Getting Published (Part III of Series on Book-Writing)

This is the third article in a series of posts covering the topic of writing a non-fiction book as a business owner.

Once you’ve finished writing your manuscript, and probably long before that, you’ll need to decide which method of publishing you prefer for your title—going it independently or through an established publisher. Although you might expect a clear-cut answer to that question in this article, it won’t provide it; instead, we’ll overview the workings of the publishing business and various factors you need to take into account when making your decision.

In creative industries, year-to-year changes tend to be negligible but compounded over multiple years and decades, there are broad trends that apply to newspaper and magazine publishing, music production, and book printing. The Web has changed the way people consume news, and in the case of music, the digital distribution of songs and albums has effectively wiped out physical retail outlets. Behind the scenes, the rightsholders (the singers and the songwriters) are now compensated based on the number of times their content is downloaded, broadcasted, or streamed—as opposed to the past, when music labels would acquire copyrights and pay sales-dependent royalties to the original creators, taking a significant cut for themselves. Although music labels are still around, they have lost a portion of their significance.

How is this relevant? If you substitute authors for singers and songwriters, publishers for music labels, and bookstores for CD stores, you are dealing with an identical situation. The parallel between music and book publishing is nearly obvious enough to beg the question of how incumbent publishing companies have managed to survive unchallenged for as long as they have. Bookstores, similarly, are slowly descending into irrelevance: when younger consumers shop for books, they typically access online retailers with a specific title in mind and compare prices across publishers, something that physical stores do not permit.

This set of circumstances necessitates the creation of a new type of press—one that sells over the Web, distributes its titles electronically or prints them in paperback on demand, and compensates authors based on the number of copies sold as opposed to the advance-and-royalty model currently in use. A particularly despicable industry practice includes releasing blockbuster titles in hardcover only and waiting for sales to wind down before rolling out the same title as a more affordable paperback. In the printing business, margins tend to be quite thin, so this type of conduct is necessitated by the competition. Additionally, earnings tend to be largely reliant on hits and big-time authors, which means that personnel inside these prestigious companies focuses most of their attention and efforts on tending to the needs of successful authors, not upstarts.

The lesson you should take away from this short discussion is that the publishing industry tends to be quite unfriendly towards those at the beginning of their careers, irrespective of your talents. Similarly, a book project can span up to eighteen months in length from the moment you submit it to your traditional publisher of choice to the date of publication.

If all of this makes you feel uneasy, you ought to consider choosing an independent publisher, which allows for a quicker turnout and more favorable royalties assuming solid sales performance. Independent publishing has for a long time been seen as the less prestigious option for authors, and truthfully, it is. More important than prestige, however, is the professional appearance of your title, no matter who the publisher. There are a few things to keep in mind when finishing up your project.

Firstly, even if you are confident in your ability to produce easily comprehensible and error-free text, hire an external copyeditor to proofread your content and to format the interior of your book. Consistency in layout, pagination, font size and type, and other formatting makes the difference between a professional title and an amateur’s work. Secondly, hire a professional indexer to produce a high-quality alphabetized index (I recommend Christine Hoskin). Thirdly, have a professional-looking cover designed, the flashiness of which your own preference will dictate. All of this will cost you around a thousand dollars in total but that sum will ultimately pay itself back.

Finally, if you are uncomfortable with publishing your book independently in fear of looking cheap, register your own imprint and use that as the name of your publisher. Amazon’s subsidiary CreateSpace allows you to piggyback on pre-existing printing infrastructure and distribute globally over a handful of online retailers as a virtual publisher while maintaining the appearance of an established press.

Anthony Simola is CEO of Simola Technologies Inc. He is the author of “The Roving Mind: A Modern Approach to Cognitive Enhancement.”

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