Do you know the difference between traditional publishing, vanity publishing, subsidy publishing, and self-publishing? If you're thinking about writing and publishing a book, you should. This month's newsletter will clear up the confusion, so you can choose the option that's best for you.
Traditional publishing (also called royalty publishing) is where a well-known publisher gives you a contract with a $500,000 advance on royalties, sends you on a book tour, puts your book in bookstores across the nation, and you sit back and watch the royalty checks roll in.
Well, as I pointed out in last month's issue of The Write Stuff, it doesn't work that way for 99.99% of authors, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, traditional publishing does offer certain advantages.
If a traditional publisher accepts your book manuscript, he will handle all aspects of production and distribution for you. You'll benefit from the publisher's expertise and reputation, and you won't have to pay a dime. In fact, you'll typically receive income in the form of an advance on royalties, even before your book is published.
So, if you can interest a traditional publisher in your book, give the opportunity serious consideration.
Where have all the vanity publishers gone?
In years past, vanity publishing was the primary alternative to traditional publishing. When an author was unable to find a traditional publisher, he might pay a vanity press to publish his manuscript for him. Understandably, vanity presses and the authors who used them were viewed with some disdain by the industry.
My, how times have changed! Technological advances in printing technology, the advent of the Internet, and cutbacks in the services provided by traditional publishers have combined to boost the popularity and prestige of self-publishing. Today, some authors are turning down six-figure contracts with traditional publishers in favor of self-publishing.
The industry has changed so dramatically, in fact, that the term "vanity publishing" has pretty much become obsolete. No publisher today wants to be called by that name. Some are operating with the same business model, but they typically call themselves subsidy publishers. A few call themselves self-publishers or traditional publishers, but that's misleading.
Self-publishing (also called independent publishing) is hot, but it's not new.
Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol in 1843. Roberts Rules of Order by Henry Martyn Robert and The Elements of Style by William Strunk started out as self-published works. But for many years self-publishing was considered the ugly stepchild of traditional publishing.
That's no longer the case. Many self-published books match or surpass the quality of traditionally published books, and their marketing and distribution approaches can be at least as sophisticated. Book marketing maven Carol White called my attention to this interesting article about the revolution that's taking place in the publishing industry.
Some industry insiders use the term "independently published" when referring to high-quality books that are self-published for business purposes, and they reserve the term "self-published" for the less professional books that, unfortunately, are churned out in great numbers. Other publishing professionals consider the two terms synonymous.
When you set up your own independent publishing company, you'll have complete control over every aspect of your book. Although you'll have to foot all production costs, you can make more money on each book sold than you can with a royalty arrangement.
For an excellent discussion of the financial aspects of publishing, I recommend reading Show Me About Book Publishing by Briles, Frishman, and Kremer. If your book has a rather specific target audience, you can stand a chance to make more money in the long run by self-publishing.
Self-publishing does not close the door on traditional publishing. If your independently published book is a success, a traditional publisher might want to buy the rights to republish it. In today's economic climate, royalty publishers are reluctant to take risks, so they're on the lookout for proven winners.
If you decide to publish independently, you can learn enough from reading a few books to go it alone. The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days by Fern Reiss is a good place to start. However, I recommend engaging the services of a professional (often called a book packager, a book developer, or a book shepherd) to guide you through the process.
Subsidy publishers occupy a middle ground between traditional publishing and independent publishing.
They subsidize the costs of producing the author's book (hence the name "subsidy" publishers), and they provide various production services, such as cover design and interior layout. (In some cases, however, these services are of mediocre quality.)
Most subsidy publishers will distribute your book for you and pay you a royalty on sales. The royalty varies considerably from company to company, but it is usually larger than those paid by traditional publishers.
If you want to buy copies of your book from the subsidy publisher so you can give them away or sell them speaking engagements, you'll have to pay the printing cost plus a substantial markup. This can be a significant disadvantage of subsidy publishing compared to self-publishing.
Some authors with limited cash and little knowledge about publishing find the turnkey approach of subsidy publishing attractive. But if you decide to pursue this approach, be careful. Some companies in this category are unprofessional, if not downright unethical. I recommend reading The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine. The author lists 21 subsidy publishers to avoid, and you'll recognize some of the names!
Sharks are in the water!
In next month's issue of The Write Stuff, I'll tell you some of the things you need to watch out for in the publishing arena so you don't get eaten alive. There are sharks in the waters, and you need to be cautious.
In another future issue, I'll discuss some of the advantages of independent publishing.
As you can see, you can look forward to lots of good information in future issues of The Write Stuff. So be sure to send in your check or money order today to keep your subscription current.
(Just kidding...this is a traditionally published newsletter. You don't have to pay a dime!)