Planning to publish your memoir? You should know that there are essentially two types of book publishers: those who will pay you, and those you’ll have to pay.
What’s the Difference?
Traditional publishers will offer you money for the privilege of publishing your work, but getting this kind of deal is extremely difficult. The decision is left up to the personal whims of whomever reads the submissions. Many people spend years trying to sell their work to a traditional publisher, and sadly, die trying.
This is why publishing services have exploded in popularity. Publishers-for-hire are sometimes called service publishers, self-publishing service providers or full-service publishers. They give anyone with the ability to pay the opportunity to be a published author.
This article will focus on getting the best possible results from working with a hired publisher.
I’ve mentored a long list of authors who’ve hired companies to publish their books. Often these folks experience confusion about what they’re getting into — even when the publishers provide crystal-clear terms in writing.
Why? Most commonly, it’s because the author has pre-conceived notions about how publishing works. What they imagine is not the reality, not even for traditional publishers. And even those with a more accurate picture of traditional publishing expect a service publisher to operate the same way, but they don’t.
Paying for Publishing: Having the Best Possible Experience
I’ve compiled the following eight nuggets to help prepare you to work with a full-service publisher. With these guidelines, you’ll have a much smoother and more pleasant experience, and will be more likely to make a success of your book.
1. Don’t expect hiring a publisher to make you an instant millionaire. I think most aspiring authors understand that becoming a best-selling author requires more than just hiring a publisher. Unfortunately, there are some who whole-heartedly believe it’s a one-step plan for getting rich.
If becoming filthy rich was that easy, everybody would publish a book.
Getting your book published is just the first step.
Your publisher may be able to make your book available to consumers through sites like Amazon, but if readers don’t know your book exists, they’re not going to look for it.
Likewise, your publisher might make your book available through a distributor from which brick-and-mortar stores order books, but if the buyers from those stores haven’t heard of your book, they’re not going to carry it.
It’s the author’s job to drum up chatter about his or her book. To that end…
2. Be prepared to do your own marketing. Many inexperienced authors assume their book publisher will aggressively market their book — and they wind up terribly disappointed and at a disadvantage.
Even traditional publishers expect authors to do the lion’s share of marketing for their own books. When it comes to publishers-for-hire, the author should be prepared to do it all.
I don’t know of any full-service publisher who offers a full-fledged marketing program to its authors. Some may offer a small menu of a la carte marketing services like press release distribution or creating a bare-bones web page for the book, but it’s not nearly enough to generate significant sales — if any sales at all.
Don’t expect your publisher to send you on a tour, book you on talk shows, or pay for any advertising.
One author remarked to me, “You would think the publisher would want to market my book. Isn’t it in their best interest? Don’t they stand to make more money, too?”
Service publishers make their money on the fees you pay for the work they perform — editing, typesetting, making your books available for sale in places like Amazon, etc.
They’re not counting on your book making significant money. It’s estimated that on average, self-published books (which includes books published by full-service publishers) sell about 200 copies.
That’s not to say you can’t do better. If you’re willing to work, you can get better results.
I urge you to learn as much as you can about book marketing, as early as possible. There are many potential ways to promote a book. You’ll never be able to try them all. Instead, do your research and choose one or two methods that seem most likely to get your book in front of your target audience and master them. Start with a good book on do-it-yourself book marketing.
Of course, if money is no object, you can hire a book publicist to do much of the work for you.
3. Don’t expect the publishing company to teach you how to be a better writer. I coached one author who hired a company to publish his memoir, and then was devastated to learn he wouldn’t be working directly with an editor.
The company did provide copy editing services, but there was no one-on-one consultation. This author was expecting a “buddy”. He thought he’d be spending countless hours with an editor who would help him shape and elevate his manuscript.
This is not what publishers do. Frankly, it’s not their job.
It’s the author’s job to learn their craft and refine their manuscript. This can be done by engaging a coach or a freelance editor, enrolling in classes and workshops, and joining a writer’s group where members provide constructive feedback. And all of it should be done before you approach a publisher.
Here’s something to consider: almost everyone and their grandmother wants to see their name on a published book. Publishers don’t need to knock themselves out looking for writers, because there will always be an endless stream of aspiring authors lining up at their doors.
Why, then, would a publisher spend money employing people to help writers polish their manuscripts? They don’t need to do that. They’ll make plenty of money without having to extend that kind of help, because there are plenty of authors willing to submit finely-honed manuscripts for consideration.
When you’re ready to hire a publisher, be prepared to bring them your best work. I would hate to see anyone take an “unfinished” manuscript to a publisher and then get stuck with a book they’re not entirely proud of, simply because they expected teaching or coaching to be part of the package.
4. Don’t assume a service is part of the deal. You’d be surprised how many people will sign a contract, and then start asking questions. Not a smart way to go. Instead, read your agreement with the publisher carefully before signing.
Agreements with publishers are typically not that long. Read the whole thing — you can handle it. And if you don’t understand something you’ve read, ask about it.
Most importantly, don’t assume anything about what the company will do for you. For example, if your agreement doesn’t explicitly say that the company’s going to produce an audio version of your book, don’t assume they will, just because you think “that’s what publishers do”.
The more you understand exactly what you’re getting, the better prepared you’ll be to take up the slack and make a success of your book.
5. Be prepared to provide photos in digital format. Most service publishers will allow you to include photos inside your book. However, in order to give you the best print quality, they typically need the images in a high-resolution, digital format.
If your photos are prints, don’t assume the publisher will convert them to digital for you. Ask before signing your agreement. You may need to find a photo professional who can convert the photos for you at your own expense.
Knowing what you need ahead of time will minimize publication delays.
6. Make sure you have permission to use your images. If you have images you want included inside your book, you must own them. Legally, publishers can’t publish images that belong to anyone other than the author.
A photo or illustration belongs to you if you created it. If someone else created it, you need that person’s permission to use it in your book. If your book is being published for profit, the owner of the image may want to be paid for letting you use it.
Some people assume that if an image is on the Internet, it can be used by anyone, anywhere, for free. Not true.
Some images are old enough that their copyright has expired, meaning they are now in the “public domain” and can be used freely, but you’ll want to be very sure about that before you use them.
Your publisher will want proof that you have the legal right to reproduce all of your images.
To be on the safe side, only use images that you created yourself — meaning you drew them, or in the case of photos, you took them.
7. Don’t go rogue and do things your way. Throughout the process of publishing your book, you will probably receive numerous communications from your publisher. There will inevitably be instructions, such as requests for you to provide information or review and approve the publisher’s work.
Make an effort to follow instructions as precisely as possible. Don’t try to do things your way, assuming that the way information is delivered doesn’t matter. Publishers typically have a well-defined process, and resisting it will only delay the publication of your book. And wouldn’t you prefer to have it in your hands sooner rather than later?
Following instructions also means resisting the urge to send information the publisher didn’t ask for because you’re trying to anticipate their needs. Unfortunately, that can cause confusion on the publisher’s end and delays on yours.
8. Make sure your email can reliably receive attachments. It’s possible your publisher will be sharing attachments with you by email, such as edited drafts of your manuscript.
However, in an effort to protect you from malware and viruses, some email servers block emails with attachments or reroute them to “spam” or “junk” folders.
Meanwhile, weeks or even months may go by and you don’t know what you’re missing. Your publisher is waiting for your response, your project is at a standstill, and you haven’t seen a crucial email.
At the outset of you project, ask the publisher to email you a test attachment. You might also consider setting up a free Gmail account through Google, which tends to be highly reliable in delivering non-threatening attachments.
There’s no shame in sidestepping traditional publishing and paying to have your book published. Why wait years for the approval of an editor at a giant publishing conglomerate that may never come?
Self-publishing services and full-service publishers can help you reach your goals with offerings that make your book available to readers around the world. You’ll need to take an active part in the promotion of your book, but that’s the exciting part. The potential success of your book is under your control.
How far do you want to go?
To get one-on-one help with your memoir, request a coaching session by phone.
Kim Brittingham is the author of Write That Memoir Right Now (AudioGo/Blackstone, 2013) and Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (Random House, 2011).