commercial publishing rights

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.