Author and publisher Cheri Cowell presented the first webinar sponsored by Write2Ignite on Wednesday, September 21. Cowell, owner of EABooks Publishing, shared her own journey as a writer who started out and, after several years of submitting numerous manuscripts or queries to traditional publishers, eventually succeeded in publishing a book, followed by two others. After the third, her husband finally pinpointed a question she had never asked herself and answered: “Can you finally admit that you have succeeded [in your goal as a writer]”?
This question provided a light-bulb moment for Cowell, who realized that she’d never established for herself what success would look like. Thus, she kept pursuing writing projects and publishing but had no clear goal for what she really wanted to accomplish. She asked webinar participants to determine, on the way to publishing, what their measure of success will be. For many writers, this is “seeing [their] book on a bookstore shelf.” Cowell pointed out that this measure most likely requires traditional publishing because the bookstore market is based on supply and demand from print publishing houses.
For others, “making money” is part of the goal. In that case, Cowell pointed out, traditional publishing will not be likely to yield substantial income, especially for a first book, since the process of traditional publishing requires the publisher to take all the financial risk—averaging $45,000 and up to launch a new author with the marketing campaign that follows all the other upfront costs—editing, cover design, and printing. For this reason, the typical advance for the writer, based on the publisher’s estimate of first-year earning potential, may be only $1,500. If the book does not sell, bookstores will return copies to the publisher, a process called “remaindering,” which results in a deduction from royalties for any future copies sold, to recoup the publisher’s losses. Royalties, Cowell noted, are usually not more than 10–12% of the profit (not the sale price) of a book, so the royalty earned on a $15 book may be as low as 75 cents, after deductions for the advance until those have been “earned out.”
Self publishing, on the other hand, requires the writer to take the financial risk of publishing, with costs as low as $950 up to $10,000, depending on the services a writer hires out (such as editing, cover design, and coding, if e-book format is chosen). Though these start-up costs are significant, the writer controls all aspects of the publishing process—title selection, cover design (which are the traditional publisher’s decision, not the author’s), and marketing descriptions, to name a few. The profits also remain with the author—perhaps $10 per copy, compared to the advance and per-copy royalty for traditional publishing, described above.
A third measure of success Cowell described is “blessing and changing the lives of readers”—the strong urge to share a message with readers, who may become fans. If “getting [a] project out to the public” is the goal, Cowell suggests recent self publishing methods as a more sure path to accomplishing this goal. One example she gave is Paul Young’s best seller, The Shack. Young sent the manuscript to 99 traditional publishers, all of whom rejected it; but because he believed strongly in his project, he ultimately decided to self publish.
The success of Young’s book in 2008, Cowell notes, launched a sea change in negative attitudes toward self publishing, with the result that some well known traditionally published authors began self publishing some of their own books. While she acknowledges that traditional publishing usually brings prestige and that some negative associations still remain for self publishing, she encourages authors to decide for themselves which method best serves their goals. This may be traditional publishing for some projects but self publishing for others. Cowell refers to authors who work in both realms as “hybrid authors.”
In a nutshell, then, the prestige, professional services, and financial underwriting of traditional publishers, balanced against lower financial return and average shelf life of three to six months for a book on store shelves, is one publishing paradigm still pursued by many authors. Cowell suggests that self publishing options (also sometimes referred to as co-publishing or partner publishing, depending on the number of services contracted) may be a better fit for some writers’ projects. She adds that e-books, a market she entered reluctantly and only with the help of a very tech-savvy friend, involve a learning curve for do-it-yourself programs (paying a service to convert text to e-book format costs more) but yield a payoff for those who can invest the time and either have or can find help with the tech skills needed.
Her closing tip for writers, regardless of their publishing choice, addressed marketing such as blogging or other social media. “Your website and social media should not be about you or your book,” claims Cowell. Instead, she counsels, media posts should be reader-focused—“make your posts about your readers.”
If you missed Cheri Cowell’s webinar this time, stay tuned for future Write2Ignite webinar offerings. Make your plans now to attend the full conference on March 24–25, where Cowell and other presenters will offer a wide range of workshops and keynotes. Finally, stay tuned for announcement of our fall writing contest!
Deborah DeCiantis, acting Team director for Write2Ignite!