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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Yog's Law, Revisited

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

Yesterday Jim Macdonald reiterated and expanded upon Yog's Law. Yog's Law is short and sweet. To wit:
Money flows toward the author.
The corollary:
The only place a writer signs a check is on the back.
Let's put that into practical terms.Your writing is a business. Making money should be your goal. If you're self-publishing (or running your own business) you're not likely to spend money on things that will bring you little or no return. 

When you pay for services labelled as "self publishing," "subsidy publishing," or "indie publishing" how do you know if you stand a good chance of getting a return? Research. If you're giving your money to a business, dig into it. Will they get your books into the hands of your target audience? Do they get them into bookstores? Find some authors (not folks listed on the testimonial page) and ask about their experiences. Did the company follow through as promised? How have their sales been? How has it been after a year? (Most books will have past their sales peak by this point.) Make a checklist of the things you expect from this business and ask those customers if the business in question provided those services and whether or not the services were rendered in an acceptable fashion.

Gosh, this sounds like the steps you might take to vet a home contractor. Well, it's pretty much a similar situation. You are contracting with a company to provide a service to you. When you pay for a service, you should expect it to be rendered according to the contract. (And yes, you ought to have someone vet that contract for you.) You should also be aware of your obligations under the contract.

If that service wants you to pay thousands up front, what do you get in return? Are those returns worth the risks? Running a business is always carries risks. One of your jobs is to minimize them. 

Here are some questions you should ask:
  • What is your print run? If they do a print run, call a couple of printers and find out what it would cost them to do a run of a similar book. This is a good data point to have. If you're paying a publisher, you should expect a print run, not books printed on demand.
  • What do you do to get books into the hands of readers? Your publisher should be making money off of book sales, not off of your charge card. They should have a dedicated marketing department and work hard to sell books.
  • What is your distribution like? Do you accept returns? What is your discount? Most commercial publishers work with a distributor. Think of that distributor as a sales force who contacts buyers at bookstore chains and individual stores. While that's not a guarantee of placement, it's a sign that they're serious about selling books. The publisher should accept returns of unsold books. While the returns system is somewhat controversial these days, it's still how the chains do business, and it's an important factor for getting your books on shelves. The discount is the percentage off of the retail price that the bookstore pays. Most bookstores need at least 40%. That's what goes to keep the lights on, pay for the staff and the building, and so on. Even Amazon has warehouses and distribution centers and employees, and a massive computer network. 
  • What am I expected to do? It's no great secret that writers have to spend more time on promotion these days. Yet, all the promotion in the world doesn't do a lot of good if your audience can't easily buy your book. If "easily buy your book" means that you have to buy direct from the publisher and resell them yourself, then perhaps you should just chuck the middle man and do it yourself. You'll likely be paying them more for books than you'd pay a printer directly, because they have their costs to cover, too. Your publisher should be happy to take out ads in publications. I've had publishers take out ads in convention program books when I've had an appearance near a release date. Sometimes, even way after release if they know the event hits their target audience. (Such ads often cover multiple authors, but none of us pay a dime.) If you're expected to go hawk your books and take out advertising, consider doing it ALL yourself.
  • What editing do you do and what does it cost? A commercial publisher will edit your book. They will do what is called developmental editing. In the case of fiction, this means the editor will go through and make suggestions to make your book even better. In the case of non-fiction, they may question some of your facts and your presentation. Next, you'll go through copy editing. Each publisher has their own house style, and while what you turned in may be fine, they have their own ideas about serial commas and use of semicolons, and so on. Even small presses don't charge for this service. The idea is, if they present the best book possible to the buying public, that the public will, well, buy it.
  • So you provide a cover and/or illustrations? If not, what should I pay? 
Essentially, what it comes down to is, are you getting your money's worth? Given the state of technology and the industry these days, you may very well discover that you can do the same job - or better - if you do it yourself. Or, you may want to hold out and try for a commercial publishing deal. 

The bottom line is, will YOU make money? This is how Yog's Law can benefit you. It's not only good for writers, it's good business in general.

Tags: Writing  Publishing

Filed under: Writing   Publishing   Yog's Law      
4/22/2011 1:03:11 PM
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