The Down-Side of Publishing Houses

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

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Last post, we talked about how publishing houses really sell convenience. They provide an editor, artist, and all the other parts you need to turn your words into a book.

But there’s a downside to that convenience. The editor and the artist don’t work for you. They work for the publisher, who ultimately decides on the cover of the book, and to some extent, the text, too.

In other words: It’s not your book anymore. It’s theirs. You are a contractor who provides the words on their project, and they allow you to consult on the other parts.

I realize that that makes it sound sinister. It’s not. The publisher is the one fronting the money for the book (which used to be a lot more than $1000), and they’re the ones with experience selling books, so it’s perfectly reasonable that they’d want final decision to protect their investment. And the fact is, if your goal is to sell lots of books, their input will probably help.

But for me, success is measured in how many people try the techniques and add them to their routine practice. Which isn’t the same as selling lots of books. It might mean a different audience, a different cover, or different words. It’ll probably mean offering the book as a free PDF, in addition to print. In other words, my goals don’t exactly align with a book publisher’s.

Might some publishers let me make a book true to my vision? Sure. But there’s no way to know if any particular one will when I sign a book deal.

Some endeavors are about maximizing the average case’s results. Others are about maximizing convenience. And some are about avoiding bad outcomes.

For me, for this book, I want to avoid bad outcomes. So, at least for now, I’m going to proceed assuming I’ll self-publish.

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Why Publishers Don’t Help With Publicity

Friday, February 10th, 2012

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Yesterday, we saw the costs and profits involved in publishing a book were small enough that you should ignore them. So today, let’s talk about the upside of a publishing house.

The first thing that comes to mind is publicity: Helping with book signings, speaking engagements, and the like.

I think there was a time when that was the real value of publishing houses. But I don’t think it’s true anymore. Because today, blogs and twitter make that kind of networking easy. Let me explain:

If I were organizing a conference, an email from a publisher would get you an interview. I’d talk with you, see if we connect, see if I want you there. It wouldn’t get you booked, but it would get your foot in the door.

But so would an email from a mutual friend. If you know someone who’s spoken at my conference, and they introduce us, that would get you an interview too. 40 years ago, that kind of the network lived in publishing houses. Today, it lives online, in blogs.

Same for book signings, teaching gigs, etc. Especially since my day job – consulting – has me in a dozen different cities each year, so there’s no transportation costs.

No, publishing houses don’t offer publicity, they offer convenience: They have a staff editor, and a staff artist, and a staff layout person to take care of the details for you. Which sounds quite nice, actually.

So what’s the downside of a publishing house? I’ll think about that next post.

PS Looks like Taylor agrees that publishers are about publishing, not publicity. Which, now that I say it like that, is kind of obvious.

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How Expensive is Self-Publishing?

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

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Short answer: $1,000 for a professional job.

I’ve been weighing self-publishing vs going with a small occult publishing house. I’m writing up my research / thinking in this series, in case it’s useful to someone else.

Today: Costs.

Self-publishing itself has zero up-front costs. You submit your book as a PDF, pay a few bucks per book when someone buys it, and that’s it.

But if you do everything yourself, you wind up with a lot of headaches and a lousy book. Here’s the cost for a high-quality book (I’m figuring around 100 pages, which is around 30 long blog posts):

  • Editor: Around $500. Price is per word or page, so a 500-pager will be 5x as expensive.
  • Artist, for cover art: Incredibly variable, but Createspace charges $350, which seems like a good ballpark.
  • Layout: $250 on Createspace, not tied to length.

Tip: Have an independent artist do the cover. Print on demand publishers make very little per book sold, so they have little incentive to produce something great. They sell convenience, not exceptional books.

For this $1k, you can then sell your book for, let’s say, $10-20. Once Amazon and the printer take their cut, you get about 1/2 of the cover price. So, you’ll recoup that $1k investment after 100-200 sales.

If you’re not an author, that probably sounds easy. It’s not. Over the lifetime of a book? Sure, 30 years from now I’ll have my thousand bucks back, plus a few hundred profits. But I’d do better buying a government bond. Publishing a book loses money, and it only makes sense as an investment in teaching / speaking / a healing practice / etc.

To put those numbers in perspective, a standard publishing house deal gets you about 10% royalties per book ($1-2), with zero costs up front. But again, if we’re talking 100-200 books, $1-2 per book isn’t even worth considering.

So, the end message is: Don’t publish to make money. (Which I already knew). Publish to establish yourself as an expert and drive the rest of your career.

But there’s a second message: The costs and profits are so small that you should totally ignore the money — both the up-front costs and the royalty rate — when considering self-publishing vs a publishing house. Instead, go with whatever will accomplish your career goals the best (energy healing, teaching, etc).

So next, I’ll look at publicity.

Aside: How do book publishers make any money? Sure, their editors and artists and everyone are staff, so they cost probably half what a freelancer does, but there are also lawyers and managers and other overhead. I’m getting the feeling that the answer is: Publishers don’t make much money, at least in the occult world.

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Magick Books: Self-Publish vs Publishing House

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

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I’m writing a book this year. It’s in outline form right now, so I can blog about the topics and figure out how to explain them. Basically the same topics as the blog, but organized to be easier to use, taking you through learning direct magick from the beginning.

I’ve read up on how to contact publishing houses. (Tip: Contact them with an idea for a book, not a written book. They’ll want to shape the presentation). And I know that no one makes money from occult books — my goal is to build a community and establish credentials for teaching, energy healing, etc.

But I need some advice: Self-publish or publishing house? I was leaning toward a publishing house for marketing and credibility, but I just read a great article on TechCrunch that said:

  • Publishers do basically zero to promote most books. In fact, they want to see that you have a blog or other marketing platform before they’ll even talk to you.
  • Publishers introduce a huge lag in getting your book out. You can do it alone in a few months, but it takes 1-2 years or more with a publisher.
  • Direct quote: “Some people want the credibility of saying “Penguin published me”. I can tell you from experience – nobody ever asked me who was my publisher when Penguin was my publisher.”

For authors, does this guy’s experience ring true? Particularly because he’s talking about tech, marketing and business books, and we’re talking about occult and magick.

And for everyone, what do you think about self-publishing vs going with a publishing house?


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