Let’s clear up a source of a lot of confusion for authors new to the publishing industry: What is a “publisher” versus a “publishing services company”.
An author is the one who comes up with the intellectual property in manuscript form. The publisher is the one who adds the money and expertise to leverage the intellectual property into a successful book by providing a great title, cover, interior, setting the price and then cost-effectively printing the book and getting distribution for it into the bookstore market.
By this definition, so many of the entities calling themselves “publishers” are instead, “publishing services” or “author services” companies.
Here is the bottom line: IF A COMPANY ASKS YOU TO PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK, IT IS NOT A PUBLISHER. Publishers make investments. If the author is both making the investment and bringing in the intellectual property, then that is not a publishing deal. What you are doing is buying publishing services.
There is nothing wrong with that if you know what you are paying for and what you are getting. I hear so many people tell me what their “publisher” said, only to find out they aren’t working with a publisher at all.
If you are thinking of doing business with a publishing services company, (sometimes called a POD publisher) – a company that calls itself a publisher but charges you a fee up front – make sure they are right for you.
You have a right to know what to expect, so you need to have a contract to document the agreement. The services provider should provide you with the contract and you would expect to see provisions regarding who does what, what the flow of money is, in and out, termination provisions, and what liability each party is assuming.
But beyond the standard, there are some provisions that are especially important in publishing services contracts. We’ve developed a eight-point checklist of these essential points. If they can say “yes” to each of these, then you’ve found a great company to work with. If there are any “no” answers, please think twice!
1. Author retains all intellectual property rights – if you have to pay up front, there is absolutely no reason you should be selling your rights to your intellectual property in the bargain. You are licensing your rights to print, perhaps exclusively, for only a designated period of time.
2. Author benefits from book profits (isn’t just paid royalties or a commission) – again, if you have to pay the full cost of producing the book up front, the publishing services firm might get a percentage of what you sell, but you should retain the lion’s share. If they only want a percentage from the books they are able to sell, that would be a reasonable exchange. If they are able to generate bookstore orders (unlikely, but not impossible), then they should take a percentage from those sales. Otherwise, the profits from the book sales, minus the costs to print, should be yours.
3. Author has the right to terminate the publishing services contract, preferably in 30 days, but no more than 60 days – if you get a great offer from an established commercial publisher, you will be kicking yourself if you can’t take it because you are stuck with a bad contract you can’t get out of.
4. Timeline the author can live with – many publishing services companies do not specify how quickly they will publish your book. There is no reason they cannot create the cover and interior and have the book printed within 90 days of when they receive the manuscript. Anything much outside of that time frame is unacceptable and you should only sign a contract that gives you a full refund if they do not have books in your hands within 90 days, unless you specifically agree otherwise for some reason.
5. Professional quality cover, interior and printing – I have seen way too many books with completely unprofessional covers and a book binding that is falling apart. A professionally-designed cover is easy to spot a mile away and if you aren’t sure of what you are getting, call in a professional to take a look for you. Many of the publishing services firms outsource their printing to LightningSource.com (just another reason for you to go direct), but if they do, at least you can be sure that the quality of the printing and binding will be good.
6. Author is given cover and interior design files if contract is terminated – if you have had to pay to have your book cover designed and the interior typeset, then you want the right to get the design files back (not just a PDF) if you terminate the contract. Most POD publishers do not allow this as a way to keep you tied to them.
7. Reasonable prices for books – if part of your contract is for the publishing services firm to print your books on-demand, then you want no more than a 25% mark-up to cover their administrative costs than if you took your book to your own printer. The on-demand printer you would be smart to use is LightningSource.com (for more reasons than I can detail here). The formula Lightning Source uses to determine the price of printing a book is $.90 x .015 x the number of pages in the book. So for instance, if your book were 183 page, the price per book would be 183 x $.015 = $2.75 + $.90, which equals $3.65 per book. Again, using this example, if the price quoted to you by the POD publisher were more than $4.56 per book, you are paying too much.
Too many publishing services companies charge a percentage of retail for you to buy your own book; for instance, 50% of a $20 book, or $10 a book. This is how established commercial publishers work, but they do it because you haven’t paid for publishing up front – that is a whole different story. Don’t ever sign a contract that requires you buy a minimum number of books. Regardless of what the POD publisher tells you, they are printing on demand, which means they don’t have to buy a certain quantity from their printer, so you should not have to either.
8. Reasonable prices for other services – many of the publishing services companies want you to buy marketing or other services and they will offer you a menu that you feel like you need to be successful. Much better to interview qualified professionals and choose your own after talking to other authors and others in the industry. Don’t sign a contract that requires you to buy any additional services.
The bottom line is this: You can easily self publish without a POD publisher, but if you decide you want someone to handle all the details, be sure you get what you are paying for. There are hundreds, if not thousands of POD publishers so you have plenty to choose from. As in all other things, make sure and read the contract and get the terms that work for you and your book.
Article written by Jan King. The Publishing Store