Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stump the Publisher: E-Book Rights, Money, and Self-Publishers; Oh, My!

Well, our boss continues to amaze us. You sent in your questions and he was able to answer them without breaking a sweat. This week's Stump the Publisher tackles three questions that have been causing many of us to scratch our heads for a while. To be honest, I personally didn't know the answer to a couple of these, and were it me attempting to answer them, we would've had ourselves a winner already (and that would've made our recurring contests a bit of a misnomer). Thankfully, our publisher came through with the information that is much more important.
If you're curious about what this contest is all about, click here for details.
For everyone else: questions and answers after the jump.

Why should I give up my e-book rights if I sign with a publisher?

A publisher provides a special function: using their connections and experience to get your book in places where you perhaps could never get them, both in the United States and, oftentimes, around the world.  The process of making your book widely available costs an enormous amount of money in shipping, marketing, and advertising. After those costs, a publisher still has to pay the enormous cost of dealing with the inevitable returns, returns that happen even for bestsellers. The only way the publisher is able to make any money on your book is by selling the book in various available formats. With each format the author refuses the publisher the rights to, the less able a publisher is to break even.
Besides the publisher’s need for e-book rights, you as the author also stand to profit more from employing a publisher’s services for your e-book. Love it or hate it, for the most part, even e-book formats are more widely accepted when presented to the readers by a publisher rather than by the author. Though an author may provide the e-book on a few sites made specifically for such self-publication, it won’t necessarily generate much activity in terms of sales or audience. So, while you don’t have to give the publisher e-book rights, doing so will help get your book out there, either by providing a publisher with an additional incentive to take you on, or by providing you with a larger potential audience for your book. Either way, it’s a good thing.

Why publish with a publisher when I can use a print-on-demand service or a vanity press?

The reason for publishing with a publisher is, to put it simply, to get your book in places you could never get it by yourself. Print-on-demand services and vanity presses are great for those who already have a ready-made audience. They’re good for the person who speaks at conferences and needs a couple of hundred books quickly. But when it comes to mass distribution, the publisher is prepared for that task. Using various connections that have been built up over the years, as well as experience within the industry, the publisher can get your book to the widest audience possible.

Why is it so hard to make money as an author?

I guess it's all relative. James Patterson, Dan Brown, Danielle Steele, and J.K. Rowling aren’t really feeling strapped for cash these days. I know I just named the Michael Jordans of writing, but the fact is they, too, had to start somewhere. They got their feet wet with their early work and gradually, through patience and perseverance, worked their way to the top of the industry. You could say patience and perseverance are the power twins for both writing and making money off that writing. I recommend doing things on the side that will  help you both earn money and hone your writing skill. Whether that means editing, proofreading, journalism, or even ghostwriting, each of these provides you with greater writing experience, increases your knowledge of the business, and gives you the visibility needed to become the next great author.

Have questions about the publishing industry? Click on the "Ask Us" page in the top menu for contact information. (Note: Asking questions puts you in the running to win $50, but if you have no intention of trying to stump the publisher and just want to get some answers, we invite your questions. Answering questions is the purpose of this blog.)

-Zach U.

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