WHAT EVERY AUTHOR SHOULD KNOW
For a number of years Fox Meadow undertook a limited publishing programme, soliciting manuscripts from authors and funding the publication and marketing of titles that interested us. We no longer accept manuscripts for publishing, as we are now strictly a design firm producing books for other publishers (although we still sell some of the titles we previously published).
One thing we’ve discovered is that many people and authors are confused by the terms used in the book publishing and production industry. The following section explains these.
The PUBLISHER is the person, organization, or company that finances the book and controls the editing, designing, printing, and marketing of it. The publisher is the risk taker and owns the physical books. Money flows in one direction and one direction only: from the publisher to the author, normally in the form of royalties on sales.
The author can be the publisher. This is commonly called SELF-PUBLISHING. Authors who choose to self-publish do so because they want more control over the process, or because they can (with certain kinds of books) make more money than they would receive in royalties if someone else published it. Of course some have to self-publish because they can’t find someone else willing to publish their work. If you are paying for the production and printing of your book, you are the publisher. Anyone else involved, regardless of what they refer to themselves as, is merely a contractor.
A book PRODUCER handles any or all aspects of putting a book together and getting it printed. This includes editing, design, typesetting, scanning and image preparation, digital page composition, obtaining printer quotes, and working with the printer. Often the publisher performs these functions, but there are companies, such as Fox Meadow, that produce books for other publishers (including self-publishers) on a contract basis. Many book publishers with in-house design and production staff will also produce books on the side to bring in some guaranteed income. The important thing to remember here is that the producer doesn’t own the books. The publisher does: he paid for them. After they are printed, the books are delivered to the publisher, who handles marketing and distribution and receives all income from sales.
Avoid what are called VANITY PUBLISHERS, who prey upon the natural desire of people to have a book they wrote actually made into a real book. A vanity publisher is a company that puts out books under its own imprint but actually requires authors to pay the entire cost of production — in advance. The royalty rate to the author may be higher than what true publishers pay, but of course, having all its money up front, such a firm has little incentive to market a book, and you may see little return. You may also have trouble getting possession of the books. Beware! Self-publish instead. It will probably cost less, you’ll be in complete control, and you’ll get all the revenue.
A grey area between true publishing and vanity publishing is what is commonly called SUBSIDY PUBLISHING. Here the author makes a contribution to the cost of publishing the book. Although the author and the publisher are really co-publishers, usually only the publisher’s imprint appears on the book. The author normally receives a higher royalty than in the true publishing model, but without knowing exactly what the publisher’s actual costs for producing and marketing the book are, it is a safe bet that the publisher will establish a royalty that short-changes the author. If you as an author want to participate in a subsidy publishing arrangement, get all the facts you can and make sure you have a detailed contract.
The PRINTER of course prints and usually binds the book. At one time publishers had their own presses. Today, most book printing is done by specialized book manufacturers who have no other involvement in the project other than providing technical advice on how to prepare material for them. You pay them to print it. Some printers provide design and typesetting services as well. Generally, specialized book manufacturers provide better pricing and more options than general commercial printers can on a book.
A BOOK DISTRIBUTOR acts as the link between publisher and retailer in cases where the publisher does not want to be involved in shipping books and collecting money from retailers. The distributor receives orders from retailers, ships books, invoices and collects revenue, and handles returns. This is normally done on a commission basis. It is quite a costly service, but almost essential for a small publisher who wants to sell books in stores all across the country, or in a different country. Some large book retailers unfortunately will not even purchase books directly from small publishers. A distributor usually handles books from several publishers. Large national publishers may do their own distribution, or own a separate distribution company. The publisher is still responsible for marketing the book, that is, creating a demand for it through advertising, promotion, author tours, etc. The distributor merely fills the resulting orders.