Ever thought about writing a book? Well, be sure you know what you're getting into first, because by the time you hold the finished product in your hands, you may have a long, strange trip to get through first.
If you're a long time reader of The Standards Blog, you'll recall that in the first half of 2010 I wrote a book called The Alexandria Project. I posted a new chapter of that book here at The Standards Blog every Monday, and by the end it comprised 29 chapters, plus prologue and epilogue. Somewhere between 3 and 4,000 people loyally followed that tale through to its conclusion, and you can still find that rough first draft here.
One reason (although not the only one) why I have not been posting new blog entries very frequently this year is that I've been heavily engaged in two related projects. The first has been turning that rough first draft of The Alexandria Project into a final manuscript, suitable for sale in print and eBook versions. It's now done, and the final version is tighter, better written, more suspenseful, and more convincing. It will be available shortly, on which more later.
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The Alexandria Project?
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In between the new chapters, I also plan to share with you some insights into what it's like to self-publish a book, since it appears that books of this type are destined to comprise an ever larger percentage of new books reaching the market, as well as of all books sold, in absolute terms. In a nut shell, that's because the value proposition provided by the traditional publishers is becoming less and less compelling all of the time. Perhaps the best way to explain that is by using the metaphor of the bundle of sticks.
Up until recently, there were only two ways to get a book into the marketplace: through traditional publishers, and "vanity publishers." The difference between the two is that the former is what you think of when you think of a full service publisher, while the latter is basically a book formatter and binder, capable of drop shipping boxes of books to your doorstep but hot capable of helping you establish demand for those books. The differences become more apparent when you look at the complete bundle of services that "real" publishers used to provide, which can be broken down into the following "sticks:"
1. Winnowing the weak authors and books with promise from the chaff, and bringing to market only those books that are competently written and have some basic level of appeal.
2. Paying an advance to the author to help tide her over while she finished the contracted for book.
3. Providing an author with an editor able to help the author create a better end product, through consultation and editing.
4. Converting the final typescript manuscript into a pleasing physical product through careful internal and external layout and design.
5. Executing a promotional campaign involving varying degrees of investment depending on the type of book, reputation of the author, merit of book, and so on, but at minimum one intended to persuade as large a number of bookstores as possible to stock the book, and to acquaint as many potential readers as possible with the existence and appeal of the book. Typically, this would involve activities such as soliciting the interest of reviewers at major urban newspapers and organizing a coast to coast promotional tour for the author, comprising radio and TV interview and book signings at bookstores.
6. Management of printing, shipping, inventory tracking, invoicing, collecting of proceeds, and receiving of returns, as well as addressing a variety of lesser administrative chores (e.g., buying an ISBN number, registering the copyright in the book, listing it in trade directories, and so on).
7. Periodically reporting to, and paying, royalties to the author.
That's a pretty impressive package, with a lot of value to an author. Today, however, not only is getting a contract with a traditional publisher much more difficult , but what you get has far less value. Notably, the advance (item one above) and the promotional assistance (item 7) may be dramatically smaller to non-existent. Many publishers now say that they expect authors to submit completely edited and proofread text, ready for printing, and to assume basically all of the promotional role as well.
At the same time, a new alternative - the print on demand publisher - has popped up, and technology has completely transformed what can be done and by whom. As a result, anyone can handle items 4, 5 and 6 either on their own, or using a POD publisher at a total cost of from $500 - $1000. Additional services (editing, proofreading, promotional, and so on) can be purchased from the same sources, typically in packages of ascending cost and (often) descending real value. Freelancers are also available to provide many of the same services.
The other major difference is that traditional publishers demand ownership and control of your book, while many POD publishers allow the author to terminate their contract at any time, with the author keeping all rights in their book, cover design, and other related assets. POD publishers also allow the author to have significant control over pricing, and often pay higher royalties than traditional publishers.
As a result, the benefit differences between traditional publishers and POD publishers have decreased remarkably, while the cost differences have remained the same. In other words, if you're not going to get the advance, the editorial assistance, and the promotional support, why give away control of your book and make lower royalties?
So POD publishing sounds great, right? Well, yes and know. The reality is that it's a big, messy and (still) rapidly changing landscape out there. And that's where we'll pick up in the next installment in this narrative.
Read the second chapter of Adventures in Self-Publishing here
Read Chapter 1 of The Lafayette Deception (the sequel to The Alexandria Project) here