PART 5 – LEARNINGS ABOUT WRITING AND PUBLISHING A BOOK SERIES – Publishing
I’ve been dreading writing this one, and it is likely going to take a few days to write, but I think there is a lot that can be learned here. I hope that I do it justice.
Any questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear more from you all. I’ve been energized by a great 4/4 review from OnlineBookClub this week!
Big Five – Traditional publishers
As I’ve repeated frequently, I really knew very little about the book business when I started. My picture of publishing was pretty skewed and very limited. I pictured a number of large publishers (the big five) and a number of small or independent presses. Beyond that, I really knew nothing.
Once I got to the point that I felt On Swift Wings was going to be something worth sharing with the world, I immediately shifted from just writing to myself to assuming that I would send an email to the big publishers, they would love it and publish it, then it would sell a billion copies, be a best seller, and be everywhere. Sometimes I temper my expectations, or pretend to, but inside, I’m always thinking of the best case scenario.
Anyway, I started researching publishers around the halfway mark, and quickly became discouraged by what I was learning. Basically, classic publishers aren’t going to talk to you unless you get an agent. Only a small number of agents are even accepting clients, and it really depends on your genre and style. Even then, an author might send out a hundred query letters to agents before one picks them up, if at all.
The next thing I learned about the big publishers is the creative control that a first-time author (particularly) cedes to them. First time authors are a dime-a-million it seems, so one can hardly walk into a big publisher and claim leverage. In the end, this discouraged me from even trying to go that route. For those of you who have read my book, there is a lot of political, economic, and social commentary in the book, and that was very important to me. Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to “vex the world.”
While I had been looking up traditional publishers, I had stumbled across a type of publisher that I didn’t previously know about. If you Google “Book Publishers” they show up right at the top of your list. This is a sort of all-inclusive publishing. The benefits of these are that they provide all the services needed to push a book to market. They have editors, cover designers, formatting, as well as all sorts of advice about marketing and other aspects. This could have been an option, but somewhere along the line I read a bunch of stuff about how these are ‘vanity’ or ’boutique’ publishers, and once you sign up with them, the book becomes part of their property and you really can’t get much from it. You have to pay them to print it and distribute it yourself, not to mention taking all the financial risk. It sounded like a part of the business with which I wasn’t interested in getting mixed up.
I’m not sure that this is a fair analysis. I didn’t follow through with them, but I was getting a bad feeling. I did talk to one, and the man with whom I spoke was professional, helpful, but definitely sales-y.
Print on demand – POD
While I read more webpages than you can shake a stick at, I started seeing more and more about on demand. Amazon has an on-demand printing service called KDP, which absolutely dominates the market (like 90%) and you can have paperbacks or kindle versions available on Amazon very easily. That certainly sounded great, but I also really wanted to be able to get my books in bookstores, and bookstores see Amazon as a competitor. The alternative PoD (print on demand) service that I found is the biggest global distributor, IngramSpark. Incidentally, while I was researching, it became clear that it wasn’t necessarily an either-or proposition. As long as you own your own ISBN – which is free in Canada, expensive in the US – you can do both. I didn’t really catch the drawbacks to this, but more on that later.
As with all, there are pros and cons about PoD. First, the pros: You retain complete control. You can publish any d*mn thing that you want. It can be total crap or an absolute masterpiece. You can set the prices, you can determine the trim, the cover, the formatting, everything is in your hands. Also, you don’t have to pay costs up-front. Somebody orders your book and you get the difference between the cost they pay and printing+publisher royalty. You can publish eBook, paperback, hardcover, whatever you like. Definitely has some attractive.
The cons: You have to learn how to do everything. You need to commission the editor, book cover, formatting, marketing (AH!), descriptions, advertising… everything. It is an enormous learning curve. Hopefully some of this blog can help you. I don’t pretend to know everything, but this is my experience. There is a much bigger world here than I ever imagined, just in book publishing.
I wanted to be able to get my book on actual bookstore and library shelves. To do this, it has to be available to retailers at a discount (55% – not kidding.) IngramSpark is the avenue for this. Amazon and KDP are considered competition, and don’t offer the necessary discount for brick-and-mortar bookstores, so they aren’t going to order from them. IngramSpark prints around the world, on demand, and ships wherever. It costs a little up-front to get the book into IngramSpark though – $50 for eBook, paperback and hardcover. Actually, Amazon uses IngramSpark when the dollars or demand necessitates it. You have probably received IngramSpark books without even realizing it.
Kindle Direct Publishing is the second option. Actually, in a lot of ways it is the first option. Amazon is the dominant market force in bookselling. Something like 80% of books are sold through Amazon, so obviously you want your book listed on Amazon. KDP offers the most attractive author royalties, costs nothing up-front, and has enormous lists of tools available to authors. Advertising, Kindle Select, Dashboards and a huge user community make KDP very attractive.
Here comes the trick. To get hardcover and bookstore available, you need IngramSpark, to get on Kindles, you need KDP. You can do both, but it comes at a cost, one that I didn’t think significant at first. Amazon has a moat called Kindle Select. If you make your digital version exclusive to KDP you can enroll in the Kindle Select Program which lets readers read it for free if they pay their monthly Kindle Unlimited subscription fee. You get a commensurate proportion of the total to the amount of pages that people read your book as compared to the total pages read everywhere. My book was not eligible because I “went wide” with Ingram. This has probably had a very negative impact on my total sales unfortunately, but I didn’t know any better and regaining exclusivity has proven difficult. Once the book is out there, it is difficult to make it unavailable.
Take this as on summary. I’m sure that there are people happy with all of the above options. It really depends on your aims and abilities. I’ve learned so much, and I’m really glad that I’ve been able to learn all about this stuff. I’ve joked (in all seriousness) that part of my brand of crazy is a desire to know everything. Obviously it is impossible, but the more data available to me the better.
Any thoughts or questions? Let me know in the comments or get in touch with me. If you want to see the results of my research and learning, check out the book!