Last week I was approached by two different writers, each with their own publishing dilemma. I hope they found my comments useful, but what the queries demonstrated was that when it comes to publishing your book you need to be clear what your dream is. Only then can you decide what is right for you.
The first writer had made the decision to self-publish her novel, having spent many years writing it and then even more time trying to interest a traditional publisher. She’d come to accept that to get what she wanted – a print book she could encourage retailers to take – that self-publishing, or independent publishing, was the way forward for her. It would cost her money, but it was what she wanted.
And then, out of the blue, an American publisher got in touch to say that they liked her novel and would like to publish it in eBook format, and possibly also in print format, albeit as print-on-demand.
Now she found herself in a dilemma: self-publish the book in print format and work to get it into the shops she wanted, or have a publisher pay to have the book published in eBook format, and made available as print-on-demand (in other words, sold via online retailers only).
The second writer had been trying to get her highly-illustrated children’s book published, and finally received interest from a publisher listed in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
However, after reading the contract it became clear that the publisher was seeking a financial contribution from her, because of the highly-illustrated element of her idea.
With such an explosion in self-publishing, more and more writers are willing to pay to get their books to market. And that’s not necessarily wrong, as long as you know what you’re getting for your money. After all, if you’re paying then you should be calling all of the shots. For many writers, that’s the beauty of independent publishing: being in complete control.
However, as I looked through the contract this second writer had been given, it became clear they weren’t getting what they were expecting for their money. And although she was prepared to make a financial contribution to this book, what the publisher was offering for that money didn’t give her what she wanted.
Meanwhile, the first writer was still mulling over her decision, but leaning towards her initial plan of going down the independent route.
I’ve commented on this blog, and in my Business of Writing articles in Writing Magazine, that whenever you get a contract, whatever it is for, you must make sure you understand it. That’s not just because it’s vital you clearly understand the implications of any rights you’re licensing to the publisher, but it’s also important that you fully appreciate what the publisher will and won’t do, and whether that’s what you want. Does it take you closer to your dream?
For some people, their dream is to see their novel sitting on a shelf in their local independent bookshop, or on a table in Waterstones. For others, they want to see their books in libraries, or in the hands of thousands of readers via their Kindle, Kobo or Nook reading devices.
Whatever your dream is, be clear about it. Only then can you decide whether the route to publication on offer to you will help you achieve that dream and whether it’s a price worth paying. Even authors who are traditionally published are making some sort of financial sacrifice – they may not be paying any money upfront (indeed, they may be getting an advance from the publisher), but they lose control of some vital decisions over their book’s progress (such as jacket cover, and how it will be marketed). They may also have to grant the publisher more rights than they’d like, for a longer period than they’d like, as well as negotiate that all-important royalty rate. (The author who accepts a 10% royalty rate is, therefore, granting the publisher a 90% royalty rate. A traditional publisher is, though, looking to recoup their upfront investment and costs that the author hasn’t had to stump up.)
Yes, the publishing world is changing. In the old days you were either traditionally published, or you succumbed to the charms of a vanity publisher. But these days it’s a lot more complicated than that.
And what is right for one author isn’t necessarily right for another. Indeed, I am both traditionally published and self-published. I make a decision on a per-project basis now. But I base that decision upon what I want from that particular project.
So the better understanding you have of your dream, the better placed you are to assess any publishing opportunities that come your way.