You have choices – and nearly all of them require a query. I won’t be covering that here (although it dawns on me it would be worth including in the book that this series will eventually become); fortunately, there are lots of good sites and books on writing a winning query. But who do you send the query to? Or do you bypass the query process altogether?
Today, we’ll look at the different kinds of publishers, what makes them different, and some of the hazards involved.
Now I will admit, I’m quite biased when it comes to this topic, as I am a publisher myself. But I will do my best to present the types of publishes as objectively as possible. So… on we go.
Characteristics: Think Random House. Doubleday. Harper Collins. Simon and Schuster. Trade publishers, or traditional publishers, are big houses, with full service attention, soup to nuts. They pay for everything, and you get paid royalties on book sales. Sometimes you can get an advance (but unless you’re Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton, your advance will probably only be a few thousand). It’s a great deal if you can get in – there is nothing so supportive for you and your book than to be in the hands of a major publisher. And they have a marketing machine that will get you and your book out there. If you have a chance with a major, go for it! It’s a dream come true for any author.
Reality Check: Your chances of being picked up by one of the big guys is around 1 in 100,000. Many people spend years (and hundreds of dollars) shopping manuscripts around to literary agents, who are your entrée into trade publishers. And you aren’t necessarily getting rejected because your manuscript is bad – there is just too much competition. Also note: being picked up by a major publisher does not guarantee wealth. A recent study (that I can’t for the life of me find – but as soon as I do I will provide the link) suggests that 85% of all books they publish LOSE money… 13% break even… and just 2% make millions (and pay for the other 98%).
Professional and Scholarly Publishers
Characteristics: Much like trade publishers, they are a soup-to-nuts kind of place, but they focus on their subject matter. Cisco Press is a professional publisher, and they in fact SEEK authors who are subject matter experts to write various books.
Reality Check: Your book must fit their niche, and you must have the credentials (degrees, previous publications, certifications, etc.) to get a gig with them. Also, don’t expect to make a ton of money here either.
Characteristics: Writing a textbook? I admit that I don’t know a lot about the market, although I suspect that like professional and scholarly publishers, there are niches and credentialing requirements. Companies like McGraw-Hill and Cengage specialize in textbooks, so if you’re going down that path, you might check them out.
Reality Check: You might have to leave Thomas Jefferson out of your history book if you want it to sell in Texas.
Characteristics: Some are very specific to the point of only publishing their faculty’s work; others are so broad they publish books for the general consumer.
Reality Check: They are quite specific, so don’t waste your time on a query until you know precisely what it is they publish and whether you’d be even remotely the kind of author they’re seeking.
Characteristics: These houses run on the same model as a trade publisher – soup to nuts, they pay for it all, you get royalties. The benefit of an independent house is that they are quirky, specialized, and probably more down to earth. They also tend to specialize on genres; if you’re writing regional books, you will likely find a local indy regional publisher who is a perfect target for your query.
Reality Check: Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they are more likely to take your book. Many independents only have capacity for a limited number of new releases each year (like 12).
Contract or Partnership Publishers
Characteristics: They offer soup-to-nuts service, but the author pays fees for publication. Most publishers in this group have national distribution like the big boys, and they ensure you’re well edited/produced. You own the rights to your book with most partnership publishers. Some of them specialize, others are more general, but they are trying to meet the sweet spot between self-publishing and the traditional model.
Reality Check: Most contract publishers don’t take every book that crosses their aquisition desk either; they tend to have a rejection rate of about 40%… and they recognize that the author has to be as invested as the publisher is. It does cost money, but you’re much more likely to get your book published than if you try one of the previously mentioned types. Also, some contract publishers have more – or less – marketing support included in their price.
Self Publishing Companies
Characteristics: These companies (CreateSpace, Lulu, BookSense, Outskirts, etc.) provide minimal (or a la carte) editing and design, and you pay to publish. This can be great if you need to get a book out quickly, or want a small quantity, or have had professional editing done elsewhere. Most of them have their own distribution venues. Marketing, however, is a la carte too.
Reality Check: There is very little personal attention; you really are publishing on your own.
Subsidy Press/Vanity Publishers
Characteristics: They will publish for a fee (or sometimes not), but they will also hold the rights to your book. They tend to have no distribution, editorial, or marketing.
Reality Check: MOST bookstores will NOT carry books published by vanity presses. These books are rarely reviewed. Your book will likely be priced so high it won’t sell anyway, because they make their money selling the book to you. And…they can hold the rights to your book for up to seven years, with nearly impossible-to-wiggle-out-of contracts.
What about eBooks?
Ah, yes…eBooks. It’s possible to only publish a book as an eBook, but which kind? Kindle? Nook? Sony Reader? One of the dozen other reader formats? It’s my opinion that the choices will settle out much like the VHS/Betamax choice did…and my hunch is that the Kindle format will win in the end.
Most publishers of all stripes will help you get your book into an eBook format as a complementary version; others will only do physical copies. But I think it’s worth it…. So talk to your publisher about going e.
Okay…so we’re almost done! Next week, we will talk about promotion and marketing.