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JustinThorne
10-12-2006, 04:33 PM
I know there are plenty of threads on the industry generally but I have specific questions for the publishers here and indeed, the writers seeking deals with a lot of knowledge on the process of distribution and the complex relationships with stores/buyers, returns and discounts etc.

I've noticed a lot of suspicion and even scorn here when it comes to small press publishers. There's a thread dedicated to background checks and bewares and this is excellent in principal, especially considering the scams and sharks out there.

However, I am surprised at how dismissive many members (published and unpublished) are about small start-up publishers, who are trying to get books to market. I understand the debate about distribution and returns/discount policies but are the writers who dismiss small publishers being realistic in their expectations of what a big publisher will give them in earnings from their first book?

How much are you expecting to earn from your first book, does anyone have any numbers on debuts from authors with the big houses?

Some members are not interested in going with a small publisher because they liken it to picking up change from the street as opposed to a perception that they will make big bucks by signing with a big house. I'm not denying that on paper, the numbers game and excellent distribution with a big house gives an author a better chance of making money but with book one, is it not a realistic strategy to expect that through hard work with a small publisher, that you will make a name for yourself and pave the way for a better deal for books two and three?

Are members who aim only for the stars being unrealistic?

I have a simple strategy, and that is to put a book out with expectations that I won't be giving up my day job based on its royalties. I expect to work hard for hundreds of sales rather than thousands. However, my objective is for the book to become a calling card. I want to generate interest, put my name out there. I want to prove that I can write and build a small but loyal readership. I don't think vanity press or POD is the answer.

If an agent takes my subsequent MS to a publisher together with a modest track-record as a published author, does it not give my MS a better chance of being picked up?

Or does it have no better chance of being picked up than a debut MS?

What about getting a well-respected agent in the first place... I think we all agree that you have a much better chance of getting picked-up by a publisher if you are solicited via an agent rather than coming off the slush... so we all submit to agents, right? Do I have a better chance finding representation when I have already had a book out with a small press?

DeadlyAccurate
10-12-2006, 05:49 PM
How much are you expecting to earn from your first book, does anyone have any numbers on debuts from authors with the big houses?

There's a site out there, though I can't find the link at the moment, that posts average first advances (and subsequent advances) for various, though mostly romance, publishers. For the big houses, it's usually $2,000 - $10,000 for a first book.

Edit: Found a bit of info for you. This (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=31234&highlight=romance+advance) thread gives a link to first novel advances (http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/wordpress/?p=1695) in the F/SF industry. I still can't find the one for romance, though.

veinglory
10-12-2006, 05:57 PM
I have made over a $1000 dollars with my best ebook and that is generally my goal (3c a word approx).

I think long impassioned threads here tend to be about small start ups but there is a reasonable proportion of threads about small start ups that are mildly supportive with the reasonable caveat that, if the book is suitable, bigger is sure better. There is also a thread specifically for discussing good small presses for speculative fiction, although most of them prove to be closed to submissions.

JustinThorne
10-12-2006, 06:07 PM
There's a site out there, though I can't find the link at the moment, that posts average first advances (and subsequent advances) for various, though mostly romance, publishers. For the big houses, it's usually $2,000 - $10,000 for a first book.

Edit: Found a bit of info for you. This (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=31234&highlight=romance+advance) thread gives a link to first novel advances (http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/wordpress/?p=1695) in the F/SF industry. I still can't find the one for romance, though.

But aren't advances paid back via royalties? It's more the royalties and numbers of debuts sold I am interested in.

DeadlyAccurate
10-12-2006, 06:19 PM
They aren't paid back via royalties. They are your royalties. If you received an advance of $5000, that's because the publisher expects to sell enough copies to make it worth going ahead and giving you the money upfront.

JustinThorne
10-12-2006, 06:33 PM
I see. So if you are give an advance of say $5000, that is pretty much all you would expect from the sales of your first book?

So If I had a deal with a publisher who paid me no advance but for the sake of the scenario, my royalties made me as the author, $1 a book, and I sold 5000 books over five years... I have made the same sum as the guy with a $5000 advance from a big publisher.

So the difference is the work I had to do as the author to make the same amount of money and of course, the Kudos of being signed to the big boys?

veinglory
10-12-2006, 06:37 PM
1000 sales a year would be rather high for a small POD press that isn't getting shelved and doesn't have a loyal readership. The 50-200 range would be more common for the first year and getting lower after that (my own rough estimates here). If you go small press you need one that has a "brand-loyal" readership IMHO. This also assumes you would make no greater outlay on "promotions".

LloydBrown
10-12-2006, 06:38 PM
The problem isn't with all small presses. The problem is with unsuccessful authors learning about POD, thinking it's the best thing ever and then becoming a publisher with no experience or knowledge of the industry. For a small press to impress me, the publisher (the human behind the business) should have experience within the industry, ideally in a decision-making capacity with an established publisher.

The publisher should have access to necessary skills, like marketing and editing. I don't care if it's one person with three hats, a publisher who contracts the work out on an as-needed basis, or a person with an office and full-time staff. The details are less important than the skill of the professionals involved.

The publisher should (in almost all cases) concentrate on a selection of genres or categories rather than accepting anything.

Legitimate publishers tend not to solicit writers. I can see a new one advertising their presence on message boards and things like that before the next print edition of WM hits shelves. They certainly do not use paid advertising to get authors. A listing in Writer's Market is all you need to get a deskful of manuscripts.

Finally, even if I got positive vibes from a brand-new publisher, I wouldn't risk being the first guinea pig. I'd bookmark their site and check back after a year. If a publisher wants my manuscript, it should have a sales history with some figures behind it.


Some members are not interested in going with a small publisher because they liken it to picking up change from the street as opposed to a perception that they will make big bucks by signing with a big house.

You misunderstood my post. I didn't say that about all small presses. However, a small press that goes below certain thresholds in size, professional knowledge, and finances doesn't bring anything to the table that I don't personally already have. At that point, self-publication becomes viable. That applies to the publisher in question.


is it not a realistic strategy to expect that through hard work with a small publisher, that you will make a name for yourself and pave the way for a better deal for books two and three

If done wisely, yes. If done poorly, no.


If an agent takes my subsequent MS to a publisher together with a modest track-record as a published author, does it not give my MS a better chance of being picked up? That's the key. If your initial efforts sell 16 copies because you went with a poor publisher, that doesn't help you achieve your goal. If your good small press that you checked out on the Bewares board sold 3,000 copies of your book, then you have a credit that can impress an agent or another publisher.


What about getting a well-respected agent in the first place... Do I have a better chance finding representation when I have already had a book out with a small press? Better idea, and yes.

JustinThorne
10-12-2006, 06:46 PM
Great, thanks for all that, food for thought indeed.

In my case, Lloyd, I was introduced to a publisher who is a well-respected academic publisher (with impressive track record in that industry) and who has just merged with a fiction imprint, a new one with only a couple of titles. I respect the people a great deal and feel that they are definitely not a scam outfit but I also know they are small and it's going to be hard work. That kind of appeals to me in itself for some strange reason! But I am seeing this with eyes open and trying to achieve the objectives above, with this first stab.

LloydBrown
10-12-2006, 06:49 PM
I see. So if you are give an advance of say $5000, that is pretty much all you would expect from the sales of your first book?

I understand it to be the first print run, not lifetime sales.


So the difference is the work I had to do as the author to make the same amount of money and of course, the Kudos of being signed to the big boys?

Not exactly. Sales typically decrease dramatically over time with the big publishers, while small press sees a slower drop, but they're starting from a much lower figure. If the first print run makes you $5,000, the big publisher might print another one.

If your 5,000 through small press takes five years, it'll probably keep selling, but if you personally had to do that much work to hard-sell it, you could have written another book or three instead.

However, the same manuscript sent to both a small and a larger publisher would probably see different sales--you can imagine which way.

Author efforts don't yield much sales when you're talking about 5,000 books. If it's fiction, you might be able to sell a couple of hundred through personal effort. 200 books is a measly 4% of that print run (authors sell non-fiction more effectively than fiction).

But if I wanted $200 or so, I'd rather write a magazine article or short that supports my book's topic (if non-fiction) or characters (for fiction) and might yield 75,000 impressions on potential buyers. It's like getting paid for advertising!

JustinThorne
10-12-2006, 06:52 PM
Understood.

But if I have established that my objective is not to make money in the short term but bring me closer to the bigger deal, it is a realistic strategy? And of course throughout the scenario, let's assume the writing is NOT complete crap.

Cathy C
10-12-2006, 06:55 PM
However, I am surprised at how dismissive many members (published and unpublished) are about small start-up publishers,

Actually, we're not at all dismissive of small start-up publishers. We're dismissive of the ones who don't take the business seriously. Every new business has start-up costs and those who expect to make it into a living know that they're going to have to pony up money out-of-pocket to do it right. Those start-ups we applaud. We have any number of them right here as rank-and-file members, and we support their efforts by buying their books.

"Doing it right" means that they're going to concentrate on running the business and hire people who are skilled at their trade--from editors to cover artists and sales people. They're going to put money into distribution contracts and allow bookstores to return unsold copies for credit. They're going to have fair contracts with their authors and charge a reasonable price for their product. They're going to pay for cover art that is attractive on the shelf and entices readers to buy. When possible, they're going to do co-op promo with other companies and advertising in trade magazines and catalogues.

But those who believe that all they need to run a publishing company is a computer and some software---who don't care whether or not the business model is well thought out . . . well, yeah, you're right--we aren't terribly supportive of those.

Should we be? Or should we be an advocate of the author and TRUE small publisher? I vote for the second option.


How much are you expecting to earn from your first book, does anyone have any numbers on debuts from authors with the big houses?


Don't expect a bunch of people to chime in (since authors seldom talk about money), but like veinglory, I don't mind sharing. Tor/Forge is one of the smaller of the "big" houses. We made a $15,000 advance on our debut book with them, had a 70,000 first press run, and are now in the third edition. About 100K copies have been printed so far, with about a 58% sell-through. That's a little better than average for mass market paperback. So, we've earned through our advance and this royalty period will probably see about the same amount as our advance a second time. And since the publisher just managed (TWO years after release) to convince the Sam's Club chain to order a special print run for a sale promotion, we hope to see that amount a third time in the next several years.

Now, our FIRST novel was with a small publisher. It was a niche book with no advance. The first press run was 4,000 and we still haven't sold through (in fact, it was just remaindered--sold in bulk for below wholesale.) However, that book had ZERO impact on getting our agent or our publisher. The sales were so low as to be useless to their marketing department, so they only concentrated on the potential of the book we were presenting.


Are members who aim only for the stars being unrealistic?

Put simply--no. Now, if we were trying to sell our first book to a national house then, yes, we would probably be unrealistic. Since it's about a specific event in a specific state . . . with little appeal to a national audience, we couldn't really hope to have Random House or Penguin pick it up. It simply wouldn't sell. It was a good fit for a small publisher and was a "break-even" book for the publisher. No harm, no foul and it won an award, so the publisher was happy--because it added prestige to the house.

But for general fiction, or non-fiction that WOULD appeal to a national audience, then why not shoot for the stars? You can always move down a tier if necessary. It's sort of like if you have a child who is a brilliant pianist--picked it up all by herself. Wouldn't you give her every opportunity to shine? Wouldn't you pay for lessons and encourage her to succeed?

Same with a book. Give it every opportunity to hit the big time. If it's not quite suited for Carnagie Hall, that's fine. But you gotta give it that chance. :)

icerose
10-12-2006, 06:55 PM
Just remember not all small presses are created equal, not all POD's are created equal and not all vanity presses are created equal.

There are some fantastic small presses out there and some above par POD's and Vanity's. The last two are not the way to go with fiction, but still, there is a point.

Not all small presses are bad or inept, in fact I am certain there are several with at least one best seller in their lists. It all depends on what they offer, how much expertise they bring to the table and so on and so forth.

DeadlyAccurate
10-12-2006, 06:55 PM
I see. So if you are give an advance of say $5000, that is pretty much all you would expect from the sales of your first book?
Correct. I'm not sure how it works if your backlist is reprinted when a new book of yours comes out. You'd probably eventually see more royalties once the advance earned out.


So If I had a deal with a publisher who paid me no advance but for the sake of the scenario, my royalties made me as the author, $1 a book, and I sold 5000 books over five years... I have made the same sum as the guy with a $5000 advance from a big publisher.
I believe I remember reading that first books rarely earn out their advance, so publishers actually lose a little bit of money on first books. So you would technically be making more money than the guy who sold the same number of books with the same royalties percentage but with no advance.

Simplistic example. Let's say each book earns you $1. With the non-advance paying publishers, you have to sell 5000 copies to make $5000. With the advance-paying publisher, you could sell 1 copy, and you'd still have made $5000, because they gave you the money upfront.

Edit: I see CathyC has posted regarding her own books, and she would definitely know better than I. So I must have heard wrong about first books losing money, or misinterpreted what I did hear.

LloydBrown
10-12-2006, 06:57 PM
But if I have established that my objective is not to make money in the short term but bring me closer to the bigger deal, it is a realistic strategy? And of course throughout the scenario, let's assume the writing is complete crap.

You have no measure of how many readers you have that is better than the number of books you've sold. Making money is not a bad thing. Going through small press first can work.

I tend to work the other way, though: let the big boys turn it down first.

I will NOT assume the writing is crap. If it is, make it better or none of this matters. :)

JustinThorne
10-12-2006, 07:05 PM
Yea sorry, I lost a 'not' in there lol!

Thanks all, very insightful.

Melissa_Marr
10-12-2006, 09:39 PM
How much are you expecting to earn from your first book, does anyone have any numbers on debuts from authors with the big houses? . . . .
Are members who aim only for the stars being unrealistic?
I don't know much about POD, but I can answer on the advance thing. If you go to Publishers Marketplace, they list the deals. The don't give precise numbers but these ballparks---

"nice deal" $1 - $49,000
"very nice deal" $50,000 - $99,000
"good deal" $100,000 - $250,000
"significant deal" $251,000 - $499,000
"major deal" $500,000 and up


The advance is "advance against royalties." One can conceivably see money beyond the advance via royalty checks. It's not guaranteed, but it's certainly possible.

As to part 2, is it unrealistic to shoot for the stars? I don't think there's a set answer to that--like everything else, it varies.

Nothing is guaranteed, but shooting for the stars isn't always a bad idea either. I have a couple friends in the past year who've had 2 book deals ranging from $24-$40K (for North American rights). That's a decent annual salary--and it was my personal goal for my deal. Those were the stars I was aiming to catch. My agent brought me a few extra though.

I'm not comfortable with talking about actual numbers, but she (Rachel Vater) got me a major deal with HarperCollins (World Rights). I had absolutely no writing credits beyond a few academic articles, poems, & short stories in semi-pro mags and one pro mag. Neither my agent nor my editors thought this was an issue at all. They were looking at the text I offered them right then.

On the other hand, I have known writers who attracted an agents' eye by their track record. One of these authors sold a few books to a mid-sized house for modest advances, but earned more on the back end. It's all so variable.

Hope some of that answers part of your question.

regards,

Melissa

JustinThorne
10-13-2006, 12:50 AM
Yes, thanks for the reply and for being open with the 'ballpark' figures.

Medievalist
10-13-2006, 01:28 AM
I'm not dismissive of small publishers.

But when you're looking at publishers, you want a publisher who:

1. Can sell your book in book stores.

I mean sell, as in have them on the shelves in a variety of markets, has a printed catalog and collaterals, gets books reviewed in industry standards, and ideally has a dedicated sales force.

2. Can sell your books to libraries.

For some markets, academic publishing, childrens' and YA, libraries are an enormous market. You need to have a publisher who has books in libraries, has LOC CIP data and the equivalent for at least Canada if not the EU, and understands the purchasing needs of libraries.

3. Has decent production values.

That means, editorial staff, designers, and production staff. I'm not going to name names here, but an awful lot of small presses lack sufficiently skilled editorial and production staff, and their books show that.

ChunkyC
10-13-2006, 01:57 AM
Just wanted to say, 'excellent thread,' folks. Just what this forum was designed for. :Thumbs:

JustinThorne
10-13-2006, 02:07 AM
Just wanted to clarify, I think everyone absolutely must shoot for the stars, but I asked are people who ONLY shoot for the stars being unrealistic?

veinglory
10-13-2006, 02:35 AM
It depends how good a shot they are and the caliber of the gun.

Medievalist
10-13-2006, 02:42 AM
Just wanted to clarify, I think everyone absolutely must shoot for the stars, but I asked are people who ONLY shoot for the stars being unrealistic?


Some of them are, yes.

The unfortunate fact is that, with respect to fiction, some people really aren't going to be published because while they've written with love, dedication, and enthusiasm, it's just not something that enough people will pay to read.

I'm not knocking non-fiction, but you can teach people to write reasonably well, well enough that they can be published in non-fiction, though it takes a lot of work and dedication.

I'm not so sure you can teach people to create stories that are compelling; sure, you can teach plot and structure, and even dialog and narrative to some extent, but I profoundly believe that there's a set of gifts/skills/magic that you're either born with or you lack.

Sometimes wanting something desperately isn't enough. It just isn't.

Nonetheless, always start at the top. Always.

ShannonC_77
10-13-2006, 02:46 AM
I have made over a $1000 dollars with my best ebook and that is generally my goal (3c a word approx).

I think long impassioned threads here tend to be about small start ups but there is a reasonable proportion of threads about small start ups that are mildly supportive with the reasonable caveat that, if the book is suitable, bigger is sure better. There is also a thread specifically for discussing good small presses for speculative fiction, although most of them prove to be closed to submissions.

I'm just curious what your ebook was on if you don't mind me asking? Did you write it for someone or did you market it yourself? I've written a few ebooks now and guy I was writing for paid me upfront and then is selling it on a website himself. Is this normally the best way to handle an ebook situation?

veinglory
10-13-2006, 02:53 AM
Feel free to PM for information but essentially I am in two of the three genres that sell well in ebook formats (erotica+romance) and at the most profitable length (novella). I am published by one of the top epublishers in that genre. Some e-authors do a hell of a lot better than me and make a full living, the great majority, very much IMHO, do not.

DeniseK
10-13-2006, 02:55 AM
Just wanted to say, 'excellent thread,' folks. Just what this forum was designed for. :Thumbs:

A hearty second to that.

Medievalist
10-13-2006, 02:56 AM
Don't forget that ebooks for geeks do quite well.

veinglory
10-13-2006, 03:00 AM
I was thinking niche non-fiction as the third genre--combining geek books, self-help and hobbyist materials ;)