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I’m not a gambler, but with the top 5% of writers earning almost half of everything, it’s a safe bet that if you’re a writer you don’t earn much and, because of that, writing is not your main source of income, even when you spend most of your time doing it. Is it time, then, to change the job description from ‘profession’ to ‘vocation’?
The Great Pretender
These days, there is not such a wide gap between paid and unpaid. Profession or Vocation. In practice it is no more than semantics. Don’t shelve your dream to get something out there, if that’s what’s been stopping you. After all, most people like to see what they’ve written in print.
If you’ve yet to publish, remember you’ve already done the hard part. We invest a lot of time and emotion when we write something, and taking the next step can seem almost unattainable. Publishing puts it out there, but you are the one who has created the piece of writing and its your feelings on the line. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)
In Britain, in 2005, 40% of authors earned their income solely from writing. By 2013, this had dropped to just 11.5%. This is despite being in the throes of a digital revolution. Digital is currently the third most important financial sector for writers – below books and magazines/periodicals, so print still wins out. According to the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, (ALCS), ‘Digital opportunities may be out there but authors are yet to receive the full financial benefits of this growing sector.’
Not Yet Published and Wanting to Change that Stat?
Should this influence your decision of which route to take when you seek publication of your work? Broadly speaking, options available are:
- The Mainstream Big 5 Publishers, (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster)
- Independent Publishing (Indie), or
On offer is (i) traditional offset print and digital, (ii) print on demand (POD) with digital or (iii) digital with an option to take up POD at a later date.
The Big 5 publishers very much dominate offset printing and are assuming a more commanding position in digital output, too, with their own e-book ventures. They are always striving forward. (Take for example Penguin Random House’s partnering with Oyster or Simon & Schuster’s deal with digital content platform Playster). The main point to take from this is that they do not decide whether you get published, just whether they get your book or not.
Indie, as its name suggests, is smaller and more flexible. Being independent it can also be more Maverick or entrepreneurial, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are Independent Publishers who reserve the right not to publish your book in printed form, but still define themselves as print and digital publishers. (Although your work may not be sufficiently popular to warrant a print run, other writers on their books may justify the taking of this next step.) Small businesses scale down what they offer in order to survive, as they grow they can afford more risks. If it guarantees their success and creates a respected name by staying digital and you are one of their authors, everyone wins.
It is a curious hedging of bets, to keep the gambling metaphor going, because with POD you arguably need to inform people of the option in order to get the demand and without the orders you have no idea how to predict future sales. Putting your money on the favourite, rather than each way, does reduce your stake and your risk. Then again, how much does it actually cost to publish digitally?
The answer probably depends on the amount of Marketing you commit to. An indie Publisher with a well oiled marketing machine can help a newbie quite significantly. On the other hand, if an Indie Publisher does no more than what you can do, charges you and keeps your ISBN number, then, this may be a Vanity Publisher dressed in Indie Clothing. As in any market, buyer beware.
Indie Digital versus Digi Self-Publishing
The key differences between going with a digital publisher who may never put your books in bricks and mortar stores and doing it yourself are: Digital Book Cover Design, Know-How and Marketing Reach.
(i) Digital book cover design
This can be as simple as selecting a free template from Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Their Cover Creator lets you make one based on an image you provide or a selection from their gallery of customisable stock images. After all, how difficult can it be? It’s not going to be printed.
Also potentially as straightforward as following the instructions from KDP. In the past you might have assumed that it would also include editing skills. Not these days. Some digital Indie Publishers do assume editing responsibilities, but not all. Perhaps that is the practical difference between a traditional author/publisher relationship and a hybrid author/solutions provider. Some solutions providers charge to edit the work, some Indie Publishers refuse to accept work that has not yet had that final polish. The overlap is clear. Perhaps the rule of thumb that separated vanity publishers from independent publishers should again be used: Do you have to pay?
(iii) Marketing Reach
This could be the deal breaker. It is something that all publishers now expect their authors to participate in. For example, a Social Media Platform which incorporates FaceBook, You Tube, Twitter and a blog page is apparently de rigueur. Naturally, this can impose seemingly insurmountable barriers for the uninitiated and technophobes, but once set up they can be very easily managed.
The third way, self-publishing, is attractive. To quote an online advert for an accumulator, ‘Sometimes you’ve just got to take the money and run.’ And if you are brave enough to assume command and Self Publish you may surprise yourself by your winnings.
The ALCS says, ‘Just over 25% of writers have self-published a work, with a typical return on their investment of 40%. Unsurprisingly, 86% of those who had self-published said they would do so again.’
Smashwords founder Mark Coker says in Publishers Weekly, ‘In 2015, self‑published authors are learning to think and act like professional publishers. They’re embracing best practices, and learning to use professional tools of the trade such as pre-orders, professional cover design and they’re hiring professional editors.’ Yes, professional editors are a must.
Leave ‘Never Never Land’.
Seemingly, it all depends on a marketing platform rather than technical turf assessments or crossed fingers and a determined look in the eyes of a thoroughbred. Still, what is not known is how much of any platform is random. If you have published once you’ll do it again. If you’ve never tried it yet, now’s the time to join the ranks of published authors and it’s never made more economic sense. All you have to do is press and be pressed.
It turns out Infographics, not Orange, are the New Black. It also transpires there’s a knack to their creation. And it is something that Writers, Designers and Marketers should all learn. CopyPress does a great infographic guide where we learn how to turn boredom on its head, with the same stats that caused us to yawn in the first place.
Look at this article graphic on the right here, now, that’s clever.
The data visualisation on the left’s not bad, either.
So these infographics things, aren’t they just graphics and charts?
So, haven’t they been with us since before the Flintstones went to school?
So isn’t this just putting a spin on things?
The answer is a resounding ‘No, No, No’. And here’s why: It not only simplifies, it captivates and brings the information to life. It creates in us an interest that pushes the information into the brain. That’s right, we learn, we acquire, we curate for the cycle to begin again. And we enjoy it. We beg to be allowed to pass it on to someone else.
Oh, I almost forgot, search engines love infographics! They tick the boxes and rock the boats of those word-thirsty robots crawling for interesting topics stated in a unique way.
Have you heard the one about the SEO expert who walked into a bar, grill, pub, public house, Irish, bartender, drink, beer, wine, liquor…, (but I digress).
Once we understand what infographics are it comes as no surprise to learn they are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles, that Publishers’ who use infographics grow traffic on average by 12% and that 40% of people respond better to visual information than to text.
Be it data visualisation or an article graphic, infographics are here to stay. Enough said.
By Tracy Thomson
Mainstream Publishing -Fiction and Memoirs.
Congratulations on finishing that Manuscript. (MS).
What’s the next step?
First, decide if you wish to SelfPublish or go Mainstream. If it’s the latter, and it’s fiction, most Mainstream Publishers will not accept unsolicited MS, so do you want an Agent or will you go straight to an Independent Publisher (Indie)?
It’s OK to submit to both categories and to a few agents/Indies at the same time, but keep a record and keep it personal. No-one likes beauty parades and after spending so long writing the novel or memoir, check that you are submitting to people who are going to be interested. Just a little more research can save an awful lot of time and remember, most agents live in and around the publishing hub, London. And yes, of course they talk to each other…
So, who does what?
Sell and license rights to a variety of media (not just book publishers) at home and abroad on behalf of their client authors with whom they have a contract on each book for the full term of copyright. Agents receive a commission on authors’ earnings, typically 10 to 15 per cent on earnings from home sales but rising to 20 per cent on deals made abroad.
Once an agent has taken on an author, it’s their job to pitch the book to the right editor in the most suitable publishing house. This includes Indies, in fact some smaller publishers do not accept non agented MS and Amazon’s White Glove Program can only be accessed by agents on behalf of their clients.
First let’s understand the process. Once a book is acquired from an author, it has to be edited, designed, produced, marketed to the book trade and readers, and sold to bookshops or the end- purchaser. Once the book has been printed, it has to be stored, orders are taken from retailers or consumers, and the book is then dispatched from the warehouse.
These days it’s a pretty straightforward choice: agents can submit your MS to Major Publishers’ something you alone are not able to do. If you go to an Independent Publisher, you don’t necessarily need an agent, but they can be useful. There’s no harm in trying both options. The main requirement is that you notify those you have applied to if an offer is made to represent you. This is surely common courtesy and can also perhaps persuade others to consider making you an offer, too. An agent manages the commercial aspects, for example by placing the author’s work with the right publisher or fuelling competition between publishers (on major books by holding auctions); negotiating deals to secure the best terms; by submitting their own contracts to licensors weighted in the authors’ favour; checking or querying both publishers’ advance payments against royalties, and royalty statements, and chasing debts. Most authors are unable to market the rights on their work worldwide so they mainly allow publishers to do so on their behalf. An agent representing an author may limit the rights granted to a publisher, and their territorial extent, and license the rights retained on behalf of the author to other firms at home and abroad. But, as with everything, it depends on the individual circumstances. A publisher investing a large amount, for instance in a new writer on a two-book deal, has a strong case for acquiring wide territorial rights and the sharing of other rights.
Going it Alone
Help is always on hand. Once you have received an offer you can, for example, join The Writers’ Guild, or The Society of Authors. Both provide a contract vetting service.
How to Find an Agent or Publisher
These options are for agents and publishers within the UK and are no more than a couple of suggestions, they are certainly not an exhaustive list. However, we hope they help.
The Association of Authors’ Agents:
This has links to the various members’ sites where you can then check their submissions policies. It is more of a starting point than anything, but it is FREE.
The Writers and Artists Yearbook Online Listings Directory (W&A )
According to their website they have: nearly 5,000 contacts for the book publishing industry, over 500 online-only entries, plus 35 literary agents from European and non-English speaking countries.
(It also has 125 self-publishing providers, which may or may not prove useful.)
You can search by name, location and keyword e.g. ‘romance’, by entering your search terms in the boxes;
browse by category on the Explore Categories page e.g. Literary agents UK and Ireland or Literary agents overseas; and save your favourite entries – a great tool for creating a target list for your submissions.
It costs £19.95 for twelve months, but there is no doubt that links are a whole lot easier than typing in the address each time which you had to do with the printed lists.
The Agent Hunter
Full Disclosure: The Agent Hunter offered us the chance to review the site in exchange for a free subscription and as it is something we had already recommended to some of our members, we decided to check it out.
This is another searchable database which has compiled details of agencies and agents, their likes and dislikes and submission policies. It also offers lists of independent publishers. Provided this is kept up to date it can do a lot of your sifting work for you. Fees start from as little as five pounds, making it better value than the W&A and there are no adverts (or attempts to offer Solutions Providers/Vanity Publishers.)
There is no doubt that the filters available can help narrow the search down quite substantially. Choose from amongst the following:
Client List – open to new clients, looking to add to list
Opportunities to meet
Key Entry Search Value
Agent Hunter is new – which means it should be relatively up to date, but as with all databases, there is no guarantee it is error free, something the site acknowledges and is transparent about:
“We do try very hard to stay comprehensive and up to date, but mistakes will creep through. If you spot any omission or error, please let us know. We check/update every entry at least annually, but the key entries are updated more often than that.”
Information is compiled from a number of sources:
“We get our data from agents’ websites, published directories, the Bookseller magazine, the Association of Authors’ Agents, the Publishers’ Association, other public sources of data, our own contacts, and from agents themselves.”
Personally, I’d like an additional filter added: whether they accept submissions from outside the UK, but that aside, I really like it. Another great feature is the ability to dovetail between agents and agencies and then check out Independent Publishers, too.
This is a great jumping off point before diving into the agencies’ or Publishers’ own websites and, for as little as a fiver, offers great value.
If you have any comments, please add them below,
Mainstream Publishers are more than just middlemen in the contract between author and reader. Publishers take the writer’s work and add to it creating more value in the final book. After all, a large Publisher has to report to shareholders and create profit for everyone involved, including itself- so that it may pay its staff and carry on. Costs include the advance that was given to the author: recouping this is not always possible and where there is a limited number of sales, some published authors receive only their advance.
As Clark and Phillips point out, traditionally, a Publisher’s role is all encompassing.
‘The publisher, aiming to make a profit for the owners/shareholders and to carry on publishing:
- researches the markets in which it specializes and builds contacts,
- seeks authors (in competition with other publishers) and is sought by them,
- matches marketable ideas to saleable authors,
- assesses the quality of the author’s work (sometimes externally refereed), costs of production and sales prospects,
- decides whether to risk its investment funds in projects to appear under its brand,
- edits and designs books to meet market needs,
- specifies, buys and oversees the work of print suppliers (in the UK or abroad) which manufacture the books,
- exploits new technology to reduce costs and stock levels, develop new products, and expand its sales and marketing techniques,
- builds a worldwide sales network,
- promotes and publicizes books to their intended users, the media, and to the intermediaries (retailers, wholesalers, and overseas firms) – the channels through which the books are mainly sold,
- sells the books face-to-face to intermediaries,
- holds bulk stock of titles, where necessary, to satisfy demand, and
- fulfils orders, distributes the books and collects the money, paying royalties to authors on sales made.’
When you are the Publisher you compete, then, against a well-oiled machine and Print on Demand (POD) is often the only feasible option for you. POD costs more per book but is cheaper in the short term for small prints. Off-set is for much larger volumes and the price per unit savings arguably only become worth it when distribution and storage are already part of the printing process.
There is nothing in theory to stop you Self-Publishing and going for, say, a 1,000 book off-set print, but factor in the storing and distributing of those boxes. Don’t let the damp and mildew get at them.
This is not to say you cannot go it alone, but you need to be aware of your aims and the target market before you begin. One business model is to garner sales of an EBook before moving on to the next step, that of ordering and distributing the POD books into book stores.
One major player that still prefers the Mainstream to the Self-Published is the Bookseller. This person also needs to survive and one traditional distribution method involves a ‘sale or return’ policy. Ingram Sparks has tried to plug the ‘delivery and returns’ gap. If you publish with them they operate a distribution and collection policy which can help persuade the Bookseller to stock the book, although a professional cover is also important. Ingram Spark’s ‘sale or return’ works better logistically for US based Self-Publishers, and I’ll explain why. You can opt to have the book physically returned, paying for the price of the book and $2 delivery costs. Or you can have the book returned by the Bookseller, then destroyed, by Ingram Sparks and only pay for the cost of the book printing. In theory the same arrangement exists for non US addresses. But with each book costing $20 return delivery on top of paying the book price, there is really only the option of asking Ingram Sparks to destroy it on return.
Do not despair- should you choose to go it alone build a social media platform, market your book online, show proof of sales, line your pockets and then go for the POD with all its distribution wizardry. And who knows, a Mainstream Publisher may just come a knocking.
When you compete with the professionals make sure your copy is professional too. Don’t invest in a decent cover and opt for a sale or return plan only to get rejected by Booksellers because of grammatical and structural errors. Pay for a copyedit. Or if you can’t afford it, learn how to do it yourself: brush up on grammar rules, understand copyediting conventions and don’t cobble together various parts written at various times in various moods and voices. Not if you want only one voice and for that to come across well to the reader.
By the way, can you see the ant in the title image?
Copyright 2014 Tracy Thomson
 Inside Book Publishing. Fourth edition, Routledge (2008)
Speaking to a senior player in trade publishing in London yesterday, I was struck again by how some fundamental attitudes have changed in recent years. It used to be around the bars of Frankfurt during the annual Book Fair that publishers would bare their souls and fess up sheepishly to the ones that got away. Which books that went on to be runaway bestsellers did they pass on, didn’t like or more importantly didn’t think the general public in any number would like. We all make mistakes, even the most successful amongst us, was the general consensus. But our experience and instinct will make sure we don’t blot our copybook again.
Times have changed. The precarious nature of the economy in the UK, with amongst other things, just one privately backed, stock holding high street book selling chain of any size, undergoing almost constant restructuring, is just one reason editors will be expected by their bosses to be more risk averse. When an editor takes to Twitter to confess she passed on JK Rowling’s recent crime novel written and submitted under a pseudonym, no one slaps their forehead and says “fire her”. Of course she passed on it. As I’m sure many others did too. It was yet another good if not utterly outstanding, well-crafted genre crime novel. Which, if you are writing such books that would have more been more likely to find a publisher and a decent five figure advance ten years ago, must sound depressing.
But self-publishing has also changed the game. Led inevitably by the US market, acquiring editors no longer feel that literary agents represent the only source of potentially publishable content. Part of the editor’s job now is to make sure they spot books which might be starting to create a buzz and take off within niches and communities online before they have found an agent or a publisher. CEOs and Financial Directors will forgive gambling less and missing the odd bestseller. Missing the next 50 Shades of Grey bubble however probably would be a sackable offence.
whitefox is the UK’s largest curated publishing services network –