Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sticking it to the man (and doing a little maths)

How do you become a publisher? I made a decision a few months into the actual writing of this that I would probably not attempt to ‘get a publisher’*, but rather do it myself as both a physical thing and as an e-book. It might be that this is not suited to a mainstream publisher anyway - for example, there are no missing scrolls or plots to kill the pope in it - but also I have worked for a publisher before (you can still buy my lovely software books) and the rewards for long nights, difficult conversations and relentless hard slog are... underwhelming. Of course I still enjoy the royalty cheques when they arrive, but the remuneration was nowhere near as good as, for example, producing similar content for magazines. Also, there is a difference in work done as a commission and work done for personal satisfaction.

My rough economic breakdown is this. As a single author of a book that retailed in the region of £20, the royalty I picked up per copy was about £1 (although the statements are written in gibberish so I can’t really be sure). Obviously a technical book has various additional needs (they need techie editors, tend to be thick, and have lots of images in), but the author take seemed to me to be on the low side. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of marketing, but the publishers did have established relationships with tech reviewers so the likelihood of coverage in the trade press was improved. I’ve no idea what this did for sales.

By the same token I can self-publish this book, set a relatively low price (around the £1.50 to £2.00 mark) to make it a viable impulse buy, and earn about the same per sale as I did for the techie books. Also, of course, I get to keep all the rights to the book, characters and everything else - some authors seem to lose those, by accident or choice. Both Amazon and Apple have revenue sharing models based on 30/70 in the author’s favour, and as I have a lot of design and editing experience, I think I could put together a professional looking package without too much additional expense. Once that’s done, I would just need to find ways of publicising the book and growing the audience. I think in this, I will have to be as creative as when actually writing the book, because I will have a small budget and need to make a big impact.

So there may be a tiny audience for this kind of fiction, but that’s not the same as there being no audience for it (unless there is no audience for it). Accepted wisdom is that larger publishers seek out books which can be pigeon-holed as ‘the next X’, where X is the latest blockbuster that found fans in Richard and Judy, Costa Coffee or the great and powerful Hollywood, and that they’re less interested in quirky or difficult stories (mine is quirky but not difficult).

It seems there are plenty of tools available for publishing to the various platforms and devices, and also a couple of print on demand outfits who can manage the - more expensive - physical copies.

* This also means I don’t have to deal with Beatles/Rowling type rejection by publishers who ‘don’t understand what I’m trying to do.’

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