What I believe in:
Notice how many times I’ve repeated the word quality. I stand behind quality work and quality service. I give my all to my clients and I want them to know that. I am deeply committed to delivering a product that looks good and reads well. If my clients aren’t satisfied with the drafted material I’ve completed for them, I reassure them we’ll start over. I’ll be there for them until we get it right!
The same standards hold true for my publishing business. We are a boutique co-publishing company, which means that unlike most online turnkey web businesses that produce whatever is submitted and call it a book, we accept only a small percentage of the manuscripts that are submitted to us.
I or a competent member of my staff personally read a portion of every manuscript. Usually I can tell within the first 20-25 pages whether the author is on target with their material, has something valuable to say and is saying it in a unique way. I do not intend to be dismissive, but after awhile, it becomes obvious if a work is not yet ready to be published. Some writers may submit a work that has potential but may still need a great deal of work. Often, however, they are unwilling to admit this (“my word is the word of God… don’t you dare change one word, etc.”).
If I feel a work isn’t ready for publishing but the author feels otherwise—if they really want to get a book out there, I suggest they go to one of the many turnkey online companies to publish it. Rates are reasonable and some don’t charge anything at all. I don’t know who’s paying the salaries of their book designers, editors and proofreaders, but if their business model works for them and they’re making profits, all the more power to them.
I do know, however, that I wouldn’t entrust my work to an online self-publishing company that promises free editing and proofreading.
If you shop around, you’ll find a variety of co-publishing and publishing service packages as well as self-publishing ones. I offer consulting services for those who are confused about the different packages or about the wording of a publishing contract.
Recently I served as a publishing consultant for a man who was about to sign with a co-publishing company that offered an interesting contract. They did not charge for editing, proofreading, book cover and interior design and layout. Their only fee was for the purchase of 500 books—at print cost.
They also offered wholesaling and distribution. This meant the books could be sold not only online but also through brick & mortar bookstores. To fulfill the brick & mortar bookstore requirement, as I mentioned earlier, this meant the books would have to be printed offset rather than digitally. (It is an industry requirement that only books that are printed offset are entitled to be placed in brick & mortar bookstores.)
This publishing company also offered free marketing and promotion services.
I was amazed because it seemed to be the best of all possible worlds and yet I couldn’t understand how they could make any money. The book in consideration was 600 pages—twice the size of a standard book these days. Most digital or online publishers would suggest that it be divided in two or cut down to approximately 300 pages. The reason for this is the simple mathematics of digital printing. The unit cost for a print on demand book always stays the same, regardless of how many books one prints—unless one prints over 3000 books at a time. The unit cost will then start to drop. However at that point, often the book will be printed offset—a longer process without the benefits of digital printing—because the unit cost will be even less.
A book that is 600 pages in length would have a very high print cost because the unit cost is based on the total number of pages. In order to make significant profits, the publisher must charge at least three times the print cost, to allow for retailer discounts (online bookstores usually discount the list price). The high retail cost would influence sales significantly.
Many editors candidly state, “If you can’t say it in 300 pages, it’s not worth saying.” In other words, it is critically important to learn how to be succinct. Readers are turned off by books that become repetitive and boring. Most often, unless the book requires extensive footnotes, quoted material, diagrams, photos and graphics, I’ve discovered it could easily be given a good barbering.
Added to all of the amazing benefits of publishing with this particular company was the author’s compensation. He would be receiving all the revenues from book sales after the distributor had deducted their share!
I studied the contract, reviewed it with the author, asking many questions, and could find nothing wrong with it. I did ask the author to have the publishing company send him a marketing plan, but apparently they were unwilling to do so. They merely told him they were going to conduct an “aggressive campaign.” That was the only red flag, but it was a big one. The term “aggressive” is meaningless unless accompanied by a document that spells out exactly what the publisher plans to do, how much money they intended to invest and how they plan to do it (with a time line).
Shortly afterward, I edited an exceptionally long manuscript for a client. Since it was a textbook and not what is called by the industry a “trade book” or product for general consumption, the length was permissible.
After I’d completed editing the work, my client asked if Dandelion would publish it. She was eager to get top sales for it; in fact, she even envisioned it as a best seller. Of course, she wanted to see it on the shelves of the brick & mortar bookstores.
I don’t like to disillusion an author because I could always be wrong. Let’s say I was 99% positive that this book did not fit best seller requirements. First of all, it was an esoteric book that had the potential for being banned or censored by some religious groups. Second, even if censorship would work in favor of delivering sales from the curious and clueless, these individuals would find her book difficult to read. I mentioned previously that it would be classified as a textbook.
It was not a trade book. It was not for the general public. Any book that will probably not appeal to the masses usually has little potential for hitting the best seller lists, or even for getting top sales. Clearly, my client had not visualized her readership when she listed her goals for this book—or, for that matter, when she set out to write it.
I told my client it was an exceptional book; that was true and I felt honored to have had an opportunity to edit it. However, I told her frankly that I didn’t see how my publishing company could get many sales for it because the work had such a select (and narrow) readership. Also, since we print our books digitally (print on demand), brick & mortar bookstores wouldn’t sell it.
I suggested she send her manuscript to the “amazing publishing company” whose publishing contract I had just reviewed. It seemed to answer all her needs, and the price was certainly right.
She did as I suggested, but—here’s the clincher—the “deal” they offered her was considerably different from the one that was given to the man whose contract I’d reviewed. She was asked to purchase 1,000, not 500 copies, and they asked her cut the book size in half. If she didn’t want to do that work herself, they would do it, for a fee. Also, she would not receive all the revenues from sales. Again, no marketing plan was forthcoming, yet the word “aggressive” was included in her conversation with the company’s director.
I was puzzled by the discrepancy in the two publishing contracts, so I contacted the man who had consulted with me.
Following is the information I did NOT know until then:
The publisher was in fact doing a first print run of 1000, but one of the man’s clients who was a long-time best-selling author with this publisher, was paying for half the books, or 500 copies. This meant the man only had to buy the other 500. The celebrity author planned to give away those 500 books to his fan club. (Did you note that? Did you also note that this client is a best-selling author? I forgot to mention that he is also a marketing professional and a member of the National Speakers’ Bureau.) This promotion plan already gave the man a head start for his sales, since the best-selling author’s fan club included some heavy-duty marketing people (in addition to himself) who, the publisher was well aware, would get behind the book and promote it through all of their own venues.
I don’t know yet if this story has a happy ending, since the book was just published, but the “profit” question for the publisher was easily solved. The publishing company was making so much money on their celebrity author’s books, they could afford to give his friend a good deal—especially if that celebrity author made a commitment to buy the first 500 copies and do some significant marketing and promotion for it himself.
Later, I learned that the publishing company did no online marketing and promotion for the book. Although the author has a website, he was not informed that it might be a good idea to promote (and sell) the book on that site. He is not particularly computer savvy and knows nothing about social networking and online promotion strategies. Apparently the publisher doesn’t consider online marketing particularly important, so it was not included in their “aggressive marketing campaign.”
Since the book was written to support this practitioner’s desire to enhance his client base, both offline in his physical office, and online through teleconferencing, in my humble opinion (IMHO) I believe it would surely be in his best interest to link his website to the book.
The reason for citing this example is not to try to find fault with this particular publisher, but to urge you to research your publishing choices carefully. Ask questions. Get definite answers. If someone is getting a better deal than you, as in this case, find out why. Be a good detective.