A few months ago I sent a solid book proposal to an established business publisher.
Within a few weeks I heard from them. They were taking the proposal to their committee for a decision, which is a very promising sign. But before they did that, they had just one little question for me:
"How many copies are YOU going to buy?"
Having been invited to this sort of dance before, I treated them to some of my fancy footwork, sidestepping a direct answer.
I mentioned that historically I have purchased copies of my 12 published books for my clients and seminar audiences, in quantities that have ranged from the low hundreds to thousands of copies, depending on the demand.
However, I went on to say, if that press wanted to publish my current book, it needed to make an offer NOT CONTINGENT on my buying any copies.
Their impending offer suddenly vanished.
Ever since Gutenberg invented movable type, there have always been “vanity presses. " These are companies that will gladly print your book at your expense, selling you as many copies as you care to buy, irrespective of your volume's literary qualities, credibility, or coherence.
Usually, these presses have been scorned by the conventional publishing community, which has owed much of its success to selecting authors and their works with care, based on topical interest, marketability, and an author's stature in his field.
But today, it is becoming harder to distinguish old school publishers from vanity presses, as my near miss with the business publisher points out.
From my view, as an authentic, best-selling author with hundreds of thousands of books sold, the conventional publishing industry is mostly history.
You need to be very wary of making deals with such an industry that is in rapid decline.
Here are seven indications that things are not what they used to be:
(1) Publishing has always been about gambling and hoping to hit the jackpot. The occasional best-seller has usually made up for the books that fail to earn back their publishing costs. But now, publishers have donned a “don't lose" attitude. They want guaranteed profits from a very speculative business model. The two don't go together, so the way they have guaranteed they'll come out is to make authors commit to promoting and purchasing their own titles in such quantities that publishers at least cover their costs.
(2) Author advances against royalties are shrinking and with many publishers are disappearing, altogether. Formerly, an author could expect to get some cash up front which would be a sign that a publisher valued your work and was going to do what it could to recover the advance money and to earn a profit. Today, publishers will brazenly state they don't pay advances, or offer token ones, which tilt deals in their direction, while enabling them to control a valuable intellectual property, literally, for nothing.
(3) Publishers have made a pact with the Devil, i. e. with bookstores, that they've regretted forever, but cannot repudiate. When publishers “sell" your titles to bookstores, they aren't sold, at all, in the conventional sense. Books are consigned. Money needs to flow from retailers to publishers only when books are “sold though, " bought by the public. If books languish on shelves, they are returned ever more quickly to publishers, for full credit. This method of marketing makes everyone either trigger happy or gun shy. Only some small, independent bookstores will allow titles to gradually find their readers, affording space on shelves for books they believe in and like. But bigger chains couldn't care what they're selling, as long as the items are moving fast.
(4) Book publishing is incredibly retro, but not in a good way. It still takes, on average, nine months to a year for a manuscript to crawl through the editorial process and to finally be printed and to reach retailers’ shelves. There are exceptions, but they're rare. Sizzling topics cool considerably in that time span, and macroeconomic forces can shift tremendously, from seemingly endless expansion to recession, as we have seen during the last year, making titles irrelevant, or spawning so many imitators in such a period of time that even winning titles lose their distinctiveness. I wrote a book, Gary Goodman's 60 Second Salesperson, that took too long to reach the stores. In the meantime, Spencer Johnson's One Minute Salesperson came out and seized the market. By the time my book reached the shelves, it looked like a knock-off. I published Six-Figure Consulting, and within a matter of months my title was trumped by Million Dollar Consulting.
(5) The Internet is giving away what conventional publishers used to sell at a profit. How can you compete against “free?" This is the question of the decade for all kinds of publishers and purveyors of content. Why attend a one-day seminar at $495 per person when you can get the same content, more or less, for free or by watching streaming video at a fraction of the price, and never having to leave your chair or office? Publishers were seldom great marketers before the Internet. Now, most of them are simply doomed, their weaknesses being exposed for all to see, and they're trying to shift their burdens and responsibilities to authors.
(6) E-books and Publishing on Demand are growing in popularity and are coming into their own as media. They're fast and cheap, and really, there is no good reason remaining to use a conventional publisher if these platforms are going to make your work available without intermediation. Anyone can print. Marketing is what takes talent, and if conventional publishers are reverse-delegating the marketing functions to authors, what good are they to us?
(7) When everyone can be a published book author, and these days everyone can be, then the bloom is off the rose. It no longer has the same cache as it once did. Similarly, there used to be a lot of competition to get on TV and radio as an expert-guest. With channels proliferating, on cable, satellite, and through the Internet, where is the distinction in it? Scarcity makes diamonds valuable; just ask DeBeers, which has quite smartly crimped the supply, propping up prices. If authors, publishers, books, and information itself are no longer in short supply, where are the profits to be made? And where is the credibility in saying, “I write books"? If you're a consultant, or a professional speaker, putting that in your biography is probably a given. It isn't going to earn you an engagement these days, or any higher fees than the next “author. "
When you hear a publisher asking you how many copies you're going to buy, or an Internet radio station offering to give you your own show for a small production fee, you are really hearing the leper's bell-a signal that a looter is in your midst.
Guard your purse, accordingly.
Dr. Gary S. Goodman is a top trainer, conference and convention speaker, sales, customer service, and negotiation consultant, and attorney. A frequent expert commentator on radio and TV, he is also the best-selling author of 12 books, more than 1,000 articles and several popular audio and video programs. His seminars are sponsored internationally and he teaches at more than 40 university extension programs, including UC Berkeley and UCLA. Gary's sales, management and consulting experience is combined with impressive academic credentials: A Ph. D. from USC, an MBA from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management, and a J. D.degree from Loyola Law School, his clients include several Fortune 1000 companies.
His web site is: http://www.customersatisfaction.com and he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org