Tag s | Traditional Publishing

How Self-Publishing Has Changed Authors

As a literary agent, not a day goes by when I don’t encounter the changes in thinking from authors caused by the expansion and availability of self-publishing.

It’s understandable, because there are over twice as many books self-published every year in the United States than are published by traditional publishers.

Traditional and self-publishing generate over one million new books every year in the U.S. alone according to RR Bowker.  Two-thirds are self-published.

According to the United Nations cultural arm UNESCO, well over two million new books are published annually by traditional publishers worldwide.

The Federation of European Publishers reports on the status of book publishing across the continent. They show revenues and traditional publisher title output are generally flat over the last five years, but the number of titles available in print has grown from 8.5 million in 2011 to 22 million in 2015. Digital printing and self-publishing bring more titles to market and keep more in print longer.

However, those 22 million titles generated slightly less revenue in 2015 than the 8.5 million titles did in 2011. Not revenue per title, but total industry revenue.

No wonder book publishing is a challenge for everyone.

Self-publishing has become ubiquitous and is here to stay, but has also created the impression traditional publishing has changed far more dramatically than it actually has.

If you are self-publishing and desire someday to be published by a traditional publisher, you need to change your thinking depending on your intention.

And learn a new language.

How has self-publishing altered the thinking and professional language of authors?  There are five primary areas (and probably more if I think about it).

  • Control – traditional publishing has always been more of a collegial collaboration between publisher and author. Give and take. Negotiation. Honestly, some authors simply should never be traditionally published because of this. They view control as a non-negotiable and will not relinquish it.
  • Timing – You get an idea, write it and publish it as a self-published author. When I tell an author it will take 15-18 months or longer to get a book published traditionally, the stunned silence says it all.
  • Quality of Manuscript – there is no such thing as a finished manuscript. Even if it is edited by three Nobel laureates and chiseled on stone tablets, the manuscript isn’t finished until the publisher says it is. And now you know why some authors self-publish!
  • Length of Manuscript – There is an optimum length of a traditionally published commercial product based on the type of book. Self-published authors write the length they want. A 6,000-word memoir is a thirty-two page free pamphlet, not a commercial book. A 375,000-word novel is generally not commercially viable as a 1,200-page book selling for fifty dollars. If an author cannot tell me how many words are in their manuscript, only it is 200 manuscript pages, they have been completely influenced by self-publishing thinking. Self-publishing is by pages because your costs are a function of the number of pages.
  • Cover Design – The dead giveaway you are a self-published author is you have a final cover, approved by friends and family and ready for print. Covers at a traditional publisher involve input from a dozen people or more who develop covers as part of their profession. Leave your cover at home when talking to a traditional publisher.

So, when I get a proposal from an author telling me they have a 275 page, finished manuscript, need it published in less than six months, and the cover is already done, I know I am about to disappoint them significantly with my reply.

Sweeping generalities can be tricky, but compared to most self-publishing models, traditional publishing is still a slow, methodical, careful and deliberate way to publish, involving many moving parts with creative input from a wide variety of professional people accountable for the long-term financial health of the publisher.

So, if you desire to self-publish and also be traditionally published, be very careful about control, timing, manuscript quality, length and cover design to make sure you use appropriate publisher-language. For self-publishing, the author is in control of everything, which some find very comforting.

Then you learn the hard truth of all book publishing, no matter the path you take:

Half of all published books don’t sell particularly well, but you never know which half.

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Writers Learn to Wait

Ours is a process industry. Good publishing takes time. Unfortunately time is another word for “waiting.” No one really likes to wait for anything. Our instant society (everything from Twitter to a drive-thru burger) is training us to want things to happen faster. Awhile ago I wrote about how long it takes to get published which gave an honest appraisal of the time involved. Below are some of the things for which a writer must learn to wait.

Waiting for the Agent

We try our best to reply to submissions within 6-8 weeks and are relatively good about that. But if your project passes the first review stage and we are now reviewing your entire manuscript remember that reading a full manuscript is much more demanding than reading a few short proposals.

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Thanking the Publishers

When you’re an agent, you get to see a lot of what publishers do every day. At the same time, because you don’t actually work in their offices, you don’t know a lot about what they do. Since I’ve been an agent a long time, I don’t need to write …

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Switching or Grinding Gears?

Each year in the U.S. more titles are published indie/self-pub than by all traditional publishers combined. Some authors publish only indie or traditional, but some entrepreneurial folks are known as “hybrid” and use whatever model works best for the situation at the moment. Many clients of the Steve Laube Agency …

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Who Owns Whom in Publishing?

Updated February 17, 2017 For a comprehensive list check out The Christian Writers Market Guide. Available in print at your favorite retailer or as an online subscription (updated weekly) at www.ChristianWritersMarketGuide.com. Our emphasis in this post is the Christian publishing industry. There are many fine commercial publishers that do not publish …

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Goodbye to Traditional Publishing?

by Steve Laube

Recently Ann Voss Peterson wrote of her decision to never sign another contract with Harlequin. One major statistic from the article is that she sold 170,000 copies of a book but earned only $20,000.

Multiple clients sent me Peterson’s “Harlequin Fail” article and wanted my opinion. My first thought is that this was typical “the publisher is ripping me off” fodder. But that would be a simplistic and knee-jerk reaction and unfair to both Peterson and Harlequin.

Yes, Harlequin pays a modest royalty that is less than some publishers. Since when is that news? That has always been their business model because it is the only way to create and maintain an aggressive Direct-to-Consumer and Trade publishing program. Their publishing machine is huge and they are a “for profit” company. For Profit. If they are unprofitable, they go away.

If an author is uncomfortable with the terms, then don’t sign the contract (which is Peterson’s decision going forward). I urge each of you to be careful not to sign a contract and then complain about it later. Unless you were completely hoodwinked you agreed to those terms and should abide by them.

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A Matter of Taste

I always enjoy reading comments on our blog posts. Recently a reader posted a provocative question:

In this time of great emotional upheaval, instability, and unrest, aren’t we ready for something more solid and inspiring than just different types of romance novels?

Those of you familiar with my career know that I am the author of many romance novels and stories — and Bible trivia books!

And while I represent a variety of authors in fiction and nonfiction, my list is weighted heavily to romantic stories. I do realize that not everyone has the same taste — nor should we.

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Perspective on the Sale of Thomas Nelson Publishers

In light of yesterday’s announcement of the sale of Thomas Nelson Publishers to HarperCollins I thought I would write a few thoughts.

Without question this is the biggest news story in the Christian publishing industry this year, if not the last few years. Most of us have been caught flat-footed. Partly because Thomas Nelson is such a large company. And partly because they were just purchased by an investment group last year. The other surprise is the buyer. HarperCollins has owned Zondervan since 1988 which is a direct competitor to Nelson. They publish some of the same authors. (And by the way, HarperCollins is owned by NewsCorp…whose owner is Rupert Murdoch.)

Back in 2002 when I was still with Bethany House Publishers we were sold to Baker Books. So I’ve seen some of the inside of a publishing sale. There will be some obvious echoes to our experience, but Zondervan and Nelson are very different from Bethany House and Baker.

Ten Random Thoughts

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