The Fragmentation of Book Publishing

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And on to our blog…

Amazon, through the Kindle and the Kindle Digital Platform, exploded the world of book publishing and bewildered writers and authors are trying to make sense of the pieces flying about their heads.

Let’s say that you’re a new author with a good science fiction story. What are your options? What are the pros and cons of the various publishers?

Let’s start big.

For science fiction, the top dog is TOR (St. Martin’s Press) followed by Baen, Daw, Ace (Penguin Group), Del Rey (Random House–Ballentine Books), Pyr, (Prometheus ), Tachyon Publications, and more. A list is given in Wikipedia. For just ebooks: Double Dragon, Sky Warrior to name a few. (I don’t know these as well)

If you want to try the traditional way to publish, you first need to find an effective literary agent. Why? Because only a few of the larger houses will even look at a manuscript unless screened first by an agent. Good luck finding one. Hopefully you have a contact, an “in,” a brother or cousin in the business…thousands of fans who avidly read your novels.

No? Ah, well.

TOR is one of the few houses that still has a “slush pile” of unagented manuscripts and you can go online and peruse their submission guidelines. Then submit and pray.

Why do this?

The pros of going with a big name publisher are compelling. You will have professional editors directing your story, a cover artist who will produce a cover and a marketing arm that will help sell your book. If you have a robust “platform,” you may even get an advance. The money flows from publisher to author…hopefully.

Sound good?

Maybe too good.

Reality check.

Chances are likely this won’t happen, and you will waste years waiting for a response. Big publishers have a “no simultaneous submission” rule and can take up to two to three years to respond to your submission. Very few are taking first time unproven authors. You have to show there are reasons that you will sell big and make them lots of money. You have to have a “platform.”

But who knows? Maybe lightning will strike. And they offer you a contract.

However, large traditional publishers take years to get a book to the shelf. It’s long term. You could be making royalties somewhere else while you wait…which on average if you ever make up your advance and “earn out” could run less than 25% depending on the contract. Plus, you will only be able to take their word on what you sold and most likely receive your royalties months after the sale. They control that information also.

Because they are the publisher of record and hold your rights. You’ll need a contract lawyer to protect those rights, and maybe not the one the publisher offers to help you.

And your story and cover?

They have control over that and get to decide what it’s going to be. Not you.

That’s the traditional way.

Onto this scene has come several publishers who style themselves as “author friendly” but are really out to grab your money. Authorhouse is a culprit here. Beware! Many offer “packages” that for a substantial fee will edit, and publish your book. They may also take a percentage of royalties and claim your rights while doing little to market your book. The author spends large amounts of money with little to show in sales.

Other publishing houses offer editing services and a budget to do your cover, but require a minimum purchase of at least a hundred books at a retail price. The author finds her/himself with a garage full of books with little editing and mediocre covers. The cost has pushed the retail price way up if the author wants to make any money. They may also be required to give up a percentage of their royalties for a contracted period of time.

The plus side is that the author doesn’t need to worry about formatting, downloading or editing. They sometimes can work with the publisher and control the look of the cover and the flow of the story. They may even get to see a sales report. And for the first time author may be a way to “get their feet wet.”

But at a significant cost.

A number of other companies and individuals are jumping in and offering “a la carte services.” For the Indie author who wants help, CreateSpace under Amazon offers various packages for cover design and editing help. The author has to buy these services based on what they choose, but they retain control of their rights, final cover, story and royalties for ebooks are 35% to 70%. Still, it cost the author.

And, you are on your own for marketing and selling…although several companies are stepping into the breach to offer services on that front also.

Again, for a fee. With mixed reviews. The services provided and the fees demanded vary widely. Some are fair while others are outrageous and results disappointing. Check around first.

The fallout from the publishing explosion is so varied that the choices are proliferating wildly and causing confusion, and it’s author beware. You must tread carefully and take the time to weigh what you need against what you are willing to pay…if anything.

You can publish and not spend a dime.

Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, Kobo, and iBook, offer free ebook publishing for the author willing to organize his own editing, book cover, formatting, downloading and marketing. CreateSpace publishes for free, and automatically gets you on the Amazon distribution network. Lulu also publishes for free and puts you in the ibook store and other places.

Positives for this path is that you will be published within 24 hours of submission. If you want a paperback, CreateSpace will do that. Lulu will do both paperback or hardcover.

Free. However…

The cost comes in finding and paying for an editing solution. Writing groups, beta readers and hiring independent professional editors are several ways writers can accomplish this. Price ranges from $0 and up, depending on the difficulty and page numbers of the work. Authors join groups and edit each other through writing groups and co-ops. Covers the same way. You can learn to do your own or hire a professional graphic designer. Costs range from $0 to $1000.

Going this way you keep all your royalties and set your own price for your book. But be aware that CreateSpace sets a minimum price and takes a chunk for the cost of publishing a paperback, even though you are charged nothing and the burden is on the buyer. So a 388 page book has a minimum requirement of $13.75 with expanded distribution (libraries and bookstores).  If you retail your book at $14.20, you will make less than $2.00 per book, depending on where it sells. If you want to make more, you raise the price and hope that it is so good enough readers will be willing to buy it.

photoThe story is happier for the ebook solution. If you pick Kindle, in the US, you receive 70% of your retail cost….and you can sell easily throughout the world. Sell at $3.99 and make $2.74. I’ve sold in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, France and through their (Distracting cute kitten)  Digital Select Program, India, Japan and more. I sell many times over through the ebook channel than paperback.

Exciting. I’m a worldwide author.

And they offer various promotions to help you sell. The Countdown where you price your book free and each day it gets more expensive. Or KDP Select where your book is offered only on the Kindle platform, and in order to gather readers you offer your book free any five days out of the ninety days the contract runs. That’s what I’m experimenting with at the moment.

I started mine on Mother’s Day to run five days and within 24 hours had over a thousand books downloaded. I hope some will like my book and go on to buy the others in the series. (Which are pretty good too)

The catch to this self publishing path is marketing.And it’s a big catch.

Now I’m hearing about companies that are selectively taking on certain authors for three years and editing, designing covers, and marketing while letting the author retain rights. They call themselves Hybrid Publishing. they charge $10,000.

Too much for my pocketbook, but maybe not for someone who has it and realizes that putting in quality time, effort and money might generate enough sales to overcome the investment, and much more.

Ask a number of successful self publishers who are making a nice living of selling a variety of books…Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, J.A. Konrath, Hugh Howey and many others. But it took hard work and time.

We’ve come a long way from what publishing used to be. Thankfully. The system was broken. But, now the whole industry is fragmenting into various pieces and big name publishers who want to survive are morphing into something new in order to survive.

And the dust hasn’t settled yet. It may just become an even wider array of choices that the savvy author will have to pick his way through and choose what best fits his needs and his pocketbook.

Author tread carefully and choose wisely.






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Filed under ebook marketing, ebook science fiction, Indie Science Fiction Authors, Marketing and selling novels, Self-publishing, Uncategorized

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