Get Your Book Published: Start to Finish / Top to Bottom / A to Z / Soup to Nuts
This article was originally published in the July 2013 of ALIVE and is being re-published due to repeated readers’ requests for this information.
“I have a completed manuscript but I would NEVER pay to have my book published.” Those were the words of a young author, in response to my wife’s mentioning to him that ALIVE publishes books, and in most cases the author pays to have their work published.
The sentiment expressed by this young author is still common, but it is really nothing more than a throwback from a bygone era, when it was assumed that a handful of large publishing houses served as the gatekeepers by which literary works became available to the masses. I say “assumed,” because unbeknownst to many, this was not really the case, as many well known authors actually self published their first works or had them published by “vanity” publishers.
The Three Paths of Book Publishing
There are three ways to go about having your book published: traditional, subsidy (also known as “vanity” publishing) and self publishing. All three have advantages and disadvantages, and the path you take largely depends upon your reason(s) for wanting to see your book in print. Some authors simply want to see their work bound in a book format with the intention of sharing it only with family and close friends; some have a desire to share a story or communicate an idea with as many people as possible, and some—the majority—have commercial success in mind, if even as only a “side benefit” of reason number two, that is, telling a story or sharing an idea with the world.
Path #1: Traditional Publishing
In the past, the traditional route was considered by many to be the only “respectable” path. This is where the author begins the process by sending query letters—essentially a “sales pitch,” intended to capture the attention of a literary agent or publisher. The query letter includes a description of the proposed (or completed) work and the intended audience for the work, and some information about the author (a bio). The idea here is, if the author’s pitch is compelling, they will then be afforded an opportunity to have a publisher review the author’s manuscript, and if it is “good enough,” the publishing house will agree to publish the author’s work.
If one hopes to have their work published by one of the larger, better recognized publishing houses, like Random House or Harper Collins, it is nearly essential that the author be represented by an experienced agent.
The biggest challenge with this path is, it is usually a long and unfulfilling process. Few authors “make the cut,” so to speak, as most agents and large publishing companies are so inundated with queries they filter out all submissions they are unable to classify with 100% certainty as “marketable.” The most likely candidates to have their work represented by established agents and published by major brand publishing houses are authors who have already demonstrated (through previous vanity or self publishing and marketing) that their work sells, and celebrities or personalities with well recognized names.
In the case of traditional publishing houses, the company will be willing to invest in the author and the author’s work, if they believe a substantial financial return will be realized. They may even pay an author a sizeable “advance,” predicated on the fact that the publisher stands to make a sizeable profit well beyond the amount to be made by the author. The key factor in the eyes of the publisher is: is the author well known or is the author’s work guaranteed to sell?
For example, prior to January 2009, ALIVE Magazine’s fitness columnist was Lorrie Sullenberger, the wife of the now famous pilot, Sully, who successfully landed his plane in the Hudson River. Prior to the landing, had Sully approached one of the major publishing houses with a query letter about writing a book about his experiences as an airline pilot, it’s likely he would have received the typical response—a rejection letter.
However, by the happenstance of a few geese colliding with his plane and his subsequent artful skill in landing that plane, Sully became an “in demand,” instant celebrity. At the risk of sounding crass, Sully became a marketable commodity. He was offered a two-book deal by a major publishing house. And while J.K. Rowling now commands millions of dollars for her books, her initial attempts at publishing her work were rejected by a dozen publishers, including Harper Collins and Penguin. Before she got the attention of a major publishing company, she had to first prove that her work would sell (and sell, it did) by way of a small publisher.
While traditional publishing provides advantages—namely brand recognition and the ability to have books placed onto the shelves of major book retailers and warehouse stores like Costco, the profit margin for authors on each book sold can be very thin indeed—miniscule, in fact. The big houses are betting on mega-volumes of units sold—preferably millions of books—so they are looking for authors that fall into just a few, select categories. First, they are looking for authors that have either proven themselves in a literary-marketing sense; ones who can re-produce works that will be eagerly snatched-up by their fans (the Grishams, Kings, Steels, Pattersons and Rowlings). Next, they are happy to publish the works of someone well known and currently popular; actors, sports stars and politicians, for example; or anyone making news, like Sully, right after his remarkable landing, or the Navy Seal who killed Bin Laden.
In all of these cases, if all goes as hoped, an author might earn thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some cases, as in Rowlings’, where other media companies (film) become interested, millions can be earned by an author. And the publishing houses, of course, enjoy significantly greater returns in all of these scenarios.
The sad truth is, unless he has already personally sold a few thousand copies of his work, or has the last name Kardashian or Palin, authors like the young man my wife encountered that opt for this route alone, will likely never see their book published. The only reasonable route open to this young author is self or subsidy publishing.
Path #2: Self Publishing
The greatest disadvantage of self-publishing is that most retail bookstores rarely agree to sell self-published books. They simply cannot afford to offer valuable retail shelf space for a book that may or may not be a quality product. Bookstore owners know that a reputable publisher is primarily interested in producing high quality books that have some likelyhood of selling. In many ways, a publisher serves to pre-screen authors and their books for book retailers.
You will earn the highest margin of profit this way, but that is because you will be doing all of the work yourself. The steps involved are numerous, and if your plan is to produce a quality product (your book) that sells well and sells enough copies to be commercially successful, you need a very large tool-box of skill sets.
Self publishing means that you not only need to write your book, you’ll need to edit it, design and create the cover, design and format the interior pages, obtain the necessary ISBN and bar code, file your copyright and obtain your Library of Congress Control Number. Do you know where and how to have your book printed?
Assuming then that you want to sell your book with a hope of making a substantial amount of money, you’ll need to market it in some way. Remember, even though you will make the most money per book by publishing and marketing it yourself, in order to make very much, you’ll still need to sell a lot of books!
In order to do that, you’ll need to know how to make your book available through large online resellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble? Will you know how to re-format your book as an e-book and be able to make it available that way in the marketplace? Will you create your own website, promotional materials and press releases? In short, do you already have the knowledge, technical and artistic skills, connections and resources to truly “publish” and market your book?
Self publishing is an option, if you’ve written a book—and then again, so is building your own car if you want to travel. But sometimes, just being the driver (or author) is a more logical choice.
Path #3: Subsidy Publishing
The final and most used path of publishing is subsidy publishing, sometimes called “vanity” publishing. Years ago this type of publishing was considered “second rate”—a method supposedly only used by desperate authors whose work was not “good enough” or had been rejected by traditional publishers. The names “vanity press” and “vanity publishing” also imply that authors who choose this route are having their work published, merely for the sake of bragging rights, as in, “Hello, my name is Joe Smith, and I am an author.”
The fact is, a large number of highly successful writers got their start this way, and in light of the realities of the traditional or self publishing routes, this is the most logical, effective and affordable way for any author to get their work published.
To be sure, there are a plethora of subsidy publishing companies to be found online, most of which offering a menu of various basic services designed to get your book published. Most have low cost options to start, but just like in self publishing, the more they do for you, the more it costs.
One of the major disadvantages of online subsidy publishing companies is a lack of individualized, personalized, customized service. Looking at it from their perspective, because these publishing companies function and compete solely in the very crowded online universe, they have had to design their service offerings with that in mind. So things are “standardized.” They often limit the author to “A, B or C cover template options,” for example, or “Gold, Silver and Platinum” packages, each with narrowly defined options.
Finally, another very important consideration when considering subsidy or self publishing companies online, is their ability (or lack of) to market and promote the author’s book. Most all of these publishers offer a variety of services, but they are limited to very basic, simple things like providing the author with a stack of “postcards,” or to writing up a “professional press release.” Some will claim to include a “website,” which is really just a page on the web that displays the author’s work, with no functionality included.
The fact is, while web-only based publishing services are able to “publish” an author’s book, they are very limited in what that entails. You won’t be meeting with their art director or designer, for example, in order to discuss one of the most important elements, marketing wise, of any book —the cover; nor will you be able to select a font style from a vast collection of options for the text of your book. And while these online companies claim to offer marketing services, the fact is, they only offer a very thin veneer of “marketing-like” resources at best.
Are There Any Other Options?
Does all of this sound a bit hopeless? Are you beginning to wonder if there are any viable options available to the author who wants to have their book not just published, but effectively and successfully marketed as well?
As the old saying goes, “find a need and fill it,” and there has been a need here in the San Francisco Bay Area, for a publishing company that serves local authors in both publishing and marketing.
Yes, Option #4: ALIVE Book Publishing!
Let’s get something out of the way, right from the beginning: Regardless of the reason that an author has for wanting to have their book published, the only reason any publisher will agree to take on an authors work is if they believe it will be a profitable venture; plainly stated, the goal is to make money—period.
Large commercial publishers are banking on a proven track record or an author’s “celebrity” status, while online subsidy or vanity publishers are really just interested in having the author pay to be published in a “cookie cutter” process. And they are ill-equipped and will do little, if anything, to help market, advertise or sell books for the author.
After thinking about this dilemma, it occurred to me that with the experience we had gained at successfully producing, marketing and selling a high quality magazine, couldn’t we apply that vast experience to book publishing, in order to serve local authors? Couldn’t we create a kind of “hybrid” publishing company that not only publishes an author’s work, but do so in ways that meet each author’s unique needs and situation; and one that can also market books in ways that are truly effective yet affordable?
Enter, ALIVE Book Publishing, where we have what local authors need. First off, we speak their language because we are, first and foremost, writers and editors. And we provide what no online publishing company can—a one-on-one, face to face relationship, every step of the way.
We consider every publishing job we undertake to be a unique partnership, so we work with every author and their project in a hands-on, individual way. One size does not fit all with ALIVE, so we don’t have templates or set formulas that we try to squeeze authors into. As the author’s partner, we will often invest more in the project than the author, because our ultimate goal is for the author’s book to sell successfully.
With over eight years’ experience in the real world of editorial content publishing with our flagship product, ALIVE Magazine, we know what it takes to design, create, publish and market a winning editorial product. Authors benefit from the experience we’ve gained in the fast moving world of magazine publishing, where in order to survive one must produce a fresh, new and exciting editorial product every month. They benefit from our unique, practical publishing methodology, whereby editorial products must be more than just good—they must sell.
And, best of all, ALIVE is uniquely equipped to market and advertise an author’s book like no other publishing company because we are the only publisher with multi-media marketing and advertising tools, and the expertise required to put real power into a local book launch.
A Word About eBooks and Printing On Demand—“POD”
Authors sometimes mention they want to have their book published only as an ebook. At some point they were convinced that “everything was going that way;” that “print is dying.” The fact is, the market for ebooks has plateaued and over 75% of readers today prefer traditional, printed books over ebooks. Ebooks are the “throw away” paperback novels of today, so if an author only publishes their work in an ebook format, they are missing 3/4 of the book-buying market.
POD is a smart, efficient and fast method of book production used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, traditional offset printing methods. POD books are digitally archived and printed individually, as they are ordered (on demand). This is the process we use at ALIVE Book Publishing.
In today’s fast-paced, competitive, digital environment, authors who publish their books using our “on demand” method enjoy considerable advantages. Publishing in this way allows the bulk of an author’s initial up-front investment to be directed where it needs to be–in the marketing and advertising of their book.
Up-front productions costs are low, and because books are stored digitally and then printed and shipped in as little as 12 hours from the time of each individual order, books are, in most cases, always listed as being “in stock” by retailers.
Although POD books are produced quickly, there is no obvious difference in the appearance or quality of books produced in this way, as compared to books produced in traditional, offset printing methods. Book buyers have no way of knowing if the book they are purchasing is coming from a POD digital archive or from a traditional, offset-produced book inventory.
Another advantage of the POD component is that authors can inexpensively launch a “pilot study” version of a book into the marketplace and then easily make modifications to that book, if needed.
Our “Hybrid” publishing services can include a combination of POD and traditional, offset production methods, along with a good mix of marketing and worldwide distribution of an author’s book. ALIVE has a vast and powerful array of optional marketing components, all designed to provide the author with a comprehensive, effective and powerful initial book launch, into both the local and global marketplace.
What Can ALIVE Publishing do for the Author?
The typical services we provide for all authors includes personal advice as to the overall concept of the book project; a custom cover design; layout and formatting of the book’s interior pages; the determination of the best price for the book; obtaining the required ISBN and bar code for the book; filing for a Library of Congress Control Number; POD set-up of every book; listing the author’s book through major online distribution channels like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and distribution through an established network of over 39,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries
We are also able to provide authors with customized, comprehensive editing. Our editors include the best of the best, having advanced English and Journalism degrees from the likes of Princeton, Harvard, UCLA, University of Bristol, and New York University. Our writer’s coach and “book doctor” is none other than the world-renowned, best-selling author, Mary Sheldon.
We also offer a wide variety of marketing and advertising options. We can create and run display ads in ALIVE Magazine; create professional, fully-functional order-fulfillment-capable websites; design an author’s social media sites and conduct social campaigns; provide complete, local or national public relations campaigns; produce professional videos for online and TV, and we are even an agency for Comcast, so we can run local TV commercials promoting an author’s book in the local marketplace on major channels like CNN or Fox.
We can also create and market an author’s work in every ebook format available.
While advances in technology have radically changed the publishing landscape to the point where anyone with a computer and a credit card can become a published author, as I noted earlier, this is not going to be enough if an author wants to “go big.” The bottom line is: the real reason some books become commercially successful (make it) in the long run and why some do not has more to do with the author’s belief in their work than in anything else.
If everyone on the planet already knows who you are, you might consider having your book published via the traditional path. If you have all the skills and resources to go it all alone, self publishing may work for you. If you’re only interested in a tiny, short-lived yet possibly expensive ego boost, go ahead and send your manuscript into “the cloud,” and hope for the best.
But if your goal is to be serious about your book project and its chances for success, I suggest you elicit the aid of and partnership with a local publishing company that will be as serious and careful about your project as you are—ALIVE Book Publishing.
Visit our website at AliveBookPublishing.com, and call me today at 925-837-7303 for a free, confidential, one-on-one appointment, and tomorrow you may be well on your way toward having your book published!