Book Deals: What Authors Don’t Ask Their Publishers

been at this publishing game for a while now—twenty years, seventeen books, six
different publishers. From a writer’s perspective, it’s a complicated business.
You may think your contract spells out everything related to your book deal,
when in fact many details that can make or break your publishing experience won’t
be covered in your contract at all.
means you need to ask questions—lots of them, through your agent, if you have
one, or directly if you don’t. Among the most crucial:
As an author, do you have to pay for

With the advent of digital publishing and print-on-demand (POD) technologies,
publishers are springing up everywhere. They may vet submissions, but if they
charge authors any fees at all, they are “author services” publishers who have
little more clout in the marketplace than you would have on your own if you
self-published. Weigh all factors carefully, especially your budget, before
signing on with an author services publisher. Don’t overestimate sales—competition
in the book market is fierce.
What will the cover price be? If your book is
overpriced for the competition, it won’t sell as it should. A publisher can’t
nail down an exact price until the details of the book are firm, but you should
at least be able to agree on a range.
What services (editorial, design,
publicity) are outsourced vs. provided in-house?
There’s nothing
inherently wrong with outsourcing, but you’re more likely to get an inferior
editor, proofreader, designer, or indexer if the work is outsourced.
What’s the anticipated market for this
book—and how does the publisher intend to reach it?
You may assume
your book will be sold in bookstores and purchased by libraries when in fact
the publisher has no means of procuring shelf space or library sales. “Available”
in bookstores only means that it will be in a digital catalog from which
bookstores may or may not choose to order it.
Will the book be printed and warehoused,
or will it be printed as copies are ordered, using print-on-demand (POD)

If a book is published using print-on-demand (POD) technology, Barnes and Noble
won’t order for store pick-up—the title has to be shipped directly to the
consumer. On the other hand, a POD book can be printed and delivered in minutes
at Powell’s and other bookseller who’ve invested in the proper equipment.
What sort of marketing budget can I

As with the cover price, these details won’t be firmed up until the book goes
into production, and they’ll shift as the market responds favorably (additional
marketing money will appear in the budget) or with less enthusiasm (marketing
will slow or cease). But based on your advance, the publisher has a rough idea
of how much will be allocated to marketing—in general, the more that’s invested
up front (your advance), the more the publisher is likely to invest in making
sure it succeeds.
What types of contacts will the
publicist/marketing specialist have?
Publishing is a relationship business,
and if your prospective publisher doesn’t employ a publicist with a broad
reach, your book may be all but invisible in the marketplace. Believe it or
not, I’ve run into marketing personnel who admitted to having no relationships
with bookstore owners in a major market.
Who will distribute the book? How many
sales reps?

Publishers who aren’t signed on with major distributors will have a hard time
getting your book into bookstores. Even if there is a distributor, you need to
know how many sales reps will be out there promoting your book to retailers in
the markets where it’s most likely to sell.
In what formats will the book be
available—and when?

Your contract will cover all rights—print, digital, audio, foreign—as well as
rights to formats that have yet to be invented. But that doesn’t mean the
publisher is going to make use of those rights. Ask about their plans for
digital, audio, and foreign. If they’re sketchy, you might want to keep those
rights for yourself, provided you know what to do with them.
For which awards will the book be

The publisher will hedge on this question, deferring the answer to
post-publication, when it’s clear how the book is being received. Nonetheless,
you should have some assurance that award submissions will happen.
How financially stable is the company? Authors who
published with the now-defunct Alaska Northwest Publishing know the importance
of assessing a publisher’s financial stability before signing on.
How long is the book likely to stay in
print with active distribution?
Larger publishers will say this depends
on how the book sells. Smaller presses keep their backlist in print for a long
time, and they’ll often continue to distribute actively, which means you get
more royalties—and more readers—over the long haul.
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors
cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books.
Among the most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to
writing books that rise above the rest; Cold Spell, a novel that
“captures the harsh beauty of the
terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds; and
the “deeply researched and richly imagined” biography  Wealth Woman. After thirty-six years in Alaska,
she now lives and writes on the north coast of Oregon, between Astoria and Seaside.

1 thought on “Book Deals: What Authors Don’t Ask Their Publishers”

  1. Michael Engelhard

    I can't quite agree with your statement that you'll get inferior services from a publisher outsourcing proofreading and design. I just had both, through the University of Washington Press, and the experience as well as the results have been among the best of my publishing career. I rather think that the quality of the publisher in turn determines the quality of the freelancers they employ.

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