Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Two Paths to Book Publication

By Lazette Gifford
2005,
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 publisher?

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:

 

Good

Bad

Big Print Publisher

v     Prestige

v     Good advance

v     Excellent distribution

v     Career potential at it's best

v     Few openings

v     Many require that you have an agent first (which can also be a good thing)

v     Often less open to unusual books

v     Two weeks to one month to make good sales

Ebook Publisher

v     More willing to take on unusual books for niche markets

v     Far higher percentage of book's cover price goes to the author

v     Closer relationship with editor and sometimes have say even in cover art.

v     Long term chance to attract readers since books are not 'pulled from shelf'

v     Can often still sell print rights later.

v     Little or no advance

v     Reader prejudice against ebooks

v     Fewer sales means overall less income for author unless book makes a really big splash

v     Self-marketing 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.