Oh really? Hmm....Well now, let’s give that some thought. Which publishers are considered reputable? "Those who do not charge for publishing my book” is probably the answer most would give. Especially those who have not kept up with the drastic changes that have taken place in the publishing industry during the past ten years. To mention only a few of the changes, one would most likely start with the fact that thousands of authors/writers have hit the market in a very short period of time compared to the few good authors who held the market solid during from the nineteen thirties through the eighties. Unless one is a well-known name, a politician or an entertainer, their chances of being picked up by a solid, notable, long-standing publishing house are close to none.
Why? Because these publishing houses are swamped with hundreds, if not thousands, of submissions weekly. There is no way they can afford to consider, or even read, all of them. Of the few they do pick, the advances are small.
Now, pay attention to the word—advance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has this to say about that word: “Made, sent, or furnished ahead of time.” So, what has the publisher given you? Nothing. They have loaned you money against royalties, meaning you do not get one more penny for the sale of your books until the amount of that advance has been paid back to the publisher. Pretty much like getting a bank loan, huh?
Okay, let’s say you have managed to sell lots of books and have paid back that advance, mostly through your own efforts because they surely will not promote on any grand scale for an unknown author. On the contrary, most want to know what your marketing plan is. They expect you to sell the books, at your traveling and promotional expense. Now, time has passed, you have sold a great number of books and your debt to the publisher is finally paid. What is your publisher going to pay you now? Or to be more specific, what is your publisher going to “take” from you now?
Several years ago, I watched an interview being held by a very famous, well-known author. Her exact words were, “If I get a buck a book for every hardcopy I sell, I’m one lucky broad.” She was referring to a book that had a retail value of over twenty dollars. What happened to the other nineteen dollars? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the big publishing houses can afford to order so many thousands of books that they get a huge printing discount. I’ll be extremely generous to them and allow them a printing cost of $3.00 a book.
Editing? Of course; however, most publishers have downsized the number of editors in their editing department and want the manuscript to come to them almost “edit free” meaning they only need to hire copy editors or proof readers.
Covers? The majority are done overseas at an unbelievably low cost. A friend of mine, who had four books published by Avon, now owned by Harper Collins I believe, had the most beautiful book covers I’d ever seen. They were produced in Spain at the cost of about one dollar per cover. Sadly, they dropped her after only a few months because her sales did not generate their required quota and she was right back where she started. No publisher.
Okay, given the facts above, let’s allow these publishers a generous $5.00 to produce one book. We are still left with $11.00. Now, being even more generous, I’ll allow them $2.00 for storage and shipping. Still remembering the huge discounts they are allowed for the volume they generate. Now, they are only holding $9.00 of your money. Remembering that we are talking about a well-known author here, let’s assume they spent $3.00 per book for widespread promotion, which is highly unlikely. Now we’re down to $6.00 in their pockets for one copy of only one book.
Come on now, folks. Let’s not be too hard on them. After all, they have huge office buildings to maintain, a staff that has to be paid and let’s not forget their own mansions, their private planes, yachts, country club dues, jewels for their wives and/or girlfriends and elaborate dinner parties for the purpose of impressing others in their given industry. That is expensive. So, let’s “give” them another $3.00 per copy for that. Remember now, we’re still talking about one copy of one book.
Bless their hearts, they’re left with only $3.00 now. So, for good measure, I’m going to “give” them another dollar just in case they need to redecorate their office, or take that expensive vacation they’re surely entitled to. Now they’re left with a measly $2.00. No, I haven't forgotten that they must pay distribution costs as well; however, those big guys get a much better deal than the small publishers, so I do believe I've left them enough money in their expense kitty to pay that.
Final result. For every million books this famous author sells, she gets one million dollars and the publisher “has taken” two million dollars. I’m having a hard time here understanding how we are not paying to have our books published and how we are not being cheated because we didn’t pay them anything up front to get our books published. Oh yes, we are paying, only on the installment plan. We pay every time one of our books is sold, just as we make a mortgage payment on our home from our first pay day of every month.
In defense of the big publishing houses, would I take the deal the famous author has … A buck a book? Oh yes, I would and in a New York second! Only problem is, there are too many of us. The competition is too fierce. Our chances of selling millions of books and being promoted by a large New York publishing house are almost nonexistent. Am I spoiling a dream that we, as authors, all have? Of course, I am, but I am also facing reality.
So, here we are. Next, we’ll try the small publishing houses that no one has ever heard of. Yahoo! We’re still with a traditional, so-called reputable publishing house because we didn’t have to pay any money to get our books published. What do we have now? Perhaps a discount on books we order for our own use to sell at book fairs, conventions and other events.
That’s nice, but that publisher is also “taking” a percentage for every book we order. No problem. They have expenses as well. Royalties? Of course, we get them. Some even pay as much as 25% on the retail value of the book. Not too bad a deal, but they certainly aren’t doing it for the love of your book. They are doing it to make money and the only way they can is to “take” some of yours — every time one of your books is sold. However, there is a big danger here. Proof of it is the many small, traditional publishing houses that have gone bankrupt and folded in the past few years. They can’t compete with the “big boys” and the authors aren’t promoting enough to generate sufficient book sales to keep these small publishing houses in business. Again, we have many authors right back where they started from. Looking for another publisher.
Okay, how ‘bout going the self-publishing route? That requires many thousands of dollars in print runs and yes, you do have to pay for that. Self-publishing? Oh, that used to be such a dirty word in the publishing industry, even though some of the most famous authors of all time self published their first books. Sounds easy enough if you have the funds available. However, now you have to find an editor, a cover designer, an interior text formatter, a printer, a distributor, and on and on. That, my friends, is expensive and time-consuming, not leaving out the part of having to learn a lot about the publishing business or you will find yourself with your garage full of boxes of books with no idea what to do with them. No problem, hire a publicist to promote you and your book. As valuable and necessary as they are, they are expensive. Great deal if you can afford it.
Next comes the “Poor Ol’ Deadbeats” more commonly referred to as Print On Demand (POD) authors. Ouch! Another dirty word for those who haven’t kept up, and refuse to accept that the industry has already changed. Please tell me, what in the world is a POD author? Does that mean they put the author on a disk and make more of us as the market demands? I surely hope not. And, what is a POD publisher? Can they clone that publisher by putting him, or her, on a disk? Quite frankly, I am so tired of hearing the terms POD authors and POD publishers. Read my lips, authors. There is no such thing!
There is a method of printing called Print on Demand. I believe most authors are familiar with this concept by now. For those who aren’t, it is the simple procedure of putting a book on a disk and printing them as the orders come in. This concept requires no storing of books, no cutting of trees, no dead inventory and allows a quicker timeframe for the production of a book. Does the author have to pay to have their book published? Yes, they do; however, they only pay one time. From that point on, if they find an honest publisher, or producer of books, who will only print books of quality and not anything that comes their way, the author no longer has to “give” the publisher the majority of their money every time one of their books is sold.
Is Print on Demand an “ugly word” like the word self-published used to be? Unfortunately, to some, yes, it still is. Will the old-timers ever understand that authors always pay to have their books published, whether it is on the installment plan, every time a copy of their book is sold, or a flat fee up front? I doubt it. One thing is for sure, and it is very obvious in every book store. The counters are filled with books that have
been printed via the Print on Demand concept by the large, well-known publishing houses. Don’t believe me? Go and see for yourself. All you have to do is look at the books with laminated covers that have been placed on racks and shelves. If you see that the cover is slightly curled outward – that, my friends, is a book that was printed when the orders came in. Print on Demand. Check the publishing house of that book. You will surely see some very familiar names in the industry.
So, the question remains. To pay, or not to pay? The answer is clear. We always pay, regardless of the method of publishing we choose. We either pay up front, or we pay for the lifetime of the book, but we always pay.
Glenda Ivey, Copyright 2004-2009