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The Bestseller In You: Frequently Asked Questions About Book Publishing

by Dee Power

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Published on this site: January 2004 - See more articles from this month

These questions are focused on traditional publishing. Publish On Demand (POD) and ebook publishing will be included in a future column.

Traditional publishing houses include major players such as Warner Books, small publishers such as Algonquin Books, niche publishers, and regional publishers. Traditional publishers pay the author, usually an advance and royalties based on the actual sales of the book. There is a range between small and large publishing houses as to these payments. But the key is the author gets paid. The author has no upfront fees to pay the publisher and isn’t under any obligation to purchase any books.

Traditional houses are very selective when acquiring books. While 150,000 new books were published in 2002, estimates have been made that only 1 out of 100 books written gets published. Writers Digest has said that there are 24 million people in the US who describe themselves as creative writers. Less than 5% of these writers have actually, ever, been published.

How long does it take to get a book published?

With a traditional publishing house it takes on the average about a year. Six months for the author to write a nonfiction book or revise a novel after a publishing contract has been signed and six months for production from editing the manuscript to finding your book in a bookstore.

Why does production take six months?

The actual production process of revising and editing, copyediting and proofing the galleys could be quicker. But enough time has to be allowed for obtaining endorsements, distributing ARCs (advanced reading copy) and bound galleys to reviewers and promoting the book to booksellers, libraries and such. Many major review publications like Publishers Weekly, insist that they receive the review copy at least four months prior to publication. Many newspapers will not review a book currently available.

What is the typical advance and royalty?

There isn’t one. The advance can range from $0 to over six figures. Royalties can range from 5% to 15%, based on the net price the publisher receives, or the percentage can be based on the retail price of the book. The percentage can also be on a sliding scale based on how many books have been sold, the more books, the higher the royalty percentage.

Do I have to pay the advance back?

In most cases, no, the exception is if you don’t deliver an acceptable manuscript by your deadline. If the actual sales of your book don’t reach the amount that was advanced, and 90% of books don’t, you don’t have to pay the difference back.

Which is easier to get published fiction or nonfiction?

Nonfiction. Of the 150,000 new books published this last year, less than 10% were fiction.

What category of fiction is the largest?

Romance, 55% of all mass market paperback books sold are romances.

What is backlist, mid list and front list?

Backlist books are those written in the prior year(s) but still selling and still being published. Publishers select a small percentage, probably less than 5% of the books published in a season and actively promote those books in the front of their catalogues with full page descriptions including national promotion, book tours dates, advertising budgets, first print runs, as their front list. 95% of books published are mid list, in the middle of the catalogue, no ad budget, no promotions, no book tours.

What is the difference between mass market, trade paperback and hard cover?

The way the books are produced and consequently how they’re priced. Mass market are the smallest in size usually 4” by 6”, they are the least expensive from $4.99 to $9.99, the binding is perfect which means the pages are glued in. The cover is paper.

Trade paperback is 5” by 7”, mostly nonfiction titles, the prices range from $9.99 to $24.99. The cover is paper and the binding is perfect. Hardcover or hard back comes in various sizes, the pages are stitched to the binding, and the cover is cloth covered over cardboard. The price ranges from $19.99 upward.

Do you have a question about publishing you would like to see here? Just send your question to Mailto:[email protected]

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