Friday, November 27, 2015

Weighing Up Traditional Publishing & Ebook Publishing

Copyright © Robert W. Walker
Originally published by 1st Turning Point

In any non-traditional publishing, as in ebook publication, there is no such thing as an advance against royalties.  In Traditional Publishing, now often termed DTBs (Dead Tree Books) by our younger generations, 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.  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 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 between the two, other than the way they deal with advances:

Traditional Publishing

Ebook Publishing

They contract for all rights including ebook

You are in a partnership with Kindle/other

Your royalty rate for paper is 10 percent/12 hardcover

Your royalty rate is 70 percent

Your chance of having returns is 100%, & remainders, too

So few returns, negligible/no remainders

Your chance of getting a rejection letter 90 to 100%

No rejection letters

Prestige of publishing with 1 of the big six…

Little to no “prestige”/much criticism

Professional, topnotch editorial help at no charge

Editorial help at your expense

Author pockets 10-12% of a $25 book *

Author pockets 70% of $2.99/3.99

9 months to 2 yrs. from acceptance final MS till pub date

Author publishes when s/he wishes

Publisher provides overworked PR person

You are the PR person or you hire PR

Publisher determines everything on cover

Author decides all cover art matters

Publisher writes copy/description of book

Author writes copy/description

Publisher can/often does change title

Author determines title

Publisher determines price of book

Author determines price

Publisher dictates/curtails length of book

Author determines length

Publisher’s royalty statement routinely confusing

Ebook gives clear daily sales report

Publisher’s royalty statement not seen for 6-12 months

Ebook statement daily report

Royalty statement/payment confusing 90% of the time

Payout arrangement clear

Publisher may/may not find review outlets

You seek out reviewers
* This means an author makes more on each $2.99 ebook than each $25 traditional book

Following up on some of these glaring differences between traditional and non-traditional publishing discussed in allow me to add some other hard-won lessons to the list.
The traditional 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,” which 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 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—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 an e-novel or ebook 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 traditionally published 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—In the ebook world, distribution = advertising & promotion, and advertising and promotion = distribution, as having one’s book automatically on’s bookshelf (without need of trucks and unloading trucks) is online distribution.  You have a place to send to anyone and everyone at the click of a key and wink of an eye.  Whispernet allows the reader to have the ebook in hand within sixty seconds!  And that kind of distribution is at no cost to the author and a great service to the reader.  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 my compare/contrast articles have been of help to you personally, if not professionally.  Hope to see you on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere online.

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Award-winning author and graduate of Northwestern University, ROBERT W. WALKER created his highly acclaimed INSTINCT and EDGE SERIES between 1982 and 2005. Rob since then has penned his award-winning historical series featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom with CITY FOR RANSOM (2006), SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY (2007), and CITY OF THE ABSENT (2008), and most recently placed Ransom on board the Titanic in a hybrid historical/science fiction epic entitled Titanic 2012 – Curse of RMS Titanic. The original Ransom trilogy straddles the Chicago World’s Fair circa 1893, and has had enthusiastic reviews from Chicago historians and the Chicago Tribune, which likened “the witticism to Mark Twain, the social consciousness to Dickens, and the ghoulish atmosphere to Poe!”  Rob has since published DEAD ON (also an audiobook), a PI’s tale of revenge as a reason to live—a noir set in modern day Atlanta,  followed more recently by Bismarck 2013, an historical horror title, The Edge of Instinct, the 12th Instinct Series, and a short story collection entitled Thriller Party of Eight (also an audiobook).
Rob’s historical novel CHILDREN of SALEM, while an historical romance and suspense novel exposes the evil in mankind via the politics of witchcraft in grim 1692 New England, which one professional editor reviewed as:  A title that only Robert Walker could make work—romance amid the infamous witch trials. The author followed this ANNIE’S WAR, an historical romance set in 1859, a tale from the point of view of the daughter of the infamous John Brown of Harpers Ferry notoriety.
Robert currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia with his wife, children, pets, all somehow normal. For more on Rob’s published works, see,, books. He maintains a presence on Facebook and Twitter as well.

Killer Instinct, the first book in Robert W.  Walker's Instinct series.
DR. JESSICA CORAN - A brilliant and determined FBI medical examiner, she was an expert student of the criminal mind who thought she could face anything. 
That was before Wisconsin. Before she saw one of his victims... 
THE VAMPIRE KILLER -The FBI agent had a special code name for his unusual method of torture: Tort 9, the draining of the victims blood. The newspapers called him the Vampire-Killer. But his own twisted love letters were signed "Teach"... and were addressed to the one woman he wanted most of all: His hunter, his prey, Dr. Jessica Coran.

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