More on Self-Publishing and Ghostwriting
December 4, 2007 | Written by admin
After our last discussion, Steve wrote to ask, "So is there anyone making money at self-publishing?"
Absolutely. I have successfully self-published books in the past. If you’re planning to self-pub, you need to (1) write a great book, (2) use a professional editor, (3) pay for a great cover design, and (4) work with a quality printer. However, creating the book is only the first part of the process. You also have to (5) know how to market the book, (6) spend a lot of time and money marketing it, and (7) have a plan for selling copies. The fact is, most self-published books lose the author money because he or she had no plan for selling books.
There was a lot of discussion after my last post from people who wanted to defend self-publishing, and I found it completely off-topic. Of course you can find a good printer who will do a quality job. And you can certainly find ways to keep it inexpensive. But the facts are that most people lose money on the deal. I think self-pubbing is great, assuming you know what to do once you have the books in hand. Most people don’t. So if you self-pub, you need to have a workable plan for selling quantities of your book.
Donna wrote to say, "You’ve often said every author should take charge of their own marketing. After having paid your dues and learned all those valuable lessons while publishing your book, why not self-publish from then on? If you have to do all your own marketing anyway, why not just sell your books yourself and make ten bucks per book instead of the dollar per book you’d get in royalties?"
You know, some people decide to do exactly that. They figure out how to sell books, who their readers are, and how to reach them. There are plenty of ministries and companies who self-publish and make more money than if they had sold the books through a regular, royalty-paying publishing house. But there are three caveats to what you’re suggesting. First, you’ve got to warehouse and ship your own books. For some people, that’s a pain — warehousing may not be worth the hassle. Second, your book won’t make it onto store shelves if it’s self-pubbed. There’s money to be made for a good self-publisher, but there’s little fame or glory. Your book won’t reach beyond the people you can talk to, unless you study and figure out how to sell books via ads and the internet. So don’t expect to impress your friends with your self-published title. And third, you’ve got to market and sell ALL the books. There’s no waiting for someone else to come through — it’s all on you, as the publisher. If you’re not into that type of responsibility, there’s no way you’ll enjoy self-pubbing. Again, the chief reason self-pubbed books fail is because the author doesn’t know how to SELL her own books. She might know how to write them, maybe how to edit them, and possibly how to talk about them. But she doesn’t know how to sell books to prospective buyers. If you don’t know how to do that, you should learn before you make any publishing decisions.
Janice wrote to ask, "How much can a ghost writer expect to get for his or her first book? And if the writer gets his/her name on the book, what percentage of the profits should he/she ask for?"
There are a number of variables at play — How much time do you think will it take you? How big is the project? Did the author give you any materials, or are you creating it from scratch? Is the author a pain in the rear? All of those have to factor into your decision. Every year Writer’s Digest issues a report on how much money free-lance writers and editors make. They generally break it down to how much per project and how much per hour, and they typically offer a high, a low, and an average amount. They noted that last year the low was about $1500, the high was $75,000, and the average fee to ghost a book for someone was $22,000.
That’s a big chunk of change. Most authors start small — it wouldn’t surprise me if you were paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $2500-to-$4000 for your first ghosted project. If this is your Great Aunt Edna, who wants you to write her life story as "Garden Queen of Dubuque," or the Rev. Ernest Angree, who wants you to write up the notes from his sermon series entitled "How to Be Holy As Me," you’re not going to see much green. So ask some questions: What are their expectations? What do they want you to create? How long do they want it to be? People who aren’t writers and have never created a book generally don’t have a frame of reference, consequently they don’t realize how hard it is to create 100 pages filled with words. You may want to offer to start on an hourly basis (say $25-to-$35 per hour), or to write up the first two chapters for a flat fee of $300, just to test the waters. Of course, asking for a flat fee up front is the plan all freelance writers come to eventually. When I was making my living as a collaborative writer, I quickly figured out I much preferred sure cash to potential cash.
Walter asked, "If I decide to ghostwrite a book for a friend, what should the key contract points look like?’
I’d say the key points to clarify are (1) an overall description of the project, (2) word count, (3) due date, (4) compensation, (5) who covers expenses, (6) copyright, (7) what credit you’ll get, (8) the fact that this is a binding contract when signed, (9) the fact that if there is a disagreement you’ll go to arbitration rather than hiring lawyers, (10) the fact that the contract is under the laws of your state, and (11) a warranty in which you promise not to plagiarize any material or slander anyone. That about covers it.
Margaret asked me, "Do you get the sense that CBA publishers are becoming more receptive to Catholic authors? If not, will they ever?"
Yeah, I do. I think Baker, Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, and other publishers are becoming more receptive to Catholic authors. And, of course, I now expect to get letters from nutcases who will want to explain to me why the Pope is the Antichrist, and how saying anything nice about the people we share historical Christianity with is compromising my faith, etc. And I’ve got to tell you, I am SICK TO DEATH of so-called believers wanting to explain why nobody else is ever quite "Christian" enough for them, so that their religious club consists of a handful of true believers holding onto the faith that the rest of us must have abandoned.
Bernice aksed, "What do you do when your writing friends and critique partners are not experienced enough to help you get to the next level? I guess the obvious answers are to study the craft, go to conferences, meet more writers…is there anything else?"
Lots of writers are in that situation, Bernice. I’m a huge fan of critique groups, I encourage people to attend conferences, and I think hanging out with other writers is great for your career. But the BEST thing you can do is find a mentor — somebody with some good experience, who can help you improve your writing. That individual doesn’t have to be perfect. He or she just needs to be a bit further down the path than yourself.
One last note: Carol saw the "worst titles" note that I mentioned in a previous post, and she tells me she found this book for sale on amazon: "How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? Or Effective Way?" I didn’t believe her, so I looked it up. Turns out she’s telling the truth. That is a title you can buy on amazon for $14.39. Grab your credit card and go visit — looks like a huge winner to me!