The New Face of Publishing

Writers who find themselves caught in the publishing dilemma of "Should I wait eons for a standard publisher to pick up my manuscript or go out on a limb and self-publish?" will be glad to learn that there's a middle-of-the-road publishing option: partnership publishing. To understand partnership publishing, however, it's important to review the other commonly used publishing methods.

Standard Publishing

With standard publishing, a publishing company selects the manuscripts it will publish. The publisher absorbs all the costs and risks of printing and distribution, so it maintains strict editorial and creative control over every phase of a book's production. The author is paid a nominal royalty, usually a percentage of a book's net proceeds.

After being accepted, it commonly takes 18-24 months from the date the contracts are signed before a book will actually be seen in print--but that's just the beginning. While standard publishing companies maintain marketing departments, most first-time authors don't realize that the average publisher's budgets is restricted, so each author is expected to assume part (and sometimes a large part) of the responsibility for marketing a book.

Self-Publishing

With self-publishing, the author maintains complete editorial and creative control over a book's production, but also absorbs all the associated costs and risk. The author is fully responsible for everything, including design, printing, marketing, distribution, and sales. Although a self-published book can appear on bookshelves in as little as three months, it's not likely to show up on bookstore shelves that soon.

First-time self-published authors often run into roadblocks when it comes to securing distribution by the big houses, such as Baker & Taylor or Ingram, from whom bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders purchase. A number of costly mistakes can be made along the way, too, such as a poor cover design, inferior printing quality, the omission of a barcode, not realizing the time commitment necessary for effective public relations, not knowing where or how to market a book, or simply paying too much for printing or marketing materials.

Partnership Publishing

The middle-of-the-road alternative is partnership publishing, in which the author and the publisher agree to split the cost and risk of publication and distribution, as well as sharing any revenues generated by sales. The author and the publisher have equal voices as they make their way through the often confusing maze of editorial and creative decisions. They also share in the marketing of the book, because each of them has a stake in the book's success.

As an added advantage, partnership-published books usually will get into the hands of more readers--in a shorter amount of time--than standard or self-published manuscripts. Since partnership publishers seldom have manuscripts stacked to the ceiling waiting to be reviewed, they can get to yours faster; and since partnership publishers won't be assuming the entire financial risk, they can afford to take chances on unknown authors. On the other hand, because they'll be sharing the financial burden, partnership publishers still must choose books that are marketable, which means rejection is still a possibility.

Although a self-published book can be delivered shortly after paying the printer's bill, a partnership-published book usually connects with readers quicker because the author can draw on a publisher's experience in marketing, distributing, and sales strategies--and combined with the author's own efforts, there are two promotion avenues being pursued at the same time, which can be a big advantage in terms of sales.

"When I was the community relations coordinator for Borders Books and Music, I saw firsthand that it was nearly impossible for a self-published author to get a book accepted into the store. There were just too many obstacles," says Lynda Exley, who partnered with Five Star Publications to publish her eleven-year-old son's book, The Student from Zombie Island: Conquering the Rumor Monster. "I also saw many poorly designed, error-ridden self-published books that authors had poured their life savings into. These were basic mistakes that any good editor or publisher could have prevented."

However, as a member of several writers clubs, Exley says she was also privy to many horror stories about books taking several years to be accepted by a traditional publisher, followed by a couple more years before actually being printed, only to receive a minimal amount of marketing attention from the publisher.

Exley adds, "And unless you're Stephen King, a traditional publisher isn't going to cover expenses, like traveling to book signings or additional marketing beyond the initial few press releases. That money comes out of any minuscule royalties paid to the author."

After meeting with Five Star Publications and learning about partnership publishing, Exley realized that it represented the best of both worlds.

"We share the expenses, the workload--and the profits," she says. "Five Star gives me all the benefits of a big publisher--editing services, distribution with Baker & Taylor and Ingram, promotional materials, a dedicated website, and publicity--along with all the advantages of self-publishing, like a higher profit margin, creative control, and a shorter time period from inception to print."