Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest post by Robert W. Walker: Weighing Up Traditional Publishing & Ebook Publishing

Weighing Up Traditional Publishing & Ebook Publishing
by Robert W. Walker

In any non-traditional publishing as in ebook publication, there is no such thing as “an advance against royalties”. In Traditional Publishing as we know, now often termed DTB’s by our younger generations, ie. Dead Tree Books the “advance” has always been there. This is a significant difference. For the older generation, my generation, the first phrase that comes to mind for the author is “an advance against royalties” and what this means is the author gets a lump sum “loan payment” to start work on the process of crafting a book or novel. However, in ebook non-traditional publishing wherein everything is lower case, there are NO advances. In fact, in “non-publishing” as some like to call it, there are a lot of “NO’s” to the traditional model.

However, before we get too far afield, an advance against a royalty of a $100, 000 is a thing of beauty on the surface. No doubt about that. A writer can rejoice. However if it is for four books to be written over four years, that’s pretty much slave wages or $25,000 a year, which if one is independently wealthy makes for nice pen money. Not so with most people who are attempting to make a living (no joke) at writing.

To the midlist author who wins this arrangement or spin of the publishing wheel, 25,000 a year does not go far. It’s about minimum wage if that. Whereas in ebook publishing, there are NO advances and no paying back of that 25,000 a year either. On the one hand, your publisher grants you a “loan” to be paid back via your royalties (if royalties even occur); on the other hand, every cent of an advance must be paid back to the publisher via your royalties, and until that hundred thousand is worked off by your royalties (if at all) you see no additional funds from royalties. Should your sales be too low to return that advance to your publisher, you are both left with a bad business loan, and your name or reputation as a writer is mud thereafter.

The above is one area where traditional and non-traditional publishing go in very different directions. But there are far more differences for the writer as businessman as well. Below are some of the glaring differences other than no advances.

Traditional Publishing:
They contract for all rights including ebook
Your royalty rate for paper is 10 percent/12 hardcover
Your chance of having returns is 100% & remainders too
Your chance of getting a rejection letter 90 to 100%
Prestige of publishing with 1 of the big six…
Professional, topnotch editorial help at no charge
*Author pockets 10-12% of a $25 book

(* This means an author makes more on each 2.99 ebook than each 25 traditional book)

9 months to 2 yrs. from acceptance final MS till pub date
Publisher provides overworked PR person
Publisher determines everything on cover
Publisher writes copy/description of book
Publisher can/often does change title
Publisher determines price of book
Publisher dictates/curtails length of book
Publisher’s royalty statement routinely confusing
Publisher’s royalty statement not seen for 6-12 months
Royalty statement/payment confusing 90% of the time
Publisher may/may not find review outlets

Ebook Publishing:
You are in a partnership with Kindle/other
Your royalty rate is 70 percent
So few returns, negligible/no remainders
No rejection letters
Little to no “prestige”/much criticism
Editorial help at your expense
Author pockets 70% of 2.99/3.99
Author publishes when s/he wishes
You are PR or you hire PR
Author decides all cover art matters
Author writes copy/description
Author determines title
Author determine price
Author determines length
Ebook gives clear daily sales report
Ebook statement daily report
Payout arrangement clear
You seek out reviewers

Allow me to add some other hard-won lessons regarding the above points. Publisher determines design matters such as single or multiple volumes or a series, and in ebook publishing, the author has control over such issues as series, stand-alone, or three volumes in one.

These differences are due in large part to the medium. The medium is the message. What I can add is that with traditional publishing comes “traditional” notions of prestige, as in “real book publication” grants a writer a certain prestige among readers, critics, and other writers. However, a new attitude is being seen, an attitude among readers and writers that says the text is of tantamount importance, not the way a book is delivered. While this notion and ebook publishing have been around now for approximately thirty to forty years, young people, new generations, are embracing it completely. The idea that a book delivered in sixty seconds on a Kindle reader is as viable a piece of writing as if it is delivered between the covers of a hardbound book—or can be. This is something of a radical shift not in publishing but in readers.

Many traditional publishers either do not get this or simply wish to fight for the old standards of ‘proper’ format and delivery of books. In the past and now, many people believe that a book showing up in hardcover is a better book, better vetted, better edited and certainly written better. However, we have all encountered hardbound books riddled with problems from grammar to concept. More and more, readers are learning about the struggle that goes on behind the writing of a novel, the research, the rewrites, the editing, vetting and more rewrites that go into the creation of an ebook by a writer, and while some ebooks display a lack of talent, nowadays more and more display genius “outside the bun” or in this case “outside the covers”. Never judge a book by its cover takes on a whole new meaning, despite the fact ebook cover graphics has spawned a whole new ‘industry’ as has ebook digital platform and editing services.

Publishing with a major traditional publisher certainly can win one respect and sometimes critical acclaim, neither of which are automatically going to increase sales, but awards and accolades are a wonderful thing. However, the drawbacks can be many for the author, not the least being a far smaller percentage (12 vs. 70). Notably, traditional publishers, since the state-of-the-art Kindle device has skyrocketed in sales are suddenly insisting contractually that authors turn over their electronic rights to the publisher. Some authors have been savvy to maintain their ebook rights regardless. However, traditional publishers holding your ebook rights—especially the majors—as a rule will set your ebook price far too high to the detriment of ebook sales.

E-readers are savvy and will turn away in droves if an ebook is priced too high. Several of my books are saddled with this problem as the publisher set the price, while ebooks priced by me are selling a thousand books a month nowadays. In short, the e-reading public will seldom to never purchase a e-novel or e-book priced at the same or nearly the same as the paper or hardbound book. Not to mention that an author will always make more money putting his ebook rights to work on his own rather than through a publisher.

Working directly with, the author is basically given—at no charge—the opportunity to become a franchise. Most midlist authors are given no advertising budget, no coop monies, nothing as any ad dollars go for the stars alone. With Amazon/Kindle and other ebook publishers, every ebook an author places on digital platform gains instant distribution (distribution with traditional publishers presents both publisher and author with stripped, returned books, a nightmare in bookkeeping, and a sure path to remainders). Reading a royalty statement from a traditional publisher is always a guessing game; reading the daily ‘ticker’ on each ebook with your name on it is as easy as reading the stock market and about as addictive. Going back to Ebook distribution. Distribution is advertising is distribution in the ebook world. It is entirely virtual and online. With Kindle ads going out on national TV and Kindles being used as props in major motion pictures, the author can only benefit more.

There are no doubt many other comparison points between traditional and non-traditional publishing but you know what? Non-traditional modes of publication are getting to be part of the mainstream and hardly ‘non’ anymore. Many authors are going the Indie Author/Publisher route as it makes perfect economical sense to do so. This is especially true for authors with large backlists of otherwise dead books known as out of prints. Already edited and vetted books that have seen returns, remainder days, used bookstore days—all of which pulls money from the pocket of authors. Now such lost titles are working for authors to the tune of thousands going back into the author’s pocket.

I hope this little compare/contrast blog has been of help to you personally if not professionally. Hope to see you on facebook, twitter, and elsewhere online –

Robert W. Walker

Children of Salem, Killer Instinct, Cutting Edge, and soon at a Kindle near you, Titanic 2012 – Free first 14 chapters of Titanic 2012 available here

Robert has 50 books published and is a writer with a ton of experience. This is yet another trend we are seeing as the book world changes. eBooks are not a fad that will one day blow over, but will change and are changing the publishing marketplace. I wonder who will leave New York next? Stephen King? Dean Koontz?

Should be fun...


  1. Mr. Walker,

    Thank you for sharing your experience and insight into both ends of the publishing industry as of late. You have given us much to ponder. The post was informative and very intelligent and introduced me to parts on both sides I was unaware of.
    I'm excited to see more guest posts like this. Not that your a bore Aaron...well ya really sometimes. LOL joke.


  2. I think the choice is clear, especially for newbies not want to go through "slushpile" hell, e-publish.

    Will that lead to a lot of bad books being published? Sure. But it will also lead to a lot good ones that the traditional publishing world would have never even looked at.

    I think the reading public should decide what's good and what isn't. Screw the "Gatekeepers."

  3. My only question for a new unknown author would be without a book in hand how easy would it be to market the book?
    Great guest spot and one very talented Author. Having read Titanic, Children of Salem and Dead On.

  4. People buy online. It used to be where you had to be out in B&N or a local bookstore. Now most of us will go in a bookstore but buy online. Market online with social media, blogs, and find other authors, writers groups etc... It is all free but takes time.

    You also need to give yourself some time. It may take a year or more to get the ball rolling. That is why I say to start marketing your book a year before it comes out.

  5. Any chance of changing from white text on a black background? It kills my eyes