Sunday, July 1, 2007

What your publisher doesn't tell you about the business of publishing

by Samantha Tang

Aspiring authors are always eager for that opportunity of a lifetime in getting their work published by established book publishers. Striving to produce an entirely unique and original piece of work, they end up disappointed when they are rejected again, and again.

It's not that their work is no good. It's not because of their incompetence. It's not that they are not good writers.

It's because they presented a product which the publisher felt did not have a demand. It's because their work fail to meet the needs of the market. It's because the publishers do not see the profits that their book could bring to the company. At the end of it all, book publishing is a business, and making profits is a publisher's primary objective. While artistic creativity and uniqueness do play a part in making you stand out from the crowd, it's the sale potential of your book that counts.

There is also the question of royalties. Most authors get a meager 5 - 10% of royalties for their work. Everyone claims that this is a small amount to earn in exchange for their intellectual property, and their efforts in churning out an excellent manuscript. While publishers are often blamed for being a scrooge with their royalties, the truth is that they bear the most risks in this business. In addition to publishing costs, there is also an entire chain of book distribution costs that are borne by publishers.

When a publisher decides to publish a book, they bear the costs of preparing the book for print - editing, typesetting, printing. All these cost money, and the publishers stand to lose their investment on a particular book should it perform below expectations. This is why they exercise caution when selecting their manuscripts. Another type of cost that publishers need to bear is the commissions given to book wholesalers, distributors and bookstores, in return for their services in getting a book distributed across the country, or the world. Distribution costs range from 50% to 60% of the retail price. That is, if the book gets sold.

Oh, and bookstores usually sell books on a risk-free, returnable and refundable basis. If a book does not sell well within just a few short months, they are duly returned to the publisher. Sometimes, publishers may work out a discount for their books at the bookstore, before having them returned. Also, hardcover books are usually returned to the publisher, but paperbacks get only their covers stripped from the book and returned. The publisher now has to figure out ways to clear the excess inventory, or suffer the consequences of bearing inventory costs. Publishers then do what needs to be done - sell these book titles at rock-bottom prices to remainder houses. This could mean $1 for a book that had previously been selling for $15.99.

These companies purchase non-performing books at a very low cost, and resell them for bargain prices at bargain book fairs. Sometimes, they even sell them back to the bookstores for a profit. Selling a book for $3 each at a cost of $1 is already a 200% profit. Otherwise, they may run a mail-order campaign and sell them directly to consumers. If all else fails, whatever's left is recycled. It's a sad story for an author to see all that hard work ending up being pulp. That's the cold hard truth about publishing that most people don't see.

Sometimes, it's not entirely the author's fault. Working with the wrong publisher means that inadequate publicity and marketing work is generated for the book. Naturally, if no one knows about your book, you'd probably not sell too many copies.

That's why, many have turned to self-publishing, or writing and marketing their own work. Authors have more control over their marketing campaigns. They are able to make a decision on pulping a book or not. Sometimes, it may be better to just give them away, than to get them recycled. Authors are able to work harder to create the publicity, or hire a publicist to do the job for them. The downside to this would be the costs involved in getting self-published. In the end, it's all about the ultimate objective of the author - Is the author getting published for recognition? Is the book a complement to his other products? Will getting a book out launch new opportunities for the author? If these are all true, then self-publishing would be a worthwhile venture to invest in.

About the Author
Samantha Tang, previously a Managing Editor for a publishing company, published 7 books within a short span of 2 years. An avid marketer, she ran events and implemented intensive book marketing strategies to get these books to the local bestseller list several times in a row. She now shares her experiences at, a book marketing strategy resource site.

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