Monday, March 17, 2008

Q & A 138

I'm new to this business, so perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems that the primary purpose of the regular publishing houses is to prevent folks with crappy books from wasting their money publishing firewood. Given a best seller, dealing with the delay and cost and pain involved with dinosaur hoops seems silly.

At what skill and market levels do you think the literary agent to dino-publisher is the proper path?



Possibly you're asking whether it would be faster and less trouble to publish your own book than to seek an agent who will seek a publisher for you. Faster for sure. You can have your book out in a few months. Less trouble? There'll be more to do. If your book doesn't need any editing or proofreading, it'll still need a cover, which probably means a cover designer, and there's a printer. You'll want to get estimates from both, as rates differ wildly. Your book should have an ISBN number so you can get it on Amazon and other online bookstores. And a barcode.

If your book is fiction, you'll want to get it into bookstores. If the bookstores are willing to stock your book, just to put two copies into every B&N, Borders, Waldenbooks and Books-a-Million will require 4000 copies. That many you can probably get for about $2 each, depending on length (assuming it's paperback). So you're out 8 grand plus another grand for cover art and design plus whatever it costs to ship 4000 books from the printer to you. The good news is, the bookstores aren't willing to stock your book, so you can lower your print run from 4000 to 100. Much more affordable. Your friends and family will buy a few of those and the rest will fit nicely in your garage.

Now, if your book is nonfiction, you have a shot. If you are highly knowledgable about Dachschund raising, and you have access to those who are interested in Dachschunds, like they all subscribe to Dachschund Magazine, or there are web groups with thousands of Dachschund lovers, it's possible an advertisement will get your book onto the radar of those who would enjoy it. Or start a blog for Dachschund lovers. If people love it, they might buy your book. You won't sell nearly as many as a publisher would, but you don't need to, as you won't have to share the profits with bookstores and distributors or wholesalers. (You will, however, have to ship every book that gets ordered, which means boxing and labeling and taking to the post office. Or paying someone to do it. It's even more trouble than sending out query letters, unless you love that sort of thing.) In short, if you have a desirable book and a niche audience you can reach, it's possible to avoid losing money self-publishing.

Some self-published books have done well, but if your goal is to have your book read by the most people, or to make the most money, your best bet is a major publisher. If your goal is to hold a copy of a book you wrote in your hand ASAP, or if you've queried every publisher and agent and refuse to see the handwriting on the wall, self-publishing is highly recommended.

19 comments:

Dave F. said...

THE ONION just reported on the novel writers strike. It seems that novelists have been on strike for 4 months according to their reporter.

It's a funny story but it's so true. There are so many books in the system that no one would notice what any one book did.

That's why self-published books are seldom best sellers. Even big Pub House books are seldom best sellers.

BuffySquirrel said...

It can't be a bestseller until it sells.

Prem said...

The good news is, the bookstores aren't willing to stock your book

Oh they'll stock it - as long as they don't know it's there. A bookshelf offers the perfect camouflage for a book.

Of course, this house of cards collapses the second someone brings their book up to the counter, but given the quality of most self-published books, the chances of that happening before the heat death of the universe are negligible.

no-bull-steve said...

Say it ain't so, EE!

Well thanks in part to your help, I'm "halfway" there. I've got the literary agent and she's trying to put together a publishing deal. It's been a loooooong road and I'm still not there yet. The journey is the reward? What idiot said that!?

Keep up the good work EE!

Robin S. said...

OK, I'll bite- what's going on around here?

There's this one, and the query below it.

It's St. Patrick's Day, L'll grant you that, but is that enough of a reason to go off on tangents? Hell, maybe it is. I don't know.
Just wondering.

Robin S. said...

OK- Looks like I must've misunderstood this question.

Sorry.

Evil Editor said...

It's easier to understand the question when it arrives in an email with the subject line Dinosaurs vs. self-publishing.

iago said...

Without dinosaurs, there'd be no dino-bus.

I think we need say no more.

Anonymous said...

The primary purpose of the regular publishing houses is to make money. It is not even to push their own political agenda, otherwise Ann Coulter and Michael Moore would not both be published. An individual house may have an agenda but not the "houses".

iago said...

I don't think it's about agenda. I think it's just about being able to recognise one's own greatness and thereby avoiding allowing those other leeches a cut simply for showing up.

Whirlochre said...

If you're a bad writer, self-publishing is simply a fast track to advertising your lack of talent - down to the last excruciatingly misplaced apostroph'e.

If you're a good writer, it's a waste of time.

freddie said...

The reason the publishing business is still around and working the way it does is because it still works. Some people can go with self-publishing and sell a few books and that's their idea of success and that's fine. It's the ones that think they're participating in some revolutionary publishing concept that bother me.

Wes said...

For the moment, forget whether a book is good or not. There is another major issue. Most people don't understand the cost of selling. It is great, and most people can't afford it, even if they knew how. Agents, editors, and publishers form a distribution system that sells and places books on retail shelves, in addition to being a filter that separates the wheat from the chaff. An agent works on straight commission, plus invests capital that is a sunk cost which can never be recovered if a book doesn't earn out. The same is true for a publisher. How many people would like a day job like that?

Robin S. said...

I agree, Wes.

It's easy to forget the business end of the arrangement, namely, that publishing, agenting, etc., are businesses, and each manuscript taken on is a business decision, with attendant risks.

Personally, I'd prefer it to be all artsy-fartsy, but there you go.
It isn't.

Wes said...

The best self-published book I saw was while attending a faculty party. I spotted a book in the host's library entitled WHAT I LEARNED IN TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AS A PROFESSOR. I couldn't resist and took it from the shelf and opened it. It was 300 pages of blank paper.

Anonymous said...

When Wes said For the moment, forget whether a book is good or not I knew he had WoW (Words of Wisdom)because clearly, that is the first step taken by most publishers!!

Agents, editors, and publishers form a distribution system that sells and places books on retail shelves,

Several Mega-Book chains allow publishers to place only that house's titles on an entire table up front, usually a "theme" table.

With corruption and scandal rife within every level of society from baseball players to yarn weavers, It's hard to know who to trust. I recently heard a news story about a small publishing house called "12" because they only publish tweleve books a year. And yes, they valiantly hope to make a profit on at least one per year. What knoweth EE of such?

Wes said...

We probably heard the same story on NPR. The firm (http://www.twelvebooks.com/about/about.asp?page=mission) sounds like the publishing house we'd all like to run. However, my guess is that making the grade and writing one of the twelve books published per year is far more difficult than selling a MS to a large publisher. As a boutique firm, it takes the time to polish the prose, develop the author, market aggressively, and build its brand. All of this takes money- capital put at risk, and I suspect its standards are higher. I might never be published, but I've come to realize there are no silver bullets or magic wands. The key is a good story well told. Recall the stale old jokes: How do I get to Carniegie Hall? Practice. From Indiana Jones, "Professor, how can I get an A?" "Study" followed by a slap on the butt.

Robin S. said...

One of my favorite reads came from 12/Twelve or whatver its known as -

Christopher Hitchens' book - god is not great - a powerful and amazing read.

Jamie Hall said...

Self-publishing is a dead end for most writers and most situations.

I got frequent fan mail praising my book, yet after three years of hard work I'd only sold a thousand copies and I didn't break even.

And I did much better than most do. My experience was a dismal failure, yet most do far worse than me.

If you're determined to go with self-publishing, be very, very careful and prepared, and even then, it is like playing the lottery and expecting to win.

Now I'm looking for a real agent, so I can get a real publisher. I never want to try self-publishing again.