#11 - Publishing … weighing up the options.


As a first time writer of a book in the general genre of 'fiction', what options do you think might be available to you when it comes to having your work published? If you are lucky enough to be a published author and not simply a 'writer' any more, what options did you have when looking to get your work published?

Well there are a million words out there purporting to guide you through to victory, most of them written by some sort of self publishing house having perhaps a little more interest in your bank balance than your commercial and literary success. In general, getting your book published requires you to walk a torturous route and the first parting of the way requires you to make a decision. The left hand route is via a Literary Agent and the right hand route is via a Publisher. So, what's the difference?

The Literary Agent

This is a service provider who makes a living by selling your book rights and then taking commission from your earnings. The process is straight forward and well documented. A hard working agent will take the stress out of earning money from your writing efforts, leaving you to become a highly productive asset in his/her ever growing 'list' of authors.

Over the years, this literary animal has become so powerful, that nearly all quality Publishers steer clear of accepting any manuscript submissions unless made by an Agent. This 'cosy' relationship simply goes to prove there is an unashamed wealth of manuscripts floating around out there with a real and possibly unacceptable 'dirth' of interested Publishers desks for them to land upon. On the other hand, it may simply confirm to you that the literary 'old boy network' is alive and kicking.

If you already have an 'in' with an agent (hopefully a good one) and he accepts your work, then you are several hundred steps ahead of the competition. If you don't, then you will need to find one, find out what the submission criteria may be, send your work off, and then ... wait! A good agent will look after your interests well, a bad agent will not. How can you tell the good from the bad? Well, instinct is useful; the authors in their list producing similar work to yours; the number of successful book launches in a given year and your ability to 'get on' with your allocated editor. These are key elements to look for.

How can you tell what commissions you should pay to an agent? Well in 2018 it was averaging 15%, plus any relevant value added tax requirement in the country of payment. That figure can of course vary significantly depending upon what services your agent is prepared to provide to you but as a base figure it's currently quite accurate.

The Publisher

This is someone who takes risks, is used to taking risks and is therefore hard to convince they should invest several hundred thousand dollars in the launch and promotion of your untried and untested masterpiece. The publisher is someone who will need to spend time editing your book and getting it ready for publication. He will also have to invest in the printing of the first editions of your book and provide the marketing backup to make his investment a success. And in turn, he will be obliged to pay you some money for all of your hard mental and physical efforts over a period of months or even years.

The publisher will often only accept submissions from an agent because they both know what kind of work the publisher is interested in and what will make them both ... Money! So, what kind of money is actually involved and how much would you expect to get for a publishing deal? ... Read on!

If a publisher decides they are interested in your work, they will want to sign a standard book contract with you. Without any reputation as a writer this would probably call for you to receive 10% royalties from the net sales of your book. Don't forget that 15% of your 10% goes to your agent, if you have one, for negotiating the deal.

The price of your book is normally set at about six times the cost of production. This means that if the first edition of your book is in hardback, the retail value will possibly come to about $30.00, for the purposes of this example, and that means for every book you sell, your share is $3.00 less 15% for your agent or roughly $2.55 gross to you, less any relevant taxes. An economic print run could be as high as 15,000 copies or as low as 850 copies, depending whether the production is hardback or paperback and a list of other possible technicalities.

If your agent has done a good job, you may be able to receive a 50% advance. We will use the number of 15,000 copies as an example for calculating income, but most first hardback print runs would be substantially lower. The publisher's calculated retail income from these sales would be around $450,000 and your share will be 10%, or $45,000 less your agent's commission of $13,500 leaving you with a very useful $31,500. If you are one of the lucky few who have received an advance, you will obviously not start to accumulate commission from your publisher until possibly 50% of the book stock has been sold. If your book does not sell its first 50% print run, you may be asked to return some of the advance made to you by the publisher - so BEWARE! ... do not spend all of your advance as soon as it hits your bank account.

If your books do not sell they will end up on the bargain tables you can find at most major book stores. You will then be able to buy your book for a substantially reduced price of say $6.00 or $7.00, and you will probably not make one penny out of this type of sale. If your publisher negotiates with one of the large wholesale clubs to sell your book for half price, then you will bear the cost. Of course, you will be likely to sell more copies in those clubs, so it can be advantageous and a really good agent will work on book club deals on your behalf.

Publishers generally invest very little in marketing for new authors with no following and naturally save their big advertising budgets for proven and popular authors. You may not want to hear this, but you will not get rich on your first novel. The 90% of value left in your book sale goes to the printer and the publisher, as they are the ones speculating on you and that is simply how the system works. Publishers have to pay editorial staff, lawyers, and many other 'bodies' who will be there actually working for your book and without question, they do actually earn their money.

The Middle Road

Of course, you do not have to take the left or right hand route as the middle one will eventually take you to the E-Book and self-publishing option and you will learn a lot more about this process shortly. One word of warning! Beware of going a particular publishing route, commonly known as 'vanity' publishing. This will cost you money and you will often see no financial return for your investment in such a process. If you decide to self-publish, you should be able to do it yourself for ... FREE! You can find out more about the pitfalls and traps of the vanity publishing business in the authors book 'DIY Publishing' available on AMAZON.

The E-Book Market.

There is much discussion surrounding the size of the E-Book market and the rate at which it is growing. For you, possibly choosing the E-Book writer route, there are two simple but major factors affecting the growth of E-Book sales. The first one is naturally the number and variety of electronic books floating around out there on the ether and the second, perhaps more important factor, is the sales growth of devices available in the market place able to read the various popular electronic book file types, such as .epub, .mobi, .ibook, .html and .pdf etc.

The two biggest ranking sales outlets for E-Books worldwide, as of the date of writing, are still Amazon Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble Nook eBooks. Amazon have stated that they are able to sell 105 E-books for every 100 printed books, including printed books for which there is no electronic edition. The comparison, they say, excludes free e-books, which would tip the scales further if they were included.

Writing an E-Book is now the 'way to go' from the aspect of the writer and even the publisher, with new players entering the market daily. Alongside new publishers and new titles comes more competition for your literary offering. So, after you have slaved and sweated over your new, or perhaps latest E-Book; you have read it, re-read it, edited it and edited it even more; found a friend who has knocked you up a reasonable book cover and finally walked casually through the free publishing process, you will at some stage have to promote it ... .and there begins another tale!

Note: All values described in this piece are taken at the time of research (2021) and before the massive disturbance to the financial markets and the arrival of extraordinarily high inflation.