Publishing: A Pay Now or Pay Later Game
When we started this company last year, we had a vision. A small one, and one we had no idea where it would take us.
The idea was simple. We already had a network of people who provided services to authors. If we pooled those resources, plus our own, we could offer some authors, those who could afford it, a path to publication that was an alternative to doing it all themselves and self-publishing and waiting for a publisher to pick them up and produce their books, something with a long lead time.
But why make the author pay for services? Well, it’s simple really. The publishing game is a pay now or pay later game, and plenty of small presses and even large publishers have gone broke trying to manage authors who don’t help market and sell their books, or just have no author platform or audience, and certainly aren’t working to build one.
But now, we’re able to offer another path to publication, what we call Print on Demand Small Press. Let’s look at how publishing works, the money behind it, and why we choose to do things the way we do.
The Self-Publishing Slush Pile
For those of you not in the know, the slush pile is the pile of horrible manuscripts that sits on an acquisitions editor’s desk, waiting to be waded through. They are often poorly formatted, poorly written, and are far from ready for an editor’s eye, let alone publication. I used to be that guy and read those drafts. Some of them were just horrible.
Often, if you sent an author a rejection, you’d get this answer: “I’ll just self-publish on Amazon then.” They often did, and their books didn’t sell there either. Although self-publishing grew 40% over the last couple of years, the average income for authors fell significantly. That’s because there are many authors who make less than $1,000 a year, and many actually lose money rather than making it.
The slush pile has moved to Amazon, where hundreds of books sit, many of which never sold a single copy.
The Big Publishers
The big publishers operate on narrow margins. For the most part, they only pick up books they know will sell and sell big. Those big names get most of their support and marketing efforts. The small author, even if you get in as a debut or mid-list author? You’re still the primary marketer for your own work, and the publisher takes a large chunk of your royalties.
Even if you have a book that will sell, it will take months before it is published, maybe years. Got a timely topic? Good luck. You’re going to need it.
With many bookstores and libraries closed, those lead times have gotten even longer.
Small Presses and Intermediate Publishers
This is often the sweet spot for some authors. The small press is much like a traditional publisher, but without the advances or (usually) big names. They often want to be like big publishers, but their limited staff and calendar makes the number of titles they can release limited.
At the same time, they also need to take on authors who can sell books for sure. Those authors who don’t market their work or come with an audience of their own drag down profits and limit the growth of those small presses. I often call them hobbyists: they do this for a hobby, but they don’t really take it seriously. No matter what a publisher invests in them and their work, they can only go so far.
The publisher, already with a limited budget and time constraints, is further constrained by an author who is actually losing them money.
Intermediate publishers do well also, but the slots they have for authors fill up fast too. If you’re a newbie, a debut author, or someone who has one interesting book in them—one about history, your loved ones, your family, a sports career, a career in fashion, or a historical event, you’ll have a hard time getting in the door.
Pay to Play or Vanity Press
Call it what you will, from author services to vanity publishing, what this amounts to is a company that effectively helps an author self-publish. They coordinate things like editing, formatting, book covers, and more. The author pays for these services, the same as they would if they self-published, but they only pay in one place, and the publisher assists them in sourcing these services and in quality control.
The publisher will often publish the author’s book for them, or they can take the finished manuscript and publish it themselves, just depending on how much of the work they want to handle on their own. It’s called vanity publishing, author services, or pay to play because anyone can publish through these services if they have enough money.
Now, some of these publishers have standards the author must meet, and they won’t publish just anything. They’ll even reject manuscripts if they’re awful no matter how much money you have. Those are the ones with integrity. Other publishers will take your money no matter how bad your story is, publish it, and wish you the best of luck.
The good version of this publisher will publish your book but will pay you higher royalties right away, often with bonuses if you actually do sell books, because the author has paid their initial expenses upfront: they don’t have to earn that money back before your book becomes profitable.
That’s a rare thing, but it is a good option for those who want to and can sell books or for those who just want to hold a book with their name on it in their hands, regardless of if they ever sell a single copy.
Our New Option: Print on Demand Small Press
What does this model mean, and why is it different? Instead of paying upfront for author services, the author takes a lower royalty rate for the first 1,000 books sold. Then the rate goes up from there. There are even bonuses for authors who meet milestones quickly.
There are no fancy book tours, although we have some great marketing options. There are no advances. We do take agented scripts, and with a new partnership with an agency (announcement coming soon), we’re even able to direct authors to representation. We do this even if their work isn’t a good fit for Unbound Publishing.
The more the author sells, the more profitable we are, and therefore the more the author earns. This allows us to offer opportunities for editors, book cover designers, formatters, and others to earn money as well. Because we hire only the best.
We want authors to succeed. So there are criteria for this process. You have to apply, which means you need to have an author platform, a following, a good book with a popular topic or subject matter. You need to have a marketing plan or an agent: some way to help us spread the word about your book. We can then partner with you to make you successful.
We’re interested in:
- Sports figures or their relatives and related topics.
- The entertainment industry, the people who made or make it work, and their day to day lives.
- The fashion industry. The rise and fall of icons, the ups and downs and changing attitudes through history.
- History itself. Historical figures, new investigations or angles on events, deeper insights.
- Business and business ideas. Something new, innovative, or ideas shared by thought leaders.
Is this you or someone you love? Do you have other non-fiction ideas you think we might be interested in? You can apply to be a part of this exciting program today.
No matter what your path to publication is, you’re going to pay. Either you pay now, in the form of various services you purchase from others, or you pay later in the form of royalties. We offer both options in a single publisher.
But we also know we’re not the right fit for everyone. We’d love to talk with you and find out more about you and your book. We can help you choose the right path to publication, even if that means referring you to someone else. Whatever your needs as an author, we’re here to help.