I need to decide how to publish my upcoming book Writing Without Bullshit. Here’s what I want from a publishing model: everything. I’m not going to get it, of course. But you can help me figure out which imperfect model is best.
So far I don’t have a book, I have an outline. I’ll finish the manuscript by December. And I have a host of promotional assets, starting with this blog, which thanks to all of you, receives 40,000 views per month. So, here’s what I’d like out of a publishing partnership:
- Publish as soon as possible. I’ll need to copyedit the book, lay out the pages, and print it, of course. So let’s publish in February of 2016.
- Complete editorial control. Don’t mess with my content. Especially, don’t change the title.
- Distribute the book everywhere — Amazon.com, eBook channels, bookstores, and airports.
- Pay me up front. Don’t make me pay to get the book published.
- Give me the maximum possible royalty per book.
- You worry about printing and inventory and warehousing, so I don’t have to.
- Maximize my chances of having a breakaway hit and like, totally becoming a famous author guy.
This, of course, is impossible. But it’s interesting to look at three possible publishing models and see what I get and what I have to give up in each one. I’ll look at traditional publishing, self-publishing on Amazon, and working with a publishing services company augmented by Kickstarter.
Traditional publishing: fast money, slow process
To go this path, I would complete my book proposal in August, send it to my agent, and he would shop it around major publishers in September.
What I get: This is the only option that pays up front, in the form of an advance. It’s the best option for broad distribution. The publisher pays for and manages all that “stuff” that authors forget they need to do: layout, copyediting, cover, foreign rights, and even some promotion. In my opinion, this option maximizes the chance of it being a hit.
What I give up: Forget February. Traditional publishing is more likely to get me a book in November. While I get that nice advance, if the book is a big hit, the royalty rate is only 10 to 15% of cover price, and it pays out very slowly.
Risks: I might not get a publishing deal at all. And If I do, publishing is a partnership, which means you get an editor who either helps you or meddles with your content, depending on your perspective. We could fight over everything from the cover to the word choices. (The book title is non-negotiable, and the publishers will know that when they bid on it.)
Self-publishing: fast process, weak long-term prospects
Hire a content editor as a sounding board and complete the manuscript. Pay for services like layout, cover, and copyediting myself. Publish the book around February 2016 through Amazon as a print-on-demand paperback and ebook.
What I get: Complete editorial control and the fastest path to publishing. And a very high royalty rate of 45% to 55% of cover price (but paperback books have lower list prices).
What I give up: This option limits distribution to Amazon.com. That vastly reduces the chances of having a huge hit. While print-on-demand paperbacks are pretty nice, they’re not as nice as a hardback. And I figure there would be up-front costs of about $15,000 for all the services I need to buy, instead of an advance. Not only that, I’d need to spend my time managing all those resources.
Risks: I’d have to do all my own promotion. And even if the book is successful, it’s harder to translate that success into speeches and consulting on a self-published book. In the end, sales would be lower than in the traditional model, so I’d get less money overall. (It’s possible, of course, that such a book would get picked up by a publisher later, but only if it’s very successful.)
Publishing services company plus Kickstarter: High risk
You can hire a company like Greenleaf Book Group or IdeaPress Publishing to produce a hardback book for you and even get it into distribution. But you have to pay for everything, even manufacturing the books.
This made me wonder: could I fund that cost with Kickstarter? I’d get a bunch of you (hundreds?) to pony up $20, $50 or more to get the book early. My backers fund the book; I give them a special early edition. They then help me promote the book.
What I get: A hardback book, editorial control, and a moderate royalty rate. While a company like Greenleaf pays 35% of cover price in royalties, twice what traditional publisher would pay, you need to subtract the cost of printing and shipping from that. That reduces the effective royalty rate to 20% or 25%. You also get one company to manage the copyediting, manufacturing, warehousing, and so on, which reduces the overhead. Finally, you can get into bookstores this way, although these publishing services companies don’t have the clout of a big publisher.
What I give up: This process is a lot slower than print-on-demand, so it would be tough to get an actual pub date before June of 2016. With less push, it’s a lot harder to be a breakaway hit. And I won’t get paid up front (unless Kickstarter is a huge success).
Risks: The big risk is Kickstarter, because if I don’t reach my funding goal there, I’m on the hook for at least $25,000 in costs. And if Kickstarter does succeed, managing the customer service aspect is a huge pain, as I’ve learned from talking to others who have published there.
The chart below summarizes my options. Look, I know you want the book soon (and the hell with the risk to me). But I’m very interested in your perspective on my choices. Leave me a comment about it.
Graphic: From my post on self-publishing options