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)