A key member of a small press asked why a publisher should accept financial risk for bringing a writer’s work to the market. His company expected writers to share in the cost of producing books and marketing, usually thousands of dollars. They are not unique.
I can’t totally agree. As a freelance writer producing work for Fortune 500 companies, I’m not asked to assume financial risk for the success of a website or video. The corporation’s investment in the content I create is a relatively small portion of the total project cost. The creative agency and production company charge major dollars for their work. They aren’t placed at financial risk either. The corporation knows what it wants to achieve and invests appropriately. If the message doesn’t resonate with consumers, the corporation assumes responsibility for making a bad decision.
Applying that business model to publishing, the responsibility remains with a publisher to make well-researched decisions about content they want to bring to market and make appropriate investments. In an ideal world, if a publisher asks for a writer to share financial risk, they should first make the business case—what is the market, how will this book compete, what are the costs, what are the opportunities.
Again in an ideal world, I would push this same concept into businesses marketing self-publishing services. Self-publishing companies need the integrity to tell a writer if a manuscript isn’t ready for release or doesn’t have a natural market. If that company can’t help the writer develop a viable marketing plan, then the writer should know they are contracting with a printer of books. Maybe that printing company offers an imprint, but in today’s world that may not have a whole lot of value to a writer looking for a partner in selling books. Publishers understand how to be successful in the publishing marketplace. Printers know how to design and print books.
Perhaps the search for approval (aka an agent and/or a contract) makes us gullible and thankful when a self-publishing company responds to a query. Instead of thinking as creators of valuable content, we might be relieved that somebody wants to help publish our manuscript. We write checks, follow directions and wait for something great to happen. Well, maybe not great, but at least something more significant than having boxes of your book dropped on the driveway.
I want my publisher to know more about the market than I do and to share business data if they propose risk sharing. If I assume all the risk and self-publish, I hope to spend wisely by building a team of the best pros I can afford to bring a polished work to the market.