RU Writers! Put on your reading glasses, you’re going to want to see what Oliver Rhodes has to say about the publishing world today – the changes, the trends, the do’s and the don’ts.
Authors have never had more choice about how to publish their work. It’s a truly exciting time to be publishing and you have more control than ever before.
Of course, the problem of more choice is that it can make decisions more difficult. Should you self-publish? Hang out for an agent and traditional publishing deal? Go with one of the many digital publishers?
Add in the rapid changes in digital trends, which can alter the balance between the different options and you’re faced with quite a dilemma.
What I hope this post will do is give you a few things to think about when making your choices – from someone who has both worked for a traditional publisher and set up their own independent digital publisher.
A change in mindset
One of the results of having more choice that I have noticed is a change in mindset amongst authors. Empowered to take control, more are willing to critically consider and experiment with different publishing routes. Successful self-published authors have crossed over to traditional deals and we’ve seen traditionally published authors move to be either entirely self-published or to combine self-publishing with their existing deals. Still others have moved to digital only outfits.
Savvy authors are deciding what is right for them and their books on a case-by-case basis. No longer is it a safe assumption that a traditional publishing deal is always the ideal.
I believe that publishers still have a lot to offer but the big lesson to be learnt here is that the right option will be different for each author – and perhaps even for each book.
Would E.L James have had the same success if Fifty Shades of Grey had started out with a mainstream, traditional publisher? I think it is unlikely. But would she have achieved as many sales without the switch to Random House, with their marketing muscle and physical distribution? No way.
Looking at the options
For me, a great way of evaluating a publisher (or the option of self-publishing) is to look at what share of your book’s revenue you are giving away and what you are getting in return.
Self-publishing ensures that you take the biggest share of eBook revenue possible (as high as 70%) as well as giving you complete creative control.
On the flip-side you’ll won’t have your book in bookstores and you’ll be footing the bill for editing, cover design and promotion – so taking a financial risk. You will also be the one doing all of the promotion for your books, which will give you less time for writing.
At the other end of the scale, a traditionally published deal means that you have a much larger network of people involved in making your book a success – and the benefit of their combined expertise and contacts. There’s also the additional dangling carrot of an advance.
There’s a cost to that though in what you earn from each copy sold – especially for eBooks – not just today but in 5 years time. It’s also likely that any physical distribution that you get will be greatly diminished over time.
Digital only publishers and imprints have made great advances over the past few years – especially in the Romance genre where eBooks make up such a high percentage of overall sales. An added bonus here is that most don’t require you to have an agent.
Their digital royalty rates are much better than their traditional counterparts (sometimes double) and at their best they offer unparalleled digital expertise. Of course at their worst, they offer minimal editing and poor cover design with little to no promotion – so chose carefully.
When weighing up each option, ask yourself whether what you’d be getting suits your specific goals and needs.
If you’re an enthusiastic and digital savvy self-promoter with an established fan base then self-publishing might be for you – especially if you have time and money to invest.
For a lot of authors though, and especially those who are either starting out or are successful enough to demand sizable physical distribution, working with a publisher is still a fantastic option.
What to look out for in choosing a publisher
Realistically, most authors don’t have the luxury of picking from multiple publisher offers and choosing the best deal for them. Nevertheless, if you are offered a publishing deal I think it’s important to get clarification exactly what the publisher will be doing for you.
What is the editing process? Will they be putting together a publicity campaign? Will there be paid marketing support? What level of physical distribution are they expecting? What’s their pricing strategy?
Answers to questions like these will help you decide whether you’ll be getting good value in the deal.
Additional hint: Get a sense of how important you will be to that publisher. It is natural for publishers to focus their money and attention on their bestsellers – or the titles that they think have the biggest potential. There is only so much time in the day and money in the marketing budget – and not every author gets an equal share.
About Bookouture – and publishers adding value
When I left Harlequin UK to set up Bookouture, I was very focused on that question of how we could add value to authors.
In my experience books sell well when they get great attention to detail: great editing, great covers, great publicity and great marketing. That is even more true with digital publishing where there needs to be a constant re-evaluation of pricing, promotion and metadata.
When publishers have tens of thousands of titles, it is difficult to add value to every single one. In fact, where self-publishers have gained an advantage over traditional publishers is with attention to detail – especially by optimizing their books on amazon and promoting regularly to maximize sales.
The concept of Bookouture is to offer bespoke digital publishing – concentrating on a small number of authors who we can provide that level of attention to detail to. We work with top editors. We develop individual cover designs and also create a website for each author. We create marketing and publicity campaigns tailored to each book and are proactive in optimizing our eBook pages, categories and metadata on Amazon. And we pay a digital royalty rate of 45% of net receipts.
Our approach won’t be right for everyone – but that question of how a publisher can add value lay at the heart of Bookouture’s conception. I think it’s exactly the same question that all publishers – and authors – should be asking.
Seize the day
Having more publishing options than ever before is a wonderful thing for authors – if you take advantage of them.
If you feel traditional publishing is the right route for you, then go for it. But give yourself a time limit to get that agent or book deal. Be prepared to re-evaluate, to experiment – and don’t let your manuscripts gather dust for years on end. Remember – the most important people in publishing are readers.
I hope you will forgive me for finishing with not one, but two shameless plugs.
I’d love to hear about your experiences – do you agree that more choice for authors is a good thing? Let me know via the comments section.
Join us on Monday for co-founder Adrienne Giordano with All in the Details
Oliver Rhodes is the Founder of Bookouture – a digital publisher of romance and women’s fiction. Recently picked by The Bookseller as one of their ‘Rising Stars’ of 2012, he’s passionate about building global author brands.
Formerly Marketing Controller at Harlequin UK, Oliver has worked in publishing for over 12 years. Some of his highlights from his time at Harlequin include launching Mills & Boon’s New Voices online writing competition and rapidly growing its MIRA imprint – establishing authors such Debbie Macomber, Diane Chamberlain, Susan Wiggs and Alex Kava in the UK market.
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