One of the biggest decisions you’ll make after writing your book is which publisher you’ll choose. This, like so many other choices, may seem daunting. The web is full of good publishing houses—and twice as many out to up sell you on as many extras as they can.
Doing your homework before hand and knowing what questions to ask will go a long way in helping you make the final decision and finding the right fit for your goals and budget before you sign on the dotted line.
Know Your Goals
Before embarking on your publishing journey you have to ask yourself one very important question: What is my publishing goal? Not everyone is publishing a book for fame and fortune. Are you publishing a fiction novel you’d like to see a bestseller? Is your non-fiction a credential you’d like to add to your resume? Do you want the whole world to read what you’ve written or is this a hobby project for family and friends?
Defining your “why” helps you understand what services you’ll need and what you spend. You may not want to sink several thousand dollars into a project that only a handful of your family and friends will see. Alternatively, if you have dreams of seeing your book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and competing alongside the big names, you’ll need all the professional polish you can get.
The prospect of being offered a contract by a publisher makes many authors drool. It’s definitely an ego boost knowing someone thought your book worthy of publication. But beware the dangling carrot. Not all contracts are equal and we’ve seen many authors fall into a binding trap they regret. Two key questions to ask a publisher are; do you own all the rights to your book and can the contract be terminated at any time without penalty?
In some cases the fine print in these contracts will state the publisher owns all the rights to everything. Digital (ebooks), print, movie deals, and more. Time limits vary. If you’re not careful and blinded by bright lights, your rights could be tied up for a number of years. When in doubt, have a lawyer read the contract over for you and make sure you understand every aspect of it.
Pricing and Profit
With some publishing companies, book pricing and royalties are foggier than a rainy morning in London. You must know if you can set your own retail price and if you have control over what kind of wholesale discount you offer to retailers. If the representative can’t tell you where every penny goes or how that final number was reached—walk away from the table. Also be wary of unusually high retail prices. When pricing a book you need to remain competitive with what’s out there in your genre already. Fiction books are usually in the lower ranges, non-fiction can go high. Charging $50 for a 300 page paperback is a red flag. Get thee to a book store and look at the prices of books similar to yours, see what the average is. The final price is the print cost, plus your markup. When readers buy directly from you, that markup is your profit. A book purchased through a distributor is 30 to 50% discounted for wholesale, so whatever is left after that discount goes to you.
Yeah, it’s math, I know, so here’s an example: Your 300 page novel costs $3 to print. You add $10 on top of that for your markup and profit, for a total price on the book that’s $13. For each book sold directly from you, you get $10 on every sale.
When selling to distributors, let’s say you give a 50% wholesale discount. The distributor buys the book for $6.50. Your profit on wholesale purchases is $3.50/book.
A publishing company that makes their money through royalties will take their slice of the pie, reducing your profit further. This is where you’ll sometimes see inflated prices as the publisher tries to get a bigger slice.
Key questions to ask are how much profit do you receive from each sale, how is the profit calculated and how often do you get paid.
Buying Your Own Books
After your book is published you’re going to want copies, whether to give out or sell at shows, festivals and signing events. What you don’t want is a publisher who offers “discount from retail”. With this you’re basically buying your own books at wholesale prices. You should only be paying the print cost.
Take a look at how the publisher treats their authors. Do they offer extensive hand-holding through out the whole process? Are your ideas and suggestions taken into account during the creative aspect of the project? Does the publisher seem knowledgeable about the industry? Will you be required to do all your own marketing or does the publisher offer services with marketing experts?
With some publishers you’ll see them offering extras such as Amazon’s “Look Inside”. This is where readers can preview your book before they buy. It may sound all mystical and difficult, but the truth is, that option comes with Amazon distribution and costs nothing. Also be wary of exorbitant fees for copyright and Library of Congress registration. These two items cost between $30 to $50 if you were to do it yourself, and $250 or more if you decide to have a lawyer do it for you. This information is available on the web for anyone.
The Publisher’s Business Model
Over the last few years several different publishing models have popped up. Regardless of what the model is, a publisher is just like you, they own a business and they want to make money on their product. Don’t be afraid to ask how a publisher makes their money. Traditional publishers and some hybrids make their money through royalties. This is risky business unless a book takes off and sells millions.
At Blue Sun Studio, we make our money with our services. You keep all your rights and sell your book for whatever you like. You keep 100% of any profits, we have no stake in the success and profit of the book—but make no mistake, we want you to have the best book possible and we’re totally dedicated to helping you succeed.
The Creative Process
We see many authors who have a specific vision for their book. Some publishing companies don’t want to hear what you have to say. Others will give you exactly what you ask for even when better choices are a possibility. You want a publisher that both knows what sells and at the same time is willing to work with you to come as close to your vision as possible. Designing a book is a team effort. If you were already an expert on what sells, you wouldn’t need a cover designer and by the same token, if you were a professional editor, you wouldn’t need advice on how to clean up your manuscript.
At the same time, this is your baby, you want to be heard and your opinion and ideas valued. Ask what the publisher’s creative process is like. Are revisions included? If so, how many and for how much? Do illustrations cost more than using stock photography? Do they work from templates or is each cover a one of a kind custom design?
Keep in mind, you shouldn’t have to settle for someone else’s vision. You should be able to work with the designer to reach a reasonable middle ground. Collaboration is a dance of give an take and above all, listening to every member of the team. Egos on both sides are best left at the door.
These are just a few items to take into consideration when searching out a publisher. Hopefully this gives you a place to start and you’ll add more questions to your list. We also hope that you’ll consider Blue Sun Studio for your publication needs, we’d love to hear from you.