Is Traditional Publishing the Way To Go?
Just as many people who think of writing a book believe that the major benefit that would be derived from that effort would be in the form of sales, so do a number of aspiring authors believe that the best way to publish a book is to find an agent or publisher.
I had the same mistaken notion several years ago.
When I had completed my first book, Don’t Let Your Dream Business Turn Into a Nightmare: A Cautionary Tale for Would-be Entrepreneurs, being rather naïve about the publishing industry, I called a literary agent with whom I had had some dealings during my career as a television producer. I told her about the book and she expressed some reservations about it as it did not seem to fit easily into either the memoir or the business section of a bookstore. She then recommended that I submit the book to three publishers, all based in Canada, where I live.
I did as she suggested, and within a couple of weeks, the Managing Editor of one of the publishing companies – one of the most established publishers in Canada – called me to say that he not only loved the book but thought it was “one of the most original business books he had ever read”.
I was shocked, as only a few days earlier I had had a conversation with a fellow Canadian named Terry Fallis, the author of a book entitled The Best Laid Plans, who had given me to believe that I would likely not receive any response whatsoever from the publishers to whom I had submitted my manuscript.
Terry told me that he had spent over two years trying to find a publisher for his comic novel not only without success, but without receiving so much as a single rejection letter. He said that he had sent out hundreds of inquiries and that the response from the publishing industry had been complete – and rather deafening – silence. Finally, with nothing left to lose, he decided to self-publish his book through the print-on-demand company, iUniverse.
Then, “as a lark”, he submitted the book to the Stephen Leacock Humour Competition, one of the most prestigious literary competitions in Canada.
And guess what happened.
Won one of the most prestigious literary awards in Canada with a self-published book!
Needless to say, once he had been awarded the Stephen Leacock Medal, the publishers – the very same ones who had not merely rejected his novel, but had completely ignored it – came knocking on his door.
Breaking it down, actually.
“What Gives” In the World of Traditional Publishing?
Now, if you are still of the mindset that the way to go about publishing your “expert” book is to try to elicit interest from an agent or traditional publisher, you may well be wondering, after hearing Terry’s story, “What gives in the world of traditional publishing? Doesn’t anybody there recognize a good book when they see one?”
How could an award-winning novel be completely ignored for over two years, without receiving even a single rejection letter?
Michael Levin, who has extensive experience in the world of traditional publishing, offers some insight.
Who, he asks, do you think reads the manuscripts that are submitted to traditional publishing companies?
Answer: the boyfriend or girlfriend of the assistant editor.
Levin, himself, read manuscripts for his then girlfriend while he was in law school. And what did he do? He looked for reasons to reject the submissions. Why? Because, he explains, publishers and agents only say “yes” to people who are already famous.
According to Levin, “You are not going to get a book published unless you are famous, no matter how good your material is.”
Remember the Managing Editor who said that my book was one of the most original business books he had ever read? Did the publishing company for which he worked ever publish my book?
They did not.
They never even made me an offer, which, after I had heard Terry Fallis’ story, was more of a relief than a disappointment. My book chronicles the process by which I lost control of my “dream business”, and I was very reluctant to sign over the rights to my book – and thereby lose control of it – to a publisher, who, more likely than not, would do next to nothing to promote it even if they were to publish it.
Which, as I have stated, they did not.
And, last year, that publishing company – one of the most established publishing companies in Canada, no less – declared bankruptcy.
Where would the rights to my book be now, if I had signed a contract with them?
I don’t know, but legal limbo would be my first guess.
So, the answer that I would give to anybody in any business who asks whether traditional publishing is better than self-publishing for an unknown author is – what is it that they say in New York? – fuggetaboutit!
If you are an unknown author, you aren’t going to have your “expert” book published by a traditional publisher, in all likelihood.
So, embrace self-publishing or, if you prefer, independent publishing.
And, if you think that by publishing your “expert” book independently you are going to be losing out on all that marketing might that a traditional publishing company would be putting behind your book – think again.
The 95/5 Rule
Publishers have a 95/5 rule, says Michael Levin, which means that 95% of their marketing budget goes towards promoting 5% of their inventory.
The remaining 95% of books – which is to say, your prospective book – are unloved, unwashed and alone.
Even if, by some miracle – which isn’t going to happen, by the way – your book were to be among the 5% that do receive some marketing “juice” – its shelf life would be short – 90 days, in all probability, and after that, it would disappear from the stores.
Book publishers, Levin reports, may publish as many as 60 books in a quarter, and only promote 2 or 3 of them – for 90 days or so.
Does Your “Expert” Book Match Your Rug? It Should Because It’s Wallpaper
Levin also reports having been told by the owner of a prominent bookstore chain that “only 2% of books actually make money”.
The rest are what are called ‘wallpaper’.
As if that weren’t bad enough, according to Levin, publishers routinely “obfuscate” sales royalties. (Levin’s a lawyer, remember. He knows about things like that.) “Royalty statements are indecipherable,” he adds, and counsels, “if you want immediate gratification, stay away from traditional publishers”.
Levin’s sage advice notwithstanding, as I have stated, I do not believe that for the vast majority of speakers, seminar leaders, coaches, consultants and entrepreneurs – that is, for just about anybody in any business – there is even a question as to whether to choose a traditional publisher over self-publishing, simply because, unless you already have a platform upon which to promote your book, traditional publishing companies are not interested in you or your book.
Unless you host a nationally-syndicated radio or television show or have a popular newspaper or magazine column, or are a film or music industry celebrity – self-publishing is the only way to go.
After my first book was published, I sent a copy of it to one of the most respected consultants in the spa industry, Skip Williams, whose presentation I had attended at the International Spa Association convention a few years earlier. (My book is about opening one of the first day spas in the world for men.)
Skip loved the book, and not only did he provide me with a testimonial for my website, he was delighted to write a foreword to the second edition of my book, which I published in 2011.
I was able to do that because I am not only an author – I am a publisher.
And, if I want to publish a second edition of my book, I can.
I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.
Certainly not the permission of a publisher that declared bankruptcy last year!
In the event that you are not convinced that self-publishing is the way to go for your “expert” book, the following is a list of the benefits of independent publishing over the traditional model:
- Speed – you can get your book into the marketplace within weeks, as opposed to the traditional publishing model which takes, on average, 36 months to bring a book to market
- You don’t have to worry about rejection
- Self-publishing is cheap or even free
- You can set your own price for your book and keep the lion’s share of the revenue when you sell it
- You have complete control of all ancillary rights to your book, such as DVD’s, audio books, films, sequels, etc. Traditional publishers often grab these rights from authors in the fine print of their contracts
- With print-on-demand technology, you can print only the number you want or need – one at a time, if you wish – and sell your book without having to warehouse copies in your basement or garage
- Since you would be doing your own marketing even if you had a publisher, you may as well reap the benefits of whatever media attention you can garner for your book, and learn how to do it
- Dealing with POD companies is a pleasure compared with publishing companies because you are the customer – not another supplicant with a book that needs rejecting, so the attitude which you will encounter will be completely different
- Since you own the rights to your book, you don’t have to worry about achieving sales within any pre-determined time frame. You can think of marketing your book in the same way you regard raising a child – that is, as a 20-year process, at least