Monday, February 25, 2019

How to Write and Publish--10--What is Book Publishing/Making the Decision

Should you self-publish a book?

We talked about Grandma’s life story. That definitely works best as a self-published book.

But what about your book of poetry, your novel, your parenting how-to, or your family’s cookbook?

First, let’s talk about “regular” or “royalty” publishers. These are companies like HarperCollins, Penguin, and Random House in the secular world, Revell, Bethany House, Thomas Nelson in the Christian world, and Carlisle Press, Herald Press, and Rod & Staff Publishers in the Anabaptist world.

This is how it works, vastly simplified:

You offer them your book manuscript.

If they decide to publish it, they buy it from you.

You both sign a contract.

They edit, design, print, advertise, and sell the book. You do not bear any of these costs.

You will get paid through royalties, which is a small percentage of the money that they get. Usually, you’ll get some money before the book sells. This is called an “advance” because it’s an advance on the royalties they hope you eventually earn. You won’t get any more royalties until this advance is paid off in their books. For example, if your advance is $1000 and your royalties are 50 cents per book, you won’t see any more checks until they’ve sold 2000 books.

You sell your work and all the rights to it. You can’t reprint any of it without the publisher’s permission, nor can anyone else. You can’t put it on Kindle or make an audio book.

Usually you can buy copies of your book for about half of the retail price and resell them to other people. You can’t buy copies and then stock them at your local bookstores. 

Advantages of having a publisher:

You don’t have to invest any money.

They do all the hard work to get it in print.

They have a much wider potential readership than you do.

They put the book in catalogs and make it available online. If you’re lucky, they arrange radio interviews and book signings.

Bookstores will consider your book if it’s from a reputable publisher.

Disadvantages of a publisher:

You’re selling your projects and all the rights to it.

You have no control over anything.

It can take years to find a publisher who will accept your work.

Increasingly, big publishers focus their energies on the big-name books and authors, and the less famous authors don’t get much attention. This is less true for the smaller publishers.

Also, increasingly, publishers insist on authors doing a lot of their own publicity. They look for new authors who already have a platform—speaking, article writing, or an online presence—and expect them to vigorously promote their own book. They also expect you to produce at least three books for them and aren’t interested in one-hit wonders. An exception is conservative Mennonite publishers.
It can be a tough decision. Generally, the experts in the field recommend that fiction should go to a publisher. But recently a woman in my fiction writing group, who is nearing the end of a very marketable (I think) novel, expressed her misgivings at signing away all the rights and ownership to her own work.

I don’t blame her.

And yet. The work and expense of producing and selling a novel are potentially enormous.

Other works such as children’s picture books, how-tos, poetry, devotionals, textbooks, and cookbooks are a tough call. If you have something polished and ready, but you’re not used to the process, I would recommend offering it to publishers first.

If they accept, you’ll learn a lot without any financial outlay.

If not, that might be your sign to pursue publishing it yourself.

As explained in the post about my self-publishing story, the swamp is full of people who would love to help you with the publishing process. Some of these call themselves publishers but they’re actually not really, as they never buy the rights to your book. They only help you get it in print.

Some of these are reputable, such as the long-standing church-cookbook producers.

Others are not. We note that WinePress went down in flames after they printed my first book. [Coincidence, I hope.] I just now did a quick search for a church-cookbook publisher and found one that explained the process and said, “Now that you know how simple it is, click here to get started!” That should be a warning right there, I would think, judging by Aunt Vina, who gave me her church cookbook and said emphatically that that is the first and last book she will ever be in charge of publishing.

With publishers, publishing helpers, and everyone else in the field, do your research before you commit. Ask around, read reviews, talk to authors, editors, and printers. A publisher with integrity will encourage you to talk to their authors about the experience.

To repeat what Sally Stuart told me, you’re a good candidate for self-publishing if:
a) You write non-fiction
b) You already have an audience
c) You don’t mind storing a thousand books in your garage
I would add:
d) You have money on hand to invest in the process.

Sometimes, it’s a tough call, and some books are unusual and ambiguous, like my friend Donna's piano-music books for children.

Pray about it, ask around, don’t take huge financial risks, and go with what seems wisest.

*     *     *
One Person's Story: Dorcas Stutzman and her new book, Dear Daughter

   I did self publishing.  It just makes sense for me because we have a pretty broad platform of reach and also because I really love to have my fingers in the process.  I have my own editor and proofreaders who know me well and who I trust tremendously not to take away from the meaning of what I am trying to communicate. That is a direct answer to prayer and I am so grateful.

     I have used Schlabach Printers for each of the books I have written largely because I liked what I saw them produce for others and I personally like the colors and styles of what they create so it seemed to be a perfect fit for me.  It has been an incredibly happy and creative relationship between them and myself.  I literally have no complaints.  They have successfully designed  each of my book covers to match what I saw in my mind.  They have given life to interior artwork ideas I had and brought creative  polish to them.  They have worked up pull quotes for me.  They have been helpful on every level and I would highly recommend them to anyone. 

     I know self publishing is not for everyone.  It can be a lot of money to put up front for five thousand or so books at a time and the storage space needed even if you have a market for them.  It can also feel a bit lonely at times and can produce massive amounts of self doubt! 

     In the end though, when you hold the finished product and you run your hand over the embossed cover (that you agonized over adding) you can’t help but smile with a genuine heart level happiness.  

     I may never write a best seller or be known for my writings, but yet I have been beyond privileged to have had the opportunity to share from my heart in written word. I don’t take that for granted.

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