|For writers of book length fiction, these are the best of times and the worst of times.-to coin a phrase. There are more avenues open to publishing than every before, but fewer of those avenues are well-paying. The Internet, advanced printing technologies, the rise of a few dominant book distributors, chain bookstores, and warehouse clubs, the demise of many smaller bookstores, and the consolidation of publishing houses with media conglomerates have changed the face of publishing in America.
For writers, this means there are four basic ways to bring one's book-length work of fiction to market. Those four paths to publishing are compared below. Though there are notable exceptions, those paths should be considered mutually exclusive for a given book.
Which is the best path? The answer depends upon the individual writer, his work, and the goals that writer has, both for a specific work and for his or her writing career.
The astute reader will quickly note that we have included no discussion of "quality." One woman's chocolate is another's castor oil. One can easily find poorly-written clunkers among books authored by seven-figure advance brand name authors whose works are printed in hundreds of thousands as one can in electronic-only published works. Are books published by NY houses better than self-published books? By what criteria? Do those same NY-published books usually garner more respect for their authors in the reading and writing communities than those works from independent presses? As a general rule, yes. Are those same NY published books as cutting edge in style or subject matter as those from electronic presses? Very unlikely.
We have prepared this comparison as a matrix. Methods of measurement or considerations-almost all subjective--are along the vertical axis. The type of publisher is at the top along the horizontal axis.
The definitions, comments, and analysis are the authors' alone, based upon their experiences, knowledge, and stubbornly clung-to opinions. Your opinion may differ and your mileage may vary. Terms, exclusions, and conditions apply.
The Four Paths to Publishing—continued
1 See reserves against sales in terms.
2 See notes on editing in terms. Market forces are primary drivers.
3 See notes on editing in terms. Genre definitions often primary drivers.
4 See notes on editing in terms. Editors often more willing to work with an author to develop a work.
Compensation: writers get paid in one or more of 3 ways
Advances (often with a reserve; a portion kept back and dependent upon future sales). This is up-front money paid by the publisher to the writer (or to the writer thru the agent).
Sale of subsidiary rights, such as movie rights, book club rights, large type rights, etc.
Royalties, which are a percentage of the price of each book sold.
Editing: we define editing as the process of a publisher’s representative making judgments on a work and working with an author or an authors text to improve readability, plot, suspense, character, and so on, and being a “champion” for that writer/work within the publishing organization. In major NY houses there is significantly more judgment and championing than development. In smaller/independent presses, editors who will work with writers to develop talent are much more plentiful.
Proofreading checking for errors. Often includes fact checking.
Independent vs. Small Press : There are no hard and fast definitions here, except to say that any publisher not one of the major NY conglomerates qualifies. Some publishers may be as large as Kensington or Presidio Press, with a dozen-plus lines, imprints, and many authors. Others are as small as primarily electronic publishers with a dozen authors, or other print presses with 2- 4 authors. Another term for very small publishers (a half dozen or less people running the company, a few books per year) is micro-press.
E-publisher: E-publishers are those publishers who portray themselves as publishing primarily electronic versions of books. This can be confusing. For example, Hard Shell Word Factory and NovelBooks Inc., generally are portrayed, and understood to be, e-publishers. Yet the majority of their sales revenue comes from print versions of their books.
Form of Published Book
HB Hardback book
MM Mass Market Paperback-size book
TPB Trade Paperback (sometimes called Quality Paper) size book
E Electronic version
Accessibility How easy it is to break into this market? All markets are tough to break into, with rejection rates running from 92-99% of all material submitted. One should note that traditional publishers and independent presses are rejecting materials for vastly different reasons. See my article “Are YOU a candidate for E-publishing?” for a discussion of rejection rates and reasons.
Snakes in the grass: kinds of scams and incompetence that can put the screws to the author.
Representation: Do you need an agent?
Other terms you need to know:
POD – adj. For “Print on Demand.” This has several meanings:
1. POD is a technology; using special printing presses, a printer can print books one at a time or one thousand at a time, instead of having to do massive 10,000 copy print runs. The usual size of the book is trade paper size.
2. POD is a technology that allows companies such as manufacturers to print installation instructions, etc as they are needed to go along with parts or equipment they sell.
3. POD is a technology; using special machines located in a bookstore, a buyer can select a book and the machine prints a copy of the book while you wait.
4. POD is derogatory “code” for “low-quality self-published” or “cheap.”
Short run: A press run of 100 up to 1000 printed pieces, depending on the printer. This uses more conventional presses but prints fewer (obviously) copies than a full press run of about 5000.
About the Authors
Teresa (Terri) V.M. Stone
Teresa (Terri) V.M. Stone never met a challenge she didn’t like. A frequent presenter at writers’ conferences and author of the several articles on research techniques and the business of writing, Terri is a Senior Tax Advisor for H&R Block. Terri knows about taxes and writers: she shepherded a writer and writing business through the dreaded IRS audit and won. For the past 11 years, Terri has also been a tax preparer and tax course instructor for H&R Block.
Terri is also a computer network administrator for the US Department of Justice. She lives in Naperville and is a wife to husband and author Todd, a mother to 16-year-old Sarah, and an authority figure to a stubborn West Highland Terrier named Rocky. Terri holds a Bachelors Degree in French from UCLA and Masters’ Degrees in Geography from UC Santa Barbara and Systems Management from the University of Southern California. A former Army engineer, Terri taught Geography and Leadership at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point. She has served at Army facilities from coast to coast and along the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and left the Army with the rank of Major. In her copious free time Terri devours both Mysteries and Romances. She has completed a screenplay and has several fiction works-in-progress. She can be reached at www.tntstone.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
T.A. (Todd) Stone
From a tour de force through wealthy suburbia’s wholesome appearances and sordid realities to tanks and infantry, from mystery to military, Award-winning Author and screenwriter T.A. (Todd) Stone has made his mark on the print and e-book worlds. Stone is the author of the “profiling procedural” and 2002 Digital Literature Institute Best of Fiction Winner, 2002 INDIE Mystery Winner, and 2002 EPPIE finalist CLOSE TO HOME (Hard Shell Word Factory) and the NY Times Review of Books acclaimed military techno thriller KRIEGSPIEL (Lyford Books/Presidio Press). His second military thriller THE BEST DEFENSE is due for publication in May 2003 (NBI). He is a member of the Author's Guild, Mystery Writers of America, EPIC (the Electronically Published Internet Connection), the National Writers' Union, the Crime Writers’ Guild, and is a graduate of his local Citizens Police Academy.
When not writing fiction, Stone writes marketing communications materials for a major telecommunications manufacturer, teaches copywriting at a local community college, and presents at writers’ conferences throughout the Midwest.
An avid motorcyclist, Stone is a former Army Airborne/Ranger Infantry officer whose military assignments included duty as an Assistant Professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has his undergraduate degree from Indiana University and his MA in English from Northwestern University. He lives with his family in a perfectly normal suburb outside Chicago, IL. He can be reached through his web sites www.closetohome.org or www.tntstone.com, or by e-mail at TAStone@aol.com
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