A middle way, between big publishers and self-publishing


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Thread: A middle way, between big publishers and self-publishing

  1. #1

    A middle way, between big publishers and self-publishing

    For the past couple months I've been looking around for a book publisher and agent, and it's quite a daunting task. In particular, I've been reading about how most of the book publishers out there offer very poor contract terms to authors, and this is something I absolutely want to avoid.

    On the other hand, I really don't want to self-publish either. I know that self-publishing typically requires a ton of effort with the marketing and related tasks. But that's just not something I really want to do, certainly not any time soon at least.

    I'm perfectly willing to share a percentage of my royalties with an agent and publisher, in exchange for them working hard to market my book--but the more I read, the more I'm convinced that the publishing industry has nearly a stranglehold on authors, often with onerous contract clauses and low royalties going back to those authors, who usually end up doing most of the work of promotion themselves, in addition to the work of having already written the book.

    I want to find a publisher that I can experience a much more equal relationship with--much closer to 50/50, instead of the 90/10 publisher/author relationships I've been reading about, when authors are so desperate that they'll sign up with just about any deal they're offered, for the privilege of seeing their work in print. I've read about a lot of bad publishers now, so I know that's not the kind of relationship I want.

    I've read a lot of stuff promoting self-publishing, but as yet I've been unable to find what I'm looking for: a list of publishers that occupy the middle ground between the bigger, older publishers that have been doing things their way, and self-publishing. I've already done a fair amount of looking around for this type of publisher, so I know there are many self-published authors that have stepped up and created their own businesses to heavily market their own books and such--and done so at far lower cost than if they had gone through a typical publisher. If there are such businesses following this model, then surely there must be some publishers out there that have a greater focus on the authors they've published. But who?

    I've come up with a list of items I'm hoping to find in my "ideal publisher." Perhaps there aren't any publishers out there that hit all of these points, but there must be those that hit several, at least.

    Or does such a "unicorn" truly exist?

    1. Gives a much fairer portion of royalties to writers. The industry standard is that authors get something like 10-15% of the money generated by the books they create. I'm hoping to keep around 50% of all the money my book makes, possibly higher.

    2. No unconscionable or incredibly unfair contract clauses. As an author, it doesn't make sense to me to sign a contract that could pretty much permanently lock me in with a publishing company—especially if it turns out to be a bad relationship. I want to find a publisher that is prepared to allow its authors to leave if they don't feel they're treated right, particularly without having a string of legal issues to deal with.

    3. A real commitment to actually marketing my book. THIS, so far as I can tell, is the single biggest reason authors should even pay publishers in the first place. I've now read a number of stories of authors whose books were barely even marketed by their publishers. If a publisher isn't going to put any real effort behind me as an author, why would I want to give them a big chunk of the money that my book makes? I may as well get on with self-publishing, and then market the book myself.

    4. A US-based publisher. I live in the US, and from what I understand it would probably be a pretty big hassle to work with a foreign company.

    5. Global reach. I'm pretty sure that I don't want to work with one of the really big publishers. If they met the other points I'd consider it, but my feeling is that, with the publishing industry as it stands today, a medium or small publisher is the way to go. But I'd also like to get my book sold overseas. This point probably isn't as important as those above though.

    6. Not a vanity press. I don't want to have to pay someone upfront to see my book in print.

    7. A strong, proven track record. I believe that my book would be extremely popular and sell loads of copies, if marketed correctly (yeah, we writers are all self-delusional, right? Of course I think I'm special). I'd strongly prefer to work with a publisher that has already proven that it's good at getting product sold to customers in large quantities. This probably means that they've already developed a decent platform/network, both for marketing and distribution.

    8. You have personal experience with the publisher--as an author. If you'd share some of your positive experiences with such companies, I think it'd probably be helpful to not just myself, but a lot of other writers in my position.

    9. A publisher of fiction. My book is fictional. Publishers exclusively focused on non-fiction won't be useful for me--but don't be afraid to include them to benefit other readers of this thread.

    10. Genres published include: romance, chicklit, women's fiction, New Adult. Again, if you know a company that fits the other points above but not this point, don't be afraid to include it.

    OK. I should probably leave it at that. My points are already beginning to sound a little redundant.


    Please note: this thread is for discussion about this subject. For the actual list, see https://www.writingforums.com/thread...19#post2103519

  2. #2
    Okay, here's my view on what you want. I've worked in various arms of publishing for nearly 40 years and here's a few things that are worth considering.

    First off, publishing books isn't a high yield money maker, not by a long shot. Publishers generally take a risk, especially with new or specialist market writers. A huge number of the books published never make a return; that's a fact. Publishers will also put out books that they know will make a loss, because they hope to recoup on the back catalogue of the author. If the writer doesn't have a strong back catalogue, the publisher loses money.

    The costs of publishing are high. For every MSS they reject, someone has already put in man-hours to assess it, and they need paying. If an MSS is accepted, there are editors fees, revisions, multiple copy reads, more revisions, and so on. If in the end the writer simply doesn't deliver, the publisher has lost money. If they do deliver a viable MSS, then the next round of payments go to blurb writers, layout people, designers, etc.. They all want paying.

    Then the marketing people come along, and they have to raise the profile of the writer and the book in any way they can, and all those people need paying, as do the media resources they buy to promote the book.

    While all this is going on, the people doing these things for the writer are in a big building that needs paying for, using electricity and gas and water that needs paying for, so the cost of that $10 book is getting pretty big now. Then the book needs to printed, which requires paper, ink, and a printer. He needs to make money as does the paper merchant and the ink supplier. Then the books go to a warehouse, which costs money to buy, run and staff.

    The next task is to sell the book. The wholesaler will want a cut, as will those who deliver the books, as will the bookshop or on-line business. If a book retails for $10, how much do you think the publisher actually gets of that price? It'll probably be around $3-$4. They've got all their bills to pay out of that, and they're a business so they need to make money too.

    Here's something to consider. Most bookshops buy books on a sale or return basis. When books are returned unsold they're usually pulped. This is because the value of the book doesn't warrant paying a warehouse person to restock the shelves.

    So, when you say you want 50 per cent, are you talking turnover or profit? If it's turnover, forget it. You're being totally unreasonable. If its profit, will you also be willing to saddle 50 per cent of any loss? If not, then don't expect a publisher to take all the risks, invest their own money and time, and come away from the deal in a poorer position.

    It matters not whether a publisher in a multi-national or a small local, the cost-centres are the same. The local might do things cheaper, because they're selling to a smaller regional audience, but that will impact on sales, so you're not going to see hugely bigger returns. The other thing to remember is that 15 per cent of something is better than 50 per cent of nothing!

    Finally, I've already mentioned the importance of a strong back catalogue. If you want to up sticks when it suits you, you'll struggle to get a working relationship.

    In truth, I think if you were offered a multi-book deal at 15 per cent you should take their hand off.

    The unicorn doesn't exist. Well, some might tell you it does but I'll bet when you get it it's actually a donkey with a traffic cone stuck on its face!

    Good luck!

  3. #3
    Thank you for that dose of reality Pete, even though I didn't like reading it.

    I had to laugh at "... it's actually a donkey with a traffic cone stuck on its face!"

    When I eventually manage to write a story that is good enough for publication, I'll probably go down the self-pub route.

    I was at a creative writing group a few months ago. The guest speaker was from a publishing company who said that they were offering something different. 'OK,' I thought, 'hear what she has to say.'
    The deal was that they would split 50/50 or even 60/40 in favour of the author AND do a lot of work in marketing - BUT the author pays the fees to get the show on the road (typically about £6,000 ($8,000), I think).

    From what I've read on here, paying anything upfront is not the way to do business. There are a number of valid concerns for an author about travelling that route, not least, the publisher's honesty. Although marketing is not my forte, I would be prepared to learn. Realistically, self-publishing would be my most likely way in - only self-produced slush piles that way . I would probably do my own editing too.
    Last edited by Phil Istine; August 31st, 2017 at 05:24 PM.


  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Iconian View Post



    1. Gives a much fairer portion of royalties to writers. The industry standard is that authors get something like 10-15% of the money generated by the books they create. I'm hoping to keep around 50% of all the money my book makes, possibly higher.


    As mentioned elsewhere, you need to clarify what you mean by "makes". I'd also argue that "fair" isn't a useful concept in this regard. Publishing is a business. You should look for a deal that's profitable, mutually beneficial, worth-your-while, or something similar. "Fair" doesn't really enter into it.

    2. No unconscionable or incredibly unfair contract clauses. As an author, it doesn't make sense to me to sign a contract that could pretty much permanently lock me in with a publishing company—especially if it turns out to be a bad relationship. I want to find a publisher that is prepared to allow its authors to leave if they don't feel they're treated right, particularly without having a string of legal issues to deal with.
    You're back to the fair/unfair idea, which I still don't think works. That said, you should have reasonable terms in your contract and look out for non-compete clauses or contracts without reasonable terms for reversion of rights. That makes sense.

    3. A real commitment to actually marketing my book. THIS, so far as I can tell, is the single biggest reason authors should even pay publishers in the first place. I've now read a number of stories of authors whose books were barely even marketed by their publishers. If a publisher isn't going to put any real effort behind me as an author, why would I want to give them a big chunk of the money that my book makes? I may as well get on with self-publishing, and then market the book myself.
    This is another tricky one and may again depend on the definition of terms... in this case, "marketing". Do you count it as marketing when publishers get books into bookstores? I think you should, but you may not be thinking in those terms if you're just thinking of direct-to-consumer advertising. I've had two books that came out from a Big Five publisher, and there wasn't a lot of advertising done for them. But they were in bookstores all over the continent, and they were in the publisher's catalogue on the page right across from a new book from Nora Roberts. Marketing to book sellers is harder to see, but don't discount its importance.

    5. Global reach. I'm pretty sure that I don't want to work with one of the really big publishers. If they met the other points I'd consider it, but my feeling is that, with the publishing industry as it stands today, a medium or small publisher is the way to go. But I'd also like to get my book sold overseas. This point probably isn't as important as those above though.
    If you mean Amazon and/or e-books, global distribution is pretty easy. But if you want print books in bookstores? This is going to be tricky.

    6. Not a vanity press. I don't want to have to pay someone upfront to see my book in print.
    Good. But be aware that while self-publishing isn't vanity publishing, there are likely going to be some costs involved, so if your reticence is because you don't want to take the chance and/or don't have the capital available, you should probably look away from self-publishing as well.

    10. Genres published include: romance, chicklit, women's fiction, New Adult. Again, if you know a company that fits the other points above but not this point, don't be afraid to include it.
    This might be tricky. Many smaller publishers are pretty specific about their niches, so if you want a small publisher who puts out books from a lot of different genres, you may end up with a jack of all trades, master of none situation. You probably want a master, right?



    Other points:

    I think it'll be important for you to decide how important it is to you to see your book in print. A lot of smaller publishers are e-only/e-first/e- and POD-only. They might still sell a lot of copies, but you're not going to see your book in a book store. Is that okay with you?

    And... you probably shouldn't be looking at publishers and agents at the same time. If you get an agent, your agent's job is to find a publisher that works for your book. (although if you go to an agent with the attitude that you don't want a Big Five sale, you may find the agent loses interest pretty quickly). If you want an agent, focus on getting an agent and leave the publisher-searching to her. If you want to find your own publisher, stop looking at agents.

  5. #5
    Pete_C, Phil Istine, and Bayview, thank you all for your responses.

    Pete_C, I do understand that publishers have costs for publishing any book. Even a self-published author is going to have to pay some money to get their book published--particularly proof-reading and cover design, and probably other stuff as well. But, those self-published authors will generally keep all of the money their books actually make. Different self-published authors experience different degrees of success, depending on how well (and how heavily) they market their book, and I've even seen some statements to the effect that a self-published author shouldn't usually expect to sell too many copies of their first book--the first one helps get readers interested, and then subsequent books might actually make some decent money.

    I still might consider self-publishing. I've read enough about it and have enough links on the subject that I could probably do a pretty decent job at it. But I consider it to basically be my last option.

    I suppose the truth is that I really want to find a publishing company that does business a bit more like a self-published author would, with business models more heavily focused on authors, with lower overhead, resulting in more royalties going to the author. I already found two publishers I'm rather interested in: Crossroads Press and TCK Publishing. http://crossroadpress.com/about/ https://www.tckpublishing.com/about-us/


    In fact, I attempted to post about them on my "List" thread, but for some reason I got an automated message saying my post needed moderation. Crossroad in particular seems to have an author-centric focus, with 80% royalties. They apparently publish Michael Crichton's old books--but the books they published must already have been published by someone else, in the past--and I've never been published. TCK sounds pretty good too, at least on the surface.

    "Our mission is to help our clients earn a full-time income from royalties. We do this by creating a comprehensive publishing and marketing strategy unique to each book and each author. We also pay authors 50% royalties—that’s about six times more than the average traditional publisher pays."

    But their "free training course on how to become a full-time author" does have me feeling suspicious. Donkey with a traffic cone? I'd have to look into it in more depth to find out, but right now I'm mostly interested in picking company names, and later can do the research.

    So, when you say you want 50 per cent, are you talking turnover or profit? If it's turnover, forget it. You're being totally unreasonable. If its profit, will you also be willing to saddle 50 per cent of any loss? If not, then don't expect a publisher to take all the risks, invest their own money and time, and come away from the deal in a poorer position.
    I don't know what "turnover" is in this context. But I'd like my royalties to be around 50% of the list price of each book. If you're saying that's unreasonable, I'm not so sure I can agree. Unless there's something I'm misunderstanding, both Crossroad and TCK offer 50%, or higher. If they exist, then I figure there are probably more out there like them too. And that's what the point of these two threads is--to bring such companies to light, wherever they may be hiding. I think electronic books have been bringing some much-needed changes into the publishing industry. These kinds of companies may be rare . . . but if I cast a wide enough net, surely there will be others that know of such companies too.


    This is another tricky one and may again depend on the definition of terms... in this case, "marketing". Do you count it as marketing when publishers get books into bookstores?
    My understanding is that each individual publisher actually markets its books to different bookstores. I suppose that when I talk about "marketing" I mean both marketing and distribution, since the two apparently have a fair amount of overlap.

    I suppose . . . when it comes down to it, I want whatever marketing to be done for my book that is necessary to get it to sell. Whether that's directly to the customer, or to a book store and then to the customer, doesn't matter a lot, so well as the marketing funds are used efficiently and really result in nice improvements in sales. I mean, I'm willing to consider a publisher that uses either method, or both methods, if they do a good job at getting their authors' books sold.

    be aware that while self-publishing isn't vanity publishing, there are likely going to be some costs involved, so if your reticence is because you don't want to take the chance and/or don't have the capital available, you should probably look away from self-publishing as well.
    I don't really like using social media very much. I'm not too interested in marketing my book myself. And I'd rather keep my focus on my writing, than spend my time doing all the stuff necessary to self-publish. If worst comes to worst I'll go that route, but self-publishing just isn't really what I want, if I can help it.

    I think it'll be important for you to decide how important it is to you to see your book in print.
    I want it both available in print and electronically.

    if you go to an agent with the attitude that you don't want a Big Five sale, you may find the agent loses interest pretty quickly
    I haven't completely written off the idea of going through the Big Five, anymore than I've completely written off self-publishing. But I do want to go find the best company I can. With everything I've read about self-publishing lately, and the negative experiences many authors have had with the big companies, I'm hoping to find something better.

    If you want an agent, focus on getting an agent and leave the publisher-searching to her. If you want to find your own publisher, stop looking at agents.
    For the time being, I suppose I'm really just on the fence about all of this. I want to find the best deal I can, the best publisher for my book. I've already queried perhaps 30 agents, mostly within the last month, but so far none of them have expressed any interest.

    Right now, I'm pretty open to the different options out there. I just want to find the best one for me and my book. I think my "List" thread holds promise, if people start sharing specific agents and publishers out there that they like.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Iconian View Post
    I already found two publishers I'm rather interested in: Crossroads Press and TCK Publishing. http://crossroadpress.com/about/ https://www.tckpublishing.com/about-us/
    Crossroads seem to specialise in scanning out of print books and making them available in different media. If you have old published works that are out of print in their genre they might revive them. They are, after all, working with edited content and simply repackaging.

    TCK are different. First off, think what vanity publishing does. It charges a fee for editing and production and then you're on your own. TCK don't do the editing; that's down to you. So you pay for editing, just like vanity publishing of self publishing. With print books, TCK pay on net profit, so you effectively pay for any printing, just like vanity publishing and self publishing. As for marketing, a quick Google shows that the TCK founder states people don't connect with publishers, they connect with authors, so much of the marketing effort is down to the author, just like vanity publshing and self publishing.

    This is interesting. TCK sell your book as follows. This is verbatim from them; I've added the colour for emphasis.
    Where will my book be sold?

    For eBooks

    • Amazon
    • iBooks, Kobo, Nook and Google Play (maybe)
    • In Libraries (maybe)
    • In Fortune 500 companies and large organizations through licensing deals (maybe, usually for non-fiction only)

    For Print Books

    • Amazon
    • Bookstores (maybe)
    • Libraries (maybe)
    • Bulk sales direct to Fortune 500 companies and large organizations (maybe, usually for non-fiction only)

    For Audiobooks

    • In digital format on Audible, iTunes and Amazon
    • In CD format at CostCo and other retailers (if our audiobook distributors are interested in your book)


    So, they can put your book into Kindle Direct Publishing (you can do this yourself), sell it via Amazon using POD (you can do this yourself) and put an audio book that you create onto iTunes, Audible and Amazon (you can do this yourself). All else is a big fat maybe.

    So, you pay to edit it, you pay if print copies are purchased and you market it, just like vanity publishing and self publishing. TCK want a five year contract with a minimum of three books in a series plus 50 per cent of any money you make. That's where they differ from vanity publishing (they want paying over a long term for minimal investment) and self publishing (it costs the same and you have full control and keep 100 per cent of the profit).

    Interestingly, I found all this out in around 10 minutes after you mentioned the company. I even found several conversations between TCK founder Tom Corson-Knowles and other writers where he clearly makes statements about publishing which are a bit pie-in-the-sky but which present the model being used by TCK to seem more preferential to authors.

    The final thing I spotted is that their efforts go into recruiting new writers, not selling books.

    Unicorn? Not for me!

  7. #7
    Salesrankexpress is hardly fool-proof and only covers Amazon sales, so it's not a perfect source for data. That said, it's a reasonable place to start, and based on my skimming there, TCK doesn't seem to have any books ranked higher than the 5-digits, and most are in the 6- or 7-digit rankings. That's not good.

    Also, I see you've started a thread just like this one over at AW, which is a good idea, but I wonder if you've read the thread already there on TCK? Among other points, you would read "If we paid 50% royalties on the cover price (that is, 50% royalties calculated with the list or gross method), we wouldn't be able to sell books in bookstores at all since they require at least a 50% discount. No publisher could sustainably pay 50% royalties on the cover price for print books because it would be impossible to earn a profit." That's from TCK itself. (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/show...TCK-Publishing)

    In terms of Crossroad? They also don't seem to have great numbers at salesrankexpress, but again, that's not a perfect tool. But they definitely seem to be e-only, which doesn't meet your requirements, and they seem to specialize in out-of-print books, so you don't meet their requirements. And their editing is apparently done by volunteers, which would certainly cut down on expenses (and which makes sense since the books have already been professionally edited and are essentially only being reviewed for scanning errors at this point) but it's not a sign of great professionalism or commitment to quality.

    I don't mean to be raining all over your parade. But I think the search for a unicorn is probably doomed to failure. Mostly because your fellow authors aren't stupid, or lazy... not all of us! We take the deals we take with non-unicorn publishers because it's our educated opinion that these are the best deals available for our books at any given time. I'm not saying it's impossible that someone will come along with a whole new way of doing business, but I think you have to accept that gains in one area will probably be balanced by losses in another area.

    I get 50% of net royalties (net defined as all the money the publisher receives from the booksellers) from one of my publishers. But they specialize in m/m romance. And they don't have extensive bookstore distribution. I get much lower royalty rates from my Big 5 publisher, but they publish a wide variety of genres and have huge bookstore distribution.

    Nobody's perfect. No unicorns.


    ETA: I couldn't find Crichton books published by Crossroad. Do you have a link for that?

    ETA2: I just read the whole thread over at AW... seems like you heard a lot of the same stuff over there that you're hearing here. Really, it's not a conspiracy. I've put books out through self-publishing, Big Five, and independent publishers. All three paths have their own strengths and weaknesses. There's no cross-the-board "best" option. (I can even imagine, if I really try, that the two publishers you mentioned might be the best for some individual project from some individual writer. But I personally will not be sending any of my work to them--they're not a good option for me. At all.)
    Last edited by Bayview; September 1st, 2017 at 12:53 PM.

  8. #8
    Crossroad Press is definitely not a good fit for me, and probably not for most writers either. But I think there are probably some writers that they'd be very good for (and Bayview, you're correct--for some reason I was thinking that they publish Michael Crichton, but it was actually Clive Barker. It was a few weeks back when I ).

    With TCK, I have to admit I'm struggling to understand what exactly they do. I don't have a lot of experience with the ins and outs of the publishing industry. And I have yet to really dig in and research these specific publishers. Like I said before, I want to cast a wide net now. Later on I can narrow it down to try to find those publishers that really are the best.

    That said: Pete_C, I'm not too clear on why you put all those "maybes" next to where TCK says they publish books. In particular, you quoted that they sell print books in bookstores, but you apparently question whether that's the case.

    For Print Books


    • Amazon
    • Bookstores (maybe)
    • Libraries (maybe)
    • Bulk sales direct to Fortune 500 companies and large organizations (maybe, usually for non-fiction only)
    Why? Perhaps it's a matter of me just not knowing exactly how to interpret what's in front of me, or not seeing something that you read. But what makes you question whether they put print books in bookstores? Do you mean to say that it's just a hit-and-miss sort of thing, and that some bookstores might pick up a given book, while others won't carry it? That's something I can understand--but if that's what you meant, then my understanding is that this applies to many publishing companies, not just TCK. As Bayview previously pointed out, publishers market their books to get them into bookstores, and I would figure that they sometimes succeed in doing so, and they sometimes fail.


    With this said, I'm now very concerned with the royalty deal through TCK. On their About page they say,

    We also pay authors 50% royalties—that’s about six times more than the average traditional publisher pays.
    Yet on their FAQ,

    We pay our authors 50% of net royalties and 50% of all payments received for subsidiary rights licensing deals. If we earn $10,000 in royalties, you get paid 50% of that amount, or $5,000.

    If we earn $5,000 for a 5-year deal to license German language rights for your book, you earn 50% or $2,500.

    It’s just that simple: for every dollar your book brings in, you get half (which is 3-5x more than what you would get with a traditional publisher).
    "50% of net royalties" is very suspect to me. I haven't read all of AW's TCK thread, but tcorsonk says,

    we pay authors 50% of every dollar we collect from book sales, royalties, licensing fees, or other sources for each book.
    I'm pretty sure that's not what "net royalties" means.

    I'll have to read the rest of the thread, but I'm thinking that perhaps TCK shouldn't be on my list . . .


    I just read the whole thread over at AW... seems like you heard a lot of the same stuff over there that you're hearing here.
    Apparently AW didn't like the mere idea of a list to try to find the best publishers out there. But publishers judge the submissions they receive--I see no reason authors shouldn't be able to judge the publishers.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Iconian View Post
    Pete_C, I'm not too clear on why you put all those "maybes" next to where TCK says they publish books. In particular, you quoted that they sell print books in bookstores, but you apparently question whether that's the case.

    Why? Perhaps it's a matter of me just not knowing exactly how to interpret what's in front of me, or not seeing something that you read. But what makes you question whether they put print books in bookstores?
    As I said in my post, that text is taken directly from their website. If you research them you'll see it there. The maybes aren't added by me. They are what TCK state. The 'unicorn' pretty much admits it's a traffic cone-based lark!

    I don't question what they're doing; I don't need to. They are openly stating that they'll maybe put books into bookshops. Seriously, they push the 50 per cent royalty thing, which isn't actually 50 per cent, and some people get so hooked on that they stop reading. Go read their blurb properly and you'll see they use the (maybe) disclaimer all over the place.

  10. #10
    Ah, I see now. I thought you had added those words in red, but you changed the color from black to red.

    It does seem like they're deliberately trying to obscure the truth about their royalties. I may read the whole thread on AW, but at this point, I don't think I could see myself going with TCK.

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