So, when should you pay to publish your book, and how does the ‘money flow toward the author’ rule apply?
A La Carte Services:
The term ‘self-publishing’ is a bit of a misnomer. Few people have the aptitude or experience to handle every aspect of a book’s production, and so most authors rely on outside help. Whether that’s hiring an editor, a cover designer, a marketing service, a distributor, or any other service.
For money to flow toward the author it doesn’t mean you should never pay someone as part of your book’s production. It only means that those services must be cost effective and add to the author’s bottom line. Authors must be confident that any money invested will return in the form of sales.
A la carte services can be essential to maximizing your book’s sales. It easy to see the value of these services when they are part of an isolated transaction. You pay a company x, you receive y, and the value received for your purchase is determined. It’s that straightforward. If the work pays for itself in a reasonable time, then money is flowing toward the author, and you have received value for your investment.
A full-service publishing package carries a daunting price tag, and should provide a level of service that justifies the cost. Before you invest your money, look for evidence of other successful books the company has produced. Are they selling well? Do they have ample reviews? Have they reached and sustained a relatively high sales rank on Amazon?
Don’t purchase a publishing package without a clear idea of how many copies of your book you’ll need to sell to recoup the cost. And the evidence that you’ll be able to do so in a reasonable amount of time. If most of a company’s books are tumbling into the bottomless pit of obscurity, question if you can trust them to elevate yours?
All-in-one publishing packages are frequently padded with high-cost, low-value fluff, which complicates the task of evaluating whether a package is worth your investment. Watch out for items like:
- ISBN numbers - These should be owned by the self-publishing author, and are obtainable directly from registrars like Nielsen (in the UK), Bowker (in the US) and Thorpe-Bowker (in Australia).
- Copyright filing - There are a number of Copyright Service Companies available in the UK for copyright your draft manuscripts. Once published your work is automatically copyrighted to you. For Authors selling in the US you can register a formal copyright online for a $35 fee, in under 15 minutes. Some companies may charge hundreds of dollars for this service, then hide the cost among the rest of the publishing package services so be aware.
Few services have the reach and fan base to promote your book this way, particularly an obscure small press or relatively unknown service provider. But keep in mind that quantity isn’t everything as the ultimate goal of any marketing is not just to reach large numbers of people, it is to reach the specific audience most likely to buy your book. 3 million Twitter followers won’t make a difference to your book’s sales if those followers are not interested in your genre. Or they are spammers and bots looking for a ‘follow back.’
If the publishing package you’re considering is holding these services up as valuable considerations, reflect on how much of the fee can be broken down into the discrete services whose value you know. You may be better served by an a la carte service where you can shop for the best value, and know exactly what those services are costing you.
These services may be a useful investment in the production of your book, but being able to determine whether money is indeed flowing back to the author is the key to separating a good service from a substandard one.
Readers pay little attention to the publisher or the imprint of the books they select. Factors like cover appeal, description, and reviews carry far more weight than the publisher’s name, particularly a smaller imprint that’s not widely recognized.
Under no circumstance should an author pay solely for the right to be published under an imprint. This is the essence of vanity publishing, and a key difference between a contracted self-publishing service provider and a traditional publisher. Whereas a service provider is simply performing a service for payment, traditional publishers have a greater responsibility for the works they issue.
If the ability to pay is the primary criteria used to determine whether someone will be published under an imprint, then that publisher cannot make any claim to the prestige of their imprint. And if they are curating what they publish on the basis of profitability, and are confident in the success of the book, why are they demanding the author pay?
Which brings us to the final category…
Subsidy publishing, also known as hybrid publishing, claims to offer the benefits of traditional publishing arrangements, but requires the author to pay some or all of the publishing costs. In theory, the author receives a greater percentage of royalties in compensation.
Because there are countless bad actors attempting to reframe vanity publishing as ‘hybrid publishing,’ the ALLi Watchdog Desk advises extreme caution when presented with this type of arrangement. There are some reputable hybrid publishers and small presses operating in this way, but distinguishing this ethical minority from the exploitative majority can be quite a challenge. The ALLi Watchdog’s chief concern about hybrid publishing is that it can disproportionately shift the burden of risk onto the author without there being any compensation.
In traditional publishing, the publisher bears the responsibility for ensuring that a book is profitable. They undertake the cover design, editing, the production, distribution and other publishing responsibilities, but keep most of the book’s sales as compensation. If the publisher fails in their responsibilities and the book does not sell, it’s the publisher who takes the loss. Therefore, they have a strong incentive to ensure the success of the book.
In self-publishing, third-party service providers are responsible only for delivering the services they are contracted to perform. The transactions are clear-cut, and the provider’s obligation generally ends once the service has been delivered. The author retains overall control of the process and bears responsibility for the success, or failure of the book. They reap the rewards of their investment in the form of much greater royalties.
With hybrid publishing arrangements, the author pays the publisher up front, and thereby assumes nearly all the risk. If the publisher fails to deliver on their promises, and the book does not sell, it is the author who bears the cost, and the loss. Worse, the publisher already has their profit in hand, so has that much less incentive to invest in the book’s success. And to cap it off, many hybrid publishers also retain a significant chunk of the royalties. The author is financing the production of the book and absorbing the risk, just as they would in self-publishing, but is giving up a measure of control, sacrificing royalties, and may not receive value commensurate with the risk they’re undertaking.
Hybrid publishing is an important example of why the ‘money flows toward the author’ statement is a crucial guideline. In traditional publishing, that assurance in built into the contract. Money either flows from the customer to the publisher then to the author, or it doesn’t flow at all. And, the publisher’s profit is dependent on selling the book. But in hybrid publishing and self-publishing services, there is no guarantee built into the arrangement. And a one-way flow of cash from the author is a real and omnipresent danger meaning the author must take great care to verify that money flowing away from them will return, multiplied.
You’ve written your book but what to do next? Well of course, it needs to be published but how? You decide to approach an agent or a publisher, and after reviewing their submission guidelines you see they want a full synopsis and a few sample chapters of your book!
An author creating a book synopsis is a lot like a marketing writer having to put an advertisement or online landing page together. Both messages are usually short, sweet, and designed to instigate interest and hopefully, some action in the reader. But where new authors tend to fall down is in knowing their audience.
Let’s talk about a synopsis in the strictest sense. In other words, a complete, condensed insight of your story. Image it as being a snapshot of your book. Perhaps a trailer you’d watch if your novel were a movie, except in this case, the ending is revealed. And the intended audience?
Prospective agents and/or publishers.
When preparing a synopsis for these prospects, lots of authors think they need to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger. Keeping them in suspense! After all, this is about getting them excited and willing to take the next step. Right? Wrong.
Actually, the reality is totally different, as no-one is going to financially back a piece of work if they don’t know how it ends. So, what are the nuts and bolts of preparing a synopsis that is likely to grasp the interest of those on the business side of publishing?
Step 1: Creating a strong synopsis might give you some surprises. You should in theory do it before you write the book. What I hear you saying. But yes, it’s true. Writing the synopsis before you begin isn’t technically writing a synopsis – it’s creating a rough outline of what is going to happen, but it can form the basis of what is required to explain what your story is all about.
Few publishers are interested in helping you bring an idea to market (unless you’re already signed to a multi-book contract). They are looking for a finished product they can bring to the market, so you should be offering them something that has shape and which allows them to do it quickly.
Step 2: Always follow correct synopsis formatting. You can rarely go wrong by using the standard manuscript format. A caveat there, however, is to always keep an eye on the publisher/agent’s specific demands. If they ask for something different in their guidelines, then that will beat any standard conventions for the industry.
Step 3: Make sure you write in the third person, using present tense, and regardless of what *POV or tense the book is written in. Also, put the first occurrence of each character’s name in CAPS so they can easily be picked out as the reader skims down the page.
Step 4: Moving on to content. The meat of your submission. Firstly, reduce the beginning of the book down to just a couple of sentences. Remember, you have pages and pages where you have introduced characters, settings, and conflict in the actual novel.
What you need to do is pick out what’s essential and present only the bare facts. Don’t go for atmospheric vagueness more a concrete foundation for the reader. You’ve reached a pure business stage in communication between publisher and writer, and your synopsis is a functional outlay of your story’s plot. It isn’t the blurb on the back of your book, and therefore isn’t meant to act as an end-user sales piece. Teasing the twists and turns and speaking directly to the reader aren’t techniques that fit in well here.
Stick to a direct and professional method of revealing your story’s structure. And, leave out any details or subplots that aren’t essential to the main narrative(s). Focus more on chapters than individual scenes. This is a concise breakdown of your story. Often no longer than 800 words but sometimes even less. So, always keep in mind that you are providing an overview rather than a blow-by-blow account.
Step 5: Read your synopsis through once more with your eye on character arcs, and make sure you’ve included your protagonist’s journey from the person they were at the beginning to who they become at the end. This is where you’re most likely to realise you’ve accidentally created a plot hole by omission. Show off your protagonist’s goals and actions, and your villain’s counter-actions. Look for defining moments in your characters’ journeys, and highlight how they change the course of the narrative.
When you’re done with that, read it through again for clarity, flow and rhythm, and then just one last time for spelling and grammar. You’ll probably be sick of reading it over by this point!
Trim as many words as you can. Use descriptive phrases sparingly, and choose words that carry a lot of weight instead of packing your synopsis with fluffy fillers.
In the end, you’re likely to have roughly a page to a page and a half of writing. A hard-fought distillation of your entire novel, ready to hit the desk of an agent or publisher with professional, no-nonsense aplomb. And, if it’s got to be shorter then you need to start cutting.
To help you why not try and write a synopsis of a book you’ve recently read and see if you can match the storyline? Remember, perfection comes with practice.
*POV - Point of View
It is surprising how one can travel to the other side of the world only to find oneself sitting next to someone who actually lives not far away from you. This proves the world isn’t as large a place as we think. And can also often lead to interesting conversations. Travel is also an adventure which will open one’s mind to many new and exciting experiences. And, in truth, as long as you don’t look with your ‘eyes,’ (ie your prejudices or ideas) then it will.
As an author you can benefit from the joys of travel as it will give you the basics for your writing. It can generate new ideas, scenarios, characters, plots etc. Each adventure is a new story, or part thereof, in the making. As the author you are in control. Make of it what you will.
Recently I spent some time with my family in Australia. If you’ve never been ‘down under’ then let me tell you, like most places anywhere in the world they have some of the most unusual names for things. Particularly when it comes to naming their towns and villages. Perhaps it’s something to do with their Aboriginal heritage. Think of ‘Palkana’ or ‘Yileen.’ Most unusual.
While out driving my daughter and I began to put the names of the places we passed against the characters of different animals. The intention being that I could use these in one of my future Little Friends children’s story books. We even discussed what each animals’ individual characteristic feature would be. The exercise proved not only to be a lot of fun but also quite informative. It just goes to show that inspiration for writing can come in many formats and from a variety of ways.
So, remember, whenever you get stuck and need some new ideas for your writing, stop, look around and observe what is happening in the world around you. It may surprise you what is happening and how it will inspire you to write.
This week I experienced a form of identity theft on Twitter. This is the first time in 30 years of dealing with the internet and computers that I have had this happen. So, I suppose I have, to some degrees, been fortunate.
It appears someone had taken my image, my name (minus the 'y') and the bio details of my long standing Twitter account and used them to create a new account which had over 160 people following it. Strangely some of them were already following me on my official account. What was worse was that the person tweeting on the account was leaving a phone number purporting to be offering writing services but she was in fact soliciting for men? I actually discovered her personal email by following the phone number through Google and finding an advert for her in an online American Newspaper!
After many emails shouting (literally) at Twitter, and having proven who I really was who I said I was, they finally accepted that the new account was bogus and removed it. I have to say how frustrating and annoying the whole process was but thankfully it is finished with.
Of course, the only problem now, is that it has left me feeling slightly paranoid which is something I normally never feel. So much so, that I have been double checking my name on every social media, search engine etc etc I can find. Just in case!! And, I've been going through all my accounts and resetting my passwords as well. Very time consuming to say the least. It's surprising, as an Author and Writer, just how many accounts one accumulates?
So remember people, take extra care and regularly check your details out there in the floating cloud! This internet can be lethal at times.
Speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Writers Group inquiry into authors’ earnings on Tuesday (30th October), the SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon cautioned MPs that Universal Credit - awarded as a single monthly payment to people who are on a low income or out of work (twice monthly for some in Scotland) - could be detrimental to some authors’ income, forcing them to give up writing all together.
The SoA further explained that under the old system, currently in the process of being phased out, some authors with low earnings are able to claim working tax credits to supplement their income, thus ensuring they continue writing as a profession. But replacing this with the Universal Credit means self-employed people have to meet the “Minimum Income Floor” (an assumed level of earnings, based on what the government expects an employed person to receive in similar circumstances) in order to receive benefits. This is a threshold many writers are unable to reach. "This is equivalent to the National Living Wage for most working-age people," SoA said. "Given that the median annual income of a professional author is about £10,500, well below the National Living Wage, many authors will lose their entitlement to benefits under the new scheme."
Ms Solomon highlighted to MPs in her testimony to the inquiry that authors, including the likes of JK Rowling and 2018's Man Booker winner Anna Burns, have depended on the benefits system to support their writing. In the acknowledgements of Milkman (Faber), Burns notably gave thanks for the support of benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions that - along with the support of her local food bank, various charities and the SoA - enabled her to write her acclaimed book; sales of which reached the highest volume of any winner in the BookScan era in the week after winning the prestigious prize.
Unfortunately, claims the SoA, changes to the benefits system risks driving such working-class writers out of the industry. "From JK Rowling to Anna Burns, many authors have depended on the benefits system to support their writing. But, the design of the Universal Credit fails to recognise the reality of the work of authors or other self-employed workers in the cultural sector," said Solomon told the inquiry.
"Universal Credit risks driving working-class authors and other under-represented voices out of the profession. This would have a shocking impact on the diversity of stories being told. If writing is seen as a privilege then, only the privileged will be able to write. This gives us an incredibly narrow group of people who can afford to write, which in turn will make it harder to attract new readers and lead to a narrowing of our readership base."
NB We all know that writers are not in it for the money but this action will destroy more than just the pleasure of writing as less books produced will be detrimental to our children, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren.
Courtesy of the Society of Authors
“They should have done their homework.”
“That was a stupid mistake. Don’t they read about these things?”