Sunday, August 28, 2011

Publish in Print or on the 'Net? Part 1

Several people have asked me questions about the difference between getting published on the 'net vs getting published in print. While I don't consider myself an expert, I guess a little experience will have to suffice as credentials.

Getting published in print:

There are two ways to get published in print: a.) via a regular publisher, and b.) via self-publishing.

Regular Publisher

This is the usual way to get your book printed. You submit your manuscript to a publisher and they read it. If they like it, they'll contact you for further discussions or, if they don't like it, they'll send you a nice rejection letter. I'm an expert in the latter but I took the time to learn what happens if they do the former.

So they like your book and want to publish it. They'll call you to set up a meeting to discuss things like: number of copies to print,copyright, royalties and other things. You both agree on an initial quantity of books to print. If the book sells well enough, you can decide to increase the quantity later. You also agree on how long the publisher will keep the book in print (usually two years). They apply for the copyright for you except that they will license it for a time. Essentially, you both own the book. The sharing of profits, however, is anything but 50-50.

Royalties range from about 5% to 25%. If you're wondering why, think about it from the publisher's point of view. He's going to pay for the editing, the printing, the marketing, practically everything except write the book. You, the author, just sit and wait (not exactly but close enough). The publisher's doing all the work and taking the chance that your book will sell well enough to give him a decent profit.

So, assuming you both agree on the essentials, your book goes through the process. First, it has to go through proof-reading. After an initial proof, your manuscript goes back to you with proposed corrections (spelling, grammar, different way of saying this or that or even a change in title). If you're not okay with it, you make your comments and the editor looks it over again. Once both of you are satisfied, they make a trial print. Again, this goes to you for approval/suggestions and back to the printer for corrections. This part doesn't go through more than two iterations since making those trial prints costs money with no profit. Parallel to this is the creation of the cover. An artist coordinates with you on a suitable cover, going through the same back and forth consultations. When everyone's happy, the book goes to the printer.

Okay, now your book's printed and ready to be sold. The publisher takes care of marketing but you need to participate too. This is done through book signings, radio and television interviews, public appearances, and any other method of getting your book known to the public.

Now, you're probably itching to know about when do you get paid. I was a little disappointed to learn that authors get paid on a quarterly basis instead of monthly. I've since found that expecting to make enough sales to merit monthly payment is terribly unlikely. Indeed, every article I've ever read says that you probably won't be leaving your day job to concentrate on making a living out of writing.


If you don't like the idea of getting less than 15% of the sales for your book, you might want to look into self-publishing. As the name implies, this is where you do everything—or almost everything. This way you keep all the profits to yourself. Famous authors who've done it this way are:

John Grisham
Mark Twain
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Allen Poe
Benjamin Franklin
Beatrix Potter - The Adventures of Peter Rabbit

So what do you need to do to self-publish?

You've already got your manuscript but you need to make sure that it's as near perfect as it can be. This means proofreading. If your grammar and spelling skills are good, you can do it yourself. If you're not so sure, you can hire someone to do it for you. Looking for someone who's that good will be a bit difficult, not to mention, expensive. If your old English teacher will do it for free, then lucky for you.

Next, you'll need a nice cover. If you're a decent artist, you might do this yourself, otherwise, you pay someone to do it for you. This early, you need to decide on the dimensions of your book so that you or the artist can arrange everything as you want it. The old saying, "don't judge a book by its cover," only works on humans. In the real sense of the phrase, the first thing that will attract a potential buyer is the cover. I have no idea what works and what doesn't. I'll have to research on that but don't count on my reporting about it anytime in the next year or so.

We haven't gone into printing yet. There's a few things you'd want to do before going ahead.

Apply for a copyright with your local copyright office. In the Philippines, that would be the National Library. In the U.S., it's the Library of Congress, I believe. For other countries, it will probably be a similar government institution.

You need to send two copies of your manuscript along with an application, affidavit, documentary stamps, and a postal money order as payment. It's not terribly expensive, in fact, in the Philippines it's just P200 plus P10 worth of documentary stamps. Of course, the cost of mailing the documents is an additional expense. Note that the requirements may be different for other countries.

Next, you'll need an ISBN, that's International Standard Book Number. This number is a unique identifier for every book sold. Bookstores, publishers, libraries, universities and the like use this number to track books. Book titles aren't good for tracking since titles can't be owned. If you ever publish a new edition of your book, you'll need a separate ISBN for it.

They're not expensive either, just P120 per title. If you plan on giving your book away for free, as a gift perhaps, or if you're planning to sell it direct, you probably won't need an ISBN, but if you plan to sell it, most bookstores require it. Also, when you apply for an ISBN, you'll have to register as a business. That involves taxes, permits, and all the evils that having a business entails.

Okay, let's leave the unpleasant things and go on to printing. In this modern age, printing is faster and easier than it used to be. All you need is a computer, some software and a good quality printer. Again, you can do this yourself or hire a professional printer. Your choice will be dependent on quantity. If you're only printing a few copies as gifts, or print-on-demand, you can't go wrong with good ol' do-it-yourself. Be warned, however, that you have to do your own cutting of the book to size, and bookbinding. I've actually printed and bookbound my own books for personal use and it's difficult if you do it with ordinary tools. Depending on how long your book is, you'll probably be able to make between five to ten books a day.

If you plan on mass producing, a professional printer will be more cost effective. You agree on a quantity of copies, give him the software file, the cover art and wait for him to deliver your books.

I've never marketed my book so I can't give much info about it. If I had gone the self-publish way, I'd have to learn from scratch. Again, you can have a professional do the marketing or do it yourself. Personally, I shudder at the thought of lugging my books around bookstores and negotiating with the owners/managers. Selling has never been my forte. Of course, if I plan on giving the book away for free, or sell it on-demand, it'll be easier.

So that's self-publishing. You can go the full monty and do everything yourself or hire others to do all or part of the work. The essence is you're in charge and you keep all the profits.

Next we'll look at publishing on the 'Net.

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