Economics of conventional publishing

While waiting for publishers to read the proposal, I was reading books like Marilyn and Tom Ross's Jump Start Your Book Sales (recommended) and it began to sink in on me that, even when a publisher accepted the book, all the marketing responsibility would still rest on me.

Publisher's just don't market. They have no clue how to reach the audience for whom you wrote, what periodicals they read, what bookstores they frequent, what trade shows they attend. They have no staff to find these things out, and no budget to spend reaching your audience if they did find them. If the author doesn't do this, nobody will.

Here's what a conventional publisher does:

  • May give the book a cursory copy-edit (although even this is often omitted).
  • Performs several clerical tasks like assigning an ISBN.
  • Contracts out the book design
  • Contracts out the printing of a few thousand copies
  • Delegates warehousing and order fulfillment to distributors like Ingram and Baker & Taylor.
  • Fronts the costs of all this (a few thousand dollars), hoping to get them back with enough profit to justify not having simply kept those dollars in a bank for the same length of time.

In exchange for these modest labors and risks, the publisher keeps 85% of the gross receipts. Such a deal!

But there's a new deal now...