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Steve Neubauer

Recently I had an interesting discussion with a group of authors about the various types of publishing available to authors. I thought you might find it useful to look at the different approaches the way we did and decide which might work best for you.

Traditional Royalty Houses:

A traditional royalty house like WordWright.biz buys the rights to your manuscript and then edits, designs, prints, and distributes the book. The author makes no financial contribution to the creation of the book other than the expenses associated with producing the manuscript. The publisher makes all the financial investment and receives no monies from the author. The publisher pays the author money (called royalties) based on the number of sales less expenses. Some houses pay advances against these royalties which means you pay back the advance with your book sales before you receive regular royalties.

Royalty houses are very selective about which books they publish because they have an eye to the bottom-line, and they want to make a good return on their investment. They look not only at the quality of the manuscript but the sales and marketing skills of the author.

    Some Key Questions to Ask Traditional Royalty Houses:

    Q. Do they offer “real” royalty contracts or contracts that are royalty contracts in name only designed to rip you off?

    A. An easy way to spot the rip-off royalty contract is to ask the publisher before you sign the contract if you are required to buy books. The answer should be NO. If they say you must buy any books run for the hills. No legitimate royalty publisher would ever require this.

    Another way to spot the rip-off royalty publisher is to ask them how much they intend to charge for your book before you sign the contract. A legitimate publisher will be willing to tell you the price they intend to market your book for before you sign. It should be comparable to what you’re seeing in the bookstores for a book of your size and genre. If they refuse or the price sounds way out of line, find another publisher. The rip-off royalty publisher wants to set the price very high so they can make their money off you and not really market it to the public. They will set the price very high, give you a 40% discount, and then you have the problem of trying to sell an overpriced book. Not an easy thing to do.

    Our Policy: We never require authors to purchase books. We’d be happy to tell you the price we plan to charge for your book.

    Q. Do they pay advances? How much?

    A. First time authors with small royalty houses don’t often receive advances. If you are offered an advance, it can vary from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars depending on the size of the house.

    Our Policy: We usually offer a few hundred dollars for advances.

    Q. What royalty percentages do they pay?

    A. The norm is 7% - 15%.

    Our Policy: We pay a range of 12% to 18%.

    Q. How many books does the author receive for free upon publication?

    A. Two to ten is the norm.

    Our Policy: We give the author 20.

    Q. Do they help with getting you publicity? Do they get articles in newspapers and magazines about you and help you find appearances and book signings?

    A. Very few do this but some do.

    Our Policy: We work with you as a partner helping to promote via print media and personal appearances. There is no charge for this help.

Subsidy Houses:

    A subsidy house charges the author for all the work needed to publish a book. You select which services you want such as editing, proofreading, cover design, and so forth. If you shop around, you’ll find houses that will work closely with you to provide only the services you need. Others have a one size fits all, impersonal approach. You need to be careful to find the one that best meets your needs.

Some Key Questions to Ask about Subsidy Houses:

    Q. Do they provide editing and proofreading? If yes, what are the qualifications of the editors?

    A. Look for editors who are published authors themselves. You don’t want to have your book edited by English professors/teachers with no experience with commercial books because there is a huge difference between “grammatically correct” and commercially viable writing.

    Q. If they have editors do you have the final say on how each sentence will read?

    A. The best companies will work with you to reach agreement for the best outcome.

    Q. Do you have final approval of the cover design? Can you provide your own cover?

    A. This varies from house to house. Some allow you to retain more control than others.

    Q. Do they provide proofreading?

    A. Again, what are the qualifications of the proofreaders?

    Q. Who retains the rights to the book?

    A. Don’t give up any rights to a subsidy house. If they want any rights for any amount of time, find another publisher.

    Q. Who sets the retail price of the book?

    A. Make sure you do!!! If you let them set it, you’ll pay a lot more for your books when you order them because your price will likely be based on the retail price. Find a publisher that will explain how books are discounted in the distribution network so that you can set the lowest possible price and still make a profit.

    Q. How much does the author pay for finished books?

    A. Most will give you a 40% discount off the prices they set. (see item 4). You will also find those that offer a graduated scale such that the more books you order the greater the discount up to a 65% discount for 2000 books. Either way this can be a real killer. If you have the 40% discount and you take your book into a bookstore to sell them the retailer will ask you for a 40% discount. In such a situation you could sell a million books and never make a dime. On the other hand if you have the 65% discount you can make some money but do you want to order 2000 books and have them sitting in your garage? The best way to go is to find a publisher that will sell you the books at print cost which will be about 75% off the retail price and also require no minimum order.

    Q. How much do they charge for shipping and handling when you order books?

    A. Watch out for this one as some companies have huge charges for shipping and handling Do a little research and figure out about how heavy your book will be and then check with UPS to get an idea how much it would cost to ship a hundred of them. Then ask the publisher what they would charge. Of course it will be higher as you need to pay for their time and effort to provide this service but see if it seems reasonable to you.

    Q. Is there a minimum initial order quantity?

    A. If you go with a print-on-demand publisher make sure that you can set the minimum print order to one book if you so desire. Don’t let them force you to buy some minimum quantity set by them.

    Q. Do they guarantee the quality? What happens if you find a typo or punctuation error in the book after it has been published?

    A. The norm is that once you approve the galley proof the publisher is not responsible. However, some publishers will guarantee their work and fix the typo at no cost to you on subsequent printings.

    Q. Do they have distribution via major distributors such as Ingram and Baker and Taylor?

    A. You definitely want this so that bookstores can order your book via their normal process.

    Q. What royalty percentage do they pay?

    A. The norm is 20% - 40% but don’t settle for this. If you shop around you can find as high as 85%. Also, watch out for the companies that say you can set your own royalties by raising the price of your book. They want you to set the price higher so that when you get your 40% discount you have to pay more. Look for a publisher that lets you set the price of your book without affecting the price you pay for your book.

    Q. If you demonstrate that you can sell books will they offer to buy your next book and publish it for free?

    A. Such an approach is very rare but there are a few subsidy houses operating this way. If your goal is to be published without paying for it search for publishers who provide such opportunities. If you find one then carefully review the points above about royalty publishers.

On all of these points, always work with a publisher that gives you the amount of control you’re comfortable with.

Self-Publishing (Also known as vanity publishing.)

    You do everything to produce your finished book.

    Some Key Questions to Ask about self-publishing:

    Q. Do you have the skills and time to do this?

    A. Only you can answer this.

    Q. Do you need distribution for your book?

    A. If yes, how will you do this so that bookstores can order your book via their normal book ordering process?

As you can see, you have a lot to consider when choosing your publication path and this only touches the surface! I hope this will help you find the best path for you. If you have any questions about any of this please don’t hesitate to drop me an e-mail at wordwright@bigbend.net or give me a call toll free at 877/380-3321.

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