General Question

windex's avatar

What are the differences between different book publishing options that are available?

Asked by windex (2926points) September 7th, 2010

Hey fluther, long time, like the redesign…

So I always hear/read about authors going to publishers and some being turned away/rejected by x number of publishers. And I was wondering. Since you have Lulu, Amazon, Blurb etc. Why would you bother with the other people who might turn you down?

Is it because they have some sort of deal w/bookstores and will market your book for you for FREE? I’m guessing not, then why not just spend the money on advertising yourself or hire a firm etc.
Is it because only those kinds of publishers will get your book on bookshelves? I’m confused.

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11 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

A regular commercial book publisher does more than print copies. There is a selection process because they want a book they can sell; they make their money from book buyers and not from charging authors money.

They also perform editorial functions of some sort, even though these typically don’t measure up to the rigorous standards of old.

And they provide channels of distribution and (at least a little) promotion, even though, again, it’s nothing like it used to be, unless your book is expected to be a “big book” that will make bestseller lists. Much more than before, authors do most of the promotion—but selling is easier when your book is under a “real” publisher’s imprint than when it’s published by My Little Book Company.

Anybody can go pay someone to turn their manuscript into a book. The author is not the best judge of a manuscript’s readiness to go to press.

If you don’t think having an editor involved makes a difference, I can point you (privately) to a number of self-published books that ought to change your mind.

Authors can, of course, promote and sell their own books. I know one such who has been pushing his (printed, but never edited) novel for at least 5 years, and let me tell you, this guy is a self-promoter who never lets a prospect elude him. At least three times in the past two years I’ve heard him announce that he had reached the 5000-copies mark (a significant milestone); the last time he did so, he said he was “almost” at 5000 copies. So either the total sold has been going down or he has been shamelessly rounding up. I broke down eventually and bought a copy, and it was horrible, a shuddering embarrassment.

Another author I know spends every weekend driving up and down the coast (where gas is not cheap) to hold book signings in every California bookstore that’ll have her—events that she has had to schedule herself and must show up for whether anyone comes or not. And another is lucky enough to get a lot of speaking engagements where she peddles copies in an exhausting round of small-club events and sponsored dinners.

Self-publishing is more respectable than it used to be, but there is still a huge risk in that you may never recover your cash outlay and you may go out there with a book that was nowhere near ready for prime time.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Here is an article on self-publishing that you might find helpful. The average sales per title for self-published books seems to be around 100 copies per title. The NYT ran an insightful piece last year about leveraging self-publishing as part of a marketing campaign.

crazyivan's avatar

There are times when self-publishing makes sense. For example, if you already have a platform (ie you are a motivational speaker and are going to be selling copies of your book at your speaking engagements or you have technical expertise, have written a technical book with a narrow audience and intend to sell it at trade conventions).

In virtually every other circumstance, you should first seek traditional publishing. The idea is that if you want to be a good writer, you are going to have to work damn hard at it so rather than spending your days chasing down a radio interview or haggling with a bookstore, you should be spending your day writing. But there’s a far more important point that Jeruba touched on and it is the real key: If your manuscript is good enough to sell, the publishers will buy it.

If a publisher (or, more likely, a number of publishers) turn down your manuscript it might be a good time to take a critical look at it and ask if there’s anything you can do to improve it. Perhaps it needs a punchier opening, perhaps it drags in the middle, perhaps you haven’t done enough work editing and your manuscript looks amateur. A publisher is in a position to know if a book will succeed or fail and, unlike your mom, will tell you if they think it sucks.

Now, self-publishing can be made to work. There are a million failures to every modest success, but with the increasing popularity of kindle (et al) the cost is much lower than it used to be so the risks are diminishing just as the reward for traditional publishing are decreasing. This makes the self publishing option more attractive every day, but it is still (by far) the long shot in the publishing world.

Another serious factor to consider is that once a book is published, it’s published whether it was self-published or put out by a major publishing house. If you choose to self-publish, many publishers would no longer be interested in buying the manuscript because of copyright complications. In other words, self publishing can’t be undone if you later stumble upon a real opportunity to market your book with a major player.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Books aren’t what they used to be, and nor are publishing houses. It used to be that books were the best and virtually the only way to get complex ideas to the world. Now we have that little thing called the Internet. You can put up a webpage expounding your ideas for virtually no cost, so why bother writing a book? Publishing houses today are primarily marketing organizations. They publish books that they believe that people will buy. Each book published is a business decision for them, weighing the cost against the probability of success. If nobody is likely to buy your book, they are likely to lose money on their efforts trying to get your book published. Most books these days don’t make money. There are a few such as “Harry Potter” that do, but they’re the exception, not the rule. Academic authors are driven partly by their university promotions and tenure policies, writing mainly to ensure job security. Academic authors report that their income for their efforts is often as little as 10 cents per hour.

Jeruba's avatar

Those above have added valid points. This thread is developing some real scope.

I must counter one of @crazyivan‘s points by repeating what numerous published authors who have spoken at the monthly writers’ club meeting I attend have said: namely, that self-publishing can be a route to conventional publishing. If you have sold more than 5000 copies (which tends to assume that you do have the mentioned platform), and your book is in good shape, you can interest one of the big commercial houses in picking it up as is. They may be able to use the pages exactly as you have them made up and not have to provide editing, composition, etc. In that case it is a low-cost investment for them, and they get your track record without any effort on their part; and what you get in exchange is the imprint and the distribution, and maybe a contract for a second book, with advance.

crazyivan's avatar

Good point. I should clarify. A number of publishing houses will not touch a book if they aren’t getting the first print on it. This is hardly the standard but there have been a number of cases of people self-publishing and then sending out queries. Once they hook a publisher there is a chance that the publisher will turn them down because they want to avoid copyright complications in the future.

All that being said, the publishing industry is undergoing massive transformations right now in an increasingly desperate attempt to stay relevant and I think that this attitude is on the wane.

windex's avatar

thank you SO MUCH fluther! : )

Andreas's avatar

@crazyivan If a publisher (or, more likely, a number of publishers) turn down your manuscript it might be a good time to take a critical look at it… Always remember that publishers are just human, and therefore what they say is realistically their opinion, educated, maybe, but still opinion. It’s even conceivable that Shakespeare, were he alive and publishing today, might get rejected by many publishing houses. It seems that a new face and name is a gamble few are willing to take.

I have noticed that there a re a few established authors who have unknown authors work with them to establish the unknown authors’ credentials, and then the unknown authors branch out on their own. James Paterson is one such author who had had unknown authors do this.

There are others.

crazyivan's avatar

Good point. Though many would suggest that Patterson simply slaps his name on other peoples work the effect is the same. (Patterson has more or less admitted he has very little involvement in these projects and rarely sees them before the 2nd draft is complete)

That being said you are certainly right and my post really glazed over that entirely. I by no means meant to imply that repeated rejection is a reason to give up, but one should still look critically at their work. Even the best of books are generally rejected before they’re accepted so you have to stick with it one way or the other. The point I was trying to make is that one should not become married to their work. Staying objective and flexible will speed up a process that is pain full no matter what.

Jeruba's avatar

There’s also the fact that a good, worthy, and acceptable book can get a turndown by a publisher for reasons unrelated to the quality of the book; for example,
— because it’s not the type of book they do (you’ve sent a gardening book to a publisher who does young adult fiction or male-oriented action yarns)—something an agent is expected to help with; or
— because it’s not distinct enough from similar books in the marketplace (there’s a glut of zombie gardening books); or
— because even if it’s a hot trend, the publisher has already filled that slot on its list (they’ve purchased two zombie gardening books already and can’t handle a third).

More reasons not to give up too easily.

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