THE CHANGING WORLD OF PUBLISHING
Developing technologies and marketing processes are quickly creating a new reality for publishing. The book publishing world has changed since 2000 and quite dramatically since 2009. This new reality complicates new author’s search for information because most of the sources available were written in the twentieth century and are quickly becoming outdated. Today many of the preferred avenues to traditional publishing are either rarely available or are no longer considered advantageous.
Traditional publishing usually meant an author without a proven audience would receive a small advance from a publisher, ranging from $1000 to $3000. In exchange, publishers gained ownership and controlling rights. The process from contract to publication generally took 15 to 24 months, publishers would change editorial content, and cover designs would disappoint. Additionally, if sales did not meet publisher’s expectations in 6 to 12 months, books were pulled from the market and were unavailable to the author or anyone else for up to three years.
Today’s market is experiencing an explosion of new titles. Throughout the 1990s around 63,000 new titles were published annually; however, in 2009 more than 210,000 new titles hit the market. In 2013 nearly 500,000 new titles were published by standard publishers. People are not reading more books—they just have more choices of what book to buy.
The average non-fiction book sells less than 6500 copies, and in 2009 it was reported that overall sales for non-bestsellers were in the 3,000 to 4,000 range. For every bestselling title, there are multitudes of wannabes. One well-known self-publisher in Oklahoma City reported they published 80 titles each month in 2008, and a bestseller was 500 copies.
In 2008 traditional publishers were out-produced by other publishers, which are gaining more market share each year. Authors are discovering that publishers rarely are able to find or develop the market; rather, they open up distribution and supply the market. Some best-selling authors are leaving the traditional process for more control over content, timing for book availability, and better profits.
Christian publishing is experiencing the same changes but with added complications. While 85% of the American public identify themselves as Christian, only 9% of book sales are religious. Christians are buying books but not just Christian books. On top of this, the retail price of Christian books is significantly lower than secular books, resulting in less profitability for Christian publishers. In 2008, the large Christian publishing houses were reporting a failure rate of 60% to 65% on new titles, which meant book sales were not recovering the cost of publishing.
Let’s take a reality check: A Christian non-fiction book is considered a bestseller after 5000 sales and a fiction book needs to have 7500 sales. But less than 10% of Christian titles sell over 10,000 copies.
Today more than ever, successful titles happen because of the author’s notoriety and/or ability to get the public’s attention, connect with people, and stir market interest. Publishing success is now more and more like the music industry: Authors must get out and stir market interest. Before 2000, people were stirred by TV, radio, and speaking engagements. Today, social networking sites are helping books find markets.
There is a large market available for book sales. However, the days of giving a book to a publisher so they can create a successful market response are quickly disappearing. So what is an author to do? Make sure your material is properly focused and much more than an informational read. You need to find effective ways of connecting emotionally with your reading audience as well. Highly impressed readers tend to tell people your book is a “must read.” This word-of-mouth response is the key to successful book sales.
Literary Agent Keith Carroll can help you sift through all the variables and help you discover the best route for your book. Keith’s knowledge of the publishing world and his skill as a coach enables him to advise, encourage, and lead you through the process of finding the right publisher. Keith can also help you hone your word into a finely presented message.
Publishing has expanded and evolved over the centuries. Today, publishing wields unprecedented influence in our world. Since the time of Moses, the written word has provided insight and guidance for humanity. The invention of the printing press in 1437 created mass production publishing, and helped fuel the Renaissance and the Reformation. Historically, the printed word has continued to influence times of unprecedented enlightenment, education and personal development.
Today’s world of publishing is very competitive. It was estimated in the 80’s that 500,000 new manuscripts were written annually in the United States. The copyright office reported that through the 1990s over 63,000 new titles were published each year. With the advent of print on demand (POD), in the 2000s, annual titles published more than doubled. New titles published in 2013 reached nearly 500,000. Self-published titles almost doubled that number.
Every year major publishing houses release upwards of 7,000 new titles every year, yet only one in a hundred will achieve national best-seller status. Beyond that, only a handful will actually reach blockbuster status.
Obviously, publishers cannot handle the vast amount of material that is being written each year. Bookstores can only stock a small portion of the major publishing houses’ new releases. And, half of the major imprint releases will be listed as out of print within 18 months due to a lack of sales.
Manpower limitations, time restraints, and available resources make it impossible to consider, much less work through the process of developing the huge volumes of material that are available. Most of the larger publishing houses are turning down unsolicited manuscripts and smaller houses are not able to adequately review all the material they receive. As a result, many authors with good material and ready markets receive rejection letters.
In addition, some major imprint publishers’ production and marketing schedules are so tight that acceptance of a new title could mean two, or three years before it is released to the public. However, new and developing authors often feel a great urgency to publish sooner rather than later, which can make such a delay very difficult to accept. Some of the smaller publishers, on the other hand, have short-term schedule flexibility and are able to properly publish a title in four to six months.
Literary agents can help potential authors work through these publishing roadblocks. Agents can help authors develop their material and properly prepare manuscripts for publishing submission. They will also tend to be familiar with various publishers’ flexibility and areas of interest.
In spite of all the challenges involved, the printed word provides many possibilities for authors who desire to make a difference. If you are speaking to groups of people, having a book for your audience to read can help turn the favorable impression created by your speaking engagements into an opportunity for them to spend time with your word and make life-changing adjustments. A properly written and published book also lends additional credibility to a message and can even open speaking opportunities beyond your present sphere of influence.
Your book can go where you are unable to go and touch people you would never have the chance to meet. Although it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand printed words, a thousand words (or more) are of incomparable worth because they can bring understanding and make a significant difference in the course of a person’s life. How many lives will your book touch?
Royalty, custom, vanity, and self-publishing are four primary terms used to describe the various methods of publishing: Royalty publishing occurs when the author receives a certain percentage from sales of the marketing efforts of an established publishing house. Custom and co-publishing refers to the situation in which an established house publishes a book to be marketed primarily through the author’s marketing efforts. Self-publishing represents an author’s own efforts to get their book into print without the expertise of a royalty publishing house. Vanity publishing refers to publishers who will print any book, regardless of literary merit.
A royalty publisher’s marketing, promotion, and distribution program requires a considerable amount of time, energy, finances and contacts. Accepting a text for a national marketing program can be very risky when an author does not have national visibility. An author’s notoriety, TV/radio appearances, and speaking engagements often provide the primary springboard for a book’s marketing success.
A royalty publisher’s national marketing program is not always appropriate for a new author. Over half of the typical royalty publishers’ releases will be listed as out of print within 12-18 months due to a lack of sales, yet remain under contract to the publisher for an additional three years, unavailable to even the author. Many authors need more than 12-18 months to properly stir and develop a national market interest in their book.
The high volume of new titles has made it nearly impossible to place a new author into bookstores. There simply is no room available. Today, new authors without a large verifiable market can only count on three publishing activities: quality editing, attractive front cover design and back cover copy, and title placement into distribution systems for stores and on internet sites.
Some authors start their publishing career before royalty publishing is available, promoting their book within existing areas of influence until larger market opportunities develop. A few well-known examples are Mark Twain, Zane Gray, and Carl Sandburg. A few recent custom and self-published books that went on to become highly successful are: What Color is Your Parachute?, The One Minute Manager, The Christmas Box, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Shack. The appropriate time needed to devote to developing a book’s potential market will vary.
Authors are usually the most powerful marketers of their own books. When an author “seeds the market” with a few thousand quality-crafted books, a word-of-mouth excitement will help generate orders in bookstores. Filling a few special orders often means additional copies will be placed on shelves for others to see and purchase. Orders created by word-of-mouth activity are the most reliable way of getting a new book by an unproven author into bookstores.
Often a need will exist for a sooner rather than later publication of an author’s material. Self-publishing can provide a quick and inexpensive publication. Print-On-Demand publishing (POD) is available for authors who only want a few books and do not see the possibility of market expansion. However, a word of caution is appropriate regarding quality. Books that are shortchanged in these self-publishing processes (with unappealing cover designs, substandard printing, less than professional editing) can experience reduced market appeal by dampening individual interest, limiting readership, and failing to create the all important word-of-mouth buzz.
Occasionally custom publishing can fill the gap that exists between royalty publishing and self-publishing. Some royalty publishers will schedule additional titles on a custom basis, releasing a title in four to six months, with the professional quality that encourages market acceptance.
Custom publishing opportunities generally utilize traditional publisher quality treatments, provide for book distribution, and entry-level marketing activity. Royalty sales take place as custom publishers place your title into the bookstore and internet distribution systems. Additionally, authors do not loose what can be very important input into the editorial and cover design processes.
A professionally produced book presents an inviting appearance, a quality feel, and an enjoyable read. A properly published book gives people opportunity to spend time with your message. Many times the spoken word is forgotten, however, a book allows people opportunity to digest the insights you present. When a readers emotion is stirred and understandings improved, they tend to stay excited enough to encourage others to get a copy and read your book.
The process of publishing a book requires the help and expertise of many professional people. Beyond the preparation process that includes your time and effort, some authors choose to utilize the services of an editor, a ghostwriter, or a writing coach.
Although most authors physically work through the process of writing their own material, some employ a ghostwriter to create a manuscript due to their own time restrictions or simply because they are very uncomfortable writing. A few authors are able to utilize a professional coach who can help them organize their thoughts, develop a writing style, add balancing aspects to their material, improve the over-all thought flow, and in general, help refine their manuscript.
Following the expense of preparation, there is the expense of properly publishing a book from your manuscript. These expenses include the publisher’s cost of editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover design, press make ready, printing materials, and press time. The total expense for these processes and materials varies depending on such variables as the page count, book trim size, type of cover, binding, and quantity of books printed.
Distribution, marketing and promotional activities and materials create a significant additional expense to publishing. These activities vary greatly depending on such factors as: a publisher’s heart for the material, review reactions, existing market response to the subject matter, author’s previous publishing success, author’s ability to stir sales, and anticipated immediate market response. As a rule, the quantity of the market response dictates how much ongoing market expenditures a book receives.
Publishing houses normally set the retail price for a new book, based on several factors: the type of book (research, children, picture, etc.), total page count, trim size, hard cover or soft cover, and the perceived value of the book’s content.
When a publisher markets a book they will promote it to distributors, retail outlets, specialty markets, and author activities. Publishers sell the book to these markets at discounts that are usually based on factors like the type of market being reached and the volume of books purchased in a single order. The discounts range from 40% to 75% off the retail price. The discount a publisher gives on a book, once sold at retail, translates into profit for the retailer.
When authors promote their own books, they usually buy a large quantity from the publisher at a discount. Your efforts to introduce your book and excite people about your message can produce retail sales that can translate into noticeable income. Again, the largest percentage of a book sale goes to the retailer. When you sell your book to your audience at retail, your sizable discount will translate into profitable income.
Due to the vast amount of new titles published and going out of print annually, publishers generally agree that an acceptable success for a new title is 5000 to 7000 copies sold. This quantity usually allows recovery of the initial publishing expense (preparation, production and promotion). Some houses publicize these titles as best sellers because more than 50% of the titles published do not achieve this many sales. Real success obviously is demonstrated by the few titles reaching tens or hundreds of thousands and even millions in sales.
Advances are funds which publishers pay authors in advance of sales and are based on expected sales of the book. An advance for a mega-selling author can be sizable because a large market response is nearly guaranteed. An advance for authors with a marginally small sales history or no history will be quite minimal. In today’s publishing climate, with the large amount of new titles published each year, it is not uncommon for new authors to receive no advance.
Authors with accessible audiences or the ability to reach markets can understand they are investing wisely when they properly write, publish and promote their own book. Creating a word of mouth buzz about your title is still the most effective marketing tool. People rarely buy a book without first hearing about it.