trade publishing

Understanding Contracts When Self-Publishing Your Book: Traditional Publishing vs. Custom or Self-Publishing

SONY DSC Understanding how contracts work when  you are considering self-publishing your book is crucial. It is key to understanding the difference between traditional and custom or self-publishing, and it can be a useful tool for determining which route is best suited for your project.

At Orange Frazer, we recognize the value of the traditional publishing model. We do it on a slightly smaller scale these days, but we still do it because we love it, because there are some books that require the investment to become a reality, because some books were always meant to be sold to larger audiences. But in other cases, traditional publishing just doesn’t make sense. One of our custom authors, Bob Lanphier, published his collection of stories, The Grey Gables Tribal Council: Campfire Stories. It was illustrated by Brooke Albrecht, and we printed copies for Bob’s close friends and family members. It is a truly beautiful book: the illustrations and anecdotes bring to life an ancestry and a heritage that is crucial to preserve. Would this book be traditionally published at a big house, with a multi-thousand-dollar advance, a multi-thousand copy print run, and a pitch to chain bookstores across the country? No, that was never what the author wanted. It certainly shouldn’t determine whether or not that book is published, though. This is where custom publishing comes in. Custom publishing finds itself among an incredibly interesting, vivacious, compelling crowd of authors, filling in when and where the traditional publishing model falls short.


A Note On Comparing Traditional vs. Custom Publishing

It is important to note when comparing these two routes that traditional publishing is a course that can be pursued, but not necessarily a course that can be chosen. In the end, traditional publishing must choose you. Pitching your idea or your manuscript to a traditional house means you are making a sale, and they can certainly choose not to buy. Many authors go this route and struggle to find a traditional publishing house that is interested in their title; perhaps the title doesn’t fit with its backlist or niche market, perhaps the particular topic isn’t selling well in comparative titles, perhaps the editor just knows his/her house isn’t the right publisher for the book. Whatever the reason, traditional publishers may not choose your book. And that’s okay, because these days there are a myriad of other options out there for you, and that’s where the custom publishing route can be beneficial.

But if you have written a manuscript and you are choosing which course to pursue, or perhaps you’ve tried traditional publishing and you are interested in other options, understanding your contractual obligations and rights is incredibly important.

Advances, Royalties, Return on Investment

Contracts determine whether you are paid an advance plus royalties (an initial sum plus timed checks after the book’s release for a specified percentage of book sales), or whether you sell your book yourself and keep the profits on book sales. For certain projects, you may know right away that in order to write the book, research the book, and sell the book, you are going to need an outside investment from a traditional publishing house. If you are aware that your royalty check may be pennies on the book (it could always be more, but retailer discounts do mean a lot these days), but feel that the initial advance will recoup most of your time, then pursuing the traditional publishing model might make sense for you. In other cases, you’ve perhaps allocated this as a business expense (corporate anniversary books, cookbooks, business books, etc.), or you’ve saved up your financial resources (personal memoirs, children’s books, etc.). In this case, you are a prime candidate for custom publishing, and you stand to make a higher return on investment when that book is sold.

Rights, Rights, Rights

Contracts determine whether a publisher retains the rights to publish your book digitally, translate it into other languages, sell it to other countries, make it into a movie or TV show, circulate portions of it before the release date, or whether you retain these rights. If you want to give this control to another entity, someone experienced in these transactions, but also someone who may or may not pursue these courses, then traditional publishing is your route. If you want to retain these rights for your own potential use, then custom publishing may be your route.

Print Run

Contracts determine the investment in the print run. Do you want to pitch the book to retail outlets, or do you envision having copies for circulation among your close friends, family, and coworkers? Do you see this as a general interest book accessible to a wide range of readers and audiences, or do you see this as a more personal book, one that a particular region, business, family, or organization will primarily have interest in?

The scope of the contract, and the nature of the acquisition, differentiates traditional trade publishing from custom publishing. Both are advantageous in their own ways, and both are sustainable and effective business models. Here at Orange Frazer, we excel at both, because we know that publishing is an ever-evolving industry, and we like to make sure we are one step ahead so that we can continue to create beautiful, long-lasting books for our authors and readers.

Books Have a Shelf Life: The Season of Bookstore Returns

It’s January, which for many is a month of resolutions (we’ve certainly adopted a few), new beginnings, and celebration. It is that month post-Christmas where we can all play with our new toys, read our new books, launch our new ideas, and lace up our new tennis shoes. Unfortunately for publishers, January, and its less glamorous successor, February, have quite a different connotation: these months herald the benighted season of book returns. Books

Book returns make the book business unlike any other business. You see, when an author and publisher team up to create a book, there is a whole lot more than just the end consumer in mind. In fact, a book may be “sold” three or more times before it ever reaches the customer’s hands. It is first “sold” to the publisher (in that, for commercial or trade books the publisher buys the rights to distribute and sell), then “sold” to distributors (Ingram for bookstores, Baker & Taylor for libraries), then “sold” to a bookstore buyer, who, finally, sells the book and its premise to the rest of the sales team, so that it can make its way from the bookstore shelf into the patron’s loving hands. This series of sales means that any number of factors can determine the how, when, why, or why not of a book’s journey through bookstore to consumer.

For instance, you write an incredible book. Your publisher loves it, takes it on, buys the rights to distribute and sell it, puts some cash toward marketing and publicity, then meets with buyers from every major independent bookstore in the region. They sell it to their B&N rep, they sell it to their Ingram rep, they get Baker & Taylor in, too. But this isn’t the end of the road. The buyers must determine how many copies they put in their bookstores. Make no mistake: it is a delicate, admirable art to take on this incredible challenge. Buyers have a number of goals in mind: they have to maintain diversity in their bookstore, serve the unique needs and tastes of their local audience, bring in enough that they won’t be short during high-buying times, bring in few enough that they won’t have leftover stock, predict fads and evolving cultural inclinations, and stay within their budget. To balance these many goals when meeting with publishing houses across the country is an admirable feat. And as publishers, we respect and appreciate all that our buyers do to make this process run smoothly.

The one hiccup to this process, for a publisher, is that if a book doesn’t sell (for any number of reasons: the bookstore ordered too many copies, planned publicity was overshadowed by a major news event, etc.), the bookstore can return the book to the publisher (or to/through the involved distributor) for its money back. In no other business-to-business sales model do you see this form of return. I will repeat: when you sell your books to a bookstore, you hope, pray, and drum up good juju so that these books will not be back on your doorstep in three months. And January/February is by far the biggest return season for all publishers, as the Christmas sale season has passed and the overstocked books wind up coming back—not all of the time, of course, but it does happen.

This business model is still important for those who self-publish, particularly for those who custom publish with a custom publishing house like Orange Frazer that helps you with distribution through bookstores and retail outlets. The advantage to publishing your book with a professional publisher is that we do have these connections—the distributors, the buyers, the regional warehouses. Orange Frazer is in a unique position because with each custom book we are able to bring our twenty-five years of experience in trade publishing to the table: we know the system, we’ve filled out the paperwork, we maintain the memberships, and we know what we’re doing. Unfortunately, however, this return system won’t change for a self-published or custom-published book. Until we develop a sixth sense or create a highly accurate magic eight ball, there will always be occasional excess in the system. But with a foot in each stream—trade publishing and custom publishing—Orange Frazer will always be evolving to meet these challenges.