From the Archives: “Traditional Publishing: Hard Facts”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: October 17th, 2008 ]

We are in ongoing exploration of the advantages leading self-publishing options offered for publishing authors. Collectively, what are the advantages of self-publishing in general over the long established alternative? Here are some hard facts on Traditional publishing.

7 – Traditional publishers lose money on over 85% of the books they publish, so they only accept 2% of those that are submitted.

6 – They typically accept manuscripts only from established authors who have demonstrated a proven track record.

5 – Authors lose all control of their content during the editing process.

4 – Authors must still invest an enormous amount of time, energy, and money promoting a traditionally-published book.

3- Authors typically receive 5-10% royalty on the wholesale price of the book, and from that have to give 15-25% to their agent. Do the math.

2 – The majority of books published by old-fashioned publishers go out of print within 3 years. Many books that are stocked on book shelves remain stocked for as little as five weeks before being returned, unsold, to the publisher.

1- Old-fashioned publishers acquire all rights to your book and keep them, even when the book goes out of print or the publisher goes out of business!

– by Karl Schroeder

On Advances & Other Things

First off, it’s worth noting that the numbers are all over the board here, and that while the industry’s most reliable source of yearly hard data–the annual Author Earnings Report–isn’t out for this year yet (which makes sense, since we’re only a few months in) it isn’t set up to gauge that kind of question to begin with. Publishers understandably have a vested interest in fogging up the data around advances, especially how many people actually earn them back, because the facts of the matter are such that:

  • It’s a much smaller number than Karl reported back in 2008, probably closer to the 2 to 5% range;
  • Advances protect some authors from facing their own losses, but they also cheat some well-performing authors out of representative royalties in a classic case of “settling for a misleadingly presented benefit”;
  • A high percentage of unmet advances equals a lot of waste, and in an industry which is barely scraping by as-is, this would be a major blow to certain publishers’ reputations as champions of the everyman;
  • A high percentage of unmet advances also equals a slippage in the market, and publishers have to maintain intense competition with each other in order to attract that small number of well-performing authors who do make back their advances, and in so doing make a profit for the publisher as well. Lose a couple of big-name authors because their reputation is slipping, and the rest might flee as well … and the publishing house go under.

So it’s not data that publishers really want to broadcast.

All of this to say, publishers do indeed prefer established authors who have proven track records as blockbuster bestsellers, and newer or more typically performing (“midlist”) authors are left to struggle along with substandard marketing and promotional help, because the publisher doesn’t believe investing more will pay off. These midlist authors must carry the burden of self-promotion themselves, even if they supposedly have the might and muscle of a major publishing house behind them. Only the guaranteed successes are guaranteed significant assistance, and there are very few guaranteed successes, aren’t there?

Control will always be an issue. Perhaps you might consider giving up control, if you knew that you were putting your book into good hands of great skill and leaving your book with a team who really had its best interests at heart. But publishing houses aren’t like that; they have to think about the bottom line at all times, because the industry is so competitive and they’re so often at risk of losing everything. So they make the call on your book cover, maybe even your book title, and on all sorts of marketing and promotional decisions which you may or may not agree with in the first place–because they have to keep the machine moving, and the assembly line in motion.

You might have guessed the preferable option, seeing as how we’re a blog about self-publishing. But we don’t just have a vested interest; we want to lay out all the options, with all the facts, so that you can choose the one best suited to you. And if you know your book is a guaranteed blockbuster success, then traditional publishing may well be a good route for you! But if you’re publishing a book with narrower appeal, maybe more specialized material, or with the goal of reaching a certain fandom–well, self-publishing is an effective and efficient way of doing that, while ensuring you retain full creative control.

That, we can get behind. (And we do … a lot. Sorry about that!)

hard facts child

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


Kelly

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 3)

Week before last, I began to examine the ongoing conversation centering on diversity in self-publishing that has sprung up over the last couple of years, and only risen in importance and visibility since then.  Last week, I addressed two questions:

  1. What’s the track record of diversity in publishing? (and)
  2. What about within self-publishing, specifically?

This week, I want to address two more questions.  The first, as you’ll see, follows on immediately from number two, above:

Are there differences between the track records of traditional publishing and self-publishing in regards to diversity, and why or why not?

As MediaShift’s correspondent Miral Sattar notes in her excellent article for PBS, diversity has always had a little bit more of a foothold in the world of self-publishing than it has elsewhere.  In large part, this can be traced back to the blue-collar, anti-establishmentarian streak that gave rise to the self-publishing industry in the first place.  Wanting to place profits in the hand of an individual author as opposed to a company or a collective?  When it comes to books, that’s a radical idea.  Wanting control over the entire authorial, publishing, and marketing process?  That, too, falls outside the established framework provided by traditional publishing.  All of this independent thinking and hungering after self-realization has led to an environment that fosters rebels and self-starters and free-thinkers and otherwise marginalized peoples.  That includes, of course, people of diverse origins, pursuits, and identities.

In her article, Sattar mentions a whole host of self-published authors, including CJ Lyons, Orna Ross, Lara Nance, HM Ward, Kailin Gow, Margarita Matos, Abdul Qayum Safi, Lozetta Hayden, Manuela Pentagelo, Tejas Desai, and Aleysha Proctor.  And these are just a very few of a very great many self-published authors currently putting their books out there.  There are others: Mary Sisney, Liz Castro, Nadeem Aslam, Johnny Townsend, Qasim Rashid, and so, so many more.  The fact is, if you want to publish something that the mainstream publishing industry isn’t prepared to market, and which isn’t angling to be a blockbuster seller, then the generous spirit of the self-publishing world is always waiting.  We live in a day and age, thankfully, when the self-published book is no longer synonymous with “I’m selling this out of the trunk of my car” (although that may still be the case), and with a whole host of resources out there, from internet forums to hybrid publishing firms, the self-publishing author can count on sending a high-quality–if radically counter-cultural–product out there into the world.

Why does diverse representation in literature and the industry matter?  Why should we authors and readers and (self-)publishers care?

This fourth question is, in some ways, a much harder one to answer.  As with many things in life, it might seem easy to fall back on a rote answer (you either do or you don’t), or to fall into the trap of trying to heavy-handedly preach readers into one perspective or another (because I said so!).  The fact of the matter is, caring about something as radically life-changing as diversity and representation is more than just a private act, but it’s also something you can’t just tell people to do.

When someone leans in over the dinner table and asks me why they should care about diversity–as has happened fairly often this last year–I fall back on a whole retinue of explanations: the statistics about social stratification and advancement or regression, the ethical and moral ground upon which we build healthy and just societies, and the anecdotes of people I know who have found themselves on the wrong side of the line when it comes to representation.  And of all of these arguments, the most effective one is, appropriately enough, one that requires a little imagination.

Imagine you are a child, any child who doesn’t look like a descendant of a hundred Caucasian family trees, who maybe doesn’t tip the scale quite to quite the same number as any of a thousand Disney Channel stars, who maybe comes from a faith background or an ethnic background that isn’t mainstream Christianity or undecided, who maybe has physical or emotional disabilities, who maybe identifies as something other than cisgendered or “straight” or is questioning their identity, who maybe comes from a dysfunctional family or society.  Imagine you have any one of these attributes, or a whole heady cocktail of them, and ask yourself this question: Have you seen yourself in a popular book lately?  How about on TV or in a movie–as the main character?  Have you seen yourself anywhere but in the bathroom mirror and have you seen yourself compassionately rendered there?

I remember the first time I found myself in a book, the first time I encountered a character who looked and felt and acted and believed like me.  It was absolutely, entirely, 100% life-changing.

Why should we care about diversity in publishing and self-publishing?  Because we want our children to grow up knowing that they don’t have to live in the shadows.  That they are lovable and loved.  That they don’t need to bleach their skin or get rid of their accent or faith or private struggles in order to be a whole human being.

Explaining to a child who has never seen a familiar face or life story told on television or in books or in music why they’ve never seen that story is absolutely heartbreaking, not to mention difficult.  One hopes that we don’t have to end that conversation with “…and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for a while.”  One hopes we can end that conversation with: “But see?  We’ve made progress, and here is a whole host of stories to get you started.”  Others have put together powerful arguments why diversity in publishing (of any kind) is important, too, so I think there’s a lot of hope we’ll see change within our lifetimes.

These thoughts barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   As I continue pondering how to go about touching on the other questions I posed two weeks ago, please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we explore still more of this complicated tangle!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 2)

Last week, I launched a series of questions addressing the nature and role of diversity in publishing, specifically within the self-publishing industry.  Before I return to those questions, a quick proviso: there’s been a lot of mud-slinging on both (or all?) sides of this debate, which can be both wild and wonderful (and occasionally, deeply problematic for all of us involved in getting words out of our heads and dispersed into the world).  But we’re not here to sling mud at anyone.  We’re here to ask questions and, hopefully, to listen.

Some of the mud-slinging can be interesting to read, or in some cases, listen to: just last month, NPR and Intelligence Squared U.S. hosted a debate over Amazon’s incredibly complex role in the whole mess of traditional versus self-publishing paradigms.  As I sat listening to the podcast this last week, I found myself both shocked and perfectly unsurprised at the ferocity of the debate––shocked, because we’re not used to our literary spokespeople literally shouting each other down on the debate floor, and unsurprised because, well, we’re talking about books and reading and literacy and therefore something both deeply, intensely personal, and also universal.  The debates over diversity in publishing are proving equally impassioned, and rightfully so.  Which brings me to last week’s first question:

What’s the track record of diversity in publishing?

It’s not a good one, particularly if we’re talking about publishing in the Western tradition, what with it being so interwoven the various other Institutions (with a capital “I”) that shape and influence society.  Which is not to say I advocate treating publishing artificially as if it has been cut away from every other element of life––not at all.  I do advocate paying close attention to how the social, political, and cultural institutions interact.  Hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks have evolved beyond mere declarations of personal unhappiness to creating safe spaces for ongoing discussion about these complexities, and the data being mined is revealing.

Take the University of Wisconsin’s article on “Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States,” which shows that of the 2,500 children’s (trade) books published in the United States in 1985, only 18 were written by African Americans.  When you consider the demographics of the United States, wherein African Americans represent 13.1% of the population, that number should have been a lot higher.  Closer to 325 books.  Progress has been made, along all sorts of vectors, but of the 5,000 trade children’s books published in 2014, the CCBC reports that only 84 were written by African Americans and 180 were written about African Americans.  The percentages of other minority groups––ethnic, religious, gender, and others––show similar levels of underrepresentation.  Right now, a debate is raging over the representation of mental and physical well-being, and the current ways in which the publishing institution reinforces ableism and neuro-normativity.  Young Adult (or “YA”) literature has proven to be a particularly rich medium for addressing these growing concerns.

What about within self-publishing, specifically?

I’m so glad you asked!  Self-publishing (and all of its hybrid forms) has proven to be another haven for the marginalized author and all sorts of minorities––both in terms of authors and readers.  Because one point of the publishing triangle has been erased––or at least drastically altered––there has always been more room for the nonconformist, the outcast, and the malcontent within the welcoming arms of the self-publishing industry than there has been elsewhere.  Without fear of expulsion, ostracization, or censorship, the self-published author can write what needs to be written, and publish what needs to be heard!  The welcoming legacy of self-publishing is one I’ve examined before––in fact, many of the Late Great authors I’ve written about over the last few weeks either found themselves unwelcome within, or otherwise distanced from, traditional publishing.

I don’t have any numbers for you about diversity in self-publishing.  It’s practically impossible to collate the data, given the diverse forms and outlets and types of self-publication out there.  Many self-published works aren’t catalogued the way traditionally published books are, and so the data set just isn’t there.  But as Daniel José Older writes so beautifully in his BuzzFeed article (“Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”), “it’s not just a question of characters of color, [and] it’s not a numbers game. It’s about voice, about narrative flow. […]  We see diverse futures, laden with the tangled past of oppression and we re-envision models of empowerment and survival. But only a few of us make it through. There is a filter and the filter is white culture.”  Suffice it to say, it seems as though the self-publishing industry has provided a platform for diverse voices to be heard, and diverse readers to be reached.  There are ways to change the institution from the inside, but in the meantime, authors can count on finding at least a modicum of representation within the self-publishing industry.

These thoughts barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   As I ponder how to go about touching on the other questions posed in last week’s blog post, please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we explore still more of this complicated tangle!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

What do you need to know about diversity in self-publishing?

The matter of diversity in the book industry, particularly in the arena of traditional publishing, has been discussed by many fine people in many fine articles.  (You’ll find a few of them here, here, and here.)  But what about self-publishing?   I’m not going to lie: even with a somewhat narrower gaze, there’s still a lot to take in––and a lot of opinions to consider, agendas to juggle, and complications to navigate.  But this is February––and therefore, this is officially Black History Month.  It is a month where we pay our respects to the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement (or movements), and pay close(r) attention to the justices and injustices enacted within the United States.*  It is right and good that we turn that same lens on the self-publishing industry that we know and love.

But how do we even begin this conversation?  First, we have to start asking the right questions.  Mine are by no means going to be the only ones worth hearing, or worth answering.  Which is why right now––right now––I’d like to open the floor (or rather, the comments box) to you, our dear readers.  Pose a question, or two, or three, connected to this issue of diversity in self-publishing, and I will pull together a few voices that (hopefully) speak to them.

Here are a few questions to get us started:

  1. Broad brush strokes: What’s the track record of diversity in publishing?
  2. What about within self-publishing, specifically?
  3. Are there differences, and why or why not?
  4. Why does diverse representation in literature and the industry matter?  Why should we authors and readers and (self-)publishers care?
  5. What could healthy diversity actually look like?
  6. Who benefits from diverse representation, and who benefits from a lack thereof?
  7. Can we make it happen?
  8. Should we make it happen?
  9. How can we better foster a self-publishing community that welcomes diverse authors and readers?

And because we normally dedicate our Wednesday posts on this blog to strategies for self-promotion, I think it’s fair to ask:

  • In what ways can diversity be both a selling point and a barrier to new readers discovering our work?  And how can we take advantage of the former while overcoming the latter?

Maybe we can answer all of these questions quickly and easily, but my gut instinct is that easy isn’t a word we can throw around when it comes to fair representation of any kind.  But this, too, is fitting: Black History Month started as a single week (the second week of February) and has happily spread to take up more of our year, and also, more of our hearts and minds.  Maybe one day we will be able to say with perfect sincerity and disingenuity that every week, and every month, and every year is packed with conversations in which diverse voices are heard.

*  It is worth noting that the USA is not the only nation to celebrate Black History Month––it is officially recognized in both the United Kingdom (UK) and in Canada, and is celebrated unofficially in many other nations and communities.

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing Week in Review: 11/24/14

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry. This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Tuesday to find out the hottest news.

Blazing the Self-Publishing Path

In this Publisher’s Weekly article, indie pioneer M.C.A. Hogarth shares her self-publishing journey and looks to the future of self-publishing. This is a fascinating read for all writers.

The Indie Author’s Guide to Customer Reviews

This article reveals how indie authors can turn that discouraging “no customer reviews yet” message into a smattering of star ratings and commentary. This is a must read for self-publishing authors.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: INFOGRAPHIC

This visual aid is an excellent resource for writers wondering whether self-publishing is right for them. It walks you through questions about your personal goals and beliefs to decide which type of publisher is best for you. While I still recommend doing more research when choosing a publisher, this is a great tool to help you learn about which choice might be a good match for you.

If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 9/27/13

Whether you are a novice writer, experienced writer, self-publishing writer, or dreaming of seeing your name on the cover of your book—and haven’t ever submitted a manuscript, anywhere—there is one central piece of advice I was given that I share with you today: NEVER QUIT!

Years ago, when I jumped in to an unexpected teaching position—with both feet and knees knocking—my daughter gave me a poster for my classroom.  In big, bold, bright-colored lettering it read: NEVER NEVER NEVER Quit!  The miracle of learning comes when you least expect it.  The truth of that statement played out many times, and since then, I have translated it into my personal pep-talks when I’m struggling with a writing project.

Ever read any of the stats about famous writers?  Mystery writer Agatha Christie had no formal education yet taught herself to read and eventually wrote at least 66 novels plus numerous short stories, and even movies.  John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times.  Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune was rejected 20 times.  Even Stephen King received more rejection letters than he cares to remember.  And, it has even been documented that Rudyard Kipling received a rejection letter stating: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.  J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter sagas, was turned away by 12 publishers only to be “discovered” by a very small publishing press. 

So, how do writers defeat the nay-sayers and the doubting thoughts that creep in?  We create our own, personalized, Pep Rally points:

  • Listen to your supporters!  Family, friends and other writers from your writing group who know your work and appreciate the story you’ve created can offer you the emotional support you’ll need before you publish and after you publish.Do you read the comics?  Remember when Charlie Brown was trying to kick a football and kept missing?  His good friend, Lucy, held the ball for him so that his perspective changed—just a bit—which helped him succeed.
  • Go to your first outlines and take note of the excellence in your writing! Yes, it really is okay to acknowledge that what you’ve created is well done!
  • Review the research.  If your project is based on a true story, maybe (just maybe) something slipped between the drafts. Then you can enjoy the satisfaction of enhancing the material—on your own—so that you can present the best manuscript.
  •  Re-think your publishing concepts.  If the general, mainstream publishers just don’t “get” what you’re writing, then look to the self-publishing presses. Children’s author, Beatrix Potter was not able to find a conventional publisher who would accept The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  She did not give up.  She self-published!

Someone once told me that “an apparent failure is only an opportunity to begin again; pray, reset, restart, refocus and succeed.”  I haven’t counted the numerous times this has happened in my writing life; however, I can tell you that I’ve never been happier with this gift of writing that keeps my fingers typing.  May you feel this satisfying enjoyment, too.

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 9/20/13

One more thought about partnering with a ghostwriterTwo are better than one.  When you’ve started working with a writing-partner you’ll discover that one person’s idea spawns connecting thoughts in the other person; this collaboration produces a better book.  Much like film-making where writer and director join forces, the author and ghostwriter bring their own unique histories to play in the making of your book.  Thus I have three more criteria for finding that perfect partnership:

1)    Vision:  When you (the author) have formulated your core statement about your book—what it is, what it brings to the reader—does the person you’re interviewing share that vision?  Both you and your teammate should see that picture; have that same goal.

2)    Adaptability:  Some authors think they want a “helper” who will enhance their book by following the manuscript “exactly” as the author has written it.  That is every author’s decision to make; however, they should not waste their money hiring a true ghostwriter.  Employ the Editor who will correct grammar, punctuation, sentence structure; without creative input.

  1. However, the author who wants to explore enhancing their manuscript will be as adaptable and flexible as the ghostwriter they hire.  Their manuscript may, indeed, end up being very close to the original—or—very different with improved plot, character, setting (research required) elements that bring out the author’s inspired ideas.  This is especially true for authors in the Inspirational genre: fiction and non-fiction.

3)    Passion:  Both author and ghostwriter must share a passion for the subject matter of the manuscript.  Every book on every bookshelf was written to “tell something important.”  If the level of commitment is weak, so will be the finished product.

These three criteria also hold true after you’ve written the words: THE END.  Then the search begins for the right publisher.  Notice I’ve used the word right.  From my personal perspective I see too many authors open that door of “hope-they-will-accept-it,” then send out multiple queries to the “big” houses—and wait.  If you know that your book is ready to meet its readers, then step up and employ the best self-publishing company you can find.

There are several quality self-publishers out there (and some not so great); however, this is where you’ll use the same criteria that I’ve outlined in this and last Friday’s blog.  The self-publishing staff will become your book-making-crew—the cameraman, format editor, printer, marketing director.

  • Talk with them and ask for referrals from their published list.  Search their bookstore for two or three books in your genre, then ask for referral/contact information for those authors.
  • LOOK at the books they’ve printed—either at the bookstore or on the Internet.
  • Compare their publishing packages.  This is a competitive business, so don’t be swayed by the first dollar-difference you see between companies.
  • LISTEN to the Author Representatives.  It won’t take you long to discern whether they have a true passion for their work (helping authors like you)—or not.

Bottom line:  As the author, you are creating an alliance of experts dthat starts with you and ends when you hold your finished book in your hands.  “Two are better than one;” and a team that brings all their talents and skills together to produce your book is best.

Royalene ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.