amazon. You’re purchasing an ePub book if you buy an ebook from Apple’s iBooks Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store, Sony’s Reader Store, and Borders’ Kobo Store.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that your readers will be able to buy your ebook from any one of these ebook stores and then read it on any ePub-enabled device or software. Digital Rights Management, aka DRM, is still widely used by most ebook sellers to ensure that Barnes & Noble ebooks work only with Nook software, iBooks ebooks work only with Apple’s software, and so forth. So as the seller, you’ll want to upload your ePub file to each store you want it on. But at least you’ll only have to format it once.
There are some professional publishing programs that can create ePub files, such as Adobe InDesign. If you’re fortunate enough to have one of these, then all you need to do is import your Word document (or however you’ve saved it originally) into that program and save it as an ePub document. You’re done!
If you need something to make your ePub document, there are a number of open source programs out there that simplify the process. I’m going to recommend one called Calibre, because it’s got a terrific user interface that makes creating ePubs a snap. Now there are a few minor caveats with Calibre, but I still think it’s worth it.
Calibre is actually an ebook management program, intended to be used to catalog and keep track of your entire ebook collection. It supports a huge variety of file formats that you can convert to and from, including .epub, but it doesn’t support Word .doc files. Fortunately, it does support .rtf (Rich Text Format) as well as PDFs, so if you save your Word file as either of those, you can easily import them into Calibre and output .epub files.
See for yourself:
Viva la Revolución!
eBooks are not something to be feared. You can do this! With a little effort, you can whip your book into shape for digital publishing, and stay relevant to the modern reader.
In the Comments section, please share which is ebook format is your favorite, and why!