Your publishing decisions

The publishing business is undergoing major changes, and that's good for guerrillas. Today, authors have many options to bring their ideas to market. They can approach a wide range of traditional print publishers, from prominent publishing houses to smaller specialized firms with obscure names. If that route isn't desirable, they can self-publish their work, pay to have a vanity house publish their book, or publish an e-book. Today, with so many books being published, the trick isn't getting your book published, but getting it noticed in the market.

Here's a brief rundown on the options you can consider. ► Traditional Publishing

The mainstream publishing houses are like the shopping malls of publishing. They publish titles on subjects from advertising to zoos. Their business is highly speculative and marketing driven. Manuscripts have long development cycles and publishers must incur substantial up-front editing, printing, and marketing costs. Few publishers will offer you a contract if they don't believe that they can profit from publishing your book.

Producing artful books is great, but that's not the main objective of most publishers. Like other businesses, they survive by making money and tend to live by the stock investor's credo, "Buy low, sell high." As a result, they are efficient at controlling costs. They buy manuscripts as cheaply as possible and keep their editing, printing, distribution, and promotional costs down. A publisher's emphasis on profit can sometimes set up a creative clash with authors about things like book design, promotion, and distribution.

But the mainstream publishers provide highly polished, well-designed products and usually have wide distribution. Their books are well edited and frequently indexed. Although publishers help their authors publicize books, most want to see quick success and won't continue supporting books that start slowly out of the gate.

Because of the sheer volume of books produced by most large publishers, new titles seem to take forever to hit the bookstores. Book projects take longer than you might think, so remain patient. After you submit a manuscript to a large publisher, it will be many months before your book is published.

Being published by a major publisher certainly has cachet and can provide greater credibility than other publishing options, especially with clients who buy consulting services. So, don't shy away from this option, even though the process seems drawn out. However, that old canard "if your book isn't published by one of the big New York publishing houses, you're not a real author" is total nonsense. Never judge a book by its publisher.

► Smaller Publishers

Literally thousands of small publishers exist and many of them specialize in niches that could have great appeal for a consultant-author. Many smaller publishers have long histories and are highly respected.

Smaller publishers are usually able to bring manuscripts to the market faster than bigger publishers—often in half the time. They also tend to give books more personal attention and keep them in print longer. Many smaller publishers are experts at targeting their particular markets and can provide you with wise guidance on your book's content, approach, direction, and marketing strategy.

If you go with a smaller publisher, you still need to submit a proposal and usually have to go through an agent. Smaller publishers may pay low advances and low royalties, but they will bring your book to print.

► Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry. Sophisticated hardware and software continue to make book production simpler and less costly. Self-published authors keep their book profits because they don't have to share profits with publishers. There is no need for a literary agent or a formal book proposal. The author has total control of the book's content, design, and distribution.

If you choose to self-publish your book, you've become more than an author. You're in the publishing business. Self-publishing requires authors to take operational and financial responsibility for every aspect of their books, which can consume that most precious resource, time. The good news is that people and firms can be hired at virtually every stage of the publishing process to help you edit, design, print, distribute, and promote self-published books.

Some of the world's best-selling books were originally self-published and later picked up by major publishers once the books became successful. The primary challenge facing most self-publishers is getting wide distribution of their books in bookstores and online outlets.

With the advent of printing on demand (POD), publishing your own book has become an even more realistic option. POD lets writers print only as many books as they need. If writers self-publish and get requests for 20 books, they can have their contract printer produce only that number and ship them wherever needed. POD avoids large up-front printing costs because you don't have to publish mass quantities and you don't have any storage costs.

The cost of POD for each book is slightly higher than printing in bulk because you are printing incrementally instead of in large print runs. However, it is easier on the consultant's cash flow not to print large quantities of unneeded inventory. Since traditional publishers dole out such meager royalties, especially to first-time authors, self-publishing can be very profitable.

► Vanity Publishers

Vanity publishers publish books for a fee; you pay them to publish your book. Essentially, vanity publishers are little more than printers, although some provide editorial services and limited distribution. You may hear vanity publishers referred to as joint venture publishers, cooperative publishers, subsidy publishers, and shared responsibility publishers. Some even call themselves self-publishing companies.

The quality of vanity publications varies from company to company and by how much you pay. Some of their products look like sales brochures on steroids. In most cases, books produced by vanity publishers are instantly recognizable. If you have a solid idea and a good promotional plan, you shouldn't have to pay a vanity publisher to print your book. You should consider one of the other publishing options.

The newest member of the self-publishing family is the e-book, which is a book that readers can download from an Internet site. E-books provide instant delivery to interested readers.

E-books are less expensive to produce than print books because you don't have printing or shipping costs. With e-books, you no longer have to wade through the laborious print publication process. You can simply sell the book on your own Web site or through e-book publishers. You can send your manuscript to e-book publishers electronically and they can help you get it ready for publication. Most promote the book on their site and some offer POD and direct downloads of the book. You'll still have primary responsibility for promoting your book, and you can sell it on your site and in other venues such as conventions and speaking engagements.

The advantage of publishing an e-book is speed. Once you create your book, it's easy to get it prepared for distribution via the Web. The best companies selling e-books offer much higher royalties than any other publishing option. But like their traditional publishing brethren, they'll reject poorly written manuscripts. So, apply the same rigor to an e-book that you would to any other publication. E-books are also easy to revise and update.

With e-books, readers can review your book, pay for it online, download it, and begin reading without leaving their offices. Not surprisingly, many e-book readers print out the file they receive so they can read the book more easily.

But e-books have disadvantages. Your royalties will be higher, but you will receive no advance. It can be more difficult to use an e-book to promote your expertise because you can't just lay the book down on the client's desk. Since your book won't appear in bookstores or in hard copies, it may be harder to use it to promote your practice with some clients.

As a publishing option, e-books are ideal for shorter works, chapter-length pieces, and speeches. Guerrilla author Seth Godin supplemented his book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, with the e-book 99 Cows, which provides 99 examples of the points he raised in Purple Cow.5

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