Over the course of the centuries, the propagation of written sources has seen many forms, from drawings on ancient cave walls to hand written parchment; from block printing of Buddhist scriptures in 888CE, to Gutenberg’s first printing press of 1440. To this, we can also add digital to the list, and who knows what new techniques we will be using in 50 or 100 years from now.
The people who create the raw material for all of the above have also changed their methodology over time: from verbal story-telling, to writing, singing and back again to story-telling by means of audio-books.
What hasn’t changed is the very human, very innate, natural passion and need to tell a story; to preserve a memory, honour the fallen, explore present and future possibilities, re-invent history and even to create the future, in order to fulfill ourselves and make other peoples’ lives richer.
In 2016, writers still write and stories are still getting told. In this series of articles, I look at the three most common ways of publishing stories to earn money: self-publishing, small presses and traditional publishing. Beginning next week, I will explore all three; their ups and downs, warts and all, to ultimately help you decide which of them is best for you.
But before we get there, it is important for an author to know something of how the publishing business works, and to keep this in mind when making that future decision.
Will I earn enough?
There is always a certain romanticism about the glamorous life of a writer, full of coffee shops and laptops on the go. However, my earliest memories of this are based on people like Edgar Allan Poe or Jack Kerouac, dying of drug and alcohol abuse, and in extreme poverty. So where does the truth lie? Is it the publishers’ fault, because perhaps they are greedy bastards who leave nothing for the author, or is it just another market reality preventing authors from making a living out of their books? (And let us forget for a moment that one in a trillion chance of selling your movie rights to Steven Spielberg...)
The truth is that publishing is a business and, like any business, it has costs to meet. When you consider who pays the best royalties, you can probably say that self-publishing comes first, followed by small presses and, finally, by traditional publishers. The reasons lie in the sheer size of the enterprise: the bigger the publishers, the bigger the possibilities, the bigger the costs.
Let me give you an example, based on traditional publishing:
8-15% goes to the author in royalties.
45-55% goes to the publisher for editing, design, marketing, manufacturing and printing.
35-55% is the average wholesaler/retailer discount.
Amazon allows a self-published author to take up to 70% of the royalties. That’s all very good and well, but then the author needs to spend on marketing, recovering the costs of editing, professional covers, etc. if they want to stand a chance.
Small presses won’t always be able to give advances on royalties, like traditional publishers, but as their marketing budget is generally smaller, they are often able to give up to 40% of royalties to the author. If you consider that said author doesn’t have an outlay in the same way as the above example, that’s pretty good.
Traditional publishers pay smaller royalties, BUT they have access to shelves space in bookstores, which per se costs a LOT of money; money which has to come from somewhere.
Professional author Ian Irvine wrote:
“Publishing is a competitive and low-profit business, and no publisher can afford to pay people to read manuscripts. […] Where they do look at manuscripts, it will only be the professionally presented ones – perhaps half the total. Of that 2,500, say, 90% will be rejected on the first page and 98% by the end of the first chapter. That leaves 30-50 manuscripts, and they’re the only ones which will get any kind of serious consideration. In a good year, ten of those might be published. In a bad year, less than five.”
Writing is an art; it takes years to become proficient at it. More, if you want to reach inspirational levels. No one, not even professional authors, ever stop learning. If this is truly your path, then you must keep at it, and think carefully about the route that best suits you, the time and resources you have, and the expectations you want to fulfill.
Oh. Don’t go quitting your day-job just yet.
Next week: Self-Publishing.