E. M. LaBonte has Part IV of her section of the interview on her blog The Realms of a Fantastical Mind.
You can read the start of this interview here at Part I
I am thrilled to be here today to talk about navigating the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of publishing. Many, many wonderful people helped me on my road to publication—sharing information, resources, and their experience—and I jumped at the chance to do the same when Emily and Dean offered me the opportunity.
With so many indie presses, conflicting information, and scam artists out there, Dean and Emily asked me to stop by and talk about what I learned while I was searching for a publisher and why I made the decision to work with a small press with a questionable (internet) reputation.
Why would someone work with a small press instead of just self-publishing? You'd earn a higher royalty rate and have full editorial control.
Again, when comparing different publishing opportunities, one has to look at each opportunity individually (and by that I don’t mean “indie press” as a single option, but ABC press versus XYZ press, regardless of each publisher’s size) and then contrast the pros and cons. When considering different publishing options, there are several factors to look at, which I’ve detailed below. When thinking about self-publishing, consider yourself the publishing house and ask yourself about your capacity in these different areas.
Royalty Rate: this is the amount you make on each book sold. There is plenty of good information on the internet about the various industry standards, which vary by publisher size and by book format (e-book royalty rates tend to be higher than print royalty rates) and authors should familiarize themselves with all of this information. But keep this in mind—the amount of money you actually make from your book(s) depends on a lot of factors—sale price and number of copies sold being the biggest two. A self-publisher may make 75% of the sale price on each copy sold, but only have the marketing and distribution support to sell 100 copies, versus making 15% on each book but having the supports to sell 10,000 copies with a large publisher.
Advance: there’s a lot of misunderstanding about advances—they are basically a salary advance or loan that you don’t have to pay back (though sometimes you do have to pay it back). That is, this is an amount of money paid against future royalty earnings, and you don’t get paid any more money (royalties) until your book has “earned out” the advance. So here’s the thing about advances: they aren’t additional money you make on your book; it’s simply like taking the lump sum lottery payout versus opting for the monthly or yearly distribution. An advance is good for the author in that it ensures that you get paid something for your work. That is, if your book never sells a single copy, then you still got something for it (except in those cases where publishers have demanded the advance back, which have happened). But, if your book has the ability to be a good seller, then you’ll still make the same amount of money through royalties, even if you don’t get an advance. The ability to earn out an advance is usually the critical deciding factor in whether or not a publisher will publish future works by an author and can be a great source of stress.
Distribution: Libraries mostly only order books that are available through two distributor’s catalogs: Baker & Taylor and Ingram. Bookstores mostly only order books that are a) returnable to the distributor and b) are recommended to them by the publisher’s sales rep, which means a self-published book has almost no chance to end up in either place unless the author a) pays for the extended distribution offered through CreateSpace and other such publishers and/or b) contacts bookstores directly and ask them to carry the book on a consignment basis (which means the author buys the books, gives them to the bookstore, and then the bookstore and author split any sales money). Many small presses use Print on Demand services to print books, which means their books are not returnable—which means limited to no bookstore placement. Notice I said “many,” not all. Some small presses do take returns, even if they use Print on Demand. Eternal Press, for instance, does accept returns. Library placement depends on both placement in the Baker & Taylor or Ingram catalog and reviews. Libraries tend to stock books that are “hot titles”—they’re popular and frequently requested/widely read.
Now, having said that, here’s another secret of the publishing industry: for most small press and self-published authors, sales of print books are a very small percent of their overall sales. Small presses and self-published authors are rockin’ the e-book market and traditional publishers have been slow to follow. So the lack of print book distribution is not necessarily the death knell for a book. If you know how to connect with e-book readers and market your book online, then you stand a very good chance of having robust e-book sales to rival or outstrip many print books’ sales.
Cover Art: Look at the publisher’s cover art—do you like the look and feel of it? If you are considering self-publishing, do you have the capacity to produce an eye-catching cover or the funds to hire someone to do it? The truth is, covers sell books and whichever publishing option you choose, you want to be sure you get a great cover.
Editing: Does the publishing house (and, if self-publishing, this means YOU) produce a good quality, error-free product? Do their books look and feel professional and attractive/eye-catching? Even books produced by large publishers can contain errors—in this day and age of trying to reduce costs, editors at big houses are working on multiple books and are being forced to complete the editing process in less and less time. In terms of book quality and craftsmanship, this is an area where many small presses excel—they take the time to produce craftsman quality books, because these are people who genuinely love books. Use the “look inside” feature on Amazon to read a sample excerpt of different publishers’ books to get a feel for quality.
Fit: Publishing houses tend to focus on particular genres—Tor is known for its Science Fiction and Fantasy. Harlequin is known for Romance. Sometimes an editor falls in love with a book that isn’t quite the company’s usual type of material and accepts it for publication anyway. But this can be a problem—romance readers are, by and large, very different from epic fantasy readers, which means the publisher won’t be able to tap into their existing market to sell your book if they stray from their core audience. A small publisher with strong roots in the Sci Fi community is going to have better luck marketing your space opera than Harlequin, despite the fact that Harlequin is much larger.
As you can see, there are so many things to consider—a small press may not pay an advance but will give you more than the six weeks that is standard to make your book a success. One small press may produce so-so covers but may provide the opportunity to sell your books at twelve genre-specific conventions per year (a GREAT marketing/distribution opportunity). A small press may not accept bookstore returns like a large publisher, but using PoD printing ensures your book will never go out of print. A large publisher might insist on having the right of first refusal on future works and a small press may be interested in securing the rights for just this one book. There are pros and cons to ever deal and this is why each one should be evaluated on its own merits, rather than looked at as part of some stereotypical standard.
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats. Her first novel, HEREAFTER—a contemporary fantasy about a woman’s search for redemption in the afterlife—will be released by Eternal Press later this year. Visit her on the web at www.terribruce.net.
Connect with Terri:
Goodreads Profile: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8244272-terri-bruce
Facebook Profile: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100003716022408
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