Looking for a publisher? In North America, there are hundreds of thousands of people who dream of becoming a published author. They write in their spare time, on their days off and well into the night. Most of them, however, are reluctant to step into the ‘war zone’ that is the publishing world. “Do I self-publish? Can I get Random House to take me seriously? Should I use a Print-On-Demand publisher?” The war is on!
There is a ‘war’ going on in the publishing industry. Some people believe a writer should only approach publishing houses like Harper, Bantam or TOR. Other people believe that smaller, independent or POD publishers are the way to go. One thing is for sure; there are many aspects to contemplate when looking for the right publisher. First, what is right for one person may not be right for another. In order to make a well-informed decision you must consider the differences between the three main types of publishing.
Traditional publishing is the writer’s dream. A ‘big house’ publisher contacts you and loves your manuscript. You sign a contract a few months later. Approximately two to three years later, your book is in print and on the shelves. If you self-publish (or use a vanity press), you invest a hefty sum of money―usually $10,000 or more. You must store hundreds of books in your basement or pay for warehousing. Your book is in print and usually on the shelves in less than six months. If you use a Print-On-Demand publisher (POD), you invest a minimal amount―usually less than $2000.00. You receive 2 – 40 FREE books to do with as you please, and your book is in print in about two months.
With traditional publishing, a writer must abide by strict guidelines and every publisher has their own specific preferences. Some of the ‘big houses’ such as Berkley, and Random House will not even consider looking at an author if the writer does not have an agent. Most will not accept unsolicited work (which means simply that they have to request to see your manuscript, whether through an agent or as a result of your query letter).
The most important step is the query letter, and there is one rule to follow. The same rule applies to any piece of work you write, and is what I call The Three Firsts – first sentence, first paragraph and first page. The first sentence must grab your audience (even a potential publisher) and should contain the title of your work. It must give them a reason to read further and ‘hook’ them into wanting to read more. The first paragraph must give an even stronger hook; otherwise, your query will be filed…in the trashcan. The first and ONLY page in a query letter should answer the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why) and how. Who will buy and read your work? What is the plot? Where does the story take place and where do you see it going? When will it be finished? Why will the public be interested and why should that publisher invest their time and money in you and your work? And how are you going to help promote your work after it’s finished?
Once you’ve sent a query letter, you may be required to wait up to 6 months for an answer. If you have not already been published, or if your query letter did not grab their attention, you will receive a standard form letter, a.k.a. the rejection letter. If the publisher is interested, he may ask you to submit a proposal or plot summary and a few sample chapters. This may sit on his desk for months before he digs through the slush-pile of submissions he receives daily.
During the editing stage, the editor assigned to you will ruthlessly cut, shred and tighten your story, to their satisfaction. Sometimes you may agree with their editorial scissoring, and other times you may not. Some editors will work with you and help you churn out a top-notch novel. Others may wield their power over you until you feel someone else has written your story.
With a traditional publisher your book could take years before it sees the bookstore shelves. In the process, the publisher will determine the cover design (you may have some input, but usually the publisher makes the final decision). In most cases, you will make less than a dollar per book sold.
There are, however, undeniable benefits to being published by a traditional publisher. These books are accepted and found on most bookstore shelves. These books are returnable; this is an advantage for the customer but a disadvantage for the author as a large percentage of traditionally published books are returned or damaged. A ‘big house’ publisher will spend money on promoting you and your work; they will often arrange for interviews, appearances and booksignings. Your work will qualify for more contests, be considered more readily for movie options and, in general, you will be regarded as a professional author.
You can self-publish your book by taking your files to a printer, having them do a large run of copies, and finding a bookbinder to bind the cover or using a vanity press self-publisher to do everything. Years ago I self-published three books. I hired a layout editor, a printer and a bookbinder to publish my children’s books. By the time I was finished, I had paid $150.00 for 18 hardcover, picture book prototypes―$150.00 each! My childcare directories were cheaper to publish (they cost about $5.00 each for about 100 copies) They sold for $5.99 so I made very little from them. (I still have unsold copies sitting in my basement.)
With self-publishing the biggest drawback is that you will usually have to invest thousands of dollars to publish a large print run of your book. You can print off smaller runs of your book but that will affect your retail cost and profit. Some people have invested $10,000 to $20,000 (especially with vanity presses) for thousands of copies of their book, as this reduces the individual copy price drastically. This means that when you sell your book, the profit margin is greatly higher than what you would receive from a traditional publisher.
The downside to this is that these thousands of books must be packaged (usually shrink-wrapped and boxed) and then stored. This leads to additional costs and often to a basement loaded with boxes of books. Some authors who chose this method are still wading through the boxes of unsold books, after years of trying to market their work.
When you self-publish you must constantly find ways to market your own books. This means either hiring someone or spending hours per day organizing booksignings and trying to get your book onto a book distributor’s list. Most distributors will not even look at self-published books. Then there are the constant trips to the local bookstores, where even they will not look at you unless you are listed with a traditional publisher or a recognized POD publisher.
The advantages of self-publishing are that you have complete control over every aspect of your product―your book. You can design your own cover, layout the pages exactly the way you want, have the end product the size that you desire and market it wherever and however you feel. You can hire a publicist to help you, advertise any way and anywhere you want and schedule booksignings on your own schedule.
Print-On-Demand is becoming the wave of the future in the book publishing industry. POD publishers are sprouting up all over the world because there is a huge demand for publishing companies that will take anything the public can crank out. Consequently, anyone who wishes to be published CAN be published. While this is terrific for the person who simply wants to write his memoirs and keep it in the family, or for the grandmother who wants to leave behind a collection of family recipes, this method of publishing has its drawbacks for the serious author.
For a Canadian author, POD publishing requires a payment amount that ranges between $500.00 to $3500.00. This will usually pay for a specific package. Every POD is different in what they offer in their packages, and you must be careful of POD’s that do not disclose all fees up front. Many POD’s will charge for every process: ISBN numbers, printing costs, cover design, layout services, listing services, and internet or regular marketing services. A few companies actually give you your money’s worth―Trafford Publishing is one.
With Trafford Publishing, the largest POD company in Canada, they offer comprehensive packages, and even allow you to upgrade later by paying the difference. They promise to deliver a completed product in four to six weeks. I have personally used Trafford Publishing twice and have found their services beyond compare. There were no hidden charges, no waiting for email responses, and no issues with the finished products. In fact, both books were comparative to anything you’d find published by a ‘big house’ publisher.
Trafford was recently featured in PROFIT: Your Guide to Business Success and ranked 5th in the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Canada. Over 4000 authors (representing 5500 titles) from more than 75 countries use Trafford’s service. 2% of all new titles published in North America, and about 250 new titles every month, come from Trafford Publishing.
There are other POD companies, as mentioned above. 1st Books, iUniverse, XLibris, and many more use the Print-On-Demand technology. You should always compare services. And there are things to look for before deciding which one to use. How long has this company been in business? This is a very important factor, especially with all the ‘fly-by-night’ POD’s that have come and gone. In general, you should not even consider a company unless it has a track record of at least 5 years.
The best way to find out how a company rates is to go directly to the source. Read testimonials from other authors that have used their services. Then ask the publisher for three names and email addresses not on the testimonial list. If the publisher will not release that information, check their site. Research their authors, find email addresses and contact them. It’s amazing what you will learn about a company by talking to the people who actually use their services. You will find out if the company is slow, if they return emails promptly, if there are unusual contract clauses, and if that company is worth your investment.
You should also thoroughly research the publisher online. Look for complaints or articles about the company and look especially for the publisher’s site. Warning: If the publisher does not have his own .com, .net or .ca website―STAY AWAY. Never deal with a “publisher” who uses a sub-site address. A serious, respectable publisher will always invest in a proper website! Otherwise you will be using “Joe-Blows” service or “Grandma Mae’s In-Home Publishing”. If a POD publisher expects to be taken seriously, they will invest in a professional site, hi-tech equipment and experienced staff.
Remember to ask the 5 W’s and How:
Who owns the company? Are they experienced as a publisher? Do they have the contacts to promote you? How many years have they published books?
What have they published so far? Do they have hundreds of satisfied customers…or two or three? Some ‘publishers’ have advertised their services when they have only self-published their own work. What technology do they use for their printing, or do they hire out?
Where will your books be promoted? Will you be listed with book distributors? Will your book appear on Amazon.com and other prestigious websites?
When will you have a complete final product in your hands? Some POD’s take up to six months before you have a finished product.
Why should you trust this company? What do they offer that is over and above the other POD’s? What are their policies? Ask for a copy of the agreement or contract ahead of time. Take it to a lawyer if you must.