Marchbooks' Blog

August 28, 2009

The Old Publishing Model – Is It Fair To Authors? by Janus Kane

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:58 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I just read a wonderful article on the need to change the royalty structure for authors as it exists in today’s publishing industry. I won’t bother to regurgitate it. You can read it yourself. Publishers Must Change The Way Authors Get Paid

When you weigh the benefits of publication (for the majority of published authors out there) against the cost; in blood, sweat, tears and yes, money, one has to wonder why the allure is so strong. As a new author on the scene, I can tell you that it is not an easy road. The search for a publisher is a grueling one. First you tool and polish your manuscript to its finest. You craft a compelling query letter. You grab the latest version of The Writers Market and carefully select a number of compatible publishers.

Your first mailing goes out. WHAT? No positive responses. Undaunted, you retool your query letter and send it out to another batch of likely suspects. INCREDIBLE! Still no one has seen the promise of your book project. So you blow the dust off of your wallet (after all you have been busy writing for the past two years, not chasing the almighty dollar) and pony up a sizeable chunk of cash to attend a conference or two, where you are sure that you will be able to make the connections you need to get your books onto the bookshelves. Sadly, one brief weekend connection does not get you into the inner circle.

Although you have found some editors who like your project, (we’re getting closer) those editors were not able to convince their board of decision-makers about the marketability of your book. EGADS! How could this be happening? So, you write and you continue to pursue publication until one day, the miracle letter comes. You have been chosen out of the masses. It is a Herculean feat, but you’ve done it and it is all down hill from now on.

HA! In reality, you now have to watch your baby as it is wrenched out of your hands, mauled and manhandled until it is barely recognizable. For what? In many cases an unknown author will receive a token advance it they receive one at all. Okay, so you can’t pay of your mortgage just yet, but at least you can get back to what you were meant to do – writing, as you sit back and wait for your 5% royalty to roll in. 

Of course, you could do that – if you don’t mind seeing your firstborn die a slow and ugly death in the book return bin. So, you try to get some love from your publisher. Sorry, no go. They’ve got a long list and a small budget. There is no money to market your book. If you want it done, you will have to do it yourself.

You square your shoulders and dive in. Six months later, you are buried under a mountain of bills; website, web design services, review copies, mailing expenses, a shelf of how-to books on how to market your book, travelling expenses, advertising materials, more mailing expenses and perhaps your own publicist…The list goes on. It all comes out of your pocket – out of that generous 5% royalty that you so eagerly agreed to when desperation was biting at your heels. But, what is infinity worse is that these marketing efforts have completely sucked the life out of you, preventing you from being able to write another creative word.

Does it sound grim? It should. Unfortunately, it is reality for all too many hopeful authors. The road to publication is not short or easy. It is fraught with perils. Significant time and money could reap very little benefit. But, there are options; POD, ebook publication, blogging, online writing communities…There are many new ways to have your voice heard these days.

Authors should consider all of the options carefully, then they should consider them again. Be very clear about what you want out of publication. Do you want fame, fortune, notoriety? Do you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field or will you be happy just to have your book printed and distributed to family and friends? Or do you just want to tell your stories in a way that others can share and enjoy them?

If you decide that you will be satisfied with nothing less than the brass ring, by all means, go for it. But, go for it with your eyes open and love what you are doing because if you love what you are doing, you will never have to work a day in your life.

Write on.

The Little Insanity


  1. Wow, I read both… one would think authors could find a way to have marketing in the contract.
    I know the way I’m going I have to market my book but I got to choose 10% or 20% with a few of the other PODs the percent choice is higher, this can change the price of the book. I am spending a lot but I expect that. I also know that there is no royalty check this way, so my dreams of a fat check are not going to be crushed. I have a lot of choice and full say in my edit. Everytime I read something like this I can see why more and more people are picking PODs. I looked into traditional publishing a great deal so far I have little regret. I just wish I would have set mine up sooner so I could have had summer to advertize it… with two kids, summer would be easier then school months. This would not have mattered which type of publisher I went with. It’s just my only regret.
    I feel for authors. No matter which route one takes saving up $20,000 to $100,000 would be the ideal way to start. Unfortunately ideal is not always possible. I wish luck to all of those out there, both the starting authors and the vets.
    Good luck,

    Comment by sarahwinters — August 29, 2009 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

    • As always Sarah, thanks for your comments. I think the real problem is that the publishing industry, as it exists right now, has undergone very little change in the last few centuries. Sure, the technology has and is changing dramatically, but the industry itself is not responding to those changes. It is entrenched in tradition, a tradition which was suitable for Benjamin Franklin’s day when one was not concerned about reaching a global population.

      The whole model of submissions, purchasing of rights, selective marketing efforts, small royalties and returns, returns, returns, only really works for authors who already have an established name to promote. Everyone else gets left in the dust. Is it any wonder that there is such a small ‘success rate’ among the list of new releases. This alone should be telling the big publishing houses that they need to take a look at the way things are currently being done. How many businesses do you think would be happy if only 5% of their inventory was making money?

      There are many good books out there and many readers eager to get their hands on them. But, if no one is going to put the effort into publishing and promoting them properly – why even bother?

      I would not stress too much about the timing of your book. I think that is yet another aspect of publishing that should come under scrutiny. The beauty of POD is that your book can live a long and happy life, growing in reach as the years pass. Unlike the traditional publishing effort that is targeted at a quick attack and retreat that only lasts for a few months before a book is remaindered to make way for the next title.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 29, 2009 @ 3:06 pm | Reply

  2. I really hadn’t realized that there has been no big change in that long of a time. This makes a person wonder what will make them realize that authors are getting sick of it. It hasn’t changed in sooooo long I’m sure in there opinion it should still work. Like you have said before, “(don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, as they say). But, it is broken.” I see very many flaws in this whole system. The biggest being I CANNOT imagine making a product and not marketing it as these publishers are doing. If a car makes a new line it’s advertized on all the TV channels. They could very easily have a website for each author that carries a book with them. They could run small ads in proper magazines for a few books that are new in the same genre. One ad that is that is a 1/4 size page, with 10 books or more, would be in everyone interest. It would help all the authors in the ad, let the costumer know these books are there, show a similarity of a few authors, all while helping their own sales. That is a win, win, win. Plus, with that helping sales to raise it will add just a little more cash in their marketing pocket. With the publishers pulling in the majority of the pay cut, one would think their best interest would be to market every book at least some. A free marketing e-book to the authors would be the least they could give them.
    If PODs make it, the same as Indie Music did a few years back, publishing companies are going to need a very large overhaul to survive.

    Comment by sarahwinters — August 29, 2009 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

    • One reader just made an interesting comment on twitter. I wish she had made it here. She said that she did not have the money to help pay for marketing but would be more than willing to contribute with sweat-equity.

      But, hasn’t the author already done that by writing the book? If you are essentially signing over the rights and control of your book to a publisher, shouldn’t you at least be able to expect that they are going to put forth their best effort in producing and marketing your book? After all, once you have signed over those rights, they are very difficult to get back, even after the publisher has lost interest and moved on to another project.

      Current royalties are quite modest. So what is the publisher actually giving the author to compensate them for the year or more they invested in writing the book? I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a great mathametician, but these numbers to not seem to be very equitable.

      Comment by marchbooks — August 29, 2009 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  3. […] catching up to do. It seems as though they have been napping for the past hundred years or so. The current publishing model. The result is a very wasteful industry that offers less and less for their non A-list authors. […]

    Pingback by Revolutionizing the Publishing Model « Marchbooks's Blog — September 1, 2009 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

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