I am a lover of books in all mediums and I want to be a wealthy, famous, published author (like you do, I presume dear reader!) so it serves me to be aware of the traditional publishing process as well as new technologies.
I went along to this session at Sydney Writer's Festival to see what publishers are thinking at a time of great change. It seems that Australian publishing is well behind the US and indie publishing, but it was still interesting to peek behind the curtain.
Here is what I learnt from Hazel Flynn, who spent years as a publishing professional in Australia, but it would be expected that the process is similar overseas.
- First, you need to get the attention of an agent or a publisher. The slush pile is a bad idea as it may be months or even years before your submission gets read, if at all. It is better to have some kind of relationship with that person so your submission is even looked at. Being recommended by an agent is a good way to do this.
- You need to completely follow submission guidelines. Do exactly what the website of the publisher/agent asks for. Any deviation will get you chucked out immediately. Your first 2 pages must sizzle as they won't read further than that. Seriously. That's important.
- It's good to have a 1 sentence, 1 paragraph and 2 paragraph pitch. Check Nathan Bransford's post for more info. Brevity is key so focus.
- If a publisher likes you, they need to champion you at the Acquisitions meeting. For this they need to do a P&L, a profit and loss statement for your book. They also need to do a Publishing proposal. At that meeting, all the books are weighed up against each other and all the different teams get a say e.g. sales and marketing as well as publishers.
- The P&L includes costs such as editing, proof reading, cover design, type setting, page layout, plus extras like embossing, photographs, legal permissions etc. Plus printing costs for the number of books, plus overheads, plus marketing and anything else that will be included. The profit side is represented by book sales which is not straight no of books x price. Firstly, the booksellers take the books at a discount, estimated at 47% generally. Then they include a returns rate of 30% , then the author must be paid as well. (No wonder so few books get published now. It is a very difficult business and the business model needs to change to make it sustainable.)
- The publishing proposal contains the P&L as well as synopsis, target audience and target retailers, sales history of the author and sales of comparable titles, author bio and media experience as well as marketing and publicity ideas. Plus author commitment to direct sales and any other pertinent information that would help the author's chances against other books.
- Publishing is a business. You as an author are a business. You need to realise that if you are serious about writing for a living.
We briefly moved onto self publishing as an option and Hazel kindly called on me to speak about print on demand and digital publishing. It seemed to get people pretty excited when I told them about print on demand, Createspace, Kindle publishing on Amazon DTP, Smashwords and also Blurb for photobooks. This was a pretty funny way to end a workshop on the traditional publishing process but it does indicate how interested people are in DIY options.
I was also considering The Creative Penn, which I take very seriously as a business in its own right. When I look at my own profit and loss, it is very different to a big publishers. I make income from print book sales and ebook sales, but also from other digital products like online courses as well as speaking and consulting. In terms of my costs, I have tiny overheads as I work from home, my internet hosting and shopping cart come to around $25 per month and I use print on demand for my publishing so I have no printing costs. My time could be considered opportunity cost as I can make more as an IT contractor. But most of the money I make is profit from sales with a low cost base. This is why independent publishers and authors can now make more money than big publishers selling their books online. You don't need to sell hundreds of thousands of books to make a decent income as costs are so low. I would still like to get a publishing deal for the kudos and validation it would give me, but I don't know if it will make me more money.
I wrote this before JA Konrath announced his deal with Amazon Encore, and before the rather nasty response from Publisher's Weekly. He writes on his blog:
Q: So from now on are you only writing for Kindle?
A: Yes. After I've met my current contract obligations with print publishers, I will devote my full time to Kindle and other ebook platforms. I really doubt I'll ever accept a print deal again.
Basically, Konrath is making more money from self-publishing books on the Kindle than he is from traditional publishing. With the rise and rise of ebooks, it is likely more ‘mainstream' authors will continue down this route.
In conclusion, it was interesting to hear about how publishing works, but I just can't see it as a sustainable business model for anybody. Things are changing slowly in Australia, which is why I will be looking for a publisher in US or UK when my novel is ready! What do you think about the traditional publishing process right now? What do you want for your book?