Developing technologies and marketing processes have created a new reality for publishing. The book publishing world has changed since 2000 and quite dramatically since 2009. Many of the old values of traditional publishing are either rarely available or are no longer considered advantageous.
Traditional publishing used to mean an author could receive a small advance from a publisher. In exchange, publishers gained ownership and controlling rights. The publishing process generally took 15 to 24 months, publishers would change editorial content, and cover designs would tend to disappoint. Then, if sales did not meet publisher’s expectations in 12 months, books were pulled from the market and were unavailable to the author or anyone else for up to three years.
With the advent of digital printing and the quality it produces (also called short run, print-to-order, just-in-time, and print-on-demand), printing 1 copy, 25 or 100 copies can now be done. Many of the traditional publishing houses now offer short run publishing for a fee.
Self-publishing held the stigma of “pay to publish.” Today, more often than not, authors are expected to invest in publishing their book by purchasing a significant quantity from the first press run or by paying a fee for a short run. The only significant difference between traditional and self-publishing is the quality of the edit, page design, and cover design. Professional book editors and cover designers with years of experience in traditional publishing can prepare your book to move into markets beyond your reach.
The market today 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 just by standard publishers. Bowker, the agency that issues ISBNs for new books, recently reported over 1 million new titles were printed by Create Space in 2018. People are not reading more books—they just have more choices.
Christian publishing is experiencing the same changes but with added complications. While 80% of the American public identify themselves as Christian, only 9% of book sales are religious. Believers are buying books but not just religious books. On top of this, the retail price of Christian books is significantly lower than secular books, appealing to conservative buyers and resulting in less profitability. In 2008, the large Christian publishers reported a failure rate of 60% to 65% on new titles because they did not recover the cost of publication.
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 appearances, radio interviews, and speaking engagements. Now social networking via the internet is 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 have disappeared.
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. 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 writing coach enables him to advise, encourage, and lead you through the process of finding the right publishing venue. Keith can also help you hone your word into a finely presented message.
Publishing has expanded and evolved over the centuries. Since the time of Moses and possibly earlier, 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. The copyright office reported that through the 1990s over 63,000 new titles were published each year. Obviously the majority were not best sellers. With the advent of print on demand (POD) and its improvement by 2003, annual titles published more than doubled. New titles published in 2013 reached nearly 500,000 and self-published titles almost doubled that number. You would not believe the numbers for 2018.
Every year major publishing houses release upwards of 7,000 new titles annually, yet only one in a hundred will achieve national best-seller status. Beyond that, only a handful will actually reach blockbuster status. Bookstores can only stock a very small portion of the major publishing houses’ new releases. And, half of the releases by traditional publishers 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 turn down unsolicited manuscripts and smaller publishers 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. 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.
Some best-selling authors have left the traditional publishers for more control over content, timing for availability, and better profits. They do not lose their very important input into the editorial and cover design processes. Today, all publishers can position your title for distribution to stores and Internet sites.
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 your favorable word and impression into an opportunity for them to get your book. They can then spend time absorbing your insights and making life-changing adjustments.
A properly written and published book can lend additional credibility to your message and 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?
Keith can help you work through these publishing roadblocks. As an agent and writing coach, he can help you develop your material and properly prepare manuscripts for submission to publishers.
Historically, there are four primary terms that were used to describe the various publishing options; traditional, custom, vanity, and self-publishing. Traditional publishing occurred when the author received a small percentage—a royalty, from publisher sales. Custom and co-publishing referred to the situation in which an established house published a book that was primarily marketed through the author’s efforts. Self-publishing spoke of an author’s efforts to publish without the expertise of a traditional publishing house. And, vanity publishing represented publishers who would print any book, regardless of literary merit.
Some authors started their publishing career before traditional publishing was available to them, promoting their book within existing areas of influence until larger market opportunities developed. A few well-known examples are Mark Twain, Zane Gray, and Carl Sandburg. Recent examples of highly successful books that began as self-published are: What Color is Your Parachute?, The One Minute Manager, The Christmas Box, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Shack.
While traditional publishers are credited with the success of a book, more often than not, it is an author’s notoriety, TV/radio appearances, and speaking engagements that provided the primary springboard for a book’s success. Accepting a text for national exposure is very risky when an author does not have national notoriety or visibility.
Over the last fifty years of the 20th century, half of the traditional releases were 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.
Today, new technology has made the old publishing paths, terms, and definitions no longer appropriate. Most books are sold on-line rather than through book stores. People buy books they have heard about, not because it was found in a store. The high volume of new titles has made it nearly impossible to place a new author in bookstores. There simply is no room available.
Publishers create books from manuscripts and sell them to distributors and book stores. Since the beginning of the 21stcentury internet providers have become the leading book sellers. Because of the internet and the improved quality of short run presses, the old marketing and shipping processes have become ineffective. Publisher reps on the road marketing books to stores are almost extinct.
The process of distribution has also changed. Until 10 years ago, publishers would print, warehouse, and then ship small quantities of books to distribution centers that would also warehouse and ship requested books to stores. Then the dynamics of print-on-demand and internet sales entered the picture. Today, publishers utilize just-in-time printing and shipping to negate the expense of multiple warehousing and shipping operations. When a title is ordered by a store or an internet site, the book is digitally printed and shipped as requested.
In 2005 a digital e-book publishing company was acquired by Amazon. Create Space, which merged with Amazon KDP (Kindle) in 2018, has made it easier for authors to publish who do not see the possibility of market expansion. But, a word of caution is appropriate regarding quality. Your book can be shortchanged by a quick publishing venue. An unappealing cover design, less than professional editing, and substandard formatting can reduce market appeal by dampening individual interest, limiting readership, and failing to create the all-important word-of-mouth buzz.
Traditional publishing these days can only insure a new author receives three benefits: quality editing, attractive front cover design and back cover copy. A professionally published book presents an inviting appearance, a quality feel, and an enjoyable read. Properly publishing your book gives people opportunity to spend time absorbing your message.
Most of the time, the content in a spoken message is forgotten. A book allows people the time that is often needed to digest the insights you present. When a reader’s emotion is stirred and understanding is 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 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 overall thought flow, and in general, help refine their manuscript.
Following the investment of preparation, there is the expense of properly publishing a book from your manuscript. These expenses include the publisher’s cost of appropriate 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 materials, and promotional activities create additional expenses. These activities vary greatly depending on such factors as: existing market interest in the subject, author’s previous publishing success, author’s ability to stir interest, and anticipated immediate market response.
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 content.
Advances are funds publishers pay authors in expectation of sales. 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 is quite minimal. In today’s publishing climate, advances are rare.
A publisher promotes and provides books to distributors, retail outlets, specialty markets, and author activities at discounts that 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 a publisher’s preparation and production costs are factored into the equation, retailers make the largest profit on the sale of a book!
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). Many of these titles are promoted 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.
Today, for new authors that do not have an established large market, publishers electronically place the title into the distribution network of IngramSpark, who prints and ships a book for just-in-time delivery. The difference between the retail and printing/shipping costs is what is paid to publishers. Authors then receive a royalty percentage from this amount.
When authors promote their own books, they usually buy a large quantity from the publisher at a significant discount. Your efforts to introduce your book and excite people about your message can produce retail sales that translate into noticeable income. When you sell your book to your audience at retail, your discount translates into profitable income.
Authors are the most powerful promoters of their own books. When an author “seeds the market” with several hundred or a few thousand well-written and quality-crafted books, a word-of-mouth excitement helps generate orders in book stores and on the internet. Filling a few special orders often means additional copies will be placed on store 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.
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. An author’s effort to create a word of mouth buzz about a title is still the most effective marketing tool. People rarely buy a book without first hearing about it.