Book publishing today: top 10 myths exploded

Updated January 15th, 2020. You probably know that book publishing today is a very different ballgame than the publishing picture of 20 years ago and more. But as you’d expect with a comparatively new and still evolving industry, “fake news” runs rife.

10 most popular myths about book publishing today

Today, there are options for people to read our words on their laptops, on their phones and tablets, through earphones while they work out at the gym .. as well from the good old-fashioned printed page. And that’s something that should be celebrated.

Here, then, are some of the myths that are flying around, and what the truth is about them. Enjoy.

1. Self-publishing is the same as vanity publishing

No, it’s not. Vanity publishing was a rather unfairly named con played by scammers not so much taking advantage of wannabee authors’ vanity, as of their hearts and souls.

Often they would advertise that they were looking for new authors and would then mirror the routine then used by genuine publishers … making the author wait weeks for a response, asking for a sample of the work, making a few positive noises … until eventually making the author an “offer” to publish their book, usually for several thousand £££s / $$$s.

By this time the innocent author would be so emotionally committed to the project with the thought of a “published book” within grasping reach, they would often nearly bankrupt themselves to find the money to pay.

What they got was boxes of unedited, badly printed books which would go mouldy in your garage while you wondered what the hell to do with them. It was like watching a fisherman reel in a large Blue Marlin on a very light test line, if you know a little deep sea fishing jargon! Heartbreaking.

2. You always get a better deal from a traditional publisher

Not always. Much depends on your individual circumstances. Here’s where a traditional publisher will benefit you as an author:

**If you want the kudos of being published by a well-known name
**If you’re happy to receive a low rate of royalty – e.g. 5-10 percent of cover price
**If you’re happy not to receive any advance on royalties, although some publishers still do this
**If you write fiction, and you have a literary agent
**If you write non-fiction, you can put together a very powerful proposal (often online, now)
**If you’re prepared to take a chance of rejection
**If you don’t mind reworking your book to the publisher’s specifications (and no arguments)
**If you are not in any hurry to get your book published: the process can take up to two years
**If you want good worldwide distribution of your book both online and in bookshops

3. Traditional publishers will do all your book’s marketing

They say they do marketing, but what that usually refers to is marketing at distributor level (to book wholesalers, bookshop chains, etc.)

When it comes to selling the book to its readership, unless you have a very famous and bankable name, these publishers will not invest much in marketing your book other than perhaps sending out a few press releases and listing the book on its website.

Whether any of us like it or not, the best marketing tool almost any book has is its author. So although we can be forgiven for criticising the poor consumer marketing efforts of traditional publishers, actually if you get behind your book’s marketing you’ll sell a lot more.

4. You must have a literary agent to get published

Unless in exceptional circumstances, only if you write fiction. And even then, this only applies to fiction to be published by traditional publishers.

Much as it’s irritating for us authors, you have to understand that even smaller publishing companies – especially those known to do fiction – receive thousands upon thousands of manuscripts every year from novelist hopefuls.

The reality is that most of these are not viable, or only would be viable with heavy developmental editing which the traditional publishers aren’t really set up to offer.

That’s where literary agents come in: they act as filtration plants for the big publishers.

They only take on clients if they feel their book is going to not only get accepted by a publisher, but also to make enough money for everyone to get a reasonable “earn” out of it.

When you think that you will be lucky to get 10 percent of cover price for your book, and out of that the agent will only get 15-20 percent of your royalty, do the math. Your book will need to sell like those clichéd hot cakes before any of you can afford to give up the day job, never mind retire to the Bahamas.

When I first started writing books I had an agent who was very encouraging. But agents tend only to work with authors who write in the same genre every time, because that is their own comfort zone.

Being a crazy loon my first five books were very different from each other and the agent couldn’t cope. Since then I have sold every one of my 29 remaining books to publishers myself (all nonfiction though.)

(NB: I self-published book #34, by the way, but later it was taken up by a US publisher for whom I re-edited it and it’s now under their wing, as well in a new imprint for later in 2018…)

5. Hybrid publishing companies offer good value

Yes and no. As you would expect, just as there are many excellent hybrid publishing companies, (sometimes called “assisted publishing”) so there are bad ones.

First let’s be clear what hybrid publishing means: it’s where the company and the author share the cost of producing the book (and sometimes the cost of a print run, although modern “print-on-demand” currently is a more cost-effective way to market). They then share the royalties, too, in proportion with the percentage of production costs shared.

The advantage to the author is that even if they opt for a 25-75 percent deal, a 25 percent royalty is still more than double what they will get from a traditional publisher.

The downside is that distribution into bookshops is unlikely. But
This doesn’t matter too much if you are a new author without much of a following, because even in a bookshop your books would not be featured or promoted. Most business and self-help books, if they do get into bookshops, tend to be placed on the top shelves of the upper floor of the store next to the washrooms. In any of these instances you’ll do far better selling your book online. Also see # 10 below.

This works well as a risk-sharing exercise and provided that contractual terms are good, can be of great benefit to authors as it’s in the interest of both parties to work together to market and promote the book. The hybrid publisher won’t take on a book that they feel has no chance of success, because they have a substantial stake in it.

Some hybrid companies also offer a 100 percent royalty facility to authors provided that the author pays for the total cost of producing the book: in this case the hybrid also works as a publishing services company.

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6. Publishing services companies are just glorified printing companies

Many of them are. Essentially they are set up to provide you with the services you need to self-publish your book, although many will let you publish your book under their name so it adds some weight to your marketing. These companies also are known as offering “assisted publishing,” but what you need to watch for here is prices.

Some of these are, in a way, the modern reincarnation of vanity publishers (see # 1 above) and prey on vulnerable authors who would give their eye teeth to see their work in print and don’t mind being, frankly, fleeced for thousands of £££s / $$$s to make that happen.

With publishing services the various elements of book production are usually offered on a menu basis.

You may find that even if you start off with a simple but adequate package, the company will put quite a lot of upsell pressure on you to buy more and more services, many of which you may not need. And if you do buy those services, there’s no guarantee they’ll be any good.

Don’t forget that publishing services companies really are glorified printing companies. They don’t make money from the sales of your book: they make their money from producing it for you.

7. You can trust most hybrid and services publishing companies

You can trust many of these companies, but there are plenty of cowboys out there preying on innocent authors (see above) and using authors’ vulnerability and egos to crank up their profit margins.

No matter how noncommercial your book is, don’t forget that publishing is not about helping others, saving whales, or rescuing bullied children: it’s a business, and your relationship with the company concerned is a business deal.

As is the case with any business, you need to think “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware.

You owe it to yourself to do some homework; use Google to search, find and compare the packages and prices offered by these companies, and also to check out their credentials.

Ask your friends on Facebook what experiences they have had with hybrid and services publishing companies. There are numerous author and writing groups on Facebook and on LinkedIn – and there are many authors and publishing experts on Twitter, too. Never before has there been such a wide opportunity to get good feedback.

8. Professional editing is a waste of money

Hmmmm. What you need to understand is that there are many types of editing – not just proof-reading or looking for grammar goofs.

Unless you are a professional writer and editor yourself, you will need editing of one or more types before you can have a professionally compiled and produced book.

Editing can cover one or all of the following areas:
**Developmental (substantive) editing, when your material – even very large chunks of it – comes across as illogical in flow so needs re-arranging to give a better reader experience
**Copy editing, where the editor sorts out major mistakes in grammar, repetition, unexplained jargon, major inconsistencies
**Proofreading, which covers spelling, punctuation, syntax etc.
**Formatting, which means to convert the manuscript into a form suitable for printing. With professional hybrids and other publishers, the interior of your book will have its own unique design into which the text will be placed.

Even in my case, having edited dozens of nonfiction books for clients myself, I still get my new manuscripts at least looked at by another pro editor. It’s like anything else … the closer you are to something the harder it is to see if there’s anything wrong with it, and that applies to my books like it does elsewhere!

9. It’s easy to DIY with services like Amazon KDP, Ingram Spark, etc.

Yes it is, if you want to learn how to be an online publisher as well as do your day job.

Trust me, learning all the techniques you need to format your manuscript, upload it to Amazon, Nook, Lulu or any one of dozens of others (and they all use different formats and techniques), deal with all the admin etc., is about as much fun as a picnic in November on a rainy mountainside.

If you are left-brained and have a talent for tech, by all means check it out.

But coming from a marketing background as I do, my advice is to pay an expert and/or expert company to do it. It will be money well spent in terms of saving your time and sanity, and unless you know how to produce a professional-looking book, it will make you (and your business, if it’s a business book) look far better than will a bad, amateurish job.

10. Print books are on the way out

Tell this to traditional publishers (see above) and watch whether they smile or not…!

It seems that the big bookshops are shutting out non-traditional print books other than to allow them to be listed on their computer systems (so you can order a listed book, but it won’t be available on the shelves of the store.) The only books you’ll see on the shelves of the big retail chains are those traditionally published. (Also see # 5 above.)

At the same time, sales in bookshops are shrivelling a bit, and traditional publishers are feeling that pinch, too.

But in the delightfully fuzzy fashion for which the publishing industry has been so well known in the past, both the bookshop chains and traditional publishers only have started up online businesses on a fairly tentative basis – out of the back door, so to speak.

In the meantime Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc. have totally swiped the online market away from these other groups who, frankly, deserve to have had their “asses whupped” for not seeing the writing on the wall a good few years ago.

Gradually though, the big bookstore chains are beginning to relent where “assisted” published books are concerned.

Some big hybrid publishers in the USA are now on more than nodding terms with the big bricks-and-mortar retailers, so watch this space.

Anyway, much as many people heralded the wonderful new world of eBooks, they haven’t really replaced the print book – not yet, anyway. All they are doing is offering people an alternative way to read – and that’s great.

And then there are audio books. There’s nothing new about these: people have been listening to “Talking Books” since the days of cassette tapes. It’s just now that the technology behind recording is so much more refined, easier to use and far, far, cheaper, that audio books have become a realistic prospect for many more authors and publishers.

What we have now is a selection of media for people to choose from in terms of their reading, which is great news for readers, and also pretty good news for authors.

Whatever the medium people use to enjoy a book, someone has to write it first.

As authors, yes – we need to think beyond the glory of seeing our books in print, of holding that precious clump of paper and cardboard in our hot little hands. But that’s coming from someone who was born before both these other media were commercially available.

What matters today, is that there are options for people to read our words on their laptops, on their phones, on earphones while they walk their dog or work out at the gym .. as well as reading from the good old-fashioned printed page.

And that’s something that should be celebrated.

What do you think?

Questions and comments? Please share below!


Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash