I was answering a question on a private forum from a writer who is contemplating whether to take up a publisher’s offer to publish his book.
He already has built up a following and was asking the opinion of the group whether he should take up the offer or consider self-publishing.
My advice to him:
It depends on where you see your strength and the publisher’s strength.
Are you interested in writing only, or would you like to get involved in the marketing and selling also?
The more you put in, the more you will get out of it (in terms of experience and profit).
If you are open to building your skillset and a more holistic writing/publishing business yourself, you will do better going down the self-publishing route.
Or if you are more keen to focus on product development and writing, then you would focus on making the prod and handing it off to the publisher to distribute, market. If you do so, note that the publisher will take the bulk of revenue and profits.
If you’re considering signing with the publisher, here are some points to take note of:
- Look at the contract carefully. What is the duration of the distribution agreement. Do you hold and retain IP rights? Some authors have seen contracts with 10-year lock-ins to the publisher, which is kinda bordering on the ridiculous.
- Some contracts say the publisher have electronic publishing rights, even if they don’t have any plans to publish in such channels. They will have your writing career in handcuffs if you sign that.
So, aside from these issues, getting a publisher deal is a big deal, right?
It will be if you get a deal with one of the big-name publishing houses like Simon & Schuster, Random House, Scholastic, Pearson.
You can take a look at the 56 biggest book publishers in 2014 here.
Behind the scenes though, here’s what I think happens.
Each agent or book rep has a finite amount of time and resources. So like an affiliate manager, he can only service so many clients well.
If you’re in his or her A-list, then fine, you’re settled.
But if you’re in the other 90%, then you have to struggle for their attention in terms of distribution and marketing efforts.
Given the choice, a book agent would focus their resources on promoting the new JK Rowling or George RR Martin book, vs take a gamble on an unknown author.
That’s the sad reality of life, and the publishing business.
One way for new authors to break out of this vicious cycle is to look at opportunities to write AND self promote.
Think of EL James’ “50 Shades of Grey” which started out as Twilight fan fiction, before having to re-brand itself due to trademark issues and benefitting from the buzz on the Twilight forums.
How about Amanda Hocking, author of the Trylle (think trolls going through the Twilight treatment and being re-imagined as beautiful creatures). Or New York Times bestseller author HM Ward, one of the stars of the indie publishing world?
If you’ve already started self-publishing or want to but don’t know where to start, I recommend Geoff Shaw’s Kindling program as a good starting point.
Having been in the program for about a year, I think he does a pretty good job at providing a holistic environment for writers to develop plots, write the novels or “how to” books and promote it via Amazon’s Kindle platform.
Those who have struck with it are seeing regular 5-figure monthly incomes from the process. A few of the writers are breaking the 6-figure/month mark, which is a testament to how indie publishing can be a viable and long-term stream of online income.
Kindling is also supported by an active networking group where the community of authors, editors, designers share ideas, promotion techniques and campaign data to help bring your business to the next level.
And yes, when you’re a hit online, inevitably the old-line dead tree book publishers will come knocking at your door.
If you’re hit by the writing bug, you’d want to check out Geoff Shaw’s Kindling.