Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't Ignore Quality Independent Book Publishers

riting the next great novella or novel-length tale of the zombie apocalypse?  Apex Books’s micro press, The Zombie Feed, is looking for manuscript samples for publication.  New guidelines and payment details are via the link below.

TZF is testing the digital publishing waters like a lot of other web-enabled start-ups vs. the traditional NYC publishing machine.  In the 1990s a favorite over-used expression was “paradigm shift.”  Back then, paradigms were shifting like the San Andreas Fault.  I wanted to print and sell bumper stickers that read: I BRAKE FOR PARADIGM SHIFTS.

But publishing really is undergoing a huge shift in how books come to the market and how much authors earn.  My thoughts as I learn more:

Assuming you have talent and a cracking good story to tell, your chances of being published are better today than in the past quarter century.  The “Print On Demand” manufacturing model (POD), consumer adoption of web-enabled bookselling (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc.), and growing number of quality independent publishers mean that you don’t necessarily have to be the one-in-a-million lottery winner at a major NYC publisher.

Time, Shelf Life and Money

With independent publishers, the time it takes for your book to move from manuscript to the printed page is dramatically reduced.  The timeline to see your accepted novel arrive in a bookstore is 1.5 years or longer at most NYC publishers.

Possessing an agent is not necessary to sell your novel.  At all major legacy publishing houses an agent is required, because major imprints no longer want to expend capital and manpower to read slush.   But if an agent shops your novel they will stop to read it.

What about the imagined prestige, and huge distribution machine of the NYC publishing house?  Well….  Sure, you always dreamed of seeing your novel as a handsome jacketed hardback from Simon & Schuster or Harper Collins.  Who wouldn’t?  But many independent publishers create beautiful, professional editions (Cemetery Dance, Apex, Books of the Dead Press, Subterranean, etc.).  And these days, new hardbacks and paperbacks produced by NYC publishers don’t stay on shelves very long at all.  A new novel may be here and gone, “out-of-print,” in a very short period of time.

But if you sell your novel to a quality independent publisher, your book may never go out of print.  Interested readers can buy it online for months and perhaps years to come.  That is a huge change over the legacy model!

And then there is the money.  Many first-time novelists are thrilled when their book is purchased by the NYC publisher, but the pay is very low.  That novel you took six months or a year (or longer) to craft pays $2,500-$3,000 advance against royalties.  No adjustments for the past 15 years of inflation.  And you get paid in installments as it creeps toward publication.  And odds are you’ll never see any royalties. And despite it vanishing from shelves almost immediately after it arrives, if your first two or three books don’t earn out, the publisher may drop you (it’s happened to friends).

Many reputable micro and independent publishers pay very small advances, but the writer earns a better share of royalties for every book sold.  And if you’re not kicking back 15 to 25% or more to an agent or packager, you might end up earning the equivalent of the NYC advance or more.  You will receive X% of royalties on physical books ordered and ~40% of all electronic sales (Kindle, Smashwords, etc.).  And those dollars come straight to you, not via quarterly royalty statements from the finance department of a major publisher.

I’m doing a lot of reading and research, but so far, this is what I’m finding.  If you write fiction it truly is a Brave New World.

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