The Myths of Publishing

Self-Publishing is a Last Resort.

No. To self-publish or operate as an Individual Publisher or an Indie, is often the best creative choice. Without the shackles of commercial pressure, genre-blending or your own personal genre, is the new kid on the block! The author retains global selling rights across all platforms and retains the majority share of any royalties. Most importantly, the author is in complete control of the entire process, from designing the cover to organising events, to advertising and pacing the release of new material. The more you invest of yourself the greater the opportunity for growth, development, and experience, not only as a writer through valuable on-line networking but in all aspects of the publishing world.
Depending on your technical skills, it’s quite possible to design your own covers and 13735790_873470892758672_4699674544226635043_opromotional material using a range of high quality software, some of which is accessible for free. Learning to format for ebooks and paperbacks cost nothing more than your time. If you make a mistake, fix it, learn from it, and move on. There are many publishing platforms out there now – to produce both ebooks and paperbacks – all of which are user-friendly and free. Print-on-demand allows an individual to invest in small quantities of paperbacks which are easily manageable from a financial point of view, and allow the author to either produce copies simply for their own use or order in sizeable quantities for shops and events.
12339449_755681737870922_2320413221731760214_o However, not every author has the skill nor the inclination to want to deal with every aspect of publishing. Some authors find it enjoyable, some find it stressful. And it’s fair to point out that if you don’t have the necessary technical skills then of course, not every aspect of self-publishing is free. The material needs to be professionally edited, proofread, formatted and designed to a recognisable industry standard if you wish to compete with the traditional market and produce something to be proud of. There are many excellent, experienced freelance professionals working in the self-publishing sector to enable you to achieve this. The quality (both in terms of the writing and the book itself) of self-produced work can vary from mediocre, to a standard which is actually way above that of some small press publishers because quite often the editing and designing of your book is a bespoke, individual process. After this, it’s perfectly possible to approach libraries and independent book shops. 
Beware of: Experts. There are plenty of swish looking websites and unscrupulous folk willing to take your money for advice and services offered, from editing to advertising, from special award badges for your book, endorsements, amazing reviews, to everything in-between. Don’t pay for anything – unless the service offered comes from a reputable source and you are happy with their examples. Ask around on the many forums available and choose carefully. 

Self-Publishing is the same as Vanity Publishing.

No. Vanity Publishers have no selection criteria. Vanity publishing is a complete service to authors who have no wish to become involved with the nuts and bolts of producing a book as an independent, or perhaps they don’t possess the knowledge or inclination to send out endless applications to agents and traditional publishers. Maybe they’ve simply become worn down by rejection letters, and we all know how that can feel. Some flattery from an editor is all it needs to get you to sign on the dotted line…
dollarphotoclub_92155465-676x451You will more often than not relinquish all rights to the material. The author is expected to cover all costs out of their own pocket, usually upfront, and the publisher will collect the majority of the royalties on the book. It’s an expensive, often disappointing route – because quite simply the publisher has been paid for his trouble and has no further interest in the material as they’ve already made their profit – from the author! Vanity Publishers have no relationship with bookshops or suppliers.
Beware of: Huge costs (running into several thousands of pounds) and vague promises. Quite often these types of publisher come across as the real thing through cunning advertising (sometimes they refer to themselves as self-publishers). 

A Good Book will be Published by a ‘Real’ Publisher.

Not necessarily. There is still the belief that agents and publishers secure the best material out there, and you may wish to try this route first. Lots of smaller publishers can be approached directly without the need for an agent to represent the author. This is where signing a contract can be confusing and in some cases, detrimental. However, a genuine publisher will never ask for a financial contribution towards producing your book. If they do, you could be dealing with a vanity press.
Traditional publishers are mostly interested in commercial fiction which fits neatly into a genre they are familiar with. This makes the job easier for them and less of a financial risk. 
hoes_six-cylinder_pressYou will of course relinquish all rights to the material and the majority of the royalty payments will go first and foremost to your publisher. This is not necessarily a bad deal if the publisher is knowledgeable about the current market, is selling lots of books and is proactive in maintaining those sales. In a lot of cases though, this simply doesn’t happen. Publishers rarely promote consistently and effectively. The risk of taking on books that don’t sell isn’t much of a deal breaker to them because ebooks are remarkably easy to produce and who knows, your book just might take off without too much effort or investment from them. They can also control expenses by only publishing print versions on demand; exactly as per the self-publishing route, and many of them use the exact same platforms. The alternative to this is that you’ve negotiated a traditional ‘print-run’, in which case the publisher may be keener to recover those costs and work harder on your behalf to shift the copies. The finished product may well look exactly the same as a self-published book but will retail at a much higher cost because of course, the publisher needs to factor in his cut. In some cases, the print book may even be of inferior quality. You will probably be expected to pay for copies of your own book or to buy any stock at trade price, around 40% of the retail cover price.
Beware of: High expectations, grey hybrids and contracts which tie you in to several works, or years of commitment at a low rate of royalty. You won’t necessarily see your book in a major retailer on the high street for example, or in libraries. You may be expected to produce a novel every 3-6 months if the publisher is mostly concerned with commercial ebook sales in a current popular genre. They’ll want to catch the market trends and a steady stream of material will (hopefully) make money.
vader-litreactorSome small presses are blending traditional methods with services approaching those required by the self-publisher. It’s perhaps a way of capturing everything which is going on in a fast moving, constantly changing market. The material may be better treated from an editorial point of view and usually the author will retain all selling rights, but at the end of the day it’s the author who is footing the bill and choices can be limited. Additional services such as offering an author a Facebook page is an example of how new and confused authors could be attracted to a ‘gold package’ when everything seems scary and complicated. Making a Facebook page for example, is simple and free, and yet in some cases, this is listed as a service. This hybrid type of publishing is often the sister arm of a reputable publishing company, encouraging authors to submit under the impression that the experience of the genuine publishing house will spill over into the self-financed version. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t… grey area?

Do I Need An Agent?

literary-agent-commission-contractNot necessarily. You only need an agent if you intend to approach publishing companies who don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and/or you wish someone to act on your behalf to wade through the legal jargon of a complicated contract. Bear in mind that around only 1% of manuscripts are selected in this way. An agent may be able to secure a good contract for you, but remember they take around 15% of whatever they negotiate. This could be well worth it if the agent has great connections and you have a great manuscript which everyone wants…

How Much Money Do You Make?

If you are looking to make money from your writing, then you may be shocked to discover that the profit on a paperback can be as low as £1. This is without factoring in the time spent writing the novel, paying for an editor, a cover designer and a formatter. This is based simply on the printing costs of a physical book. Nothing beats seeing your work in print, regardless of how you arrived at that point, but unless you’ve written a commercial best-seller and it’s handled by one of the ‘big six’ in publishing, then it’s unlikely you’ll make any cash from selling paperbacks.
how-to-use-the-internet-to-make-moneyThis is why the ebook market is so lucrative and why lots of small presses have popped-up offering contracts for material. Some of them are pretty good, but an awful lot of them are best avoided. If you self-publish an ebook and it starts to sell, then you can make a reasonable return, especially if you have the technical know-how to produce the book file to a good standard and you’ve studied the market for trends. While some authors fail to break even, some make a reasonable living from writing, usually supplementing their income with author services or non-fiction publications. There is a multitude of levels in-between, depending on how much time and effort you are willing to invest, but there are no guarantees.

Publishing: A lot of Smoke and Mirrors?

In which I’m made to eat my words as I come full circle through the maze of publishing to discover that the grass isn’t necessarily greener over there; it’s still mostly desert scrub from every direction…

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Last year I wrote a general post about the publishing industry which resonated with a lot of independent authors: https://janruthblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/my-affair-with-john-hudspith-and-why-i-had-to-leave-self-publishing/

It came about through sheer frustration at the lack of visibility and the cost of producing books. A turning point came when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts.

This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!

If this is you and you are maybe considering that contract from a small press, think carefully. This is of course my specific experience over 12 months but my advice would be to submit one, stand-alone title before you make a decision to move completely to traditional publishing. I’d been used to working on a one-to-one basis with professional freelancers who knew my material well. But the change of pace and method of working may come as a shock. Your book becomes a commercial product held in a queue, maybe dropped down the enormous cliffside of titles waiting for attention if a more promising book or a more glamorous author comes along in the meantime. This is a hopeless situation when the previously hard-working self-published author has a substantial back-list waiting to be dealt with.

janruth-com-1

The process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’ These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage. Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. 3413411700_1de8699dbdWe perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect. We all know marketing is a full-time job. Looking after the detail which includes fine tuning those book descriptions and keywords, sustaining an active presence on social media sites, writing articles and taking advantage of the best days to run a promo deal for that new political saga set in Scotland… it’s not going to happen. Imagine trying to handle the marketing at this level for 500 authors with several titles each… Impossible. And publishers have no magic formulas or special concessions when it comes to on-line sales. A high degree of luck is still perceived as par for the course. So, no specific sales strategy, then…

And while we’re wading through these muddy waters of what defines a self-published book from a traditionally produced book, let me mention yet again two common misconceptions that seem to linger on despite the glaring facts: that traditionally published books are somehow superior, and that those high-ranking, best-selling books on the virtual shelves must be better somehow than those books bumping along the bottom of the Amazon rankings, or boxed up for a rainy day in the back of someone’s office. Wrong! 

self-publish-cartoonOver the course of a year, my sales dropped lower than they’d ever been. My branding was confused and I was losing the tiny amount of traction I’d managed to gain in the market. Overall, I was left feeling enormously let-down and misinformed. Despite this, the experience was invaluable as a means to recognise exactly who I was and where I needed to be. Needless to say, I parted company with my publisher and I’m relieved to be back as an independent. My sales have increased, where previously they’d been depressed. This includes both ebooks and paperbacks (in a local shop). The overriding conclusion has to be that whatever I was doing before, was in fact more successful than I’d presumed!

Authors who’ve started their journey with a small publisher may know very little about the huge network of independent authors out there, let alone the complexities of social networking. ‘Oh, I’d rather leave all that to my publisher,’ is a common cry but maybe a mistake to ignore the bigger picture.

Orna Ross: The Alliance of Independent authors:

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-every-author-should-self-publish-at-least-once/

The independent network of freelance writers remains a growing industry. Many traditionally produced authors are making the move to publish themselves and cross to the dark side – although there are still problems with visibility, the overriding comfort is that there is never a compromise with the work you’ve produced and personal satisfaction cannot be left out of the argument. I’ve heard nightmare stories where authors with agents or publishers have been asked to re-write their books to a different genre or incorporate a different setting, because ‘Cornwall is trending right now.’ Bland covers, hit and miss advertising and the general lack of cohesion is not uncommon. The industry is flawed, floundering, and fluctuating. This is because there are real choices open to writers to maintain their individuality and creativity, and boats have been rocked.

uk-author-earnings-4I also think independent authors tend to be tremendously supportive and understand the value of teamwork. I’m not sure this carries over into the trade arena where a lot of authors there are happy to let their publishers assume the responsibility, in whatever capacity. Lots of first-time authors who’ve landed that coveted contract for a first book are struggling with the on-line media. i18n-bestsellers-uk-top-100000-correctedTrade publishing, no matter its size is still something of a closed-shop and this is where the vast majority of authors are unaware of the basics because they’ve come in at a level where the opportunities to learn, are restricted. The days of hiding in a garret and leaving it all to the agent or publisher ceased to exist when the Internet happened. Now, readers, customers, clients or whoever, seek out that social interaction which goes beyond selling the product. There’s only one person who can sell your personality and that is you. There might only be one person who can sell your material on-line, and guess who it is… the good news is that you get to keep all the royalties!

http://authorearnings.com/report/november-2015-the-uk-report-author-earnings-on-amazon-co-uk/

So, before you sign on the dotted line, ask exactly what the publisher can specifically do for you which can’t be accessed in any other way. And above all, be careful what you wish for.

Jan Ruth. Dec 2015.