There are more options than ever if you want to be a published author, but watch for the pitfalls, advises ghostwriter Ben Jeapes.
If you’re a fan of this section of the magazine, you’re obviously a fan of books, and you might be feeling called to write one yourself.
If that’s the case then – congratulations! There are more options open to you nowadays than at any time before.
Unfortunately, that also means there are more pitfalls. It is very, very easy to get stung.
There are essentially three ‘good’ options and one very bad one. What makes the bad one so easy to fall for is that at first glance it looks very similar to the others. For ease of simplicity, the good options are:
1) ‘Traditional’ publishing. Within very recent memory, this was the only option available. You send a publisher your manuscript. They take responsibility for editing it, typesetting it, designing a cover, publishing it, and marketing it. You get (possibly) an advance on publication, which is a non-returnable loan payable against royalties, and a royalty from each sale.
2) ‘Hybrid’ publishing. This has arisen in recent years because of the harsh commercial reality that it is difficult for many traditional publishers to make a living publishing Christian titles. There is simply too great an imbalance between overheads and returns. So, many perfectly respectable publishers now require their authors to make a financial contribution to the cost of producing their book. The authors may be required to buy back a quantity of their book (at substantial discount) for use in their own ministry. This of course assumes you have a ministry. Details like advances and royalties will be adjusted accordingly.
3) Self-publishing. With a few clicks of a button, you can now turn your manuscript into a book – both print and electronic – and sell it on Amazon via the Kindle Direct Program. (Other options exist too.) You assume full responsibility for everything – including marketing – and you get to keep almost all the money received. Note that precisely because you have that responsibility for everything, if you’re not prepared to put time and effort into it then it will show. But the option is there and it is very viable.
4) And now we came to the bad, fourth, option, which is thinking you are going for one of the above but in fact being scammed by a company with absolutely no interest in lifting a finger once they have your money. These companies may beguile you with ‘publishing deals’, offering different packages for different print runs and levels of marketing campaigns. They may promise such wonders as making your book available in bookshops and on Amazon (both of which in fact happen automatically the moment your book has an ISBN … along with a million other titles published that week). The constant factors are a highly unfriendly contract that somehow leaves them holding all the rights to your book, and you paying them so much money upfront that all their costs are comfortably paid in advance, so they have zero incentive to market your book. If you ever see physical copies, chances are they will be minimally edited and typeset to some boilerplate format.
The Society of Authors recently published a report into paid-for publishing services. Of respondents who had used paid-for publishers, it found:
• 94 per cent had lost money, typically in the thousands of pounds. Only four writers (6 per cent) reported that they made a profit.
• The average loss was £1,861, with some writers reporting losses as high as £9,900.
• The median cost of publication was £2,000.
• A median of only 67 books were sold per deal, resulting in royalties of only £68.
• 59 per cent of writers said their book was not available to buy in retail outlets.
The report includes advice to writers and, for publishers, 15 key principles they should adhere to in their practice. Anyone thinking of using a paid-for service would be highly advised to read the report, read what the publisher is offering, and check that the 15 principles are being followed.
Jesus tells us to be as innocent as doves but, crucially, as wise as serpents (Matthew 10.16). It might be that you feel so strongly called to deliver your particular message that you are willing to make a personal loss, if you can afford it. That is your prerogative.
But consider: if you’re just pouring money into the hands of scammers then the message doesn’t go anywhere and you are colluding in theft; it’s very unlikely God wants your message proclaimed that badly.
Being published by an honest venture that shares your loss; well, that’s another matter. So, with all that in mind, how do you go about finding an honest publisher?
The simplest way is to look at Christian books that have already been published. If they have actually come to your attention then chances are good the publisher is putting some effort into them, so they are probably for real.
But also, look to see if the incomparable Writer Beware has anything to say about them. This service was first set up for the science fiction market, as it seems especially susceptible to this kind of thing, but it covers all genres.
If the publisher is still looking good then check out their website. Most publishers will have guidelines for the kind of things they are ready to publish, and if they don’t then don’t be afraid to ask. Get in touch if you think you’re a match – and if they do have guidelines, follow them to the letter. Publishers want to know you’re going to be a pleasure to work with, and an author who can’t even read some simple instructions is a bad sign.
You could also do a lot worse than join the Association of Christian Writers, for support and advice and fellowship. And yes, I am a member and no, I’m not being paid to advertise them.
• Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). He is the author or co-author of many novels, a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace, and a former journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. www.benjeapes.com