This post was written by Katherine Sears, co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Booktrope Publishing. Alas, Booktrope went out of business due to insufficient revenue in May, 2016.
I have said it before, and I will say it again – it is a great time to be an author. Today there are more choices on how to publish your book than ever before. Unfortunately, this also constitutes the bad news, because now you must determine which of those choices represents the best fit for you, personally. There is no one-size-fits-all. Obviously this would be a very long post if I dove into all of the options, so I will focus on small/mid-size presses and where they fit in the spectrum when contrasted with self-publishing.
First, what constitutes a small to mid-size press? There is some disagreement about this point. A small press is typically thought of as one that publishes less than 25 titles per year. On the other hand, the official book industry studies will tell you that any press earning less than $50 million per year is considered “small.” That seems like a huge variance to me – hence my small to mid-size distinction. As another key trait, many small publishers will focus on one genre or a niche market.
What should you expect – and how can you be sure the publisher you’re considering is a true publisher and not a curated independent publishing option?
- There must be a contract defining your relationship, royalties etc.
- Not all submitted books are accepted, so you will be in the company of titles with similar quality, genre and standards as your own.
- They may offer an advance. However, advances have been diminishing in frequency and amount at a steady rate for the last few years even at the larger publishers, so many small houses will no longer offer them at all.
- Editing, proof reading, professional layout and cover design for your book will be provided.
- Conversion and upload of your book into all of the major formats (ebook and sometimes print) will be part of the process. There are an increasing number of ebook-only shops, so do consider this in your selection if print is important to you.
- Usually – the ability to sell books into bookstores (although no guaranteed distribution) and libraries.
- Always – books listed with all major online retailers.
- Assistance with marketing efforts: this will vary dramatically from house to house. All publishers should offer marketing expertise and advice – but again, some are better at this than others – and especially with a smaller publisher, this will vary widely.
- Many small publishers do not require an agent in order to submit. This not only bypasses a challenging step, it means more income for an author.
- A small press is more likely to have a small staff, and owners will almost always be directly involved in the books and authors. This means you will be important to them in a way you probably would not be at a larger publisher.
- You do not work for the publisher, nor do they work for you. This is a partnership by which you both hope to make money.
Upfront Fees – always a bad sign?
By contrast if a publisher asks for fees up front, requires minimum book orders, and/or accepts all submissions, this is a self-publishing operation and bears careful scrutiny to ensure you get your money’s worth. A quick word on this: I know many of you have heard that none of the “pay to play” publishers are worth looking at. This is not universally true. Some are terrible, some are wonderful. Some will save you money and headache; others will cause high blood pressure and diminished bank accounts. They are not all created equal.
If you receive an offer from a publisher that outlines up-front fees, look closely. What other books are they putting out? How do their authors feel about them? What marketing support will you get? Like anything else we are discussing, your mileage can and will vary. Be careful and do your due-diligence, but don’t dismiss them out of hand.
Why choose a small press?
Why would you choose to go with a small press – or really any publisher – instead of self-publishing and keeping the entire royalty for yourself? I think the most important thing to remember is this: do not base your decision on greed. On the surface, the higher take-home percentage makes this option seem like a no-brainer, and for some people it is absolutely the best idea. But remember, 70% of zero is zero, so be sure you are ready for the work required if you go this route.
Self-publishing your book means that you take on all of the roles that are required to successfully publish a book. You wear all the hats. You get a larger royalty, because you are earning that royalty in the additional work you are taking on. You are not getting the additional royalty percentage because you wrote the book; you are getting it because you have now also published your book. This is a very important distinction.
Here are some areas that may bear further thought:
- Do you want absolute creative control? If so, self-publishing is your only option, as no publisher will grant you that.
- If you answered yes to the above, are you sure you have the skills and expertise to make decisions on all facets of your book – from cover design to back cover blurbs?
- Do you have the funds to pay for a professional editor, proofreader and cover designer? These are not optional steps, they are absolutely critical for your success.
- Do you have the time, inclination, and technology to learn and use all the required systems (Nook, Kindle, Createspace, Smashwords, iTunes, etc.)? For example, iTunes requires you have an Apple system in order to upload your ebook to the iTunes store.
- Are you ready, willing and able to understand the marketing of your work? Can you do it on your own with no direct support? Are you willing to absorb any and all expenses in this regard?
- Is being in bookstores or libraries important to you? Most will not consider self-published work.
Platform building is up to you, regardless of your choice
I must mention something critical to all authors, no matter your path. You are the most important component of all book marketing efforts. Even if your publisher has a marketing department, they will not undertake certain processes for you, such as creating a website, blogging, tweeting, sharing, pinning, and posting on your behalf. You must be the primary external voice.
A typical marketing effort from a large traditional publisher is more likely to include ad placements in trade publications such as Publishers Weekly, advance review copies sent to press, or library catalog placements. They may create and distribute a press release announcing the book launch. They may pay for table placement in certain bookstores (you didn’t think those books on tables at Barnes and Noble were placed for free, did you?) But whether they are big, small or somewhere in between, they cannot *be* you, the author.
Booktrope: A publisher with a unique business model
Of course, some of us in the book industry are trying to bend the paradigm, and we don’t actually conform to the usual standards. At my company, Booktrope, we have created a process we call Team Publishing. We use our Teamtrope platform to form creative teams in order to publish books. Each member of the team receives a direct percentage of the book profit as compensation.
Booktrope does not pay advances, but we also don’t charge up-front fees nor do we accept all submissions. By my own definition, this makes us a small to mid-size publisher. Authors in our system receive higher royalties than in the traditional publishing space, but not as high as in self-publishing. In other words, in our world, the author has the support of this team versus the support of a group of employees , but is not going it alone either.
If we boil it all down, I think the decision to self-publish or work with any publisher comes down to this: do you want or need direct support in your efforts, or are you more of a go-it-alone, independent type of author? No wrong answer, just the one that is right for you.
Katherine is the Chief Marketing Officer and co-founder of Booktrope Publishing. Prior to Booktrope, her background was primarily in technology and online marketing in both Seattle and California, working at companies such as NetApp, ADIC and Siemens. Her life-long love of books, and a desire to bring a new type of focus to marketing them, had her join forces with some other bookish folks to create Booktrope.
She is the co-author of How to Market a Book and has served on the University of Washington’s Digital Publishing Certificate Program advisory board. She has presented at many bookish events such as the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference and the Northwest Bookfest. She has also worked as an actress and a corporate trainer. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theater from the University of Southern California. Katherine currently lives in Fall City, WA with her canine and human family members. Visit Booktrope’s website and Facebook page, and connect with Katherine on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Readers, if you have questions for Katherine leave a comment and ask away!
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