All About Book Publishing

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“I have a manuscript but would NEVER pay to have my book published.” Those were the words of a young author in response to my mentioning to him that in addition to publishing this magazine, ALIVE publishes books too, but in most cases the author pays the front-end cost to have their work published.

While we still hear the sentiment expressed by this young author occasionally, it is really just a throwback from a bygone era when it was assumed that a handful of large publishing houses served as the gatekeepers in the industry. I say “assumed,” because unbeknownst to many, largely due to technological advancements, this is no longer the case, as smaller, independent publishing houses like ALIVE now compete, toe to toe, with better-known publishers like Random House.

In fact, what this author didn’t realize was that, had he chosen to submit his manuscript to us at ALIVE Books, assuming we approved his work, in as little as 90 days his book would have been in front of the same book buyers around the world as the current best-selling authors’.

The Three Paths of Book Publishing

There are three ways to go about having your book published: traditional, subsidy, 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 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, even if as only a “side benefit” of reason number two.

Path #1: Traditional Publishing

In the past, the traditional route was considered the only 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 may agree to publish the author’s work.

If one hopes to have their work considered by one of the larger, better recognized publishing houses like Random House or Harper Collins, it is essential that the author be represented by an experienced agent.

Unfortunately, this path is usually a long and unfulfilling process. Few authors “make the cut,” as most agents and large publishing companies are so inundated with queries that they reject 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 then considered by major brand publishing houses are celebrities and personalities with well-recognized names (the Clintons, Trumps, Kaepernicks, and Kardashians) or authors who have already demonstrated—through previous subsidy or self-publishing success—that their work sells. The simple truth is, publishing is first and foremost a business and the days of “speculating” on unknown authors are long gone. The only relevant question any Madison Avenue publishing house asks about an author’s manuscript is: “How many books will sell upon release?”

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 flock of geese colliding with his plane and his subsequent artful skill in landing that plane, Sully became an 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.

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 work 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.

In all 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, 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 these scenarios.

But what if you are chosen by a major publishing house and your book doesn’t sell in the thousands? In this case, there are a few other challenges associated with traditional publishing. One of the little-known secrets you rarely hear about is that major publishing houses will remove a book from circulation—take it “out of print”—if it fails to sell in significant quantities within a given period. Likewise, if a book fails to meet the publisher’s sales expectations, major publishing houses will sometimes demand that any “advances” paid be returned by the author. Ouch!

The sad truth is, unless he has already personally sold a few thousand copies of his work, or has the last name Kardashian or Clinton, authors like the young man mentioned previously will likely never see their book published. The only reasonable—and wisest—route open to this young author is self or subsidy publishing.

Path #2: Self Publishing

It is possible to self publish your book. The main advantage to self publishing is that you control 100% of the process. The main disadvantage to self publishing is… you control 100% of the process!

You will earn the highest margin of profit this way, but that is because you will be doing all 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 will not only 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. And then you’ll need to 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, and to do that, you’ll need to know how to make your book available through large online resellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and to thousands of ancillary online wholesalers and retailers. Will you know how and where to make your book available to independent bookstores and libraries throughout the country and worldwide? 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 be able to 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 path of publishing is subsidy publishing. Years ago this was considered a second rate method, supposedly used only by desperate authors whose work was not “good enough” or had been rejected by traditional publishers. It was implied that authors who chose this route were 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 however, many 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 have 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 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 their absence of personalized, customized service. Looking at it from their perspective, because they function and compete solely in the very crowded online universe, they have designed their services with that in mind, so they often limit authors to “A, B or C” cover template options for example, or “Gold, Silver and Platinum” packages, each with narrowly defined options. And in most cases, these services are automated, whereby the author’s work is pushed into a pre-existing format—what could be called the “cookie cutter process.”

Finally, another very important consideration when considering subsidy or self publishing companies online is their ability—or, more accurately, lack of—to market and promote the author’s book. While most of these publishers offer a variety of services, they most often 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 even 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 can publish an author’s book, they are limited in what that entails. You won’t be meeting with their art director or designer, for example, to discuss one of the most important marketing elements 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 thin veneer of “marketing-like” resources at best.

Lastly, there is one other type of service to be aware of—authors who have self-published their own book(s) who now advertise themselves as a “publishing company.” While these individuals may have navigated their way though the maze of requirements listed previously so as to get their own book(s) listed on Amazon, this type of service is often akin to someone who wins a case in traffic court marketing themselves as a lawyer. If the first book they published was their own, they may be qualified as someone who can guide an author in the self-publishing process, but they are hardly a publishing “company.”

The Author’s Publishing Quandry

Does all 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?

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 publishers are just interested in having the author pay to be published in a “cookie cutter” process, and are ill-equipped and will do little, if anything, to help market, advertise or sell books for an author.

An Alternative Answer

After thinking about this dilemma, it occurred to us that with our vast experience in magazine publishing, we could create a kind of “hybrid” publishing company that not only publishes an author’s work, but does so in ways that meet each author’s unique needs and situation; and one that also market books in ways that are truly effective yet affordable.

Enter, ALIVE Book Publishing, where 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 our authors and their projects in a hands-on, individual way. One size does not fit all with ALIVE, so we don’t have set formulas for the projects we accept. We even sometimes even invest more in the project than the author because our ultimate goal is for the author’s book to sell successfully.

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 Printing On Demand—“POD”

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.

Up-front productions costs are low, and because books are stored digitally and then printed and shipped in as little as twelve hours from the time of each 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 Does ALIVE Publishing Do?

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; and POD set-up of every book.

We then advertise all our authors’ books in the Ingram Book Catalog, reaching every bookstore and library in the country. This is THE catalog book retailer use to choose what books they will sell in their stores. We also list all our authors’ books through major online distribution channels like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as throughout an established network of over 35,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries.

We are also able to provide comprehensive editing and formatting in all e-book formats, and we offer a wide variety of marketing and advertising options. We create and run display ads in ALIVE Magazine; create professional, fully-functional order-fulfillment-capable websites, and can produce professional videos for online and TV. Oh yes, and we also have a professional public relations specialist available to work with our authors, also on a face-to-face basis.

Putting it All Together: What Does it All Mean?

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 successfully break into the book market.

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.

Email (eric@alivebookpublishing.com) or 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!

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