Publishing is changing faster than ever before. Book publishers have been wrenching to find new business models that make them more flexible, efficient and adaptable to the realities of the digital publishing age.
Within this fast-change world, another group who has felt the pain of shifting tectonic plates are authors who have been around publishing for ten or more years. Some issues that used to be a normal part of author/publisher conversation have all but disappeared.
To help those of you who know enough about publishing to hold a conversation about it, here is a partial list of those subjects that an author would be wasting their time asking a publisher and a suggestion how you can adjust your thinking:
Eight things authors probably shouldn’t waste their time asking their publisher:
1. “How many hundreds of thousands of dollars will you spend in marketing my book?” – You won’t like the answer you get, so simply avoid it. There is no rule of thumb, but figure the publisher will spend roughly the same in marketing as they do on a royalty advance. And much of that will be “soft money,” such as a percent of sales/marketing overheads like staff time and things like catalogs and co-op.
The real issue these days is what you as an author bring to the table for marketing. The publisher will do what they can to support you, and they do a good job with making your book available in as many places as possible, but you are carrying the ball on this play. Next time you are tempted to ask this question, rephrase to something along the lines of “When should we discuss how you can support what I am doing?”
2. “What are my pre-orders?” – A decade ago, this was a good question, but these days of frequent (sometimes weekly) re-orders by retailers, the number of copies initially placed in the various channels is irrelevant. Instead, ask the publisher is they are happy with the initial placement of products in channels or (if you are not published by a Hachette imprint – if you follow publishing news you’ll understand that reference) what your preorders on Amazon are indicating.
3. “What is the first print run?” – This question will really date you. The publisher will be expecting a follow-up along the lines of, “Have you heard of this new-fangled thing called the internet?” Initial print runs are as irrelevant as retail pre-orders. Between quick reprints, digital printing and ebooks, it doesn’t matter any more. Instead, take their answer to the proposed question mentioned in #2 as covering this as well. What you want is for your book to get a good start.
4. “How many copies do you have in stock?” – See #3, then #2.
5. “Is my book still in-print?” – This is a little more of a tricky issue than the changes brought on by ebooks, small-quantity reprints and print-on-demand. Not long ago, whether a book was still active with a publisher or “out of print” and subsequently rights returned to the author was a function of whether the publisher had copies in their warehouse. No copies in warehouse triggered an “out-of-print” clause in a contract and book rights were returned to the author. Some publishers intentionally moved a book to print-on-demand basically to bypass this issue with authors. They always had copies, so the author could never get the rights returned. Now, books never go “out of print” per se, so contract terms have been adjusted, often using a minimum royalty threshold that would trigger the rights reversion. If you have an older contract with the previous language, talk to your agent.
6. “Will my book be carried by my local store?” – You can ask this, but be prepared for an uncomfortable response from your publisher. The decision to buy rests with the store and publishers simply don’t have the resources to make sure every author has books selling nearby their homes. Instead, go to the store yourself and mention it to them…they will probably jump on this and want to promote it. If you haven’t gone to your local store(s), do it right away…introduce yourself. Don’t assume anything.
7. “Will I get Advance Reader Copies (ARC’s) for my book?” – Seems like a reasonable request, but ARC’s are expensive…really expensive and are intended for review-gathering and buzz-growing. Honestly, you want your friends to have a finished book, fully proof-read and beautiful rather than an ARC, which is usually an uncorrected proof, not in final form. Wait for the real thing. And by the way, the cost of this comes from the marketing budget, so your eagerness to see and hold your book will lessen another effort. Plus, there is a greater use of electronic galleys to use as ARCs. Outlets like Netgalley.com and Edelweiss are two prominent ebook galley services that publishers use.
8. “Will you love me forever?” – You really want to ask this, because you really want to know. You want a long-term publishing home with familiar people that you like and trust. Let me paint a simple picture. If your book sells well, the publisher will want another one from you. If it doesn’t, well, everyone gave it the old college try and move on. Just because you write about relationships that grow until death do they part, doesn’t mean that will happen between you and your publisher.
So, we have a little reality check today. Once in a while it is good to pull out your compass and find which way is north. This is even more important when “north” seems to keep changing locations.