Jennifer Tribe

Article Summary:

If you're considering self-publishing, you need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of traditional book publishing.

Understanding Traditional Book Publishing

When most people think of book publishing, they picture the traditional model: a publishing house signs you to a contract, gives you a nice author advance, takes your manuscript, turns it into a finished book and puts it in the bookstores.

The question facing most book authors these days is whether to pursue such a deal with a publishing house or to try publishing on their own. Some hybrid models such as subsidy publishing also exist in between the two, adding to the options an author faces.

Below are the main points to consider when trying to determine whether the traditional publishing model is for you.

Financial Payoff
As an author, your earnings on a traditionally published book are low. Typically, your publisher will pay royalties of anywhere from 7 to 10% on the book's retail price. An agent, if you have one, will take 15 to 20% of the royalty. So on a $20 book, you'd earn $1.60 per copy sold. Let's say you sold 10,000 copies (a very respectable performance). Your total financial payoff would be a meager $16,000.

Financial Investment
Of course, there's a reason your financial payoff is relatively low. Your financial investment, and therefore your monetary risk in the endeavor, is practically nil. Your publisher foots the bill for professional editing of your manuscript, cover design and interior layout, printing, shipping, warehousing and other miscellaneous expenses.

Time to Release
It takes time for a book to work its way through the traditional publishing machinery. From pitching your book to a publisher to launching it in stores could easily take two years or more. If you're in a hurry to get your book out, this may not be the route for you.

Project Control
Your publisher will have the final say in a lot of major decisions such as the title of your book, the slant of the material, and the cover art. Your publisher also decides how long your book stays on the market and when it goes out of print. You may or may not agree with your publisher's decisions but you'll have to live with them. If want total control over your book, consider self-publishing instead.

The Business Side
Your publisher will secure distributors and get you into bookstores. Your publisher will set pricing and discount schedules, and negotiate with suppliers. Your publisher will issue invoices and process returns. In short, the business side of publishing your book is entirely taken care of. If you don't have time for, or can't be bothered with, such business details, a traditional publisher may be a good fit for you.

First-time authors are often shocked to discover that their publisher doesn't really provide much in the way of marketing support. The bulk of many marketing budgets are reserved for the house's well-known and bestselling authors. (The dilemma, of course, is how one becomes a bestselling author without marketing.) So just as in self-publishing, marketing your book will be your bailiwick.

It's true, as Dan Poynter says, that no one ever breathlessly enquires whether you've read the latest Random House. Your publisher's name doesn't typically factor into a consumer's decision to buy or read a book. However, there are some people who do care who your publisher is and they are people it pays to know - distributors, wholesalers, booksellers, and reviewers among them. Fair or not, self-publishing carries something of a stigma with many members of the traditional book trade. Being published by an established house will eliminate, or at least mitigate, that particular hurdle.

Most of the big publishing houses have closed their doors to unsolicited manuscripts due to the incredibly high volumes they receive - according to one estimate, between 3,000 and 5,000 manuscripts per week. That means if you want to be published by one of the big guys, you'll definitely need an agent. Some smaller houses will accept manuscripts directly but you may still want to investigate whether an agent is right for you. For a great resource, look to The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days by Fern Reiss.

In a nutshell, traditional publishing pays less, takes longer, and offers far less control than self-publishing. On the other hand, it requires little from you in terms of financial capital or administrative attention, and it avoids the stigma so often attached to self-published books. Whether traditional publishing is right for you will depend on your unique goals for your book.

Jennifer Tribe is the president of Juiced Consulting, a company that helps business owners turn their expertise into money-making information products like books, special reports, teleclasses, and audiotapes and CDs. Jennifer holds a degree in journalism and has worked extensively as a writer and editor. Her articles on information products have been published in Management Magazine, Home Business Magazine, BusinessWoman Canada, and other leading publications. Subscribe to her free e-zine, Infopreneuring Strategies, at www.juiced

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