Let's Talk Publishing

Let's Talk Publishing by Shanda Trofe.png

Let’s talk publishing, shall we? When it’s time to publish your book, you’ll have many options to choose from, and my goal is to educate you on those options so you can make the decision that’s best for you. I am not going to tell you my way is the best, because my publishing model isn’t a good fit for every author and I tell my clients that. My goal is to offer you an honest overview of your publishing options so you can make your own educated decision. I would encourage you to spend some time researching beyond what I teach, and put some thought into it before making your final decision.

Traditional Publishing

The publishing industry has changed over the years. There was a time when traditional publishing was the only respectable option, but that didn’t always mean success for the aspiring author. It used to be that in order to find representation by a publisher you would have to first find an agent to represent you and your book, and that was done through a querying process to determine if the agent was interested in reading the book proposal you’d spent months to develop. If after twenty or thirty query letters you actually got a few agents asking to see your proposal, at that point you would deliver it to the agent and then wait with bated breath to learn if they were interested in representing you. Let’s say for the sake of this example, an agent did decide to take you on as a client; they then would shop your manuscript around to traditional publishers in exchange for a cut of the royalties. Now, this might be a good place to mention that the industry standard royalty from a traditional publisher is 10-15%, sometimes even as low as 5-8%. Yes, you might have received an advance from your traditional publishing house, but you won’t see another cent from them until your advance is paid back through your royalty cut.

Do you know what happens once that publisher decides to represent you? They essentially buy the rights to your book, meaning they have complete creative control over your cover, title, structure of the book, overall design, which takes 12-18 months to produce on average, and they can even kill a project if they want. Some books never even make it to publication at all. That seems like a lot of time and work to invest in gambling with my book. Most authors spend years thinking about their book before they actually write it, and then put their heart and soul into the project once they do. What a shame to lose creative control over the publishing process and the rights to the book. I don’t know about you but everything about that process seems exhausting. I’m tired just thinking about it!

It may sound like I am completely against traditional publishing, but I’m not. There are times when I tell even my own clients that they should pursue a traditional publishing model. If a client comes to me and tells me it’s their life-long dream to be represented by one of the top publishing houses, I tell them to go for it. When it’s a goal to meet a personal accomplishment, and having a certain publisher’s name adorn the spine of the book, then who am I to stand in the way of an author’s dream? And being picked up by a top publishing house can bring exposure and opportunity, so there are perks. But if the goal of the author is to get a book out in a reasonable amount of time so they can use it as a product for their business, retain the rights to the work and maintain creative control over the entire process, that’s when I recommend they explore other options.

Here are some tips for pursuing a traditional publisher:

Consider whether you will need a literary agent. Some traditional publishing houses will not accept unsolicited queries. If you have a publisher in mind and through your research you’ve learned they do not accept unsolicited queries, you will find it helpful to engage a literary agent to represent you. This has its pros and cons. Yes, they can help you get your foot in the door with top publishing houses, but you are going to pay them a percentage to represent you. If you decide to seek out the help of a literary agent, find an agent that prefers to represent your genre. For example, you would not want to query a literary agent who has a strong interest in sci-fi for your personal memoir. Most agents will list their preferences on their website, and literary agents along with their contact information are listed in the latest copy of the Writer’s Market. Be sure to study your preferred agent’s query requirements and follow them. You might consider reading some related-subject books or taking a workshop on the art of querying before continuing.

Develop a strong book proposal. You can find many books and websites out there that will walk you through the layout of a book proposal. Be sure the information you are reading is up to date. You also want to be sure your proposal is free of grammatical errors, has proper punctuation, and is in the correct format. Keep in mind that each publisher may require different criteria. If you are not going to use an agent, it is best to seek out your desired publishers by thoroughly researching their specifications.

Be professional. Once you start sending out queries and proposals, make sure each communication with the contact person is conducted in a professional manner. Don’t get too comfortable with your point of contact. Watch for punctuation, grammar, and always start and end each email with the proper greeting and closure. If you make an appointment to speak on the phone, be available at that time and prepared to answer questions about your project. It is important to stay in contact, follow up and meet deadlines.

Be persistent. If you are going to work at getting published by a traditional publisher, you are again going to have to develop a thick skin. If you receive a rejection, don’t let it get you down or cause you to lose faith in your gift or lose sight of your goal. It could just mean you weren’t the right fit for that particular publisher and a better opportunity awaits you just around the corner. Be prepared to hear several NOs before you hear one YES. Set realistic expectations and recognize that it is tough to break into the traditional publishing world. Above all, be persistent.

There are times when traditional publishing may be the right way to go, especially if you receive an offer by a respectable publisher such as Hay House, Random, or Harper Collins. You might do it for the recognition, you may do it for their reach, you might do it to build your list, you could just do it for the experience of it all and to say you are published by such-and-such publishing house.

Self-Publishing

Self-published books were once looked down upon, and rightfully so, if you think about it. The traditionally published authors who spent months querying agents, crafting book proposals, and waiting on pins and needles only to receive rejection letter after rejection letter until they finally found a publisher who was willing to represent their work, had little respect for the self-published author. The eBook boom and print-on-demand publishing services haven’t helped much, since now any old Joe can upload a manuscript to Amazon and call himself an author. The number of amateur books that began to flood Amazon was a joke to the traditionally published author, and for good reason. Although self-publishing can be a lucrative and viable option when done right, some authors didn’t take the process seriously and didn’t realize there’s a steep investment that comes with self-publishing to do it properly. Even though you can upload a book to a print-on-demand service and have it live on Amazon within days, sometimes even hours, that doesn’t mean it’s always the right way to go. I respect the self-published author, especially when he or she has taken the time to scope out and hire professionals to ensure their book is published at the highest level of quality and doesn’t scream DIY.

Not all self-published authors take the fast and easy route, and now it’s more common to see professional-quality self-published books by indie authors on the rise. Self-published authors aren’t the outcasts they once were, and it’s a growing practice among writers. In fact, in 2014, Bowker released its Self-Publishing Publication Counts Report, revealing that the number of self-published titles increased to 458,564 in 2013, up 17% over 2012 and 437% over 2008! And they’ve continued to increase each year since.

Self-publishing may be a good option for you if you are willing to invest the time and money to do it right. This way, you retain the rights to your work and you have creative control over the entire project. And it can be done in a timely manner, instead of waiting 12-18 months as you would through a traditional publisher. Thus, this is an ideal option if you are creating a book for your business since you will retain more of the profits. 

The book you create for your business is the ultimate extension of you and your work. It represents everything you have to offer, so if you decide to self-publish, be sure to invest the proper time and energy into writing and publishing the best book possible. Do not skim on the investment of professional design services. When creating a book as the base of your empire, this isn’t the time to be lean; it’s a time to invest.

The average cost of self-publishing a high-quality book at the professional level:

  • ISBN and Bar Code $150
  • Professional Editing $450-1000 (The average cost for copy editing is $3 per double-spaced page. Even more if you work with a content editor.)
  • Cover Design $150-350+
  • Interior Design $600+
  • Format Digital Edition $199+
  • Marketing/PR $1000+
  • Proofreading $100-300+

As you can see you can easily spend nearly $2000-3000+ to self-publish your book, if you give it your best effort and do it properly so it has the high-quality of a traditionally published book. Some feel if they are going to spend the money to self-publish anyway, they might as well partner with an independent publisher who already has all the necessary quality connections and design professionals on staff, as defined in the next section.

Independent Publishers/Author-Funded Programs

These days the smaller independent publishing houses are growing in popularity, and author-funded publishing programs are becoming more and more common. What is an Independent Publisher or author-funded program, you might ask? Take my company, Transcendent Publishing, for example. Our hybrid model bridges the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing, by partnering with our authors and offering professional coaching, editing, and design services to ensure the book is published properly, but the author still maintains creative control over the project and retains the rights to the book. Instead of an author looking everywhere for a cover designer, and then a quality editor, and a book formatter, a project manager, and marketing resources, now the author can partner with one company who has all the design professionals on staff to ensure the book is high-quality and the best it can be prior to publication. It’s a one-stop-shop for the indie author, and royalty splits with a smaller independent publisher are typically between 50-100%, much higher than the 10-15% industry standard you will receive from a traditional publisher.

You’re probably thinking, that sounds great! What’s the catch? To work with an independent publisher the author funds the project, meaning you will purchase a publishing package and pay for the services upfront (or on a payment plan, depending on the company), but in exchange for that you’ll have a team of experts, design professionals and a project manager working with you on the creation and production of your project throughout the entire process. This is money you would have spent on self-publishing anyway if you went that route, so many authors see the value in partnering with a smaller independent publishing house and funding the project to ensure the book is created to the highest of standards.

Below I’ve added a list of questions I recommend you ask if you decide to pursue an independent publisher or author-funded program. If it is an honest company that does business with integrity, they should be able to answer each of these questions, in detail, in a timely manner. These aspects of the agreement should be decided upfront and outlined in your contract before production begins. Be sure there are no hidden costs you might incur at a later date.

  • What is your average publishing turnaround time?
  • How much say do I have in cover design?
  • How many changes to my cover proof can I make?
  • Do you offer professional editing services?
  • Is there an extra fee for that service?
  • What is the cost of each publishing package?
  • What is included in each package?
  • What would be considered an add-on or upgrade?
  • Does that include illustrations or color interior, if requested?
  • What book styles and binding types are available?
  • Will I incur costs after production begins, in addition to the cost of my package?
  • What would cause any additional fees to be incurred after production begins?
  • Will I receive a PDF proof prior to publication?
  • If so, will I be allowed to make changes at that time?
  • Will I sign off on the proof prior to publication?
  • Upon publication, do you assist with marketing efforts?
  • What is my royalty percentage of print sales?
  • What is my royalty percentage of digital sales?
  • What will be my wholesale cost per book?
  • Do you have an order minimum for wholesale orders?
  • Do I receive a discount on bulk orders?
  • Will my publishing package include an eBook as well as print?
  • Will my book be softcover or hardcover, or both?
  • Does your company have a mission statement so I can be sure we are a good fit for one another?

According to Amazon.com, independent publishers are selling more books with an average of 39% of the revenue going back to the author, which means more profit for those authors.

What You Need to Know

A word of caution: There are some unethical predators in the publishing industry, and there are some who are only after the almighty buck and don’t conduct business with integrity. I know this firsthand, and it was my own experience with one of these publishers that led me to start my own publishing company.  Over the years I have heard horror stories from many authors. I’ve heard from the traditionally published author who was mortified after she received the final product only to find her cover and title were changed. She had to do the majority of marketing for the book, despite being traditionally published, and after the publisher takes their cut when each book sells, she only makes approximately $1 per book. You’d have to have a lot of sales to make any amount of money as an author at $1 per book! Traditional publishers seldom take you by the hand and fund book tours, signings, and speaking engagements. Although it still happens for the bigger, well-known authors, it’s practically unheard of for a first-time author.

I’ve also heard from the self-published author who spent time and money seeking the best cover designer, editor, and formatter, to self-publish his book through CreateSpace and have it available on Amazon. He was proud of his book and had spent hundreds, maybe even thousands on its production. He went to his local Barnes and Noble and was able to get a meeting with the book buyer for the store. He was stoked about the meeting, only to have the wind let out of his sails. It wasn’t due to the lack of a good product that his book got rejected by the bookstore; it was because it was published through a print-on-demand printer such as CreateSpace, and books that are published by CreateSpace are not likely to be picked up by bookstores because they are not in the book return-ability program. This is something most self-published authors don’t know. In order for a bookstore to carry your book, they want to know they can return it in the event it doesn’t sell. The problem? Bookstores can’t return books to CreateSpace, making it nearly impossible to get the book into stores. For this particular self-published author, his book was available on Amazon and he could buy copies as needed from the printer, but his chances of adorning the shelves of bookstores across America were shot.

If your goal is to get your book into the bookstores and attain global distribution for your book, you either want to traditionally publish, or partner with an independent publisher through an author-funded program that can ensure your book is published through global distribution channels, registered with books-in-print, and has a book buyback plan. If you self-publish, then you'll want to be sure your book is distributed by Ingram.

The decision to write and publish a book is one that should not be taken lightly. This is an extension of you, and possibly your business. You want to take the time necessary to do your research and find the publishing option that is right for you and your project. This is your baby, and it should be nurtured and birthed when the timing is right and you’ve thoroughly examined all of your options. This includes having overseen the production of the book to completion, developed a book launch strategy and plan of action, and being ready to put your book out into the world—a book you are proud of and around which you can build a business.

All three publishing options have their pros and cons. Here’s a table to help you decide which publishing option is right for you:

table.png

Digital Book World recently reported that traditional publishing routes yield an average of $6,000 for the author. Self-publishing or indie-publishing a book can mean four times that—on average, self- or indie-published authors earn $24,000 in revenue.

Digital (eBook) Publishing

The days are long gone when an author would only publish a book in print. Nowadays, almost all new print editions are accompanied by a digital edition. I mention this so you can understand why your book also needs to be in a digital format, even if it’s not your preferred method of reading books.

The number of eBook sales were climbing each year until 2015 when eBook sales reportedly dropped and print sales rose. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), eBook sales remained down 12.7% through November 2015, compared to the same 11-month period in 2014. But according to AuthorEarnings.com, indie-published eBook sales saw a 10% increase from February 2014-2016. The point being, the market fluctuates, so for those who think print publishing is a dying industry, guess again. In fact, bookstore sales rose by 3.8% from January 2015 through January 2016, as reported by the American Booksellers Association.

But, having said that, if you don’t have your book available as a digital download, you are missing out on valuable web sales from popular distributors such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and more. Some may argue that digital publishing is the only way to go, that eBooks are going to kill print publishing so there’s no sense in publishing your book in print. As a publisher, I couldn’t disagree more. Sure, there are times when I see value in creating eBooks alone. I have some clients who only publish digitally and do quite well for themselves (mostly fiction authors). One of my most popular online courses is eBook Publishing Made Easy: Write & Publish Kindle eBooks for Profits, so believe me when I tell you, I love digital publishing, it was my first love in this publishing industry, after all. But I don’t agree that it’s the only way. You need your book in print as well if you are using it for business, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when it’s acceptable to only have a digital book available. Case in point, I have an eBook that I wrote primarily to funnel readers from Amazon to one of my online courses. When Periscope grew in popularity, I devoured all the info on it I could find and became obsessed with how Periscope worked and what the top broadcasters were doing successfully. Next, I developed an online course, Periscope Your Business: Live Video Broadcasting for Profits, one of the very first online courses on Periscope, and to drive traffic to that course I created a companion eBook with the same title: Periscope Your Biz. I published the eBook on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and set the price low to attract more readers. I wasn’t trying to get rich off my .99 cent Periscope eBook, what I was doing instead was driving traffic to my course, which I linked at the end of the book through a strong call-to-action page. The idea was if they found value in the book (and I gave just enough information to offer value without giving it all away) and they wanted to learn more, then my Periscope course was just what they needed. In situations like that I believe it’s fine to only publish in digital format. It was a 50-page book, after all, so why would I publish in print? But this was a funneling technique, not the core product for my business as your book will be, so in your case, you’ll want to ensure your book is published in both print and digital formats.

The moral of the story is there are times when it’s a lucrative option to create some shorter how-to eBooks on a sub-topic in your niche, or to create a series. But for your signature book, the one we are creating here as the foundation of your empire, you want it in print as well as eBook. Don’t do one without the other. For the book representing your business, you’ll want both.

Now that’s not to say that after your book is published you won’t have smaller spin-off eBooks on various sub-topics discussed in your book; you could create a whole series of how-to eBooks that never make it to print. This is where eBooks as companion products come in handy. I’ll give you an example: This very book you are reading is the foundation of my business. All the programs I developed after the publication of this book were based on the topic of the book and the subtopics discussed within. Take my flagship program, Publish Like a PRO, for example. It's designed to walk indie authors through the process of self-publishing a bestselling book. I could, if I wanted to, create a series of eBooks and break down the teachings in this book into small bites. Each eBook would not only link to the others in the back of the book, but it would also link to this book and my online programs and mentoring/coaching.

The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.
―Mickey Spillane

Do you see how eBooks can be a valuable tool in your empire? Not only will you want to be sure to publish your main book in a digital format as well as print, but you can also look at ways to break down your topic into subtopics and create smaller eBooks of 50-100 pages to create a series and funnel readers into your main book and high-end programs. Not to mention, if your eBook is priced between $2.99 and $9.99 Amazon will pay you a 70% royalty on the sale. Outside those brackets you’ll receive a 35% royalty. Not bad if you create a series of books that really takes off or you jump on a hot topic as I did when Periscope was launched. Although my goal for that eBook was more to direct readers to my online course, since it was a hot topic and there were very few books on the market about Periscope at the time of publication, I also made quite a bit of money off that little eBook, and still do. Score!

 Research Your Options

No matter which publishing option you choose, the choice is yours, so don’t let others dictate what you should or should not do with your project. Only you will know what’s best for you and your book, so take some time to research not only your publishing options, but also the publishers or publishing services/programs you are interested in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as many as you need, to be sure you are making the right decision. Publishing your book is not a decision you should take lightly. Dig in, learn the ins and outs, ask questions, and read, read, read. If you decide to go the traditional route, pick up the latest edition of Writer’s Digest’s Writer’s Market for a list of publishers and agents. Be sure to research each of their guidelines before querying them, as they all vary.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, there usually isn’t much money to be made from your book alone, unless of course you hit it big like J.K. Rowling or E.L. James, or the James Pattersons of the world who would beg to differ, but their experience will likely be different. Chances are you will make more from your books if you self-publish or publish through an independent publisher, because your royalty split will be higher, you won’t need a middleman (agent), and you are going to be marketing your book anyway. If you work hard at self-promotion, building your list, online marketing, and get out and do speaking engagements, workshops and live events, you can sell your book at each stop and keep the profits of any books sold by your own efforts. You can buy your books from your publisher or printer at the wholesale rate and resell them at the retail rate, and that can be lucrative, if you have a successful event or online presence, have a powerful message, and are in front of the right audience. All of those pieces will factor into your success as an author. It’s not enough just to write and publish a book and then sit back and wait for the money to roll in. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Being an author is work. It’s an investment of not only money but time. And if you are willing to put in the work, you can find success, but to do so you’ll need to be actively marketing your book, and putting yourself out there both in person and online.

The Moral of the Story

When you start researching publishing options for your book, let’s say for argument’s sake you do get a traditional publisher to show interest in your proposal, do you know what they are going to want to know first and foremost? What’s your author platform, how big is your list, how many times have you been on television or radio, how many speaking engagements have you done? And let me tell you, it’s not easy to build your list and it certainly takes time. A good-size list in a publisher’s eyes is 100,000+ people. That’s a lot! How do you get that many people on your list?

First and foremost you start today. Do not wait until your book is published, do not wait until you start writing even, start the second you decide you are going to have a book, product, or service to market.

Secondly, put yourself out there. Establish yourself as the expert in your field, even before your book is published. You need to be everywhere. Every speaking engagement, every interview, every networking event, volunteer your time in exchange for your list building. Do free appearances, host free workshops. Later when you have a large list you might get lucky enough to be paid to speak, but not when you are building your list. When you are building, you are going to be doing things for free, and there are some people who even pay a lot of money to speak at certain events, and they do it because they know they will get a return on their investment. Their message will speak to a few people in the audience and they will walk away with a few more members of their tribe.

It takes time and it takes effort. I’m not telling you it will be easy, I’m telling you to start now and don’t waste another second.

When you think of becoming an author you might think of your publisher sending you all over the country doing book signings while you sit at the back of the room and sign autographs while you rake in the dough. I can see you now, smiling away, waiting for the next mega-fan to approach your booth. It’s a beautiful visual, right? Now, don’t lose sight of that, because that is where you want to be and I’m big on visualization techniques to help us materialize our goals. I’m saying here comes reality, swooping in, are you ready for it?

You may have book signings, as a matter of fact I would suggest it and do in the next chapter, but it won’t likely be at the efforts of your publisher. It will be at the efforts of your cold-calling, booking travel, renting booths, and speaking at conferences with the hopes that people will visit your booth in the back of the room after they’ve heard your amazing message. That’s the reality.

***This article is a chapter from my book, Authorpreneur: How to Build an Empire and Become the AUTHOR-ity in Your Business.

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