Sunday, May 4, 2008

Subsidy Publishing - It's Your Business

Before my first book came out, I paid particular attention to what writers said about their relationships with their publishers. They often spoke about the time and effort required to meet their publishers’ demands for sales. Since publishing is a business and publishers expect to make money off their authors, this was not a surprise to me. However, I was taken aback by how quickly authors were expected to produce new titles. In one case, the author was under contract to deliver a new manuscript every nine months. In addition, she was traveling to promote herself and her work. She was deeply concerned about honoring her commitment. She could not afford to leave her part-time job because it provided the funds for her promotional efforts. Plus she had children who needed her.

I shared similar problems so when I heard virtually identical stories from other writers, I decided to seek an alternative. Self-publishing was the obvious answer; however, I didn’t have the time or funds for that. Then Derek Hart ( suggested subsidy publishing through an Internet publisher. Technology to the rescue. Print-on-demand removes press runs from the equation, allowing writers to self-publish without having to fund an inventory. Some of the subsidy publishers also handled distribution. Another problem solved.

I read every subsidy publisher’s Web site, printed out and compared contracts and made a choice. All three of my mysteries have been published through a subsidy publishing company. This option met my needs perfectly.

Greased Wheels was released in 2002. Since that time, thousands of writers have published more than 300,000 titles annually, many through subsidy publishers that did not exist when I began. Some don’t even charge a fee to produce a title. A writer can be in print for zero investment.

And that leads us to the problem with subsidy publishing. Anyone and everyone can publish a book. They do not ask themselves whether or not they should.

I do not include the people who create books to preserve the family recipe collection or grandfather’s World War II memories. These books are not intended for general consumption and subsidy publishing is a wonderful way to save our history.

I address those writers who feel that, merely by publishing, they will become rich and famous. They make no investment in their work – no editing, no proofreading and, in some cases, no payment for the actual printing.

A librarian recently shared that a local writer brought her a subsidy-published book expecting the library to stock it and host a signing event. Inside the book, the librarian found multiple typographical and grammatical errors and an amateurish writing style with badly constructed paragraphs and confusing sentences. The book was poorly bound and printed on low quality paper. The author was oblivious to these flaws.

I applaud the changes in technology that allow writers to be in print. However, like all good technologies, it has bad points. The biggest is the ease and accessibility of print-on-demand printing allows writers to bypass many of the steps that are part of producing a good book.

If you are considering this form of publishing, ask yourself if you would pay the cover price for your work if someone else wrote it. Remember that self-publishing puts the burden on you. It is up to you to hire an editor and get a proofreader.

If you self-publish, you are in business. And, as any business person will tell you, doing it yourself is hard work. It may not require a lot of money but it does demand a major investment of effort and time.

Writing is a great art and a rewarding endeavor. Publishing is a business. Make sure your book is the best product you can make it.

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