The Jim Cox Report, March 2004

Aspiring authors yearning to break into print should remember that there are two major options available for them:

1. Persuade somebody else to publish your manuscript.

2. Publish your manuscript yourself.

There are pros and cons to both options. Whether you chose option 1 or option 2 -- that choice should be an informed one. That means:

1. Read every "how to" book about publishing that you can get your hands on.

2. Talk with other authors and publishers about your project.

3. Keep your options open.

If you choose Option 1: Have all the agreements between you and your publisher written down in a contract that you are both signatory to. Make certain you understand all of the ramifications of what you are obligating yourself to -- and what the publisher's responsibilities are to you as the author in complete detail. You should run that contract past an experienced contract lawyer (preferably one with previous experience with publishing contracts) in order to make certain that you haven't overlooked anything.

If you choose Option 2: Create a detailed business plan for your publishing project. Be sure to address how much capital will be required to not only publish your manuscript (and in what quantity), but also how much to dedicate to publicity/promotion; distribution; discount schedules; attrition; storage; returns; other formats (audiobook, video, journal articles), etc. Know what your financial bottom line is with respect to unit costs (production costs per book); what your sales need to be in order to break even; prospects for ancillary rights sales; specific operational factors such as insurance, office supplies, postage, packaging, personnel, licences, taxes, etc.

The largest single factor responsible for publisher bankruptcy is undercapitalization.

The next most import factor is the lack of a focused business plan to promote and sell the book.

The third most common set of factors: an unattractive and/or badly written and/or poorly produced book.

Here's another factor that applies equally to self-published and small-press published authors alike (even mid-list authors for the large conglomerate publishing houses). The authors are going to bear the principle burden for promoting, publicizing, pitching, and selling their books.

That is true even if there is a professional publicist on the payroll. It's the author that is going to have to do the interviews, make the contacts, follow-up on leads, supervise the efforts of the publicist, and ultimately pass judgement on that publicist's effectiveness.

There was a glorious yesteryear many decades past when publishing was a "gentleman's game", an exercise in the lofty ethics of the literati, a private club to which only the monied classes were members. It was an era when only those few elite who owned the presses had the opportunity to exercise Freedom of the Press.

Then came the phenomena of the desktop computer and the democratization of publishing to the point where anyone could (and seemingly does) put out a book anytime they wished on what ever subject pleased them.

When I began as a professional reviewer almost 30 years ago, my publisher lists were dominated by the New York houses, the university presses, and a scattering of literary small presses with elite and prestigious reputations.

Three decades later I am swamped daily with books whose authors took no care or concern with the necessities of professional publishing. Who spent their time and treasure on writing their magnum opus -- and then try to interest me in a book published on the cheap, with flawed or absent paperwork, with decidedly inferior cover "art", with typos and a host of other problems crying out for a copy editor's attention.

I daily receive phone calls from self-published authors who didn't write a professional quality cover letter, who have no idea as to how to create an effective publicity release, who are amazed and appalled when I tell them the kind of competition and prejudice they are up against with respect to reviewers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, librarians, and the general reading public.

So here is my advice to anyone who wants to publish and sell a book -- whether it be their own or someone else's:

1. Read several "how to" books on the subject of operating a small business and creating a business plan.

2. Write a business plan for your book.

3. Vette your business plan in conversation with other publishers using such resources as a local publishers association; on-line publisher discussion groups; PMA University conferences; as well as subscribing to SPAN and/or PMA newsletters.

4. Read several "how-to" titles specific to marketing, promoting, publicizing, advertizing, and selling books. Even once you have mastered the basics of book selling, keep reading on a regular schedule because more "how to" books are published every year and often will have one or two new "tricks of the trade" that you can apply and profit from.

Publishing a book is every bit as much time consuming hard work as is the writing of the book itself. Publishing a book has its own set of skills and expertise that must be mastered if you are to be successful. Ably writing the Great American Novel is all well and good. But if anyone is going to read it (let alone buy it!), if you are going to be commercially successful with it, then you need to just as ably publish and market that book with as much effort and labor as it took you to write it.

Too many people seem to approach book publishing as if it were a kind of literary lottery. That winning (getting a best seller -- or a break-even seller!) was a matter of luck instead of hard work.

There are no short cuts to success. If you want to be a successful publisher then you are going to have to pay your dues, pay attention to your capital investment, and learn what you will need to know to compete against the tens of thousands of others who are your direct competition in a volatile, overcrowded marketplace selling their wares to a steadily dwindling customer base.

Fortunately, the novice publisher need not reinvent any new wheels. All the information you need to succeed is at your finger tips through such resources as the Midwest Book Review website, your local public library, online publisher discussion groups, and a roster local and national publisher associations.


Used by permission of James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review