So here’s how a typical publisher writer relationship is supposed to work.
A caveat: this assumes there is a relationship. If you are going with self-publishing, a lot of this won’t apply, but you might be interested in reading it anyway, because it will help you understand what you’re doing for yourself.
The writer is a content producer. In that role, the writer might need to put in a few appearances, but on the whole, that’s the job a writer does. A writer writes. A writer creates a product.
At this point, there’s no one to see the product. No one even knows there’s a product to see. There’s not even a venue for people to acquire the product. The product probably also has some flaws. I’ve yet to meet a writer who didn’t agree that their professional publisher didn’t add value to their book. The book doesn’t have appropriate formatting and doesn’t have any art.
Here’s the thing about that. Professional grade editing, proofreading, artwork, formatting, marketing, and distribution all cost money. They can cost a lot of money. Sure you can do it yourself, but that takes time away from creating another product to sell. It might also be something you’re not interested in doing, or even good at doing. That’s the trade-off self-publishers make. They have to commit themselves to the time to shop for and/or perform all the other duties that go into making a book, rather than writing the next book. It’s not good or bad, it’s just the reality.
Enter your publisher. Publishing houses have resources. That’s the biggest reason to use one. Those resources come in a variety of forms. Among those resources are:
- Professional editors who have a daily interaction with the market – what is selling, what can sell, etc. It’s not just that they do this all the time, it’s that because they do this all the time, they also spend time familiarizing themselves with what other people are doing in the industry. They have education, experience, and information.
- Specialized employees in areas like typesetting (not nearly as simple as you think, especially with the variety of formats today – making it all look good in all those formats can be difficult), proofreading (some of us are bad at this, especially with our own work where we know what we intended to say and sometimes that influences our reading of our text), art direction (I’ve never taken an art course, even in appreciation), and so forth.
- Relationships: especially with distribution channels, both physically—getting a printed product to a location where it can be sold—and commercially—convincing stores to buy copies of the book and stock it so people can buy it. Those both apply to electronic publishing as well as “dead tree” publishing – it’s remarkably reduced, but there are still commitments of assets when you house an ebook for sale.
- Established processes for efficiently getting the work done and putting together the final packaging.
- Marketing know-how.
“Cash?” you ask. Yes, cash. Cash to buy really good art. When I worked on the Leading Edge, a literary journal, we paid more per page for art than we did for stories. Yes, you only need one image for your typical novel, but that one image is hugely important for drawing in an audience. We all know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But we all also know that we do anyway. The cover art is your most important piece of branding and marketing. Even in online stores like Amazon, it’s the first thing most will see about your book.
Cash to pay for advertising, and to pay for a marketing executive who knows what the most effective way to spend those advertising dollars is, and who can come up with an effective plan for using the author as part of marketing and advertising.
Cash to pay for the printer. Cash to pay an author’s book tour costs. Cash to pay for a myriad of expenses.
Note that all of these are up-front expenses. You have to pay for the art, the printing, the advertising, and everything else to put the book together months before any possible profit has been gained from sales. Publishers have that cash (or, at least, a line of credit) already taken care of. I have a hard time finding the cash to pay for car repairs. A few thousand to pay to get high-end book “assembly” and marketing is beyond my means.
Also vitally important: cash to pay an author advance.
Because now that I’ve covered what a publisher does, I’m going to talk about how that works.
You may have heard that in publishing, the money always flows from the publisher to the author (sometimes by way of an agent), and never the other way. And if you haven’t heard that, re-read the sentence now. I’ll make it easier by putting it here again. The money should always flow from the publisher to the author.
The author does not pay an agent a salary—the agent’s pay comes out of the money earned by selling the book to a publisher. The agent doesn’t get paid before that sale is made.
The author does not pay the publisher for the opportunity to be published. The author does not pay the editor for editing services, etc., etc.
When you sell a book to the publisher, they buy the rights to publish it, usually only in one language and in one country. They give you an advance. This advance is an amount of money that the publisher believes they can reliably net from sales of the book. They also stipulate a rate for royalties. A royalty is an amount of money you make for each sale of the book. What’s a fair advance and royalty can be hard to know, which is why agents are not a scam—they get you better deals because the better deal they get for you, the more money the agent gets. This means they work for you because doing a good job for you means they get richer. They’re interested in your wild success.
An advance is called an advance because it’s like forwarding the money from your royalties. Once your royalties total the amount of your advance, any additional royalties actually get paid to you. That’s more profit.
Why does it work this way? Because the publisher has now given you money, and they’ve spent money on all the other things the book needed. If they don’t do any work to sell the book, they’ve now operated at a loss. They’ve given you money. This is why the publisher will work hard to get your book out there in front of people who have money to spend on it. If they don’t work hard, they go out of business.
And that is what will lead into tomorrow’s blog post, tentatively titled “Why Random House’s Hydra Imprint Would Be More Appropriately Named Tentacle Hentai.”