Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ask Back: Why is a print publication important to you?

I would like to introduce a new feature to this blog, which I will call “Ask Back.” After I answer each question asked of me, I would like to ask a question back of you. I would welcome all of you to post your responses here in the comments section, so that we can encourage a lively dialogue. I value your opinions: as you are interested to know what I think on certain topics, I am interested to know your thoughts as well.

If you self published your book as an ebook/POD original, and it was a huge success online, would you still be interested in a traditional book publishing deal with a major publisher? From your perspective, what is that being published by a traditional print publisher offers you that being published as an e-book original/POD does not (for example, is it the advance, subsidiary rights sales, distribution, marketing, prestige, etc.)?


  1. I would like to ask a question. How do you know when you start working on a book project if there is a market for the book you're writing, if it isn't category fiction?

  2. I'm just about to self-publish (POD/E-pub) and agonized long about whether to do that or pursue the traditional course. It is a niche non-fiction book so lends itself (maybe) to self-publishing. But I'd say it was the anticipated lack of aggressive (or maybe any) marketing from a publisher (if I managed to get an agent and he or she got a publisher) that said to me, I have to do all that anyway, so why not just do it?

    What I have heard and learned about advances, distribution, etc. in the present-day traditional publishing world are not adequate to change my opinion that whatever value traditional print publication offers, it isn't worth all the hoops and especially not worth the extreme length of time it would take to finished product. I've had two agents interested; they both passed mostly because of anticipated low marketability. I'd never consider "traditional self-publishing" again (get it printed, bring home 2000 copies, sell them for the rest of my life) even though I was happy with my 1994 experience along those lines. POD and E-publishing are SO easy now, and not expensive. I am willing to market myself and let the reading public judge whether my book is slush or not. If no one buys it, well, I won't be out more than about $300 or $400.

    Would I say yes to a traditional print publisher who discovers my book and wants to offer a traditional deal? You bet. But I don't want to go through all the effort to TRY to make that happen, given the long odds, when I can make it happen on my own at acceptable small financial outlay.

  3. Question: What is your take on agreeing to be represented by agents whom you have never met? For instance: I am a writer living on the west coast. A friend of a friend loved my book so much that she sent it to her best friend, the daughter of a powerful NYC literary agent. He and his assistant, herself an agent, read it in two days, called me, and offered me representation over the phone.

    I did my research and know that this is a reputable agency, so I said yes. I felt that I was placed into good hands.

    Sometimes it feels weird to only have correspondence on-line, via email. What's your take on that? At this point, they could sell all of my books without us ever meeting once! It's totally possible, but is it normal, even in today's technological age?

  4. To answer your question more narrowly, one of the biggest assured benefits of being published by a traditional publisher (as opposed to the hoped for benefits, such as professional design, editing, and binding, a strong distribution channel, robust sales & marketing, etc.) is that you are receiving professional validation of your book. When a publisher pays you even a small advance and commits to producing, printing, distributing, and marketing that book, they are saying that they believe your book is ready for the market. Even with the most rigorous vetting (MFA workshops, writing groups, brutally honest readers, professional editors, etc.), with a self-published book, nobody but the author has skin in the game and is making a bet with their own money that the book will sell. There are, of course, other benefits I see to self-publishing over traditional publishing, but that external validation by a publishing company is a powerful assurance to a new writer that what they've been slaving over is commercially viable.

    Thanks for the blog! For someone in the throes of getting their novel ready to send out, it's a great primer.

  5. I've three books out now. Indie. Self. POD. E-book. Whatever.

    The only way I'd go with a trad publisher at this point is if there was an offer on the table that included real publicity. Someone who knew how to get my name out there, and not as some wonderkid who had landed a million-dollar advance.

    Now, that said, there are other things that a more traditional deal offers. Bookshelf space across the country. Editing. Copy editing. Cover art. Lower print prices. Higher e-book prices. Lower e-book royalties.

    Hmm. Wait. Let me rethink those last two.

    But those are my tipping points: e-books that have reasonable prices and a royalty rate that's worth something, and promotion. Lots of promotion. Otherwise, what's the point of having to worry about the stigma of bad sales, and how that'll turn me into a (gasp!) self-publisher if I get dropped?

  6. Like the previous comment by Mr. Gibson, I too write for a niche market. My books are based on L. Frank Baum's 14 Wizard of Oz books. They are considered children's/YA Fantasy and the market is very limited for Oz. I found that self-publishing my work is very rewarding for me, allows me to tap into a very limited but loyal audience and do so with a very limited budget.
    Of course, I too would welcome a traditional publishing deal... but on my terms, not some faceless corporation and their interests.

  7. I haven't published any thing, but even if I did do so through independent means as was hugely successful, I would still want to shoot for the traditional route as well. One of the things I am most looking forward to if I ever get a publishing deal is working with an agent and an editor to make my work the best it can be. I think I would really feel like I was a part of a team then instead of the solitary writer that I am now.

  8. For me it's all about legitimacy. If a traditional publishing house actually considers my work marketable it means that I truly have honed my craft well enough to consider myself an author, and not just a writer. Self publishing carries no such weight in my opinion.

  9. There is a large market segment that want, or at least prefer, words on paper. I think having a shelf presence would provide more sales, but as has been mention, there is also a 'legitimacy' that comes from traditional publication. The vetting process required to land a contract still means something.

  10. The problem with agents as gatekeepers is that they have the potential to obstruct the gateway.

    The problem with an open gateway is that anything can pass through it.

    Your question assumes self-pub success for a project which could have made it via the agency route.

    Personally, I'd aim to go via an agent, but if I were self-pubbed and in this position, the situation would present a number of conundrums.

    High sales are a good thing in anybody's book, so why introduce a middleman to a process that's done perfectly well without one?

    Second whiskey in, I might even say, "Pooey to you, trad publishing. Eat my success, you dinosaur!"

    Let's face it, on my earnings, I can now afford to rush out paper copies of my runaway e-success.

    What brings this all back round to the agent for me as far as this scenario goes is not so much the qestion of prestige, distribution, or even e vs p.

    It's the been-round-the-block-ishness a reputable agency or publisher brings to the table.

    Bubbles burst and futures have a way of backfiring, and while it's one thing to score one hit, one wonder, it's quite another to do so consistently, year on year.

    So, I'd prefer to ally myself with people who've handled corpses rather than risk becoming one myself c/o a flash fire.

    (The e vs p dilemma presently revolves around what can practically be read in the bath, btw...)

  11. Cache, distribution and foreign sales are what traditional publishers have to offer. The cache is declining, or perhaps a better word is changing. But mass distribution and foreign sales very much remain the purview of traditional publishers.

  12. The reasons to go with a mainstream publisher are all those you mentioned with the exception of the advance.

    Some niche/local books especially nonfiction, if done well, can succeed as a self-published book and may make an author more than an advance would pay.

    However, the chance to be taken seriously and branch out into bigger markets, can still only be done through traditional publishing.

    Bring on the subsidiary rights, greater distribution, big-scale marketing (as if in this economy) and prestige!

  13. "If you self published your book as an ebook/POD original, and it was a huge success online, would you still be interested in a traditional book publishing deal with a major publisher?"

    To be perfectly honest, it's already happened to me, at least partially. I've never self-pubbed. But I did experience this almost exactly.

    I sold a romance novel to an well known e-publisher, so it wasn't self-pubbed and I didn't invest a dime of my own. I even received an advance from the e-publisher. The novel did very well as an e-book, I've written fifty more e-books for the publisher since then that have all doen well, and the first e-book was sold in collaboration to a large print publisher based on the e-book sales.

    However, as nice as this sounds and as excited as I was to have the book sold to the print publisher, with another advance, the print book didn't do nearly as well as the e-book did. And, frankly, I still have no idea how to promote the print book or how to gain a readship in print. And I receive hundreds of fan e-mails a week from people who read only e-books. Most didn't even know the print book existed.

    So I'm not sure I'd be thrilled about doing this again, at least not with genre romance. I like knowing I can make my money on the back end. And the pressure of getting an advance from a print publisher for a book that has already earned out more than it was ever expected to as an e-book, doesn't appeal to me anymore. Not to mention the chagrin involved. In other words, I'll stick to e-books for now. I know my readership, I know how to promote online, and I know what to expect. With print books these days an author doesn't know what to do. And book signings in retail book shops that are holding on my a thin thread isn't the place to do it.

    Posting anonymously this time because I'd rather not admit in public how poorly the print book sold compared to how well the e-book sold.

  14. I believe ebooks are extremely impersonal and they’re a dime a dozen. Print books separate the great authors from the mediocre. Now if and author is available in both formats, then that doesn’t lessen his/her repute to me, it shows that the author is worth the investment in print and now the publisher wants to show him off further. I know many believe ebooks are the future, and I agree to an extent, but I do not believe that print books will ever be gone. We may lose independent bookstores in the future, but we’ll always have at least one chain store brand bookstore plus the (albeit limited) book selections at the Targets, Wal-Marts and grocery stores. I don’t think the death of the independent bookstores or presses means we should give up print books. It’s a standard, a right of passage and it means the difference to me (and I believe, many others as well) from withholding my book from certain agents or publishers since I do not want my work cheapened by being nothing more than an intangible piece of crappy cover art for $0.99 or so right alongside some self-publishers piece of crap book that not even his BETA reader and mom really enjoyed, let alone the rest of the world.

  15. Dear Mr. Lukeman,

    Thanks again for creating your blog, and for generously taking our questions.

    I have a question (which you've probably been asked before) regarding hardcover vs. paperback. My debut collection of stories will be coming out with Ecco/HarperCollins, and most likely they'll do it in paperback (they'll also be publishing my novel, which is still in progress). I knew going into the deal that they were going to publish the stories in paper, but lately I'm having the anxiety that it won't be given the same kind of attention that most debut collections (in hardcover) get (reviews, award consideration, etc.). Most of my writer friends who've written debut collections had their books come out in hardcover, and were reviewed in the major venues, and went on to a paperback release. I worry that I won't have the same opportunities.

    I know these things can't be predicted, so I guess rather than a question, I'd like to know your thoughts on this, if perhaps I should have gone with a publisher who would've committed to a hardcover. I'm thrilled to be with Ecco-- they were at the top of my list--but as my publication date gets closer, I'm becoming less certain about the format I've signed on to. I appreciate your response and advice.

    Thanks so much, and Happy New Year.

    Brin Londo

  16. I am planning to publish my book. If you have any tips do help me with that. Thanks!

  17. For me personally I feel the old fashioned in-my-hands book is a little bit of magic. I know that many people are more into the newest technology and can read E-books with just as much enjoyment.
    I often dig around amazon and read the first few pages to decide on my buy list, but I want the hard cover jacket wrapped book. I don't want to have a half finished book lost to some technology glitch - which seem to follow me.
    I have been burned with music downloads - so I just have a hard time thinking of storing a library full of anything that can be lost in seconds. I know it's more than likely silly, but I would be happy to use E-books too, but I honestly want paper.
    Now once I have an agent - I am 100% on board to defer to the advice they offer. That's why I want one - not to brag to my e-buddies. I am a good writer - my queries are pooch smoochers - so I will be digging into your books in a few minutes - lol.
    My dream is print - I will wait for that.
    If I take any other route - it is because someone smarter than I am has made that option part of the plan.
    If all else fails - once I am dead my kids can e-publish all my books if they want. The silly things are written for them - they put it in my head to get on the train and see where it goes. I very much feel E-books are just as valid as print books - but I am old so there is a little stubborn in my feet and they are dragging on the idea. Thanks for everyones post - It was very enjoyable to see so many perspectives.

  18. I have an aversion to e-books. It answers your question. I think that the publishing house is the best way to publish work. I love paperbacks and digital devices will not change that.

  19. Mr.Lukeman,is 8-9% royalty the general margin to be expected for a first novel?

  20. Mr. Lukeman, first of all, thank you for writing "The Plot Thickens", "A Dash of Style", and "The First Five Pages". They greatly helped me to edit my MS.
    You suggested in your blog that aspiring authors should query at least 50 agents/editors to maximize their positive chances. I am an Indian, sir, and unfortunately we don't have devoted agents in India. As for the few reputed publishing houses we have in the country, they demand a six months' evaluation time after which their offices may not even send a written reply (or a formal reply via phone call)--which means they may or may not bother to read something out of the large pile of unsolicited manuscripts. Some publishing houses will not accept the MS if it is submitted elsewhere for evaluation. And foreign publishers don't accept unsolicited manuscripts.
    Can you suggest me something that will help me to manage the submission and feedback process in this situation ?

  21. To answer your question, yes, I would be interested. I live in Indiana, where many people I meet or know in person ask about my books, and then say something to the effect of "Can I find that at Books-a-Million?" or "I don't have a Kindle, can I get it in paperback?" Right now I have to send them to the internet to order a paperback. There are several indie bookstores in the area that would take my books on consignment, but with four young kids, I don't have the time to manage that. I am doing good to manage both book promotion and writing of new material on the same day. I would relish the opportunity to say "Yes, pick up the book at any XYZ bookstore," or "Yes, I was at Target and saw it there." Multiply all the people I know who've asked me in person x the # of new readers who would discover the book at the bookstore, and I'd be super-stoked for a book deal.

    And then there's this: I take bubble baths. I am not taking my Kindle near the bathtub. I still read books on paper because of that. I'm just one gal, but I'm sure there are millions of us gals who want paper books for the same reason. Of course I'd look at a paperback deal, to reach the bathtub market! ;)

    As an aside, I wanted to tell you I reread your First Five Pages book recently. Of all the books on writing fiction I've read, yours remains one of the very best. Thank you. I constantly get comments about how great my writing is, and much of it is textbook FFP. I even just got an honorable mention in a First Chapter contest for my latest book. So, thanks.


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