Two Paths to Book
By Lazette Gifford
I almost feel as though I should start this
article with the (far too) often quoted words, It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times. Right now those words could apply to both
ends of the professional book publishing spectrum, from the big houses in
New York to the small ebook publishers on the Internet.
Anyone who has investigated publishing
knows that changes have occurred in the last few years. New York print
houses have been consolidating, and nearly all of them have closed their
doors to unsolicited manuscripts. Agents have become their slush pile
readers, and now are inundated with material, which makes it far harder to
get their attention. And once a person does make the big sale to a
publishing house, the balance of her career rests in the hands of
distribution, big book chains, and a computer system. Midlist writers have
practically disappeared, and either you are a big name or a new name --
which might be you, starting all over with a new pen name and few chances at
alerting the fans of your previous books.
Of course, it never has been an easy
business. However, even with all the frustrations of going to one of the
big publishing houses, they are still, without a doubt, the best path for
any writer considering a career. The New York publishing houses (and a few
outside that area, of course) have the money. This is where you make a good
advance, and where your book has the potential of selling in the big stores
across the nation. This is the path you want to reach. No matter
how frustrating the business of publishing can be, getting your book chosen
for one of those rare open spots in a big company's monthly release list
means money, prestige and even vindication for those who need to prove that
they can make it.
So why would anyone go to what seems to be
the complete other end of the spectrum, and choose a small press or ebook
The main reason is that there are very few
spots open in the big publishers, and once your wonderful, well-written book
is turned down by a publisher, you cannot send it back again next month
hoping for another try.
The big publishers, rightly so, are very
aware of markets and what they believe is going to sell the most books.
They study trends, look at upcoming movies, and try their best to guess
which of the thousands of books that cross their desks are going to draw the
most readers. A strange book that the marketing department doesn't think
will quite complement the rest of the company's books is not going to be
picked up. It may be a perfectly fine story; it just doesn't fit into the
right pocket for them.
Sometimes it's as little a thing as having
a book that is too close to what someone else has recently published. Or
sometimes you may have just missed a 'trend' that is on the way out by the
time your book is finished, edited, and through the slush pile.
Small press or ebook publication gives that
novel a chance to be read. It is not as prestigious as being published by
the big name print companies, and it's not easy to make money -- though the
potential is still there. (Please see this issue's article on small press
to read about those opportunities.)
There are, of course, several problems with
ebook publications. The worst to overcome is that many people balk at
reading books on a computer or handheld device. That attitude is changing
somewhat as people realize that reading a book in bed in the dark with a
little handheld PDA is a wonderful experience if you don't want to keep your
significant other awake with a bright light and turning pages. It's also
the choice of many business travelers who find that they can carry more
books than they can read with them in the handy little PDA. Ebooks are
convenient, and more people are opting for that convenience when they find
that it suits their needs.
However, for writers, it is a tricky
business when it comes to making a name, let alone making any money. There
are very few ebook publishers who can afford to give advances, and they are
usually in the hundreds of dollars rather than the thousands. Without the
ability to sell in those big name chain stores, ebooks fall far short of the
sales totals that print runs have, as well.
However, there are good sides to ebook
printing. The first is that you have a far longer time to make sales than
you do in print, so you can have a slow build up as you draw readers in.
As I mentioned earlier, there are only a
limited number of slots in the print book world of the big companies, and
even with an agent's help it's hard to land one of them. Rather than
trunking a book that has not found quite the right place, many writers turn
to small press and ebook. There are many small press publishers who do
excellent work, but they also have the problem of limited slots to fill, and
often far fewer overall than the big houses.
Ebook publishers aren't as worried about a
book fitting exactly into some category, and they will often take chances on
an unusual book that a print company would not find viable. Ebooks do have
less cost to produce -- though they are not, as some people assume, without
any cost. Never go to a publisher who does not employ copyeditors and cover
artists. Ones that have a marketing department can be very helpful as well,
though those are rare.
And that brings us to a big ebook problem
-- getting the material out there for people to see and buy. There are a
few on-line venues that help, like Fictionwise.com. There are also many
review sites that can help you get your book into the eyes of public.
Unfortunately, the author has to make most of the marketing choices and
finance anything that requires funds. With no advance, this can be a
serious problem, and limit the author to on-line resources.
However, selling ebook rights does not
always mean selling print rights. (Check your contracts.) Some ebooks that
have done extremely well have turned up in print later. It is not common,
but it has happened, especially in the romance field.
A few comparisons:
Big Print Publisher
Career potential at
Many require that you
have an agent first (which can also be a good thing)
Often less open to
Two weeks to one month
to make good sales
More willing to take on
unusual books for niche markets
Far higher percentage
of book's cover price goes to the author
with editor and sometimes have say even in cover art.
Long term chance to
attract readers since books are not 'pulled from shelf'
Can often still sell
print rights later.
Little or no advance
Fewer sales means
overall less income for author unless book makes a really big splash
problems, especially without a print book to show others.
Authors should always try for the top
first. Making the sale to a big name print company is the best way to a
career and by far the most rewarding path. However, not everyone is going
to take the same path to the top, and some will scale a harder mountain.
Many will never make it all the way, no matter what path they choose.
Always remember that just because one path
is blocked, that doesn't mean you can't find another way. The people who
fail are almost always the ones who give up too soon.