Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sally Field Syndrome

A publishing tire-kicker posed the following question about a print-on-demand (POD) publisher (the likes of Outskirts, iUniverse, AuthorHouse, and a multitude of others that actually use the nomenclature "self publishing company")  I get this question frequently, so I thought I would write about it.
"I was looking at this online publishing company X and I was curious to know if you have ever heard of them?"

She continued, "From the class I took last year, the instructor said we should NEVER be charged by an agent...and she never mentioned paying to get published...but this place charges a LOT of money to publish a book, then they have a bunch of "optional" services that also cost a lot... What's your take?"
First of all, a common misconception is that POD houses that solicit manuscripts that you pay to publish are somehow agents. They are not agents, they are publishers that you pay to publish your work. You pay to be part of their existing publishing operation. On the flip side, there are also a lot of  phony "agents" out there who ask you to submit your work and voila! They love it and would like to represent it for this fee or that. People get all excited about being "selected."
"They like me!  They really, really like me!"
So unsuspecting novice writers sign over the rights to their intellectual property without really knowing what they are signing or how it will impact them. It doesn't always turn out well, because these agents aren't always reputable. It's nice to have someone say they love your work, but please know who you are submitting to and what type of business they really are BEFORE you sign anything. Please feel free to write to us if you have questions about this.

Why would you want to pay to get published?  Well, independently publishing your work gives you all the control, but you also have a lot to consider when entering a business you may know little about. Publishers deal with all the same issues any other business faces: Product development, manufacturing, operations, marketing, finance, logistics and distribution. When you pay another company, such as iUniverse, LuLu, Outskirts, etc., to publish your work, many of these things are laid out in systems for you. You don't retain all the control like you would if you published on your own and hired your own book designers, pursued your own distribution, hired an editor and so on. 
SOAPBOX ALERT: As far as the question about paying a "real agent" -- A common belief among writers is that you should never pay to have someone read your work. Should you? It depends. Frankly, I don't really understand how a person can ask an expert to provide a service they won't get paid for. Writers feel no guilt when asking a well-connected, experienced, qualified agent, consultant or industry expert for their time and expertise, and often a critique of their work, and then expect not to pay them. I don't know how this all got started, but it's really not very fair to agents and consultants; nonetheless, this philosophy is out there. It is always nice to ask "May I pay you for your time?" 

BACK TO TASK: How do agents make their money?  Agents make a percentage of your sales once you become their client, usually 15%.  Make no mistake, it is very expensive to pitch publishers and producers, and in my opinion, they sometimes should be paid for their time in critiquing your manuscript, but that's just me. I myself have paid for a critique by an acquisitions editor from a large publishing house in NY - and it was worth every penny for his 35+ years in the business of assessing and acquiring manuscripts.
Outskirts, iUniverse, AuthorHouse and other POD houses are not agents -- they are publishing companies with systems for publishing efficiently. People pay them to publish their books (editing, design, indexing, printing) and in return, they include them in their umbrella publishing company. It's vanity publishing -- big company name, systems that you don't have in place, and distribution capabilities you don't have on your own, but could. Bottom line: You paid to be published. You pay them to print up small quantities of books for your use. This works for some types of authors just fine, but the objective of your book publishing must be addressed before choosing one of these.

Answer these questions:
  • Who Cares? 
  • Will anyone I don't know buy my book? 
  • How will I get it to those buyers? 
Until you answer these questions, you should not be looking for a publishing solution of any kind.

ADDITIONAL NOTE OF INTEREST: A recent audit done on a very large POD house revealed these numbers: Baker & Taylor wholesale net sales on 32,000 titles from January 2007 through May 2010 = $234,000 -- not per title, that's TOTAL across all. That's a sales average total revenue of $7.31 per title total--ever, with about 96% never selling a single book through this major wholesaler. Only one of the 32,000 had sold more than 1,000 books through this channel. Most likely, the authors are doing the buying of these books themselves and selling them at events or giving them to readers.

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