Publishing models: Which is right for you?

Yesterday I attended my first SCBWI event; an indoor picnic!  There was time at the beginning and the end for networking, but most of the meeting was a talk given by Lisa Nowak.  She is an author who is self-publishing a series of books about boys and stock cars.  Her whole talk was a comparison of different publishing methods.  She gave the pros and cons for each, but I’ll try to give a condensed version here.

She said that the method you choose should be based on your preferences.  The traditional model (ie – signing on with a big publishing house), if you can get into it, works best for an author who just wants to write and not have to do any of the legwork to get editing done, get a cover design, find someone to do the formatting, do fact-checking, or handle all the marketing.  These days, even with a publisher, you still have to do some of the marketing, and you also need to find an agent to represent your best interests with the publisher.  Big publishers have the credentials to get you into national reviews and contests, and the kinds of catalogs that librarians check to see what books they want to buy.  If you’re writing a series and the first book doesn’t sell well within an allotted period of time, the publisher will not publish any more of your books.  Publishers think two years ahead about where the market will be, and if your book doesn’t fit that, they won’t publish it.  With a publisher you lose all rights to your book and you often don’t make any profit, but you get the prestige of being able to say you were published by a big publisher and you get a small advance.  It will take two to four years to see your book in print, so if your book has a time constraint on it, (she gave the example of trying to publish something about the Mayan calendar ending at the end of this year), your book would be old news before it could be published.

Next she talked about small and independent publishers.  Some of them give a small advance, but not all, and do some marketing for you.  They also take responsibility for editing, cover design, formatting, fact-checking and sales copy, leaving you free to mostly just write.  They have access to some reviews and contests, although they aren’t always recognized by national writing organizations.  Small press is best for the author who wants to work with a small team that takes a personal interest in you and involves you in some aspects of the decision-making process.  You don’t need an agent to submit your work to a small press.  Competition to get in is fierce, however, and once in, it can still be a couple years before your book is published.  You still probably won’t make a profit, and you have to do most of the marketing yourself.  You need to really research the small press you’re considering going with because they so often go out of business, or they get into it without really knowing what they are doing.  Talk to other authors or check watchdog sites to find out what they are really like.

There are also hybrid presses where you pay part of the publishing costs and they pay the other part, and there are agents who will publish your book for you if they like it but can’t find a niche for it in the publishing world.  She warned that you need to really check both of these options out before signing on.

Finally she talked about self-publishing.  Self-publishing is for the author who has very definite ideas about your book.  You control all aspects of the process, you retain all your rights, and after paying all the costs, you make all the profit.  She says it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to self-publish, depending on what you can trade and whether you want physical copies.  Your book also comes out much more quickly, so if you have a time-sensitive topic, this is the way to go.  On the other hand, there is a stigma to self-published books.  Many stores and libraries, as well as reviewers, won’t carry self-published books.  All the costs are yours to pay, and all the work is yours to do.  In order to sell your book, you’ll need to have an outgoing personality and be linked to people through social networking.  You won’t have time to write because you’ll be busy with all aspects of publishing and promoting your book.  You also will be ineligible for many contests and awards.

Lisa asked a series of questions to help authors hone down which model is best for them:

  • What do you want from your publishing career:  Money? Fame? Creative control? Speed to press? Plenty of time to write? A publisher who will treat you as a person and listen to your input?
  • What are your skills and talents: Do you only want to write, secluded in your office? Are you comfortable doing social networking? Are you a self-starter, or do you need a deadline? Can you write sales copy?
  • What are you prepared to give up: You can have validation, but you’ll give up making a profit. You can have control, but you’ll give up time to write.
  • What is your content: If it’s for a target audience that doesn’t tend to read much (such as teenage boys), you may have to go with small press because you won’t find a publisher willing to go out on a limb for it.  If you’re writing about something that’s hot right now, but not projected to be hot in two years, you may have to self-publish.

Tomorrow I’ll share the resources she gave.  Tune in for more!

One thought on “Publishing models: Which is right for you?

  1. Wow, this was interesting, and so time appropriate for me. Thanks for sharing all this information.

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