It’s every writers dream; land the book deal, quit the day job, and become a full time writer but that’s not usually the way it works. Before I moved overseas I spent a year working for a subsidiary of Random House and took the chance to learn as much as I could about the publishing industry. Many authors being published for the first time, even if they’re successful, don’t make enough to support themselves by their writing alone. Take Jonathan Evison as an example; for his first novel All About Lulu he received a $4,500 advance and over three years earned forty thousand dollars in royalties. That’s $14,000 a year for a book that was considered a success. He wasn’t given any money for his book tour and spent his own money to put together a nine city tour. So where did the rest of the money go? To pay executive’s salaries, rent and other operating cost that are incurred by company with five thousand employees.
Working in the publishing industry I realized that publishing houses don’t really do much. First of all authors are usually discovered by literary agencies who will pitch and sell the author’s manuscript to publishers. Once the manuscript is picked up by a publisher it will be edited, laid out, and marketed. From there the book will be printed and distributed by another company like Ingram, one of the largest book distributors in the word. So really the publishing company does little more than provide editing, layout, and marketing. Before the digital age this paradigm made sense but since the rise of the internet and the information age the system is antiquated and has only been able to survive until now because large publishing companies have pushed hard to keep independent authors and publishers out of bookstores and delegitimize independently published books calling them self-published or vanity published.
Self-publishing is done through companies like Trafford, Xlibris, Amazon’s Createspace and Author House. The author pays the company to publish their book. There’s no discretion as to what is printed. If an author writes the alphabet a hundred times in a row and pays for it to be published then it is, so any book bearing the mark of Trafford, Xlibris, or other self-publishing companies carry a stigma and rightfully so. A self-publishing house will also take a percentage of the sales from each book. An indie publisher is very different than a vanity publisher and works the same way as one of the big traditional publishing houses; they pay authors for their work, edit, layout and distribute it, but big publishers want to keep them out of the game.
Even though the big companies are fighting tooth and nail the publishing paradigm is changing in a way that will force big companies to shave the excesses or become obsolete. My company, Gentleman Tree Publishing, is attempting to further change the paradigm by bringing together a group of authors to collectively run their own company, each author keeping one hundred percent of the profits from their book. The power is now in the hands of the artists. If you are further interested you can email me at Joshua@gentlemantree.com or you can submit your work at firstname.lastname@example.org
Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, was recently published here.
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