Thanksgiving Day dinner offers us many food choices, so I figure Write Nonfiction in November should offer a blog about choices – in this case publishing choices – on November 27th as well. As you finish up your Write Nonfiction in November project (just four days until it’s over if you’re writing on the holiday), you might be mulling over your publishing options. So, today we’re going to discuss what they and dispel any confusion you might have.
If you’ve worked on an article or an essay this month, you are probably thinking about writing a query letter and sending your manuscript out to a publication. This requires simple research to discover what type of publication best suits what you have written and a well-crafted query letter. (You can learn about how to write a query letter by reading some of the great books on the subject and check out my blog from last year’s challenge.) You’ll want to spend some time reading the magazines that represent potential markets for your work, and then some time really honing that query letter. Also, go on line and read each magazine’s writer’s guidelines; be sure you know what type of articles they publish, their desired article length, etc. Sending in articles that don’t meet these requirements ensures rejection letters coming your way. Take the time to go back and review your work and make sure it fits the magazine’s needs in all ways. Then double check your query letter. At that point, you’re ready to send your work out for consideration to one or more publications.
If, however, you worked on a book project this month, you might be considering your publishing options. While we’ve discussed traditional vs. self-publishing on several occasions, you may still feel a bit confused, and that’s not surprising. These days the lines between self-publishing and traditional publishing have been blurred, and the advent of print-on-demand (POD) publishing has added another whole component to both types of publishing. In fact, traditional publishers use POD technology and what we often refer to as “self-publishing” today really is POD publishing instead. For this reason, it’s good to understand the differences and what each has to offer you, as well as what each requires of you.
To help explain this to you in a very simply manner, I asked Alicia Robertson, chief executive officer of Robertson Publishing in Los Gatos, CA, to write about the three publishing models available to writers. I have the unique ability to walk into Alicia’s POD publishing offices whenever I like (it’s located in my town) and speak with her – an added benefit for me! That said, I tell all my book editing clients to at least call Alicia before making up their minds about how they will publish their books, and she’d be my first choice of a POD publisher for my own work. She publishes some beautiful books written by authors who live all around the world and represents the epitome of what a POD publisher can offer you – all with a very personal touch. And in her personal, one-on-one way, here’s her take on your three publishing choices.
Three Publishing Models
By Alicia Robertson
CEO, Robertson Publishing
It’s just so easy to get published these days, right?
If you’re reading this, which of course you are, you’re probably very aware of just how maddeningly difficult it is to get published these days. Even if you can find a literary agent who knows the right people for your kind of book, and even if a book house falls in love with it and buys it for publication, you’re still going to wait for another two to three years before you hold a copy of that book in your hands. And in the mean time, you’ve also given up almost all control over both the content and the appearance to the managing editor, the developmental editor, the production editor, and the copy editor. And you don’t get most of the profits, because the publisher has to have that for taking all the risk. So what’s a writer to do?
You’ve got three choices: Traditional Publishing, Self-Publishing, and Print On Demand. For those who might be confused about the differences between these three models, let me explain.
Traditional Publishing houses exist to produce and market books for well-known authors who have a solid following. Plus, every once in a while, just for sport, they take on an unknown author who is well represented (see paragraph 1, above). You have very little control in most cases, although this depends on the editor you get.
Self-Publishing has always been available to anyone with enough gumption money to pay the printing costs. But you’ll have to market and sell the books yourself, and you can end up three years later with 1,643 books, still in their original cartons, down in your basement. But if you’re energetic and willing to put in the time to promote the book properly, you can do quite well-particularly if you’ve written a book that targets a unique market in a special way. You have lots of control but not much help from the printer, since very few printers understand the publishing business or book design.
Print-on-Demand technology saves time and money for everyone; we no longer have to print hundreds or thousands of books to get a good wholesale price. Some POD publishers collaborate with their authors, and offer many of the services provided by traditional publishers, including royalties, marketing materials, custom websites, and help with book and cover design, and are partnered with the same distribution channels: Baker & Taylor, Ingram Books, and Bertrams, who in turn deliver books to all the independent booksellers, plus Books-A-Million, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstone’s, and Borders. You get lots of control, depending on the publisher.
Overlap between these three publishing models exists in several areas. Traditional publishers are using print-on-demand for almost all of their smaller titles for economic reasons. Self-publishers can use editors and book designers to help them move forward, and the more experienced and professional print-on-demand publishers have a wide variety of tools to help their authors, including typesetters, copy editors, designers, photographers, and image banks that provide professional level illustrations and photographs at astonishingly low prices.
How Much Will It All Cost?
Traditional Publishing costs you mostly in time- time spent in finding and convincing an agent to pitch your book; time waiting for something to happen; time dealing with the personnel of a large corporation; time finding a better agent. Figure two to four years. If your book isn’t selling well after the first three months, almost all the marketing effort will be your own.
Self-Publishing is straightforward, by comparison. You pay in money (printing and production fees range considerably from company to company) and in the learning curve, because not every printer knows how to produce a book correctly. So you buy one of Dan Poynter’s many wonderful books on self-publishing, buy the Adobe Creative Suite, your own barcode and ISBN numbers, add more memory to your computer, and become your own book and website designer. Lots of energy required, but you’ll end up becoming an expert. If you’re not doing anything else and you’re a quick study, figure three to six months to a published book.
Print-On-Demand Publishing costs about $500 to $600 to create a 200+ page book and put it into worldwide distribution. Figure four to six weeks, depending on the cover. If you have more money, or energy, or both, buy Adobe InDesign, abandon Word, and learn how to set type properly; the publisher (if they’re good), will provide what coaching you need, and your book will be much the better for it.
Last Thoughts: If the people you’re trying to work with can’t or won’t spend time helping you create a better, more polished book, move on. If they don’t have at least some strong opinions about hyphenation, typography, and design, find someone who does. And if it seems like they’re charging you too much money, they probably are.
The author can be contacted at:
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