Category Archives: Tips from an Industry Insider

What type of publisher would suit you? 2

Last week, we looked at the traditional publishing houses and the advantages and disadvantages they offer authors. Before we move on to digital only publishing, I want to make a last comment about publishers that offer self-publishing services and hybrid publishers.

Some of the big traditional publishers offer self-publishing services. Penguin Book used to do so although I think they have shut this service down or sold it. Simon & Schuster still has a self-publishing arm called Archway Publishing. Be very careful about using these services. Authors sometimes think that by using a publishing house’s self-publishing arm, they will gain access to the actual publisher. This is not true, and you will pay a premium for using their services.

Similarly, be very careful of hybrid publishers who want to go into ‘partnership’ with you in the ‘brave, brand, new world’ that is publishing today, charging you for production costs and sharing profits with you. If a publisher is charging you for editing services, layout, cover design or ebook conversion, they are not a proper publisher, large or small. If they don’t have a sales distribution service in place, they are not a proper publisher.

The problem with such organisations is that most of them are not discerning when it comes to manuscript selection. If you are prepared to pay for it, they are prepared to publish it. The result is usually a great deal of expense and not that many sales. If criticism scares you, rather self-publish and keep all the profits for yourself. The RWA and other organisations offer excellent courses on how to go about self-publishing. While there may be some good hybrid publishers out there, most of them are perilously close to the definition of a ‘vanity press’ where you are paying for the pleasure of seeing your name on a book without being worried about whether it will sell or not.

There are a couple of red alert signals to watch out for:

  1. They are more concerned about print books than ebooks. There is upfront money to be made in print runs. It goes out of your pocket and into the ‘publisher’s’.
  2. When you ask about sales, they say something like they will keep the books in the warehouse for you and you can direct booksellers to them. That’s a not-so-subtle way of saying you’re the sales person. Bricks and mortar booksellers don’t work like that. Booksellers have accounts with publishers and large distributors and expect reps to call on them. They want thirty-day terms and ‘sale or return’ privileges. This means that if the book doesn’t sell in ninety days, they can return it to the publisher for a full refund. You will end up with a warehouse full of very expensive gifts that are hard to store or post – books are heavy and take up a lot of space.

This brings us to another good option, especially for first time authors – digital first or digital only publishers. These publishers are geared up to focus on ebook sales. Sometimes they do small print runs to complement the ebook publication. Sometimes they don’t. Examples in Australia include Escape (a division of Harlequin, HarperCollins). International examples include Tule, Entangled, Sourcebooks, Carina Press, The Wild Rose Press and many others.

The disadvantage to the author of a big publisher – that you can be a small cog in a huge wheel – is the advantage you have when signing with a smaller press. You are likely to have a more personal relationship with the team and be on first name terms with everyone from the publisher down. Small publishers tend to operate along the same lines as bigger publishing houses, but they outsource more work and have fewer permanent staff. For example, they probably employ a core group of freelancers they use to design covers, edit manuscripts, and do layout and typesetting as well as outsource their sales to independent distribution companies. They will still not charge you for editorial services, cover design, or any other aspect of production. This is the core advantage to going with a publisher over self-publishing. They cover editing and production costs. The core advantage of self-publishing is that you maintain control over the product.

Back to digital first/digital-only publishers:

Pros

  • Keen to work with first-time authors
  • More personal relationships
  • Most based overseas (America is the biggest market for all books)
  • More experimental; will consider diverse and cross-genre publishing
  • Quicker timeline to publication
  • Larger percentage royalty/book paid
  • Pay royalties more frequently than traditional publishers (four plus times per year as opposed to twice a year)
  • Digital sales and presence are the keys to success for a romance author

Cons

  • Only one operating in Australia; most based overseas
  • Smaller staff; use freelancers
  • May not print paperback of book
  • Paperbacks may be more expensive due to small print runs
  • No advance
  • Offer basic marketing and sales services; may offer additional opt-in paid opportunities

This columns was originally published on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

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What type of publisher would suit you 1

While every author dreams of a six-figure contract and of going from obscurity to fame and fortune like JK Rowling and Nora Roberts, the reality is that hard work is required to find ‘instant’ fame. Part of that hard work is learning about the industry and identifying what type of publisher would suit your personality, style and genre.

Publishers aren’t always easy to identify, especially for new writers. Within the industry, publishing houses are well known and distinguished by the same characteristics that are used to separate other large organisations – success, ethics, innovation. However, publishers are focused on marketing their product brands – their authors and books – so they don’t put significant money into advertising their logos and companies. This has changed with the growth of social media; publishers now have Facebook pages and tweet under their company names. However, they still don’t have the brand profile of organisations like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.

Not all publishers are created equal. There are the traditional publishers including the so-called ‘Big Five’, hybrid-model and digital first publishers and self-publishers, also known as indie-authors or indie-publishers. There are positives and negatives to each publishing type.

Traditional publishing houses focus primarily on print books although they all now publish ebooks as well. Some have long and distinguished histories. Many have merged over the years. Ebooks are usually published as an addition to a hardback or paperback, not as the only format. The Big Five are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins (now including the famous Harlequin Mills & Boon romance house), Hachette Livre, Simon and Schuster and MacMillan. All of the Big Five have romance lines. There are numerous smaller traditional publishers including Text and Allen & Unwin. They are more niche and not all of them publish romance.

Pros

  • You will not have to contribute any funds to production or marketing.
  • You will probably get an advance on your royalties (an upfront payment).
  • Excellent editorial support.
  • Superior book production.
  • Confirmed marketing support, including bigger and better marketing and promotion campaigns including a tour if your book is a focus title.
  • Additional support if you are a local author.
  • Publication in paperback and ebook, possibly audiobook. You will be able to hold your book in your hands and see it on a shelf.
  • Large sales and distribution networks.
  • Foreign rights specialists who may be able to sell your book into other markets.

 Cons

  • You may need an agent to approach a traditional publisher, especially in America and England.
  • The Big Five publish hundreds of titles per month. Your book will have internal as well as external competition.
  • The ‘machine’ will roll on a month after your publication to other books.
  • You have limited to no control over final title and cover, sales strategy and marketing spend.
  • Traditional publishers focus less on digital sales, the primary market in romance.
  • Their ebooks are more expensive which can price your book out of the market.
  • They concentrate funds and energy on big names and money earners; if your book is a ‘midlist’ title you’ll get minimal marketing support.

Next week, we’ll look at the smaller publishing houses, digital only publishers and indie publishing.

This column was originally published on the Romance Writers of Australia website.

 

Getting a foot in the door: agent or publisher?

In my most recent Tips from an Industry Insider blog post for RWAustralia, I review options for getting started in the industry. Once you have a book, should you chase an agent or a publisher … or self publish?

Traditionally, an author needed an agent to get a publisher. This has changed with the rise of digital-only or digital-first publishers and imprints. An imprint is a division of publishing house, for example, Escape is Harlequin Australia’s digital-only imprint whereas titles published under their Mira imprint appear in both paperback and ebook. Many publishers now accept submissions direct from authors.

 

It takes just as much time, research and preparation to approach either an agent or a publisher:

  • Start with shelf research in a bookshop or on your ebook reader.
  • Look on the imprint page to find out who the publisher is.
  • Visit their website and read their submission guidelines.
  • Read the acknowledgements page. Many authors thank their editors, publishers and agents in the acknowledgements.
  • Follow the submission process. Make every submission individual. You can approach more than one publisher or agent at a time, but don’t email them together. Nothing says ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, and I have not researched your needs’ like a group email. They all have different requirements, for example, some want the first three chapters; others only want to see the first five pages.
  • Some publishers have author-only newsletters. Sign up for these.
  • Keep a database of publisher information.

Agents

The trick when approaching an agent is to understand their business model. They only make money if you make money, charging you a percentage of the advance and royalties you earn. Royalties are the money you make when your book sells, usually a percentage of the retail price as agreed with the publisher. An advance against royalties is money you are given on signature of contract or finalisation of manuscript. Agents naturally favour publishers who pay an advance.

VERY IMPORTANT: If an agent wants money from you, they are not an agent in the true sense of the word. They may offer literary services along with agenting. That’s fine, so long as they are clear about the differences.

If you want to try the agent route, do it before approaching a publisher. Publishers have excellent memories. If your agent approaches them with a book you’ve already pitched and they’ve rejected, they’ll remember. This will embarrass your agent – not good for your relationship.

Publishers

It can take as long to get an agent as a publisher, and only once you have signed exclusivity will they start the process of approaching publishers on your behalf. Starting to see the appeal behind approaching a publisher direct?

Digital-only only imprints usually don’t pay advances. However, they often give authors a larger percentage royalty and pay faster than traditional imprints, who can make an author wait anywhere from three to nine months for payment. The fact that there is no upfront money means agents leave the easiest break-in point for a new author, digital-only, until last on their shopping list. Again, this can be good or bad. However, for an author, the advantages of getting that first book published can outweigh financial incentives. These include establishing an audience and a track record.

Additional strategies for finding a publisher include:

  • Enter writing competitions judged by editors or publishers. Even if you don’t win, you may make a valuable contact.
  • Attend conferences and take part in speed-dating pitch sessions where you get to meet editors.
  • Network. Go to the cocktail parties.
  • Expand your horizons – look locally and internationally.
  • Read books they publish. Will your book fit their profile? Do they appeal to you?

VERY IMPORTANT: A publisher who charges to publish is not a publisher. They may be a legitimate co-operative or they may be a fraud, but they are not a publisher. If you are asked for money to publish, hear the alarm bells and take a step back. Ask questions of them and your community. One of the clearest signals of fraud is that they are not interested in ebooks, only paperback, as they make their money printing for you. Another is very vague marketing and sales plans.

Stay tuned for more industry tips

Coming up in forthcoming posts: pros and cons of large vs small publishers vs self-publishing; publishers interested in romance; learning from a rejection; why you need a brand, and more.

 

Originally posted by Romance Writers of Australia, http://romanceaustralia.com/tips-from-an-industry-insider-getting-your-foot-in-the-door-agent-or-publisher/, on 14 March.

Getting the most from your publishing team

This week I started blogging monthly for RWA. My column is called Tips from an Industry Insider and you can read the full blog post here. I’ll be adding more reflections and insights every month on the 13th.

Amongst other things, I point out that as an author you most likely focus on one book at a time. No one in publishing works on one book at a time. Everyone is multi-tasking, from publishers and editors to cover designers, product and sales personnel, marketers and publicists. The production line never stops (as any indie authors reading this column know only too well). Even if the company only publishers one book a month, the relentless churn of the production schedule means that while they are editing book A, they are designing the cover for book B, typesetting book C and preparing book D for print. When sales reps sell in month 1, they are researching month 2 and reading ahead for month 3. While a publicist is on the road with you, she is contacting journalists to firm up interviews for Author F and preparing long lead pitches for Author G. … What does this mean for you? Understand the deadlines and timelines your team is working to, from editor to publicist. Stick to them. Be available. Plan. Communicate clearly.