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:
- 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’.
- 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:
- 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
- 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.