Revised: Five Types of Book Publishers

While attending a recent event, I realised there is some misconception about the types of publishing available for writers. I reread my post on The Four Types of Book Publishing and decided it was time to revise the information. In this ever-changing world of publishing, things like this will happen.

Although there may only be a thin line separating some of these types, and at times, one might overlap with another, the core of each type has its own tone and/or structure.

I also feel it’s time for self-published authors (indies, independent publishers) to define themselves in the true spirit of being independent. Being independent and self-creating means not paying someone else to take control of your project. It means doing it yourself.

Perhaps the distinction will dispel the myth of what self-publishing truly is, and perhaps it will save unsuspecting authors from falling into the pitfalls of many who have paid thousands of dollars to ‘self-publish’ and who have had horrible experiences, and some who spent the money and didn’t even receive their published books.

Traditional Publishing

A traditionally published author is one who submitted their manuscript to a publishing company and was accepted.

BENEFITS

  1. Author pays no money to get their book published.
  2. Everything from the editing and design of the book is organized, completed and paid for by the publisher.
  3. The publisher pays to have the books printed and marketed.
  4. The publisher handles sales and calculates royalties. They pay the author for the right to publish their book.
  5. The publisher does all the necessary paperwork to get the book registered with Library and Archives Canada. They take care of the ISBN and the CIP.
  6. Publishers may offer an advance to the writer before any sales are made.

DOWNSIDE

  1. Authors can wait two or three years before their book is actually published.
  2. Authors—new authors particularly—have to build a platform, market their book and set up launch dates and readings. They may have to pay for this out of their own pockets.
  3. Authors have limited input into the publishing process.
  4. Authors often sign away rights to publishers to limit their future use of their property.
  5. If an author wants to republish their book, they cannot simply create a replica of the published book. Many aspects of the book are owned by the publishing company.
  6. Royalties earned by an author depends on sales. Authors get 10% or less of the profit. Royalties are paid three or four times a year, depending on the publisher.
  7. The publisher chooses the title of the book and the cover, not the author.
  8. Some traditional publishers are asking for ‘guaranteed sales’ and requesting the author to pay for X-amount of books before they agree to publish. This sounds similar to Joint Publishing.

Joint Publishing

Joint Publishing is an agreement between a writer and a company—usually a publishing company—to publish a book. This is not to be confused with self-publishing. Writers who joint-publish often do not own many aspects of their published book even if they paid to have the work completed (unless clearly stated in the contract).

BENEFITS

  1. The joint-publisher’s name goes on the book; this makes it look more ‘official’ and it gives it credibility, making it look less self-published.
  2. A joint-publishing company—if they do what they say they’ll do—will take care of most of the grunt work for you and guide you on the right path to publish your book.
  3. The company may provide some marketing on their website.
  4. Authors retain copyright of their words (unless the contract states otherwise), and the author can immediately publish their books in other formats or through other venues.

DOWNSIDE

  1. Although authors retain copyright of their words, they may not know until they break away from the joint-publishing company or attempt to re-publish the book themselves that they don’t own the exterior and interior designs. They will have to pay for the services a second time.
  2. If the company does not do what it states it will do, the author may end up paying thousands of dollars and still have no published book.
  3. This is essentially hiring a middle man who controls certain aspects and rights to your book. It’s usually more expensive than other methods to publish a book.

Subsidiary Publishers (or Package Publishers)

This is closely related to joint-publishers and vanity presses, but slightly different in tone. These companies are in business to make money off writers, and that’s all. They don’t care if you sell books. All they want is to sell you packages that begin around $1,000 and go up from there.

BENEFITS

  1. If the company does what it says it will do, it will provide the services and guidance necessary to publish a book.
  2. Authors can choose from several packages, doing as little or as much as they want and hiring the company to do the rest.

DOWNSIDE

  1. Many authors are unhappy with the services provided with these companies. Customer service is poor or nonexistent once the customer—the author—has paid for the package.
  2. These companies tend to up-sell to unsuspecting authors, and they often bombard their customers with phone calls and emails to encourage them to buy more.
  3. Many complaints found on the Internet regarding these companies state the quality of editing and design is poor.
  4. These companies add things to their packages that are free to authors anyway, such as ISBN in Canada and Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’.
  5. Authors pay more money than anticipated for just a few books. For example, with iUniverse’s cheapest package of $1,000, you get three ‘free’ softcover books. That’s $333.33 a book. Far from free. And you have to pay for shipping and handling of those books. The highest package costs $4,399 (20 ‘free’ softcover books: $219.95 a book, plus shipping and handling.)
  6. Many authors have learned the hard way (having fallen victim to these companies) and the easy way (learned from other author’s mistakes and reporting on those mistakes) about these companies. One person who reports on these companies is David Gaughran. Read his post Author Solutions and Friends: The Inside Story to learn more. There’s others on his blog, too, if you want to learn more about this.

Self-publishing

They call themselves self-publishers, independent publishers and indies. Self-publishing is just that: doing it yourself or contracting out a particular job (such as illustrating, editing) to eventually own the final product. There is no middle man involved.

BENEFITS

  1. The author has complete control over their book.
  2. A book can be written one week and published the next. There is no wait time.
  3. The author reaps all the royalties
  4. The author owns the finished product and retains copyright on the work.
  5. The author chooses who they want to work on their books by hiring them by contract.
  6. The author sets the budget for their projects and saves money on things they can do themselves.

DOWNSIDE

  1. The author must learn how to bring all the tools together to get the book published. They ask individuals for help, but they are the driving force behind getting a book published.
  2. Marketing and distribution is up to the author.
  3. Some book stores won’t accept books by self-published authors, but this is slowly changing.
  4. Authors have to finance the entire publishing project themselves.

Vanity Publishing

When I think of vanity publishing I think of the episode of The Waltons where John-Boy falsely believed his manuscript had been accepted by a traditional publishing company. He had no say in how the book was published, but he wasn’t worried; he thought he was going to be a published author. Then several boxes of books arrived at the corner store that also served as the post office. When John-Boy opened up one of the boxes he found an invoice stating the amount of money he had to pay for the books. Obviously he was very disappointed at being fooled.

This is vanity publishing. The writer pays to have a book published/printed with little to no input.

BENEFITS

  1. All aspects of the publishing end it performed by the publisher.
  2. The author doesn’t have to do anything, just pay the bill and walk away with books.
  3. If the company does what it says it will do, the author will have a quality book to sell or give to family and friends.

DOWNSIDE

  1. The author learns very little about the publishing end of things.
  2. The author will retain the copyright to their words, but not how they are displayed in the book, including exterior and interior design and cover images.
  3. This is an expensive venture.

For writers who want to publish only one book, this is the perfect option. Why bother to learn anything about the publishing industry if all a writer wants to do is get fifty or a hundred copies of the only book they’ll ever write to share with family and friends?

The bottom line is this: You are NOT self-publishing if you are buying packages and hiring a company to publish your book. You are ONLY self-publishing if you are the publisher, contracting out work (such as editing, formatting, cover design) and doing all the organizing yourself. This may be a hard line to draw, but I believe this is a necessary line that must be drawn to separate those who truly self-publish from those who slap down money for someone else to do the work.

It’s true that some unsuspecting authors have fallen victim to these other forms of publishing (other forms as in Joint Publishing, Vanity Publishing and Subsidiary Publishers). When they realise their mistake, they look for other options. Perhaps by drawing these lines, it will save authors new to publishing from losing their money.

NOTE: I have highlighted the following phrase in a few places: if the company does what it says it will do. I did this because that’s the deciding factor that will make the author happy or unhappy with the experience. Sadly, I’ve heard and read many stories where the company received payment but did not provide a finished book or the book was poor quality.

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40 thoughts on “Revised: Five Types of Book Publishers

  1. Diane, I love the clarity of your writing – your description of the 5 platforms is excellent (I am an Indie in the sense you define it).

    I will only take (polite) exception to one comment, which is that vanity is where you oughta be if it’s one book. That’s where I am (one nonfiction/professional book to date), although a second volume is possible – but indie, not vanity. The painful part (after the writing) is the design and getting that into the publishers’ hands. But is it ever worth it! I squeezed 200+ illustrations into a 300 page 6×9 paperback, figured out the Amazon/epub piece, and Ingram Spark prints as many or as few as I want and sends them anywhere. I was helped by my graphic designer son, and yes, we are still on good terms…although I have to sell 500 books to cover my design costs (getting there at an average of 2/day all in from several sources). Interestingly, my sales are 80% paper, the reverse of many indie’s, especially fiction writers.

    I love the control indie gives me. My son is now designing my author website, which will include a PayPal option for paperback in addition to usual author website stuff. I chafe at the $35 sticker price, especially when the online vendors nudge it up to $40. But I did the 55% discount math and discovered that I was in danger of losing money at <$35. I've calculated I can take a PayPal order and have one copy printed and delivered by Ingram to just about anywhere in the world for about $10 less than the sticker price, all the while maintaining a royalty that averages $10/copy sold ($4 on a $9.99 e-book).

    All good, and thanks for writing such a great blog!

    • Thanks for writing, Brian. By the sounds of things, you’re not a one-book writer. You want to write more, so vanity press would not be good for you. You also want to promote and sell it.

      When I think of Vanity Presses, I think of someone who wants to write their life story to leave behind for their family, or someone who wants to put their genealogy in book form. Or maybe someone who wants to write a story for their grandkids. They’re not going to sell it.

      From what I’m reading, eBooks have leveled off. Paperbacks are growing in popularity. So much for what those negative people predicted five years ago. Paper books are here to stay. I hear this from readers when I go to markets. They want a ‘real’ book.

      Thank you for your kind words. Good luck with your book.

  2. While you are right about all the work involved in self-publishing, one of the reasons self-published authors choose to publish is that traditional publishers abandon them to do their own marketing and platform building anyway, Since marketing support is the major rationale for seeking a publisher, writers decide they might as well assume the other responsibilities too. I certainly did.

    • I agree with you, Phillip. Writers, particularly new ones that aren’t going to make publishers a million dollars have to get out there and hustle just as if they self-published. I did mention that: “Writers have to build a platform, market their book and set up launch dates and readings. They may have to pay for this out of their own pockets.”

      Personally, if I’m going to do all that work anyway, I might as well reap all the rewards. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.

  3. These examples all talk about the big NYC publishers — I was not addressing that publishing segment in my commentary. Since I have no firsthand knowledge about their contracts, I’ll have to assume the figures are accurate.

    • They are traditional publishers. What they do has to be considered too. That’s why I said if small publishers are doing better than the 8 to 12 percent, then that’s good news for authors. I’ve heard from authors at medium size companies who still get on average 10%.

      I’m glad you began the discussion about smaller companies. Perhaps if writers are looking for a different deal than the big six offer, they should try smaller publishers. At least armed with information, they have the option of choosing. Information empowers.

  4. Although….your royalty rate for traditionally published is incorrect at 10%. I can’t speak for all publishers, but my publisher pays 50% on digital and print on net and there are no shenanigans. The royalty statements are crystal clear and are paid monthly.
    I think typical rates range from 30 to 50%. I’ve never heard of anyone getting as low as 10% (unless you are talking % of book cover price after Amazon etc. takes their cut — but you’d have to pay Amazon for self-pubbed titles too). Anyway, I think if you read some of the traditional contracts online (many small press publishers post a sample contract) you’ll find your 10% is way off the mark.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience with a traditional publisher, Judy. Your publisher is the exception if they pay more than 10%. That is the average going rate for authors, and if it’s a children’s book, the author gets 5% and the illustrator gets 5%. Some authors will get lower than 10% even with no illustrator and some–the big names–will get higher. I’ve been hearing this rate from writers, authors and others in the businesses and at workshops for fifteen years. You are the first person who reported they’ve heard 30% or 50% royalties.

      Small presses may play the game differently, realising the authors deserve more. If they are paying more, that’s great news for authors. The publishers who control most of the industry don’t pay as well as small presses. But, of course, things are changing, hopefully for the better for authors. Also, the grip of the larger publishers is slipping.

      I have heard the royalty statements are clear, and I’ve not heard about any foul play with traditional publishing companies. Although I do recommend a lawyer take a look at any contract, so the writer knows exactly what she is getting and what she is giving away.

      The fact that a long-time traditional publishing company has started asking for ‘guaranteed sales’ was a complete shock to me. The writer who told me is published by this company, and I trust his facts completely. He was not given this offer, but he knows of other writers who were. I wonder, if a company that has been in business for more than thirty years and has built a solid reputation has begun ‘joint-publishing’ practises, then what stops others from doing the same thing? I guess nothing. Putting these facts on the table though will prepare writers who submit to traditional publishers and are offered that deal. We can only hope that because these companies have a solid and long history, that no shenanigans will result.

      I’d like to hear from others who are published by a traditional publisher or know of the going royalty rates. You don’t have to name the author or the company, but I would like to know if the company is one of the ‘big six’ or smaller presses. That will help clarify the information.

      • Diane, I looked into 3 small press publishers (all MWA approved). All three offered 30-50% royalties. One offered 30 for print and 50 for digital. The other two offered 50 and 50. My publisher will pay 60% once (notice I say once and not if) my book sells 1000 copies.

        I think the lesson here is that people have to do their research, and then follow the path that is right for them. Ideally, a lawyer should look over the contract. If you can’t afford that, the Writers Union of Canada has a sample publishing contract that is excellent. I compared mine with theirs, and it actually exceeded what they recommended. NOTE: I went to a publishing 101 course put on my WUOC and they did use the 30 print-50 digital as standard in the industry.

        I think people might be getting confused with NET and GROSS. There is a HUGE difference. Most major booksellers, like Chapters, for example, take 40-45% off the cost of the already discounted book (since they buy wholesale, not retail). Let’s say a $10 book is purchased for $5. The bookseller then takes 40-45% from the $5 sale. The publisher will take 50% of the $2.25 royalty, leaving the author with about $1.10 for the sale.

        One other comment: most small presses do not pay any sort of advance. I’m assuming that those who do get paid an advance are expected to earn it back, and if they do not, perhaps that clause goes into the next contract? Just surmising since I have no experience in this area.

        • Thanks, Judy, for the extra information. I agree with you completely: people have to do their research. Sometimes a simple search on the Internet will give them what they need. Other times, they have to network with others and ask lots of questions to get the answers they need. I believe if they are in it for the long term, they should do lots of research, so they don’t fall victim to what lurks out there.

          I assume the percentage they are quoting is the amount they are getting from the net profit made by the publishing company after all is said and done. The publisher and all the employees/contractors who worked on the project must be paid. Ten percent means that for every book that sells for $20, the author takes home $2. However, as time has proven, assuming is our first mistake.

          Advances–from what I’ve learned–vary a lot. Some writers get them and some don’t. The general consensuses is that the writer does not have to pay back the advance if the book doesn’t sell enough to cover it.

          It will be interesting to learn what the large publishing companies are paying authors. Obviously the smaller presses are doing what should be done. As I said, that is wonderful news for authors.

          • Thanks Diane. In that case, stating the royalty is 10% is very misleading and completely inaccurate. Even self published authors have to pay the bookseller’s fee. I know if a self-pubbed author can get into Chapters, it is only on an author event/consignment basis and Chapters will take 40 or 45% of sale (can’t remember). Anyway, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to clear up any misconception. These conversations and getting the real facts out there is important.

            • Judy, I am only assuming this is how they are coming up with 10% in royalties. I don’t know the math behind it. If someone can clarify this, I’d love to hear from them.

              Correct me if I’m wrong, the 30 to 50% royalties small presses are giving to authors is from profit numbers only, after the cost of the book is taken into consideration. So if a book sells for $20 and it costs $14 to make, market and get it to its destination, the remaining $6.00 is divided between the publisher and the author. If the publisher takes 60%, that leaves the author with $2.40 of the $20-cover price.

              So while the small press is giving 40% royalties, authors are still getting around 10% of the cover price in royalties.

            • The publisher sells the book to the bookseller at a set percentage off the cover price. It is usually around 55% but can vary. The bookseller will then take their percentage for the sale, about 40% — this also varies by the seller. The NET amount is split between author and publisher 50-50. So drilled down, the author does not get a lot of money BUT even self-published authors have to pay the bookseller, and sell the books at a discount to the bookseller IF the bookseller will even accept their books (for example, Chapters will not stock self-published books, I don’t think, but if they did, they would expect 55% off the cover and another 40-45% off the sale).

              I think what you have to say is that NET royalty is about 10%. Gross royalty is 50%. But to just say “Royalty” is 10% is misleading. That is my point. And if you are going to do that, you should also do the math on self published, i.e. We print our books for $10, sell to public for $20. If we want it to be sold by a bookseller, we have to sell it to the bookseller for $xx and they in turn take 40-45%. Apples to apples and all that.

            • For the most part, Judy, authors don’t know all the numbers involved in the accounting departments of publishers; they just know the bottom line. I’m sure each publisher has their own way of doing the calculations. We have a better idea because we’ve learned about self-publishing. I don’t sell at Chapters for a few reasons, the amount they take is just one. I’ve sold books in stores that take 40% of the cover price (not this plus that) and I’ve sold them where they took nothing.

              As for self-publishing, I have a lot of data on how much everything costs. Next year, the prices on my books will better reflect what I have learned from it. I’ve intentionally kept the prices for my books low, but next year, they will rise two to five dollars. I wrote a post about the costs of books here: https://dianetibert.com/2015/10/07/print-on-demand-prices/

              Saying 10% may be misleading in one way, but saying 50% to someone who doesn’t understand they are still getting only $2 of the $20 cover price is also misleading. Unfortunately, this information is not readily available. Through discussions like this, I hope we can help others understand the money side of publishing.

              As you said, “drilled down, the author does not get a lot of money.” True. Sadly true. This is true for every author regardless of the type of publishing method they choose unless their book(s) really take off. Personally, I chose self-publishing for many reasons, not just because of the money. I might be called a control freak, but I like having the final say on my work. By detailing the ups and downs of each type of publishing, writers will be better able to choose the type that suits them.

              Thanks again, Judy, for the discussion.

            • I realize I made a mistake in my numbers. Publisher sells to Chapters at 55% off retail. So for a $10 book it would mean $4.50 remaining, and that would be split 50-50 with publisher/author, or $2.25 each. (I double dipped that figure by saying they would take another 45% — that is not true.)

              If an author wants to sell direct to Chapters on consignment, they can set the price they want, and Chapters takes 45%. This sounds better but it is actually worse because, author has to buy the book from publisher (at whatever rate was in contract, let’s say 50% to make it easy). So $10 book, bought for $5, sold for $10, Chapters (or whatever bookseller) takes 45% author nets .50. This is why I won’t sell on consignment as a traditionally published author.

              As you say, each person has to do what is right for them. There are pros and cons to all methods of publishing. It’s up to us, as authors, to truly understand them. That is why, if we are tossing around numbers, the numbers tossed around should be accurate, and properly explained. For example, the publishing contract WILL say, xx% of NET royalties and how that NET is arrived at will be fully explained in the contract.

            • You are fortunate to have signed up with a publisher that is transparent. But all traditional publishers are not the same.

              The numbers are hard to nail down because they are always changing from book to book, from printing to printing and from year to year. The smaller the publisher (including authors who self-publish), the more this is true.

              I’m working on an equation to calculate the sale price for my books, but this will be accurate for only a short time and depends on many factors: production costs (illustrations/editing/etc.) + cost of printing book + cost of shipping + (or – ) Canada/US dollar exchange rate + duty fees + average cost of selling it (marketing) + profit (my take home pay) = sale price.

              The more books I sell, the more take home pay I’ll get because eventually the production costs will be paid for, and that small amount of money added to each book will then go into the profit section. Also, the more books I sell at one event, the lower the market costs are for each book.

              Publishers who have been in this for a while know their equation, and they know when they break even for a book and when future sales are all profit.

              I did a little net searching to see if I could find some percentage numbers for royalties because I haven’t looked for a long time. Here are the first few results from my search using keywords “author percentage of each book”:

              1. Alan Jacobson: The Business of Publishing: https://www.alanjacobson.com/writers-toolkit/the-business-of-publishing/
              His blog states: “Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter.”
              He states that special sales (such as to Costco, book clubs, special orders) can half that percentage.

              2. Mark Collier: http://mackcollier.com/so-how-much-money-will-you-make-from-writing-a-book/
              He states: “In most cases, publishers will offer you a contract where you get 10-15% royalties off each sale. Now there is a big qualification to this number. Some publishers will offer you that rate off list price (Gross royalties), and some will offer you that rate off the amount of profit they make off the book (net royalties). The net amount is typically 50% of the book’s price.”

              3. Quara: https://www.quora.com/How-do-book-authors-get-paid
              The website states: “Every copy of the book sold earns the author a small percentage of the price (typically around 10% of the price, although it can vary). If the book is sold at a discount then the percentage can drop. This is defined as price received, rather than the official published price.”

              4. Fiction Factor: http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/advancesroyalties.html
              The website states: “As mentioned above, the average royalty rate for a hardcover is 15% of the book’s list price, and for a paperback, 7.5%. The more copies you’re able to sell, the more money you make.”

              5. Writers’ Services: http://www.writersservices.com/resources/advances-royalties-inside-publishing
              The website states: “hardback royalties on the published price of trade books usually range from 10% to 12.5%, with 15% for big authors. On paperback it is usually 7.5% to 10%, going up to 12.5% only in exceptional cases.”

    • Thanks, Judy. The publishing industry feels like it is in its infant stage: it is growing by leaps and bounds and changing often. It’s a topic that should be discussed often. It’s good to keep the conversation open and ongoing.

  5. I have chosen to self-publish and in many ways it has made me a better writer. I understand more aspects of the business than I would have had I not. The downside is that my writing time is more limited because I need to work so hard on the business.

    • I agree with you, Laurie. I am a better writer too because I self-published. It’s like being a better driver because you know the mechanics of a vehicle. If you don’t know how cruise control works, then you don’t realise how danger it is to use in wet and slippery conditions.

      And the downside is, we don’t have as much time to write. Thanks for visiting my site and leaving a comment.

    • I agree with you, Jack. But in a way, I still understand why some go the traditional route. They either don’t want to learn how to self-publish or their minds can’t wrap around it; not everyone is a McGyver. 😉 I can accept that. What mind-boggles me is that there is a select group of people who still stick their noses up at it, calling it only printing. I feel the publishing companies are egging them on because the these companies have the most to lose if their authors start self-publishing. It all boils down to money.

      The truth is, the only people who care about which company published what are the publishing companies and the authors (an not all of them). But they don’t matter. Readers matter, and they couldn’t tell you who published their favourite books. I spoke about that in this post: https://dianetibert.com/2012/06/17/do-readers-care-if-youre-traditionally-or-independently-published/

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