Book Publishing A to Z Part 5 (Re-Air)
What happens if a retailer can’t sell all the copies of your book? What can you expect to get in royalties when going through a traditional publisher vs. self-publishing? And why would anyone choose to self-publish instead of landing a traditional publishing deal?
In Part 5 of the Book Publishing from A to Z series, Coach Tam answers all these questions and more. You’ll learn key expectations to have for whatever publishing method you choose, so you know exactly what you’re signing up for — and how to make the most of it!
In this episode, you’ll also hear:
- Why some of your books may be returned by retailers – and why that’s normal
- The different types of book reviews you need and how to get them
- Typical royalty rates for traditional vs. self-publishing, why they’re so different, and other factors to keep in mind
- Pros and cons of choosing self-publishing over traditional publishing
It’s easy to be really passionate about the writing process and about wanting to share your story with the world and, at the same time, also be really lost to how the industry actually works. But if you don’t understand how the industry works before you publish, it can actually hurt your book’s success and impact.
If you missed the previous episodes in this series, you can check them out here!
Here are the next set of publishing terms you need to know.
To understand returns, let’s look at a practical example. During the holiday season, sometimes you receive a gift that, for whatever reason, does not work out. So what do you do? If you have the gift receipt, you’ll take that gift back to the store and either get a refund or exchange it for something else.
It’s a similar concept when it comes to books. For example, imagine that your books are put into a bookstore. They’re on the shelf and available for customers to purchase. If the bookstore can’t sell all the books, however, they can return those books. If it’s traditionally published, they can return them to the publisher. If it’s a self-published book, they can make a return against your account.
As you can imagine, this isn’t the most exciting experience. So why does this ability for bookstores to return your books even exist?
Remember, books are a business. And specifically, think of book publishing as a consignment business. Bookstores and other retailers will sell what they can and do what they can to promote your book. But if it doesn’t work out, they don’t want to lose. So you need to accept ahead of time that when you place your book in bookstores, there is always the possibility that the book could be returned.
The industry standard for returns is somewhere around 20-30%. That means if you send out 100 books, you can expect that about 20-30 of them may come back to you. This can be discouraging, but remember that it’s par for the course in this industry. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. It’s a normal part of the book publishing business.
If you have a publisher, you’ll see these refunds on your royalty statements as a negative dollar amount. But again, it doesn’t mean that anything went wrong. Essentially, it means that a sale was never made. The books were placed in the store on consignment, and because they did not sell, the retailer has a right to return those books.
As an indie publisher, though, without a distributor, if you take returns, you have the ability to re-sell them. As long as the books aren’t damaged, you can put them back on the market and potentially sell them.
Book returns may not be a very pleasant part of the book publishing business, but the more you understand about how things work, the more you can avoid reacting emotionally and can instead respond prayerfully and thoughtfully about what to do next. It’s not fun, but it is par for the course. And that is important for you to know.
Even if this is your first experience with publishing a book, you’re most likely already familiar with the concept of reviews. You’ve probably used them yourself to make decisions like what restaurant to eat at or what hotel to stay in when you’re on vacation. We live in a world that is largely influenced by reviews.
And that applies to books, too. People who have read or purchased the book write feedback and give their opinion on their experience. That’s why so many authors want to get as many reviews as possible: because reviews help influence readers and potential buyers to check the book out or even make a purchase. You want to make sure that your book is presented in the best possible light when someone finds it either online or in a physical store or library.
Getting as Many Reviews as Possible
Of course, this isn’t 100% under your control. Sometimes people will leave negative reviews, and there’s nothing you can do about it. All you can do is put out a quality book and trust that potential buyers and readers are smart. After all, even when you see a negative review of something, don’t you read the positive ones, too, and try to get a bigger picture of the general consensus?
That’s why it’s crucial to try and get as many reviews as you can, especially four- and five-star reviews, so the positive ones will outweigh the occasional negative ones.
But here’s the really important piece: you also want people to write in the comments about their experience, not just to give it a start rating. This gives you implied credibility, both from the person who wrote the review — since they’re sharing how they benefited from your book — and from the online retailer selling the book.
You see, Amazon actually pulls reviews if they think those reviews were influenced by the author. So if a review stays on the site, potential buyers can trust that it’s probably honest, and that your book may be worth their time.
(By the way, if you’re wondering how to get reviews, be sure to join us in the Christian Authors Network Facebook group, where we have an entire section on how to attract reviews — and how to do it in a way that doesn’t make you salesy or pushy, but in a way that feels comfortable and natural.)
So far, we’ve been talking about consumer reviews, but there’s actually another type to consider: professional reviews. These are provided by well-respective authorities in the book market. Because these authorities are so prestigious, a favorable book review from one of them can easily boost your book’s profile within the industry (yes, including Christian retailers!). That means a favorable professional review could make a coveted bookstore willing to stock your book.
Now, if you are self-published, this can be a little more tricky, because some professional markets do not review self-published books. You’ll have to do your research to identify those that do, like BookLife from Publishers Weekly. They review tens of thousands of traditionally published books, as well as self-published books.
Most people think of royalties in the perspective of a traditional publishing deal, which we will tackle in more detail later in this series. And while that is true, it’s important to know that royalties come into play with both traditional and self publishing.
Traditional Publishing Royalties
Royalty rates are a percentage of the sale of the book. But when you have a traditional publishing deal, the publishing house has taken all the risks for you, so you have no upfront costs.
That means the royalty rates will be lower, because the publishing house is putting up all the money on the front end to support your book. They’re paying for editors, publicists, and everything else you need to bring your book together, so it makes sense that this will impact your royalties.
Depending on the strength of your publishing deal (which your literary agent will help you negotiate based on your online platform and presence), you may get an advance against your royalties. This is typically somewhere between 7% and 25% of the net book price.
So, for example, let’s say you get an advance of $5,000. That means your book has to earn more than $5,000 for it to break even. Then, for you to earn any additional money, it’s got to sell even more.
Also keep in mind that royalty percentages are typically on the net price. That means all the discounts, returns, marketing costs, and overhead are taken off the top before your royalty percentage is calculated. Plus, your rates can vary based on how well-known you are as an author, the type of book format (hardback, Ebook, etc.), and other factors.
All that to say, while there is a royalty for traditionally published books, and you may get an advance, that doesn’t mean it will be raining money.
Let’s say you self-publish your book, and price it in the $2.99-$9.99 range. You can actually get a 70% royalty if it’s self-published! But remember, the tradeoff is that you must pay upfront and do the work to get your book edited, formatted, and marketed. The higher royalty reflects the work and money you’ve invested to publish your book instead of having the publishing house do it all for you.
But here’s the good news: you need to sell far fewer books to make the same amount of money with self-publishing. No, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. But if you publish a good quality book that is polished, professional, represents you and God well, and sets you up to start or grow your coaching, speaking or consulting business, then this can be a really great deal. When you approach self-publishing the right way, you can earn a great living.
Traditional publishing deals are often coveted. So why would anyone choose to self-publish a book instead?
First, if your desire is to use the book to set up a career as a speaker, coach, or consultant, self-publishing allows you much more flexibility. You have the option to distribute, change, or repurpose the writing in any way you choose. That’s not the case with a traditionally published book.
Additionally, as a business owner, your book becomes another product that you can offer your customers. It sets you up to introduce yourself, to break the ice, so the client can get to know you. It’s a tool to educate people on what you have to offer, positioning you as the answer to their questions and the solution to their problems.
When you self-publish, you don’t have to:
- Wait to get a literary agent
- Go through the negotiation process with a publishing house
- Worry that parts of your book may be taken out
Self-publishing offers maximum flexibility and control over your book. You can market it however you please, include whatever you want to include, and write as fast as you like. And all you really need to make it happen at a basic level is a computer, basic writing skills, and an internet connection.
Often, your book gets to market much faster when you self-publish. It can take as little as a week, depending on where you are in the journey. But even if it takes up to 90 days or more, that’s still much shorter than most traditional publishing paths.
However, remember that you have to be in charge of making all the decisions. You need to hire your own editor and design and publishing teams, or you need to do those things yourself. You’re essentially on the hook for everything when you go the self-publishing path, but that can also be very empowering.
As long as you’ve been listening to these episodes and checking out the material in the Christian Authors Network Facebook group, you CAN do this — and you can do it successfully!
Next Week on Book Publishing A to Z
We’ve covered some important terms this week, but there are still plenty more to come! Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect in the next installment of the Book Publishing A to Z series:
- What a slush is in the context of publishing books
- Where small press fits into the book publishing picture
- Table of contents
- Territories and why they matter
We’ll cover all that and more right here next week!
My name is Tamara “Coach Tam” Jackson and I am a published author, Facebook© Certified Digital Marketer, host of the Top 100 Publishing Secrets podcast, and founder of The Christian Authors Network (C.A.N.) Facebook© community. I specialize in helping mission-driven authors, coaches, and entrepreneurs increase their exposure, impact, and income through strategic self-publishing and digital media appearances. Just say yes and we will work together to attract a tribe of loyal followers that 1) “get you”, 2) love what you do, and 3) are happy to invest in your book, business, cause, or movement. Plus, we will accomplish all of this without fake, salesy, sleazy, or manipulative tactics. Yes you CAN write, publish, and profit in a way that honors God; join the community today at https://christianauthors.net/fbgroup.
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