Which is the Best Publisher for my Ebook?

How can an author evaluate a publisher’s offer for ebook rights? Sometimes an author finds themselves in the lucky position of having three choices.

1 a mainstream publisher makes an offer to put on of their backlist titles into ebook. They offer a standard royalty, but no advance.

2 an ebook-only publisher, perhaps in America, offers a higher royalty, which is nice, but it only kicks in after a certain amount of money has been earned back, to cover their costs.

3 if the author is being asked to subsidise the cost of production themselves, perhaps they should go the whole hog and publish the ebook themselves too? Then they would get to keep all the money received from sales.

How should the author or her agent resolve this dilemma?

This is a question which takes us back to the fundamentals of what we can expect from a publisher, and which one will do the best job. My answer to this question is that the author should choose the route that will give the book the most publicity, because that is what will ultimately lead to the most sales in the long term.

Option number 1 – the mainstream publisher – will start making the author money straight away, in the next royalty statement, with no deductions. The book will be published alongside several others, which will hopefully give it enough ‘critical mass’ to be noticed.

Option number 2 will make more money in the long run, but only after the contribution has earned out – and how many sales will it take to cover that?? Is the level of contribution the author is expected to make realistic for the stature of the book? The ebook-only publisher is likely to have fewer titles, so this one might get more personal attention, but are they big enough to make a splash with it?

Option number 3 is a risky business – after all, publishing is all about risk. Obviously there are the upfront costs of production, which includes proofreading the conversion, a new cover design, and then there is the whole business of selling the ebook around the world. But if the author already has a ‘platform’ with a large number of followers or fans, it could be the best option.

Publishing is all about publicising the authors work and making it available so the best choice of publisher will be the one who can do that most effectively. That may be the mainstream publisher who has well-oiled channels to the market; it may be the ebook-only publisher who understands their niche and has the energy and focus to drive each book to success; or it may be the author herself who is in touch with enough readers to persuade them to part with their hard earned cash in return for a good read.

Publishing is not about producing an ebook, putting it on sale in a couple of places and forgetting about it. That is almost as bad as printing a load of paperbacks and leaving them all in the warehouse. The real work of publishing is telling people about it and enthusing them, and the publisher who will do that is the best one for an author’s book.

Agents – publish and be damned

Opinions abound about whether literary agents should help their authors to self-publish, as a big New York agency, Trident, comes out with the news that it is starting to do just that.

In all the flinging-up of hands in horror with allegations of greed and conflicts of interest, all the nuances are lost.  For example, Dean Wesley Smith says on his blog, that the dictionary definition of a publisher is one who issues copies of a book to the public, but I think the definition is so much more than that.

I think one crucial question is: who owns the rights?  When an author signs a deal with an ordinary publisher, they hand over to them the right to publish their book.  However when an author self-publishes their book, they don’t give any rights to anyone – they own all the publishing rights and are making use of them.  If an agent buys rights in an author’s book, then perhaps yes, they are publishing it,  but if the agent does not acquire any rights, leaving the author in the driving seat, then they are not publishing it, but rather they may be helping the author to self-publish it.

Another question is: who is paying for it?  Some agents pay for the production of the ebook edition themselves, and take all the risk, as a publisher does, and perhaps the “royalty” they pay the author reflects that.  In other agencies the author pays for everything, paying the agent to do the work on his behalf.

And how is the agent paid – in profits, or on commission?  This is another defining feature.  If the agent has paid for the production and any other work such as marketing, then they will need to get that money back through sales. They would probably need to suggest a 50:50 split of the income in order to cover their outlay.

If on the other hand, the author has paid the production costs, then commission on the sales made as a result of the agent’s work is more appropriate, and would be much lower than 50%.

Dean Wesley Smith says an agent stands to make “a ton more money” on a book by charging “publishing fees” plus commission than they would if they sold the rights in the usual way, and only received commission, and he says this leads to a conflict of interest.  The only thing is, an agent will always make more money selling the rights to a mainstream publisher, because of the huge difference in the number of copies the book will sell and the advance it will get.  For an agented author, the self-published route is a last resort for when the commercial publishers have given up.

And anyway, in my experience, those “publishing fees” tend to get spent on production – that’s what they’re for – and it is extremely unlikely that any agent or  author would make a ton of money out of a book published in this way.  If they thought the book was capable of that, they would sell the rights to a proper publisher.