How to Get Happily Published
One of the best books any would-be author could read, with good perspective on both working with trade publishers and self-publishing.
Copyright © 2000-2013
by Barbara Brabec
All Rights Reserved
Barbara Brabec's World
Part one of a two-part article, continued in
Author-Publisher Contract Tips
by Barbara Brabec
IF YOU'VE DECIDED you'd like to be published by a trade book publisher instead of one of the new breed of POD publishers on the Web, you first need an understanding of how trade book publishers work with authors.
I have worked with seven trade publishers through the years, and, in my experience, this type of publisher always assumes all costs of production, pays authors a royalty on sales (based on retail price or net sales, depending on the publisher), and an advance on those royalties. This is not to say, however, that all trade publishers work this way. I can only speak for the publishers with whom I have personal experience.
The Advance. The size of the advance may be determined by the size of the publisher's purse, how well the book is likely to sell, and how soon the publisher can expect to get the advance money back in the form of sales. The author's name, reputation, and his or her ability to promote the book will also play a big role in determining the size of the advance. It may be paid up front when the contract is signed, or divided according to the publisher's whim. Sometimes half is paid when the contract is signed with the balance paid on receipt of the finished manuscript (an incentive to insure that authors meet the stipulated deadline date). It may also be paid in thirds, with the final payment made when the book is published. If for any reason the publisher defaults and does not publish the book according to the terms of the author's contract, all rights to the book should be returned to the author, who also gets to keep the advance money.
Production Costs. These costs include all editing, typesetting, and book design costs, proofreading, cover design, and copywriting of cover content. Once the book has been typeset, a copy is normally sent to the author for checking, and any mistakes previously overlooked by the author or editor in this first go-round, or those generated during the typesetting process, are made without cost to the author. Changes after this point, however, may be charged to the author, along with costs related to the index (unless the author is capable of doing this job to the publisher's satisfaction).
When the book is published, the publisher assumes the responsibility for getting it into bookstores and libraries, may offer it to book clubs and other special markets, and, depending on the publisher's policies, may also sell copies by mail or sell the book at wholesale prices to mail order dealers. The publisher lists the book in its catalog and acquaints its sales reps with the new title to facilitate sales to bookstores and libraries. The publisher also writes and distributes at least one news release, sends review copies to its PR list (to which author can contribute names). After that, a new book published by a trade publisher gets little else in the way of promotion unless the author is a big name that warrants paid advertisements.
Bottom line: A new book will survive or die depending on how hard the author works to promote it to prospective buyers.
Nontraditional Trade Book Publishers. Some discussion needs to be given to a different breed of trade book publisher I happened to encounter the day a fellow sent me a copy of his book contract and asked for my opinion of it. Frankly, it stunk. This particular publisher (one in the garden industry) had offered the author a contract that required him to do work normally done by traditional trade publishers. This publisher was calling himself a trade book publisher because he regularly sold to bookstores and libraries, but that's where the similarity ended.
This author had no concept of how a good book publishing contract should read, or all the special clauses an author needs in a book publishing contract to realize maximum profits and protect his rights. I've learned a great deal through the years simply by observing how my agent has negotiated with each of my publishers to get revised clauses that benefited me financially and protected my rights to a greater extent. (See below for a link to the second part of this article, which offers tips on some specific clauses that should be in every book-publishing contract.)
Getting an agent is the best way to insure that you receive a fair deal from a publisher, but if you are unable to find an agent to represent you, do not have (or cannot afford) a literary attorney who is familiar with book publishing contracts, I can be of some assistance to you. (See my special author-publisher contract consulting service.)
The most successful authors always keep one ear to the marketplace while their fingers are flitting around on the keyboard. They consistently deliver books that offer real benefits to the reader—whether it's nonfiction that addresses specific business or consumer interests and problems, or exciting fiction that merely provides entertainment.
Understand, however, that trade book publishers have never been interested in merely publishing "good books." They have always wanted titles that will sell—books in keeping with the times and books the general reading public (or at least an identifiable chunk of the population) can relate to and will be eager to buy. Whereas in years past many capable writers with salable books could easily find a publisher, today's trade publishing industry is not as accessible to new authors as it used to be, and authors who don't have an agent are unlikely to get interest from any of the major trade book publishers. (See the second part of this article for a lengthy discussion of what a literary agent can do for you, and how to find one that's reputable.)
Searching for a Publisher. If you think you have a book with broad market appeal, you might begin your search for a trade publisher by checking the library for Literary Market Place (LMP) and/or the latest edition of Writer's Market, an annual directory published by Writer's Digest Books (see sidebar). Don't waste time reading older editions because there are many changes in the publishing field each year, not only in names of editors, addresses and phone numbers, but the type of material wanted by each publishing house.
Publishers listed in the LMP directory give details on the kind of books they're looking for. Once you've found a few prospects, you will need to write a sensational book proposal, a topic beyond the scope of this article, but one that has been covered in countless books for writers. Check the library or the Internet for writer's books that tell you how to do this, or read Writer's Digest magazine for information on the many how-to books available to writers through its book club.
Title. A good book title makes all the difference when it comes to getting publicity. When I was asked in 1977 to write the book I titled Creative Cash, there were at least a dozen other books in print on the general theme of how to make money with an art or craft. By giving my book a unique and memorable title, it not only stood out from the crowd but outlived dozens of competitive books in this field. This book became a hundred-thousand copy best seller, I think, not only because I promoted it constantly for twenty-five years, but because I gave it a great title that readers loved. This book achieved the age of thirty-two before it was declared out of print in mid-2011. (I am currently planning to update this classic guide as an eBook so it can live as long as I do.)
When I wrote my first general home-business book in 1984, I chose Homemade Money as the title because I figured the media would love the idea of "making money at home" and I was right. I also reasoned that if "cash" was a good word in a title, "money" should work well, too. In 2003, after achieving sales of more than a hundred thousand copies, this book was updated and published as a two-volume edition.
Painful Lesson Learned. I so regret that I never registered the titles of my two best-selling books, but I had no idea when they were first published how popular those titles would become, and how many people would be trying to profit from my originally coined names. Long before I ever got on the Web, someone had grabbed the dot-com names of both Homemade Money and Creative Cash, so heed my advice: If you are building a reputation around your personal name or a clever business name that isn't trademarked, or if you have published books whose titles you want to protect as much as possible without trademarking their names, grab the domain names for those titles even if you never expect to use them. Ditto for Twitter and Squidoo. The idea is to do all possible to keep others from using them for profit.
While cover design is important in selling books at the bookstore level, a catchy title will increase sales from book reviews and other publicity mentions. That title has to grab the reader by the throat and say, "Buy me! I'm just what you've been looking for." In a bookstore, the cover design, coupled with the title, has to make buyers reach for their wallet or purse. In an article or review, a great title will motivate them to tear out the article and track down the book even when there is no picture of the book itself.
In trying to find the perfect title for your book,
Write down every single word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of your book, including words that spell out the book's benefits or purpose. Read through the list daily, trying first one combination of words, then another. After awhile, your subconscious will begin to work for you. I named both of my best-selling books at 4 a.m. in the morning when my subconscious woke me up screaming, "I've got it, I've got it!" Sure enough.
Subtitle. In addition to a crisp two- or three-word main title, every book needs an explanatory subtitle that immediately tells buyers what they're going to get. Longer titles and subtitles are currently in vogue, but because they are hard to remember, it's all the more important to keep the main title of your book short and memorable and let the longer subtitle do part of the selling job for you. As books are reprinted and go into new editions, subtitles are often changed to increase sales or reach a new audience of readers.