THE BIOGRAPHER’S PUBLISHING QUANDARY

Having almost completed a biography with has taken me over fifteen years in the research and writing I am faced with the question of how to get a reasonable return on the great deal of money and effort that I have devoted to the project.  Unless one is an established biographer and can command high fees at the start, this is very difficult to achieve.  I’m not being mercenary about this, since the project was never taken on with the idea of making money, but my concern is not to be ripped off.

The fundamental problem in book publishing and distribution nowadays is the Wal-Mart mentality.  Amazon is a prime example of this.  Not only do they charge what to my mind is a high commission, but they set a low standard shipping rate, which is below what it actually costs, so that the author has to pay the extra, and if the book is not selling as fast as they would like they will just discount it.  All of this means that the author receives almost nothing, and his or her work is devalued.

Small indie publishers are now unwilling to accept anything that is ‘not commercial enough’, as are agents.  I have approached both, purely to satisfy myself that I needed to self-publish!  Larger publishers will only accept submissions if they come via an agent, with a few exceptions.  One of these is Yale University, but the manuscript you submit has to be so nearly in publishable form that you might as well do it yourself.  I do not believe that any publisher nowadays will make more than minimal efforts to market your book – you still have to do most of it yourself.  And when you consider that you might get 5-6% royalty if you are lucky it doesn’t look worthwhile to me.  These grapes are indeed sour!

For a fairly niche biography such as mine, I see no value in listing the book on Amazon.  There is no point in making such a book available to a mass world market, when 99% of the potential readers will not be interested in buying it.  In any case, wherever you list the book, you need to tell your potential readers where to look for it.  Being a bookseller who uses Biblio already, this is a much better option from my point of view.  They charge either 15% commission, or 7.5% + $10 per month.  The seller also sets the book price and the shipping charge.  Of course you also have to ship the books, but this is no great hardship at the volumes I expect.

Another option I looked at was self-publishing companies.  I liked CreateSpace, despite the fact that it is part of Amazon, but the requirement to get a US Tax Identification Number, which involves sending my passport and other original documents to IRS was not one which I was prepared to comply with.  AuthorsOnline is a UK company and it looked a possibility, but it specified an exclusive contract, a UK bank account, and I did not like their standard page layout.  I may be picky, but I didn’t find any of these companies provided what I needed.  Add to that the fact that their main selling point is that the book would be listed on Amazon and the Book Depository, again I could predict near-zero profits.

It is within the author’s power to promote a book using social media.  In the two years or so that I have been blogging I have been able to reach quite a number of potential purchasers.  The biography is set in the Georgian/Regency period, and therefore is not only of interest to historians but in particular to novelists, to whom such material is of great use.  Having identified my market, I don’t need Amazon.  I just have to list the book somewhere online where the buyer can easily use online checkout facilities, and Biblio will suffice for that.

Given the choice, and a reasonable return for my labours, I wouldn’t go through all of the process of typesetting, cover design and getting the book printed, but in the circumstances I don’t see that I HAVE a choice.  And this way, as someone who has always believed that if you want it done right you have to do it yourself, I keep control of the whole project, without, as far as I can see, that much extra effort.

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13 Responses to THE BIOGRAPHER’S PUBLISHING QUANDARY

  1. Doing it yourself does cut out the middleman, and makes sure nobody can louse up your baby…. despite the hassles I did find that the IRS handled my passport fairly tenderly in the end and got it back in 6 weeks. You can go though Create Space without a TIN but then Uncle Sam takes 30% off the top. Not very acceptable!Good luck with your choice and let us all know how it goes please! Indie authors always need good advice from those who have gone before [which makes it sound like you died and came back as the ghost of Publishing Past, sorry]

  2. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I think the TIN thing was a matter of principle with me – US bureaucracy and protectionism riles me. I suppose it’s something to do with us burning down their seats of government.Thanks for your encouragement, and i hope the DIY approach is working for you.I will certainly keep people abreast of my adventures. i hope to LAY the ghost of Publishing Past (but not in the modern sense of course!)

  3. Deborah Teramis Christian says:

    Your book sounds intriguing and if you can get it in front of the right niche market for it, I’m sure it will do well. Regarding publishing, if I may suggest, you might want to consider releasing it initially as an ebook. This will get it into print rapidly at minimal cost, and allow you to enter massive marketplaces like Amazon without concern for things like shipping expenses. You can still of course go on to provide a print edition later, or set your book up to be delivered through POD services. The ebook market is mushrooming at an astounding pace, and as you may know, places like Amazon now sell more books in ebook format than they do in traditional hardcopy. Although you say you don’t care to market through them, it is worth considering that precisely because their market footprint is so large, your work is much more likely to get in front of the scattered readers who have an interest in your topical niche. Even if they are only a fraction of a percent of Amazon’s traffic, that doesn’t matter: what matters is that your book is readily available through the outlook most bookbuyers actually turn to first (statistically speaking). In an ebook format this would represent negligible expense to you. Just some thoughts on the matter. I’ve been doing a lot of research in this area myself lately so I fully identify with your quandary. Best of luck with your project, and I hope to be able to acquire a copy of your book soon!

  4. Charles Bazalgette says:

    Thank you for taking the time and trouble to reply, Deborah. I will have to reconsider ebook, because you may sell cheap and get little return but it does give that visibility.My issue with ebooks is that the formats are fine for novels but can be a problem for non-fiction because of tables, illustrations, footnotes, indexes etc.I suppose that if I restricted the format to pdf that would be OK, even though it wouldn’t be seen as widely as if it were in multiple formats.

  5. Deborah Teramis Christian says:

    Regarding ebook formatting, you’re correct that books with pictures and tables etc are much more difficult to convert into appropriate layout. However, there are many people specializing in formatting services that can undertake this sort of project for a cost of a few hundred dollars (depends of course on your exact project).. They have track rerords of providing excellent, high-quality product. I can refer you to a couple of these services in a private note, if you like. And on the pricing front, don’t take the low price of many ebooks as a guideline for your own. Depending on the content, people will pay in the $10 to $25 range for non-fiction that contains information they perceive as being of value. There is a race to the bottom in cheap ebooks in a certain segment of the fiction market right now, but that is not the only way to sell content of value, and makes no sense for non-fiction that represents substantial research and niche expertise. The best way to gauge pricing is to look for comparable ebooks (Regency-related non-fic social history, or barring that, anything early Victoria/late Georgian), and see what range of prices are working in your market segment. You might be surprised at the price tags. 🙂

  6. Deborah Teramis Christian says:

    Incidentally, if you want to reach the largest possible market, it is a necessity to have a *.mobi version of a book (Kindle format). That accounts for about 60 to 70% of the ereaders in use right now. Kindle will display a pdf, but awkwardly, and amazon as a outlet moves only mobi files, not pdfs.

  7. Charles Bazalgette says:

    Thank you very much for this valuable information, Deborah. I may consider a text-only version as an e-book, at a lower price. It will of course say that for the full monty they will have to buy the hardcopy version. In Smashwords (I think) you can also publish a preview for online reading and point the reader at the POD version. I may do something like that.

  8. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I think I meant Scribd. There you can post a preview for free and a link to where people can buy the book. With Smashwords one again has the dreaded TIN problem.

  9. nicholasstorey says:

    Good luck in you decision-making. There must be a good benefit in keeping control.

  10. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I hope so. I value your experiences doing it the other way too! Happy New Year to you, Sir!

  11. Charles Bazalgette says:

    One of the enlightened things about living in Canada is that you can apply for a free ISBN!

  12. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I now have an ISBN! That was easy. All I have to do is deposit a copy when the book is ready. Also I have a cover design which is terrific.

  13. Charles Bazalgette says:

    I understand that instead of the long haul of getting a US TIN, you can now just make a telephone call and get an EIN, which is sufficient to allow you to avoid having 30% tax collected on US earnings.

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