My third novel, Efraim’s Eye, a thriller, with romance, has just been accepted for publication by Strategic Book Publishing. So Efraim’s Eye is about a corrupt charity which provides funding to a terrorist. The terrorist is planning to knock the London Eye over into the River Thames with 800 people locked inside the capsules. The plot is discovered by a consultant who audits the charity with an Isreali woman who works for the British head office of the charity. The consultant and the Israeli become lovers, but can they stop the terrorist, and do they have a future together? In my post about literary agents, I promised to discuss publishers later, so it’s time to make good on that promise. First of all, I’m hardly an expert on publishers, but I think I’ve learned enough to offer some (hopefully) useful comments. In my view, there are three types of book publishers:
- self publishers (like Lulu)
- co-operative publishers (like Strategic Books), and
- conventional publishers
Conventional publishers are the ones we are most familiar with: Harper & Collins, McGraw Hill, Penguin Books, etc. They receive manuscripts from literary agents, and after editing, they print, promote and sell the book, taking full responsibility for everything that happens. They pay the author royalties (out of which the agent takes a commission). They use various techniques to induce the book stores to carry the book. But book stores generally take books only on a ‘sale or return’ basis. If the book doesn’t sell, the publisher has to take the unsold copies back, and provide the book store with a refund for the unsold copies. The return of unsold copies represents a major risk for conventional publishers. Interestingly, Amazon does not operate on a ‘sale or return’ basis: it buys books outright at heavily discounted prices, which it can command because there is no risk of returns. Amazon also has a stocking advantage: it faces a very large market with centralised stock, instead of facing a local market with local stocks as book stores must do. In my mind, conventional publishers work on a ‘push’ basis. They use advertising and promotion liberally to get the books into the book stores. They push books into the stores to drive up volume. They work hard to get media coverage of their books: again pushing their books. Other publishers (self publishers and co-operative publishers) work on a ‘pull’ basis. They tend to be rather passive in a sales and marketing context, relying on their authors to create demand for the book. I’m not really familiar with self-publishers. but my understanding is that for a fixed fee, they will print and bind a completed manuscript as an agreed number of copies. All other responsibilities fall on the author. If the author is able to sell some copies, s/he can pocket all the revenue. Co-operative publishers (like Strategic Books) lie between self publishers and conventional publishers. They won’t necessarily accept every submitted manuscript. Those that are accepted are subject to cost and revenue sharing with the author. The author pays an up-front fee to get the book into print. This fee includes layout, typesetting, back and front cover design, ISBN number, copyright, establishing a price, listing of the book in catalogues, and with the online book sellers. They make the book available through their distribution network. They insist that their books be professionally edited. (They will either do it for a fee, or the author can have it done.) Strategic Books uses three print-on-demand printers: one in the USA, one in the UK and one in Australia. Print-on-demand raises the cost of printing, because – in theory – a press run could be as short as one book. But, on the other hand there are no unwanted books printed. The co-operative publisher will typically offer the author a 50% royalty. Which means that the author is entitled to half of the difference between sales of the book and the cost of printing it. Authors can buy copies of their book at slightly more than the cost of printing it. After the book is printed the co-operative publisher will provide the author with a website and will write and issue a press release. They have considerable marketing and promotional advice which they make available. All of this is included in the up-front fee. There are a number of other services which are optional at extra cost. These include reformatting the book as a Kindle and eBook, participation in major book fairs, special websites and press releases. Book signings were included in the basic fee, but they are no longer offered, perhaps because of the difficulty of getting book stores to carry books which are non-returnable. (I offered about ten independent book stores in London the opportunity to hold stock for them, but none was interested. Not enough book shelf space; too much trouble for one book.) Recently, Strategic Books struck a deal with Barnes and Noble where B & N would agree to stock pre-approved books in certain selected stores, provided that the author would reimburse them for unsold copies. The reason I haven’t pursed this is that Strategic Books wanted me to take 100% of the risk (on the down side), while they retained 50% of the benefits on the up side. I argued that this wasn’t equitable and fair – to no avail. The business model for co-operative publisher is based on no returns. In all other respects, I find Strategic Books professional, competent and fair.
I should add that more recently, Strategic Books offers authors the option to make a book available to bookstores on a sale or return basis. There is a fee for this (about $350) which includes issuing a press release that the book is available on sale or return and which covers the publisher’s administrative costs. The fee is also used as a deposit against the costs associated with returns. (So, the author still has 100% of the risk and only 50% of the profits.) But, I think I’m going to try this with my sixth novel when it is published at the end of 2014.