Publishing…..Weighing up the Options

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Regular Posts
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As a first time writer of books, what options do you think are available to you when it comes to having your work published? If you are lucky enough to be a published author and not simply a ‘writer’ any more, what options did you have when looking to get your work published? Well there are a million words out there that will purport to guide you through to victory, most of them written by ‘self publishing houses’ that have perhaps a little more interest in your bank balance than your literary success. In general, getting your book published requires you to walk a torturous route and the first parting of the way needs you to make a decision. The left hand route is via a Literary Agent and the right hand route is via a Publisher. So, what’s the difference?

The Literary Agent – This is a service provider who makes a living by selling your book rights and then taking commission from your earnings. The process is straight forward and well documented. A hard working agent will take the stress out of earning money from your writing efforts, leaving you to become a highly productive asset in his ever growing ‘list’ of authors. Over the years, this literary animal has become so powerful, that nearly all quality Publishers steer clear of accepting any manuscript submissions unless made by an Agent. This simply goes to prove that there is an unashamed wealth of manuscripts floating around out there with a real and possibly unacceptable ‘dirth’ of  interested Publishers desks for them to land upon. On the other hand, it may simply confirm to you that the ‘old boy network’ in the literary world is alive and kicking. If you already have an ‘in’ with an agent and he accepts your work, then you are several hundred steps ahead of the competition. If you don’t, then you will need to find one, find out what the submission criteria may be, send your work off…..and then.. wait!  A good agent will look after your interests well, a bad agent will not. How can you tell the good from the bad? Well, instinct is useful; the authors in their list that produce similar work to yours; the number of successful book launches in a given year and your ability to ‘get on’ with your allocated editor. How can you tell what commissions you should pay to an agent? Well in 2011 it was averaging 15%, plus any relevant value added tax requirement in the country of payment, but that figure can of course vary significantly depending upon what services your agent is prepared to provide to you.

The Publisher – This is someone who takes risks, is used to taking risks and is therefore hard to convince that they should invest several hundred thousand dollars in the launch and promotion of your untried and untested masterpiece. The publisher is someone who will need to spend time editing your book and getting it ready for publication. He will also have to invest in the printing of the first editions of your book and provide the marketing backup to make his investment a success…..and in turn, pay you some money for all of your hard mental and physical efforts over a period of months or even years. The publisher will often only accept submissions from an agent because they both know what kind of work the publisher is interested in and what will make them both…. Money! So, what kind of money is involved and how much would you expect to get for a publishing deal? …….Read on!

If a publisher decides they are interested in your work, they will want to sign a standard book contract with you. This would probably call for you to receive 10% royalties from the sales of your book. Don’t forget that 15% of your 10% goes to your agent, if you have one, for negotiating the deal. The price of your book is normally set at about six times the cost of production. This means that if the first edition of your book is in hardback, the cost will possibly come to about $30.00, for the purposes of this example and that means that for every book you sell, your share is $3.00 less 15% for your agent or roughly $2.55 net to you, less any relevant taxes. An economic print run could be as high as 15,000 copies and if your agent has done a good job for you, you may be able to receive a 50% advance. We will use the number of 15,000 copies as an example for calculating income, but most first hardback print runs would substantially lower. The publisher’s gross income from these sales would be around $450,000 and your share will be 10%, or $45,000 less your agent’s commission of $13,500 leaving you with a very useful $31,500. If you are one of the lucky few who have received an advance, you will obviously not start to receive commission from your publisher until 50% of the book stock has been sold. If your book does not sell it’s first 50% print run, you may be asked to return some of the advance made to you by the publisher….so BEWARE!…do not spend all of your advance as soon as it hits your bank account!
      If your books do not sell and end up on the bargain tables you can find at most major book stores and you can buy your book for a substantially reduced price of say $6.00 or $7.00, then you will actually not make one penny. If your publisher negotiates with one of the large wholesale clubs to sell your book for half price, then you will bear the cost. Of course, you will be likely to sell more copies in those clubs, so it can be advantageous and a really good agent will work on book club deals on your behalf. Publishers generally invest very little in marketing for new authors with no following and naturally save their big advertising budgets for proven and popular authors. You may not want to hear this, but you will not get rich on your first novel. The 90% of value left in your book sale goes to the printer, and the publisher as they are the ones speculating on you and that is simply how the system works. Publishers have to pay editorial staff, lawyers, and many other ‘bodies’ who will be there actually “working” for your book and without question, they do actually earn their money.

The Middle Road – Of course, you do not have to take the left or right hand route as the middle one will eventually take you to the E-Book option and you will learn a lot more about this process within the pages of this blog. One word of warning! Beware of going the self publishing route, commonly known as ‘vanity’ publishing. This will cost you money and you will often see no financial return for your investment in such a process.

The E-Book Writer


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