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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Business of Publishing a Novel

While working on edits for Book Two, I’ve been forced to return to that place in my brain that I usually try to avoid. Yes, the analytical part of me, the great equalizer in my mind. It’s the place that changes me from artist to nerd. While lurking in those dusty caverns, I found some old truths from a former life that can be relevant in a writer’s world.

Publishing a novel is a business. Go ahead, repeat it again so that the words sink in.
Publishing. A. Novel. Is. A. Business.

Somewhere in Nirvana, writers punch out 100,000 words, hand them off to a pixie, and then POOF, suddenly the world is bright, their book is displayed neatly on bookshelves everywhere, fans rush up to them at the grocery store, and the writer’s bank account overflows with royalty checks. Don’t we all wish that could happen?

In terms of business, take a moment and think of yourself as a brand (ex. Kellogg’s, Nestle, Hershey). The brand name is your name (or your pseudonym), you—the author. The products of your brand are the books you want to publish. Now that you have a brand and product, a number of questions arise concerning both:

What does the brand represent?
What is the brand’s mission?
How do the products fit within the scope and nature of the brand?
Who is the target consumer (reader)?
What is the competition?
What is the current market environment for this type of product (novel)?
What are the expectations of the consumer (reader) concerning your genre?
What is the cost of manufacturing?
Where will it be sold?
What is the target price?
How will the products reach the point of sale?
What are the distribution costs?
How will the products be introduced to consumers?
What are the marketing costs?
What is the operating budget?
What are the risks?

Whether publishing your novel via traditional, indie, or self means, all of these questions should be addressed and adequately resolved. We’d like to think that someone else will ultimately take care of this for us, but that may not happen with certainty. Even with traditional publishing, budget constraints and risk can limit the options available, and, of course, services to resolve these issues aren’t free—you’ll ultimately pay for them. If you plan to self publish, calculate the costs and time into your budget. Is there a savings by doing the work yourself vs. paying someone else? Do you have the skills and means to do the work yourself?

Distribution. If there are physical copies of your novel for sale, distribution becomes a major factor. One major bookseller recently announced it is closing its doors forever. Access to those stores is now lost, limiting the exposure and selling points for any novel. Because of that, remaining retailers and book stores gain leverage in negotiating prices with publishers. That effects your costs and ultimately the retail price. If you are releasing digital copies of your book, the programs offered by e-book distributors must be analyzed and carefully decided.

Have you ever thought about the production cost to “create” your novel? Sure, you’ve written the words, but what about editing fees. Each round involves someone taking time and working to improve your work. Cover art isn’t free, nor is the process to create it. What about the interior? Someone will be paid to create the layout of your novel. Are there custom fonts or artwork inside? Again, budgets will determine the amount of time and effort put forth to create your finished product.

At a recent writer’s conference, an editor was asked what advantage traditional publishing has over indie or self-publishing. Her answer: “Major publishers have an enormous marketing machine.” She was right. With time, reputation, access, and resources available, large publishing houses are able to introduce the novels they create to vast audiences. They have a HUGE advantage in this point. Because they can, does not mean they will. This comes down to cost and risk. If a publisher anticipates an author (the brand) to sell ten thousand copies of their debut novel (the product), then expect them to invest the amount of resources necessary to make a profit on those ten thousand copies. Again, this is business; it makes all the sense in the world. Why risk spending $50,000 on a product that might generate $40,000 profit? Of course, the publisher might hedge that risk of loss against future profits from upcoming novels from that author, depending on the contract. If you are an indie or self published author, then you carry that risk.

I haven’t answered any of the questions posed, because I can’t answer them. Every business is different, just as every novel is different; the circumstances will vary in each situation. Still, each of the questions listed require contemplation as your novel transitions from written to published.

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