Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

05/02/2010

In Between the Lines of Self Publishing

Filed under: backlist books,book contracts,eBooks,self-publishing — gator1965 @ 1:41 pm

“Hey, John!” screams my buddy, Numbnuts, “I self-published my book for $3,000; NOW they aren’t even going to promote the damn thing! Ain’t that something?”

“Numb,” I reply, “I TOLD you before you have to check the contract IN DETAIL, before you sign anybody to self-publish. There are still a lot of scammy people out there even though self-publishing is more accepted in today’s publishing environment.”

Soooo True, and that’s why I am addressing some of the realities and perils of self-publishing today.

Fact is, self-publishers do no or little book promotion; but, as the self-publishing industry heats up, some will probably offer more promotion (at an increased cost) to attract business…AND here is where you will need details and specifics in your contract…Plus other considerations.

Laura McFarland of the Rocky Mount Telegram dot com wrote an excellent piece
on the issues of self-publishing:

People have read his books.

Steven B. Pavelsky’s name never has been on The New York Times best-seller list. He has not made millions, or even thousands, of dollars in royalties or been courted by publishing companies.

In fact, Pavelsky paid to publish two of three books he has written, which have sold fewer than 2,000 copies between them. He plans to self-publish a collection of short stories he is working on, and he has no idea how it will be received. But none of that matters to him.

“If you spend your whole life trying to get it published, and you are not a John Grisham or someone, then you might not ever get read. This way, there are people reading me and there are people discussing my stuff,” said Pavelsky of Leggett.

In the last decade, the self-publishing industry has exploded, said Mark Levine, author of “The Fine Print of Self Publishing.” Changes in printing technology and a gradual shift in the book industry’s attitude toward self-publishing have helped the practice flourish. Hundreds of thousands of people every year pay to have their books done by publishing houses, vanity presses and websites such as lulu.comand iuniverse.com, Levine said.

“The traditional publishing industry has been in such a free fall. It has been crumbling so quickly at all levels. Book stores are going out of business. Borders has laid off tons of people. The whole industry has changed, and what that has done is allowed more people to successfully self publish today,” Levine said.

Holding your book in your hand for the first time is an amazing experience and worth the time and money if that is what the writer wants, Levine said.

But there are pitfalls people who are considering self-publishing need to be aware of before they sign contracts or money changes hands, Levine said. Whether authors write a book to share with friends and family or to launch a career, they need to familiarize themselves with the publishing process and research the companies they are considering.

Before starting the process, authors need to finish their books and invest shaping and editing them, Levine said. Part of the reason self-publishing has developed a negative reputation is that people are writing books that aren’t edited, lack organization and are poorly made.

Though Yvonne Rhodes of Rocky Mount finished writing her second devotional in January, she has spent more than three months editing it. As with a devotional she published in 2004, Rhodes will send the manuscript to Morris Publishing in Kearney, Neb., and order 400 copies. The cost is expected to be about $2,000, which she has been saving for about a year.

“My other book I did send to Zondervan. I sent that one to an editor there, but she wrote me back and said at that particular time they weren’t in the market for that type of book,” Rhodes said.

Rejection from a traditional book company or fear of it is the main reason people choose self-publishing, Levine said. Traditional publishing houses have slashed the number of new authors they are signing. Even with some of the books they do pay to publish, they require the author to pay for marketing.

“A lot of authors don’t have any perception that they need to spend a lot of money to market the book. There seems to be a perception by authors that it will be out there and people will find it,” Levine said.

Kelly Traylor didn’t realize how involved promoting her book, “Summer at the Point,” would be when she published it in 2009 on lulu.com. A family member recommended the site, so Traylor didn’t look at other companies.

Traylor said she realizes now how much she didn’t know about publishing a book. Many of her sales came from telling people about the book. People can order the book from lulu.com, but unless someone knows it is there and looks for it, there is nothing to draw attention to it, she said.

“I need to do a little bit more research before I pick a company if I do decide to self-publish again. I actually need to see how much work is involved on their part, and I would probably talk to some authors who have used the company before instead of just taking one person’s word on it,” said Traylor, a registered nurse at Nash General Hospital.

Most of the sales of Pavelsky’s “Dark Waters” and “Racing Plastic Pink Flamingos” also were due to word of mouth. The costs iuniverse.comwould have charged to promote the book were too much for him. Still, he liked the company and plans to publish his short story collection through it.

The biggest problem in the way most self-publishing companies are structured is the way they mark up printing costs anywhere from 50 percent to 140 percent, Levine said. Often, if an author wants to recoup some of his or her money or even make a profit, he or she has to charge more than most people are willing to pay for the book.

“It is difficult enough to sell a book if it is priced right. But if you are selling a 250-page novel for $18.99, it is not going to happen,” Levine said.

Authors need to look at all the services a company offers, including editing, cover design, copyright and promotion, Levine said. Read contracts carefully before signing them, and do not take anything as a guarantee until it is in writing.

Price shop several companies and look at feedback from other writers who have used them, he said. Many companies offer package deals, but authors should make sure they include all the services they will need. If not, how much will additional services cost?

What it boils down to is picking a company who will deliver on their promises, work hard and not offer unrealistic guarantees to convince an author to sign with it, Levine said.

“It is like picking a day care for your child, and for a lot of people, their books are like their children,” he said.

———-
SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS

Among the famous authors and the books they self-published are:

•Howard Fast — “Spartacus.”
•Christopher Paolini — “Eragon.”
•Virginia Woolf — “A Room of One’s Own.”
•Richard Paul Evans — “The Christmas Box.”
•Beatrix Potter — “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.”
•James Joyce — “Ulysses.”
•John Grisham — “A Time To Kill.”
•Mark Twain — “Huckelberry Finn.”

03/01/2010

Penguin’s U.S. Publishing Unit Is Profitable!…Bucks Industry Trend

Filed under: backlist books,eBooks,Penquin publishers,publishing profits — gator1965 @ 6:14 pm

Penquin publishers made good bucks in 2009 due to a surprise vampire bestseller and robust paperback backlist sales from known authors. This is a spot of sunny news in the middle of a publishing-profit drought! Must be good vision and leadership AND a little luck, huh?

Anyway, Matthew Flamm of Crain’s New York Business, reports this publishing-profit oasis this way:

‘The surprise bestseller The Help, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse vampire series and a spike in paperback sales of older titles allowed Penguin Group (USA) to shine as the star performer of parent Penguin Group, which on Monday reported 2009 revenue of more than 1 billion pounds, or about $1.5 billion, up 11% over the prior year.

The parent company’s gains were entirely due to a strong dollar relative to the pound. At constant currency rates, revenue fell by 1%. But sales were still up at the U.S. division over the prior year, according to Penguin USA, making the publisher one of the few American houses to see growth in 2009. A tough environment for retailers that has hit booksellers particularly hard has hurt the publishing industry overall.

Penguin Group, a division of Pearson PLC, does not break out the performance of its units, but it is generally considered that Penguin USA contributes about 60% of revenue.

“If we’d been thinking a year ago about whether we could deliver this kind of performance in 2009, we would have been pretty doubtful about it,” said Penguin Group Chief Executive John Makinson.

The breakout success of Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel The Help, which has 1.7 million copies in print, played a key role. But Mr. Makinson said that overall the division was helped by a wide range of best selling titles, many from well-known authors with proven track records, like Nora Roberts, Michael Pollan and Ms. Harris.

“This was the performance of a business that had thought quite carefully about distribution of risk, and wasn’t dependent on any one big bet,” Mr. Makinson said.

Penguin USA Chief Executive David Shanks also credited sales growth at the children’s division and double-digit growth for paperback sales of titles by brand-name authors like Patricia Cornwall and Ms. Roberts. Those backlist titles performed especially well in the bad economy.

“We felt and went about convincing our accounts that in a bad time, if people had money to spend, they were going to fall back on names they could trust,” Mr. Shanks said.

E-book sales, though still a fraction of the overall business, grew by 300%, year over year. According to Mr. Shanks, those sales also contributed to how well the backlist performed.

“We sold a lot of backlist e-books,” he said. “It wasn’t all New York Times bestsellers.”

Operating profit for Penguin Group fell 10% to 84 million pounds, or $125 million. At constant exchange rates, the decline came to 17%. It was attributed to restructuring costs at Penguin UK and the Dorling Kindersley division.’

01/18/2010

E-books Spark Battle Inside the Publishing Industry


Publishers want to maintain their disproportionate profit margins, writers want a larger share of revenue and readers want plentiful books at cheaper prices! A large order but one that is being brought into focus by the coming of the digital age and e-books.

Washington Post Staff Writer, Marion Maneker, nailed the archaic publishing industry in her article on 27 Dec 2009:

The evolution of publishing from print to digital has caused a schism in the reading world. There are now two constituencies: readers (and writers) on the one hand, and the publishing world on the other. And they don’t want to hear each other.

Readers want books that are plentiful and cheap, publishers want to preserve their profit, and authors want a larger share of revenue. The conflict has created a strident internecine battle inside the publishing industry. At issue are the price and timing of e-books, and who owns the rights to backlist titles. While publishers, agents and Amazon.com bicker, there is little time for conceiving new content that satisfies customer demand. If the book business doesn’t tune in to that demand, it could wind up as a transitional source for the e-readers.

We know that readers want content, because it’s clear they’re not dazzled by the device. Consumers have made Amazon’s limited and rudimentary device a hit, which speaks to their desire for books that are cheaper and easier to obtain. It surely isn’t the device’s design or functionality. Both are closer to the computer aesthetic of the 1980s than today’s digital world. The Kindle may have lots of titles available — but good luck using the device to decide what to read next.

But publishers have ignored this demand. In response, several conglomerates have aggressively moved to protect their legacy. Macmillan recently announced a plan to delay the publication of e-books and offer enhancements that will justify a higher price. This tactic is aimed at Amazon’s policy of trying to set $9.99 as the expected price for an e-book. Most are priced much higher — but that’s beside the point. Amazon and publishers are fighting over this fiction, not the reality. Because Amazon’s customers have made it clear that $9.99 is still too high for their taste. Most titles in the company’s list of top 100 Kindle bestsellers are priced below $9.99, and the most popular price point is $0.00. But publishers can’t hear this, because they’re a little distracted right now.

The New York Times recently played up friction between publishers and agents over the electronic rights to backlist books. Random House has sent a letter to literary agents claiming to hold these rights even though it lost a court case on the subject. But agent, e-book publisher and blogger Richard Curtis puts the issue in perspective when he points out that few books are actually at stake here, because electronic rights became a contractual standard in 1990.

The real battle here is not over who controls the backlist rights but what royalties the publisher will pay. Stephen Covey caused a lot of consternation at Simon & Schuster last week when it was announced that he was taking his best backlist titles and publishing them with RosettaBooks, the e-book publisher that tangled with Random House on the issue and won. RosettaBooks is offering Covey half of the publishing proceeds, not the 25 percent or less he’d get from Simon. Publishers want these backlist books to add dollars to their bottom line; authors want to get a higher royalty for the backlist titles because the publisher doesn’t need to make any further investment to generate sales. There’s not a lot of room here to meet in the middle.

The stalemate ignores an important shift that digital publishing accelerates. The success of the book business over the past two decades was about expanding the supply of books. Growth came through increased volume, more titles and more title availability. That’s the story of the six big conglomerates and the growth of the superstores. But digital publishing inverts that formula — its magic is in the way it meets demand efficiently.

Barnes & Noble discovered that recently when the first of its Nook devices landed in the hands of reviewers. David Pogue and Walt Mossberg have both judged it a dud. The device seems to be a great packaging concept (dual-screen reader) marred by sloppy execution (slow navigation and refresh rates) that may leave them forever playing catch-up. Just building a device is not enough to capture sales. Amazon’s advantage is its customer base and brand loyalty. BN’s was going to be better functionality. If the books-and-mortar giant cannot make the breakthrough, more devices are coming to market — and one of them will make a meaningful move forward.

This doesn’t need to mean the end of book publishing. Publishers can no longer be vast containers of intellectual property distributed in paper form to bookstores, supermarkets and warehouse clubs. But they don’t have to be: They can become highly selective distributors to bookstores, supermarkets and price clubs. That’s the lesson of the television, music and movie businesses.

But if the publishers want a role in the e-books business, they’ll need to get over it and get on with it, embracing lower-priced e-books with higher author royalties. That seems unlikely. Because it’s now clear that publishers just don’t want to listen to what their customers are telling them.

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