Why We Are A Different Type Of Publisher

Aug 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: Articles

It comes up, time and time again: “don’t pay to be published! It’s all a scam! If you cannot find a publisher, then self-publish because it’s free!”

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.

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6 Comments to “Why We Are A Different Type Of Publisher”

  1. Maria Barry says:

    Superbly explained!

  2. Monique says:

    I’d be interested in how many of JHPs authors are actually level 1 or 2 (iow, don’t pay to publish). I’d also be interested in how many of the level 3 and 4 authors were given “this is worthy of a level 2″ in their initial reviews, only to end up on level 3 for one reason or another once the contract is actually presented.

    I’ve spoken with a good handful of people who – strangely enough – went through this phenomenon.
    “It’s wonderful and original, we believe it can sell thousands” – then they’re offered a contract at the cost of about $600 to get it done. What you seemingly get for your $600 is to do all your own PR work based on “helpful tips” from the staff. The first 1000 copies you get zero royalties. On the next few thousand books (5000, is it?) you get 10% of what’s left after JHP have taken their costs, which means about $0.5 per book. It doesn’t take a genius to realise it’ll take a while to make up your initial $600 cough-up.

    But wait, they give you 50% of royalties on eBooks. Yay? Through Kindle, which is free, you get 70%.

    You may not call it vanity publishing, but JHP’s actually no different from other vanity publishers who’ll charge you a couple of hundred bucks to put a book together, slap an ISBN number on it and print it on demand. You can also do it for free (or for virtually nothing if you want an ISBN) on Lulu, without all the bullshit attached.

    • autumn says:

      That’s a really good question. Of course I cannot answer for JHP as a whole, but here are my statistics from Top Hat Books. You’ll appreciate we’re very new. I’ve rejected 2 books so far because they weren’t of a publishable standard or had been published elsewhere. (A vanity publisher doesn’t reject. We do.) I’ve accepted 3. Of those 3, two have been offered Level 2 contracts so they do not pay a penny. One has been offered a Level 3, and they had the option to accept or decline – they accepted. So 2/3 of my books so far are on Level 2. There you go.

      As for saying “you’re wonderful” eek, my goodness, I’ve never said that. (Even if someone were wonderful…!) As part of our process we give constructive feedback as to how the author might improve. Even my rejections that I did offered an explanation. (I’m a writer too – I know that it hurts to be told NO.)

      So I would argue that we are different to a vanity publisher. We don’t accept any old tat. We do pay royalties. We offer more L2 contracts than L3/4. You may have had your information from people who are aggrieved for whatever reason, I do understand that, but I would like to set your mind at rest.

      In the big business of publishing, though, I would urge ALL authors to carefully research their options. For some, getting a big deal at HarperCollins is the best way. For others, we can get books out there that might be deemed less marketable but still important, especially in the MBS stuff that other imprints of JHP produce. For still others, self-publishing is the way forward. As a private individual (because I am not a full time employee of JHP – in fact I’m freelance and chose to hitch my carriage to them because I believe in their ethics) I also self publish ebooks (under a pseudonym) and I choose self publishing for that as it’s the mode that best suits what I’m doing in that sphere. I prefer the control. And the royalties! But for other books, I think Top Hat and JHP offer a better option. But it depends on your own skills, your market, and your aims. You’ll find the best fit for yourself.

    • john hunt says:

      “I’d be interested in how many of JHPs authors are actually level 1 or 2 (iow, don’t pay to publish).”

      we explain that in the info that’s with our contract terms;
      “In an average 10 contracts, there will be one level 1, five level 2, three level 3, and one level 4.”

      “I’d also be interested in how many of the level 3 and 4 authors were given “this is worthy of a level 2″ in their initial reviews, only to end up on level 3 for one reason or another once the contract is actually presented.”

      Probably about as many as the other way around. Readers reports vary. An editor might say “i really like this and it should be a level 2, and someone from sales might say “but the author has published several books before and none of them have sold more than 10 copies through the trade, so the shops aren’t going to be interested”.

      “I’ve spoken with a good handful of people who – strangely enough – went through this phenomenon.
      “It’s wonderful and original, we believe it can sell thousands” – then they’re offered a contract at the cost of about $600 to get it done”

      I just don’t believe that. If we believed it would sell in thousands, we wouldn’t be asking for a subsidy. And we tend to downplay author expectations in the readers reports, and the user manual/help icons/info we give out, not play them up.

      “What you seemingly get for your $600 is to do all your own PR work”
      That’s just nonsense. We give advice on how to do your own PR work, sure, and contacts, but we put a lot into each book.

      “On the next few thousand books (5000, is it?) you get 10% of what’s left after JHP have taken their costs”
      We don’t take off any costs. The retailer does. We pay 10% of what we get. The rest all mostly goes on cost, leaving us with a minus figure to cover overheads on most new titles. But this isn’t the place to get into details of publishing economics, all the info on that is supplied to each new author.

  3. Nimue Brown says:

    I’ve got levels above 3 at various JHP imprints and I’ve seen the inner workings of a number of publishing houses. I like JHP – quick turnaround times, and things come out when you expect them to. Lots of clarity. An author who is willing and able to sell on their own books can make a decent profit. But there are parrallel issues between this and self pubbling. If you have a following, a name, a profile, a strong social network, a niche you know how to market to, if you have a fanbase, then whether you get a regular publisher, or self publish, you can and will sell books. If no one has heard of you, then selling books is really difficult. Buidling an audience for the work takes time. Someone with an audience already, or the makings of one, is going to get a better contract. I’m an established blogger with a popular and well reviewed webcomic, an established reviewer in my niche, I do events. I also do a mix of self publishing and publisher stuff depending on the product, how I intend to sell it and so forth. I think a lot of authors underestimate how much they also need to be marketers to survive at any level in this industry.

  4. ”I’d be interested in how many of JHPs authors are actually level 1 or 2 (iow, don’t pay to publish). ”

    I have two books with JHP – The Barefoot Indian & Miracles Are Made of This – both are level1 :))

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