A Look at Three Ways to Get Published

I recently attended a talk by literary agent April Eberhardt. Her talk, The New Era of Publishing: How to Choose the Best Option for You,” outlined the rapidly changing publishing landscape.

Her thesis is that “the power is shifting to the author.” As an example, she noted that the big six publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, Bertelsmann, and Simon & Schuster) were responsible for 80 percent of all titles in the US three years ago. Now they’re responsible for 60 percent.

She quoted a few stats about the explosive growth in e-readers … but all you have to do is read the news to see abundant evidence of that for yourself.

Eberhardt had a few other principles:

  1. There is no one “right” way to publish.
  2. Authors and readers no longer need publishers to find each other
  3. There are a variety of business models developing now, including ebook self-publishing services like Smashwords, and smaller self-publishers like Publication Studio in Portland. Eberhardt noted the beginnings of “agent presses,” a hybrid business model where publication costs and profits are shared.
  4. The route to publication changes – that is, it could go from traditional publishers to e-publishing. For example, Joe Konrath left his publisher to sell his self-published e-books online.

After outlining the principles, Eberhardt outlined pros and cons of the three most common paths to publication:

Traditional Publishers

Pros:

  • Publishers do much of the footwork, including publicity
  • The status of being a published author

Cons:

  • The odds. Competition for agents is fierce. As former literary agent Nathan Bransford commented, “Agents get 10,000+ queries a year and take on maybe a handful of clients. Going strictly by the numbers, an agent’s inbox is far more competitive than any writing contest.”
  • The ratio of agents to editors is also bad
  • Advances are shrinking
  • It can take up to two years from signing with an agent until publication
  • Authors still do marketing and promotion themselves
  • You may or may not make a profit, since 99% of books never earn out their advance. And in that case, you lose your opportunity to publish your next book

Small Presses

Pros:

  • Status,
  • May pay, limited marketing

Cons:

  • Submitting is a lot of work, including research and following publishing guidelines
  • They may not respond (or if they do, it may take ages)
  • Competition is tough
  • Up to two years between acquisition and publication
  • You will have to self-promote
  • You probably won’t make a profit

Self-Publishing

Pros:

  • You control the rights
  • It’s relatively easy
  • It costs about $2,000 to $3,000 to self-publish well (that estimated cost includes hiring an editor, getting your book laid out/formatted, cover design, and marketing/promotion)
  • You make money as soon as you recoup costs
    • The web is a good marketing tool:
    • It’s good if a book targets a niche
  • You can experiment with various marketing approaches
  • You can choose title, cover art, story – you can even publish two different versions for different markets (I would have liked to see an example here, but didn’t get a chance to ask that question)

Cons:

  • Self-publishing still carries a stigma
  • As Eberhardt says, “self-published books have to be better than traditional books.”
  • It’s still a lot of work to find readers and make sales.

During the Q&A at the end, it was interesting to see how many people were focused on the traditional route to publishing (and the status boost). Also interesting was a comment she made about agents, which is that they sell to the big six – there’s not enough money in selling to the smaller presses to make it worth their time.

What I would love to see (and haven’t yet) is a gauge on how real the “stigma” is. Because two examples leap to mind where an ebook, a print-on-demand book or a self-published book could have further advantages.

  1. A book with niche appeal. In grad school I wrote a golf novel. While there are a lot of golfers out there, it’s clearly a book that’s going to appeal to golfers, but not to many non-golfers. Yet a publisher needs to gamble that they can recoup costs on a book, so if its subject matter has limited appeal (instead of broad-swath, Dan Brown appeal), you can see why a publisher would avoid the risk.
  2. A book that’s time sensitive. Think about the “life cycle” of the book. Say it takes a six months to write and another six months to edit, and then you sign with an agent within six months of submitting it. Say the agent sells it in three months (all this is relatively fast, by the way). Then the book will go into production for at least a year. That’s three years. If your subject matter is at all dependent on current events, that’s a long time.

What do you think?

Blogging for Good

Like a lot of other writers, I follow a blog by a literary agent named Nathan Bransford. His blog is so popular, he recently recorded his millionth unique visitor. And I thought, “Well, that’s nice.”

But this morning, Nathan showed what a stud he is by putting that web traffic to good use. This is from his post today:

You may have already heard of Heifer International, an organization that works to fight hunger by giving needy families around the world and in the United States livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.

I know we’re going through tough economic times, but if you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you’ll consider making a donation. And, in order to encourage people to spread the word, for every comment someone makes in this post between now and 5PM Pacific time, my wife and I will donate 50 cents $1.00*.

Now that, my friends, is a good use of your web traffic! Five other bloggers followed suit (they’re listed at the bottom of his post), and are matching various amounts.

Since my blog is just a pastime, I don’t get that kind of traffic. So I just donated $50, and hope other people will do the same.

Oh, and if you think you don’t have the money? You do. Go visit Global Rich List to see how rich you actually are, and how changing your spending patterns a little would make a huge difference:

$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.

$30 could buy you an ER DVD box set OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.

$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.

$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.

Happy holidays!

Attention Writers: Win a Manuscript Critique

Attention all you would-be published writers: a literary agent named Nathan Bransford (he’s with Curtis Brown Ltd.) is offering a critique of a proposal (synopsis and first three chapters).

Nathan Bransford, literary agent

Nathan Bransford, literary agent

Nathan has one of the best publishing blogs out there, which builds community, educates writers, spreads publishing news, preaches the super-important gospel about how to write a non-crap query letter, and a zillion other things besides. He even made newspapers with his blog recently by taking a good idea and running with it: the Be an Agent for a Day Contest.

I mention this because it’s a great blog, and through it (and my other dealings with him) Nathan has proved again and again that he’s a good guy and a straight shooter.

So … how do you get such rare, personal attention from a high-flier such as him? Well all ya gotta do is bid for it. See, Nathan donated said critique to benefit diabetes research.

So tell all your writer friends.

My Almost Guest-Blog

Though Nathan Bransford (I hadda crop part of his name) didn’t have the luminous foresight to represent my book, he’s clearly not unfamiliar with them (your blogger writes, harrumphing and buffing his nails on his cardigan sweater). Anyhow, my least favorite du jour is “reconnoiter.”

In case you want to add yours, here’s your chance. (Hint: front-runners include “moist” and “panties.” You have been warned.)