April 27

The truth about publishing companies

    Publishing companies are held up as the gold standard of the publishing world. In our culture, we still grant publishing companies a bias, believing that if Penguin or Harper-Collins produced a book, then it is the best book possible, beautifully written, edited, designed, and launched to the New York Times Bestsellers list. And, when all the stars align, that is true. Traditional publishing companies have contributed amazing printed work to our culture, and I do think we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

    But I wonder if we give traditional publishing companies a little bit too much credit. They’re just people, after all. They’re teams of editors, designers, and publicists who produce and ship a product, which just happens to be a book. As with all teams that produce products, some products turn out better than others, and only a few really rise to the top. How many times have you read a traditionally published bestseller book and thought, “Eh, that could’ve been better”? I know I have.

    I think that’s pretty darn exciting, to think that there’s room for improvement on a product put out by these huge, famous publishing companies. That means there’s room for innovation, for something new, for someone who’s not afraid of a little risk. That gets my entrepreneurial heart racing. We can find a way to do better.

    Let’s talk about some truths you may not know about working with publishing companies and how I believe we can iterate and improve working with (new) publishing companies.

    What’s not working with publishing companies.

    As the author, you sign away your creative vision.

    When you sign on the dotted line of that contract with a publishing company, you give away so many of your rights, but the first you’ll really feel is your creative vision. You’ll want to keep a chapter, and your editor will insist it gets cut. You’ll feel the book is finished at 40,000 words, and your editor will insist on writing 15,000 more words (and you worry they’ll be “fluff”). You’ll want a fresh, modern cover design, and your designer will insist on a retro, vintage design to grab the attention of your market. You’ll want to launch your book heavily to an online marketplace, and your publicist will draw up plans for dozens of live events.

    Who’s right and who’s wrong? Well, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. Maybe the publishing companies are right every time, but most authors will say that it’s an extremely frustrating experience to spend over a year, butting heads with their publishing companies and losing battle after battle because, in the end, you’ve given up your creative input rights.

    You sign away your legal rights.

    So many authors don’t realize the full extent to what they’re signing away in those contracts with publishing companies. You could very well be signing away rights to any books that would come next in the series, any products that would be based on this book’s content, any movies or TV shows that would be inspired by this book’s content, and who knows what else, depending on how aggressively the publishing company has written the contract.

    And, from the publishing company’s perspective, this just makes sense. They’re funding your project. They’re providing all of the money needed for editing, designing, and launching your book. They believe in your book, and they’re showing up with their wallets out. So, if your book does well, they’d expect to get a share of that success.

    You, as the author, though, had better think very carefully about who you bring on as a partner in any venture. Just as you would be hesitant to sign on a business partner, you should be just as cautious about signing on a publishing company.

    You sign away almost all of your profits.

    In most cases, authors who work with publishing companies receive 10% of book sales. Of the retail price on your book, 90% of the price gets split between the book store, the distributor, the publishing house, and your agent. You get 10% for the lifetime of your book sales.

    Again, yes, everyone is “betting” on the success of your book and providing you, essentially, the start-up capital to get your book published and into bookstores, but they’re going to be taking a cut of your book’s success for the rest of your life. They didn’t write the book, they just made it into a packaged product and put it in bookstores, but they’ll receive profits from it forever.

    How we could work better with publishing companies.

    The model is already starting to shift. I don’t think the big publishing companies will go away anytime soon (and they, arguably, put out the best books, anyway), but we’re seeing the introduction of new models.

    Hybrid companies share more of the profits with the author.

    We talked about hybrid companies in last week’s article, here, but hybrid publishers run a much tighter business model. They tend to use small teams and rely on online tools to operate more efficiently, so they can share more of the profit with the author. Some of them will even share 50/50, which is great.

    But I think we can do even better. I think the book publishing market is ready for a new option. There are some authors who are business savvy. They understand how to make money with products, services, and speaking. They know how to raise money or set aside money in order to fund a big business goal. They invest in a website, advertising, product creation and make money from products and services later. They know how to invest in a live event and make money on the ticket sales later. They understand the model of saving up revenue, investing it into one large project, and then reaping the profits later.

    So, why would an author who has such business savvy want to give 50% to 90% of their product sales to a “business partner” publishing company, who really doesn’t know anything about their industry?

    Good question. I don’t think this new entrepreneurial author would want to work with publishing companies, at least not in the way publishing companies have traditionally worked.

    The ideal way for an entrepreneurial author to publish a book would be to hire a team of publishing experts to create and launch the book, pay them upfront, and then maintain all the creative vision, legal rights, and profits for the lifetime of the book’s sales.

    I believe so strongly that this publishing team model is the next bold move in publishing that I’m staking my entire business on it.

    I’ve worked in traditional publishing, and I’ve worked with authors who’ve chosen hybrid publishers, but I’m fully convinced that the publishing industry needs team publishing. There are entrepreneurial authors out there who simply want to outsource their book creation and launch to a team of experts, and that’s exactly what Paper Raven Books is—a team of editors, designers, publicists, and project managers, who help you to create your beautiful book and then hand you all of your files, at the end.

    We upload all files to your account, using your ISBN, and we give you every single file you would ever need to publish your book anywhere you want. We believe that it’s your book and you should keep the creative vision, the legal rights, and the profits.

    Does team publishing sound like a model that’s in line with your vision for your book?

    Click here to read more about how Paper Raven Books’ team publishing works with you, the author, to create your book.


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