For most unpublished authors, obtaining a contract with a trade (a.k.a. traditional, royalty paying) publisher is the dream, the goal, the end of a lengthy and frustrating pursuit. Many chase that dream for years. I did. For eight years to be exact. Some days I still think that I’d like that, have a book trade published.
Then I wake up, and realize chasing that dream didn’t make much sense. I still follow a couple of agent blogs, which keeps me up on the news and mindset of that industry. On one of those blogs, I had the following exchange earlier this week.
[The Agent] …Quotes from a significant endorser or a phrase from a fabulous review will appear on the cover of the print version, but they wouldn’t be visible digitally. Quotes or a “burst” that announces the book has won has award, must be handled differently online. Ask the marketing staff at your publishing house to have that cover quote start out the book’s online description. Having that quote in bold or a larger font and separated from the rest of the description will help to convey its importance….
[Me] “Ask the marketing staff at your publishing house to have that cover quote start out the book’s online description.” You mean a publisher’s professional and experienced marketing staff won’t know enough to do this on their own?
[Another commenter; call her "Jane"] Not a lot of publishers like that. I know a couple I work with that won’t even put quotes or tagline on the front cover. Every PH has their own style and preferences. Besides, they have a lot more going on to get a single book out that to worry about marketing details. Most marketing is up to the author, these days to cut expenses.
[The Agent] “Jane” is correct, David, in that the publisher’s marketing department is working on providing marketing for so many titles at one time that taking an endorsement or mention of an award from the cover and highlighting it in the book’s online description isn’t a thought that is likely to occur to them. Authors will probably have to offer the marketer a prompt.
A trade publisher pays royalties in the range of 8 to 15 percent of the book price. Maybe that’s of the net the publisher receives, which would make it about half that amount, but let’s just leave those as the range. A bestselling author might get the 15, a debut author will probably get the 8, with close to no advance. So essentially the author is paying the publisher 85 to 92 percent of the revenue of each book for services the publisher is providing, and for providing these services the publisher retains a portion of that 85 to 92 percent as profit.
But what does the author receive for paying this? One thing they don’t seem to get is marketing or promotion. “Jane” said what I suggested should be done by the marketing staff would be unusual, not the norm. So it seems the author is not getting any work done by an experienced, professional marketing staff, other than an entry in a catalog, and a very deficient entry at that.
More and more I’m glad I made the decision to self-publish. Sure, I don’t get many sales. But if I had continued to pursue trade publishing I’d probably still be out in the cold, chasing a dream, never waking up.