Behind every book ever published, there is a story about the journey it had undertaken towards that goal. Starting with how the plot was conceived until how it was published and marketed, the story behind the scenes is oftentimes more interesting than the one inside the book.
But surprisingly, those stories are not shared much, and a book is treated on its face value as a commodity that finally found its place in the market. If aspiring authors pause to think of everything that should have come together to make a book possible, a lot of the publishing industry’s shams could have been unearthed.
There are a few major pitfalls that one should look out for and take steps to avoid.
A Badly Worded Contract
This is one of the industry’s unspoken banes. Initially, a publishing contract meant acceptance and recognition from a leading publishing house who wanted to back an author’s project because they found that the manuscript will have market value. But nowadays, contracts have come to mean the business agreement between the writer and the ‘publisher,’ which is just a list of all the ‘services’ offered in the package for a particular sum of money. Needless to say, this contract does not have the same value as the one where the author would earn royalties for their intellectual work.
What is even worse is that these ‘contracts’ have specific, carefully worded, terms and conditions that look normal and acceptable on the surface but end up having multiple layers that may even result in the author feeling short sold at the end of it. Every writer must, therefore, read their contracts carefully, and be aware of what they are allowing to be used (in the case of traditional publishers) and what they are paying for (in the case of self-publishing ventures). Some of the common points to look out for are:
- Who owns the book’s copyrights and ISBN?
- Who decides the pricing and sales avenues?
- What is the royalty share?
- Is there any additional contract period hinted?
- Is the author restricted from using the material excerpts anywhere else?
- Are there any hints for screen adaptation rights?
Empty Promises of Bookstore Presence
Even those publishers calling themselves ‘traditional’ and offer to publish an author’s book for a ‘share’ in their royalties embellish their past successes and offer empty promises to feature an author’s book in prominent bookstores. When this happens, unless they are a really renowned name whose titles you have personally seen being promoted in multiple bookshops, the chances are that your book will be placed in some corner of a physical store (if at all it is done) for the sake of fulfilling the contract terms. This will not get your book any visibility or sales and serves the purpose of the publisher.
There are only two ways to prevent this: Submit manuscripts only to the actual traditional publishers and get accepted, or do not believe in these promises and pay extra for ‘shelf space,’ if you are self-publishing.
Cashing in on the Desperation
Almost all subsidy and vanity publishing houses thrive because the writer, dejected with multiple rejections from the traditional publishing houses, decides to pay a sum to get their book out there in the hope that the public will get to read their work and then know the brilliance of it. The ultimate writer’s dream is exposure and acceptance, and eventually, the fame that their writing brings to them.
But in the actual publishing scene, there is so much competition that it is hard enough to notice even books that have been marketed aggressively, much less those that are published by lesser-known houses. This is where the publishers who cash in on this desperation promise wonderful marketing and returns, making it sound like a sure success. Be it any publishing contract, authors have to read it through carefully and demand what they need, while also doing their research on the topic.
Cloaked Dealings on Stocking and Sales
Due to the absolute lack of quality control, there are some publishing houses that have been known to keep their sales figures and stocking details under wraps. There is often no transparency, and many a time, the author finds that the figures recorded and the sales confirmations are hugely varying.
This is, thankfully, a brand-specific pitfall, and can easily be avoided with the right research and some inquiries about publishing practices done before signing up the book with any publisher.
The Marketing Monsters
It has clearly been established that the book’s reach and response are not directly proportionate, and the authors have to make sure to market a lot even to get their book noticed, much less sold. The subject is king, but only after the author and brand have already been recognized, and the books have gotten fame enough to go beyond the usual set of reviewers and readers who are first responders to the books in the market.
This is why the authors have to understand the target audience and market to them first, thereby highlighting the salient features of their book, and then, once it reaches the general readers, it should be advertised with existing reviews. The marketing angle is the closest monitor to the success of the book, and the authors have to allocate special resources to do the same. Some fantastic books have seen the dust simply because they did not reach the right people and fell flat without the audience noticing them.
Not Investing in the Right Things
It is a common misconception that the book sells for the content and packaging as such. Or worse still, the publisher’s backing helps. But in reality, the author needs to focus on every aspect, including the cover design and the language of the book. Investing in good quality editing and design during self-publishing is essential for good output quality.
The publishing world does not have to be so daunting if enough research is undertaken. It is only with a lack of research and hasty decisions that the problems arise. Armed with proper information, publishing can be a rewarding journey.
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