At the 2009 60th annual National Book Awards ceremony, host and comedian Andy Borowitz said when he was first invited to emcee the awards, he was so honored, he told them that he’d have done it for free. As it turned out, he quipped, “The NBA (National Book Association) had the same idea.” And when it comes to the economics of the publishing world, Borowitz said, “We’re all in the same sinking ship.”
The Burnham Wood has come to Dunsinane *—and none too soon as far as the growing group of outstanding authors (The Masses) is concerned. Bleeding from multiple stabs of undeserved pink rejection slips, they now realize that for too long they’ve been slighted by an industry that was never set up to publish hundreds of thousands of books annually. It was never even set up to publish one hundredth of the outstanding books that deserve to be out there in the marketplace.
Bottom Line: Today, just as in the automobile industry, the resulting hybrids of traditional, co- and self-publishing companies often operating under the same corporate roof are here to stay, often not by choice but by necessity. The masses, aka savvy online authors and marketers, are already eating cake.** The Internet has been a boon to entrepreneurs and marketing gurus--especially for those who understand the value of using a book with their byline as a marketing tool.
Digital technologies came, saw and conquered the marketplace and this is a fact that no traditional publisher can ignore. That they have “evolutionized” the publishing industry is another fact that Wall Street as well as the corporate media moguls have been forced to accept—even though at times the truth has been hard going down. Collapse of the print newspaper and magazine industries are imminent and no one can deny that the latest business model for the book industry—1) print on demand hard copy books, 2) virtual books delivered wirelessly or as downloads to computers and reading devices, and 3) books instantly printed at the point of sale—are both a reader’s and writer’s bonanza. For the entrepreneur and business owner, a book bearing their byline is even more than that because of the value it adds to their promotional toolkits.
The Information Age and advent of the Internet with the World Wide Web followed by sophisticated search engine technologies have turned book-buying strategies upside-down. Instead of publishers dictating what readers should buy, readers are telling publishers what they need to produce—and if they refuse, all is not lost. They’ll publish the works themselves.
For the enterprising business person who knows how to brand and create trends, a book reinforces the link between you and your customers or the public at large. It sets the tone of trust, quality and dependability that gives people that feeling of doing business with someone you feel you know personally even if you don’t.
Never before has the world been friendlier to book authors and never before have there been so many venues for publishing and selling books.
A brief history of publishing
Not so long ago, unless you wanted to be labeled a “vanity author,” your works had to be published by a traditional publisher. “Vanity” was a term that was frowned upon by elitist publishers, published authors and any writer who took their career seriously. They never would have considered vanity or self-publishing. Today that term has taken its place among hoop skirts, corsets and button-hook elbow length gloves. It is not only archaic and outmoded but has also undergone a serious semantic face lift. “Vanity” publishing is now known as “self-publishing” and in most business sectors is treated with the utmost respect because of its marketing and advertising potential.
Traditional publishing and how it works
A writer submits their finished manuscript either directly to a publisher or in more recent times, indirectly through a literary agent. Today most of the large traditional publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. The literary agent shops your book to appropriate publishers or to the ones with whom they have “connections.” Politics has always played a key role in getting a book on the desk of the editor-in-chief. We need to be honest about that, just as we need to be honest about “vanity” publishing in former days.
Often, unless they looked for the evidence, the reading public never learned that a significant percentage of traditionally published books were subsidized by a private foundation, benefactor or corporation. Subsidies were in the form of grants and charitable donations from foundations or trusts, or they were simply business arrangements made between the CEO and marketing director of a large corporation and the publisher.
An agreement to buy the first print run of 10,000 books within the first 30 days at retail price creates a best seller. Or, simply the sponsorship of a print run of over 10,000 copies gives the publisher enough capital to produce the book and get it into distribution.
A traditional publisher pays all the production and administrative expenses. They used to make the full investment in marketing and promotion as well, but today, unless the author is well-known, this is no longer part of the package. In fact, often the publisher requires a commitment from the author to deliver a certain sum to be applied toward the “marketing budget.”
They may also request a new author to contract a publicist for at least six months to a year after the book reaches the street. These are things the author learns about after the book has been accepted and they’re about to sign on the dotted line. At that point they may be so excited to be working with a bona fide “traditional publisher,” they’ll spend two or three times the amount on a publicist than they would have spent had they self- or co-published their book. (Remember, no publisher can guarantee sales, especially for a new or unknown author. Therefore, in a marketplace glutted with new books, whether a new or unknown author publishes traditionally or self-publishes, the stakes are almost the same.)
The author retains the copyright for the book; a publisher merely acquires a license to publish and sell it. The author will receive a royalty or percentage of the sale price of each book sold. (“Sale price” can be significantly different from the “list price.” Amazon.com, for example, discounts most books.)
Books that are traditionally published have certain advantages over self- or co-published books:
- Media will interview the author (especially if the publisher and media network are owned by the same corporation).
- Top of the line literary magazines and publishing trade journals, including library journals (the ones that give the nod to acquisition directors and bookstore buyers) will review the books.
- Brick & mortar bookstores will give the book shelf space (at least for 30 days; if the book catches on, shelf and display space and time will be extended).
- Brick & mortar bookstores will also welcome book signings, readings and appearances. They may even invest in marketing and advertising (especially if the stores are partly owned by the publishing /media conglomerate).
It would seem that an author should be thrilled to have their manuscript accepted by a traditional publisher because: 1) they don’t have to pay any of the production costs and may not have to pay marketing and promotion costs, although this is becoming rare, and 2) they get the best possible media coverage, free.
The cold hard truth
Most books don’t make it past the 30-day point and the game is over almost before it begins. Books that don’t catch fire and start to deliver significant sales numbers will be removed from brick & mortar bookshelves and trucked back to the distributors’ and wholesalers’ warehouses where they will be inventoried to collect dust (and fees paid by the publisher) until sold off as remainders, returned to the publisher at the publisher’s expense, or destroyed.
Publishing would be a losing business if not for a few staple categories, such as diet books, cookbooks, chick lit, romance and whodunits; and the publisher’s stall of celebrity authors. Publishers owned by film companies can also make up for losses through subsidiary rights or other versions of the book as films, DVDs, etc.