Let’s look at this. Take off your “artistic and creative head” and put on your “business head”. Things will appear very different.
If you were going into a career or business, you would invest. To train as a doctor might cost you many tens of thousands. To buy a franchised restaurant is not cheap. You would not become a solicitor or a nurse for free – bursaries aside, you’d still sacrifice time and money to whatever you chose to do with your life.
If you approach a publisher with a brilliant book, they will think about it carefully – but they’re not just thinking “this is a fantastic book!” They’re thinking, “who is the market, how big is that market, how much money do they have, and how do we get the word out to that audience?” A paperback has to sell hundreds before breaking even. That’s why there are so many royalty-only deals being offered by most publishers now. There’s no money in publishing. Just dreams.
So, self-publish for free? Well, yes. Save your document as a html file and sling it on Amazon, and…then what? Rake in the cash? Try it.
There are people who make money self-publishing, and they are successful because they are business-like about it. They invest heavily in a good cover, a proofreader, maybe even an editor. They invest in marketing. They certainly spend hundreds and may spend thousands, and if they’ve worked hard, they can recoup those losses and turn a profit. It’s not easy – it’s a job. They do it for love, for control, and for the experience.
We all know about vanity publishing, of course. Pay a convincing-sounding company a wodge of cash and commit to buying ten copies of a book that never ever leaves the box in your garage. Every year people fall for this.
With the rise of self publishing as a valid model (when approached correctly) other businesses are emerging and publishing is changing. Savvy publishers ride this change. But there is a lingering taint of “don’t pay” that can affect legitimate publishers like John Hunt Publishing, who occupy a niche of their own.
John Hunt Publishing is a very strange company to work for. (I am sure he won’t mind me saying this…) Strange, in that it’s open and transparent. Communication is done exclusively through the website and forum. Reports and figures are up there for staff to see. Authors track the progress of their book and are involved in marketing from the beginning. Decisions are discussed, reasons are explained. It’s hard work. You can’t just sit there and be told what to do. There’s an element of responsibility on each individual.
It’s also unique in the way they offer contracts. This is where I experienced some flak – or at least, disgruntled questioning – at Swanwick Summer School. There are 4 levels of contract offered, which is explained fully here. But in essence, Level 1 and 2 offer royalties. Levels 3 and 4 ask for an author contribution based on word count.
Oh my god oh my god vanity publishing evil evil publisher, right?
Vanity publishing offers the author nothing but a box of books. John Hunt Publishing gives each book publicity and distribution, a quality cover and copy-editing. When you submit to JHP (whichever imprint) and you get through the first stage and are invited to submit a proposal, you will receive a number of readers’ reports which include marketing issues and advice, and these reports recommend a contract level – and explain why.
If you’re offered, for example, a level 3, you have to think about what it will cost and what you get for that. Would it be cheaper to go self publishing? Do you have the skills to do everything, or would you buy in services? Do you have the contacts? JHP has one of the largest databases for media and publicity contacts ever, that spans the globe – it’s as active in the US as it is in the UK. Weighed up objectively, it’s a good deal. And you can still earn royalties (unlike in vanity publishing) because if you take the marketing advice, and use the contacts database, and the wealth of advice on the author forum you’ll have access to, you can sell your book. And the next, and the next, on better and better terms. The evidence? Look at the imprints on the JHP website. Look at the volume of work that is sold in shops across the world. No vanity publisher does this.
However. It still takes work. JHP works hard, and at Top Hat Books we work hard, and our authors that are coming through the pipeline now also work hard.
If you’re still tempted to self-publish, try this: imagine that you are setting up a publishing company. Create a business plan, a marketing strategy, an advertising campaign; find suppliers and distributors and get an agreement with the supermarkets to stock your books.
Difficult? But that is, in essence, the basis for successful self-publishing: you’re making yourself into a publishing company. And if that daunts you…well, you know where we are.