Ways to cheat mainstream publisher math

Mainstream publishing companies (MPCs) use methods that make perfect sense to me.

Then again, it doesn’t make sense.

Let me explain: MPCs bet conservatively. They don’t wager against the odds for success. MPCs think you, as a new author, will take the opportunity they lay on the table rather than walk away.

All those playing card terms simply mean this: MPCs are in the driver’s seat. That sucks for the new, unpublished author. It’s not fair, but what’s fair isn’t necessarily equal.

To even the playing field, you need leverage on your side, but I’ll get to that.

MPCs are not evil empires. They do hold the power. With that degree of swag, it doesn’t matter if you have the next bestseller in your hand. Someone has to give you a chance first.

You get that chance through a literary agent who negotiates with MPCs on your behalf for the low, low average price of 15% of your domestic sales (25% international). Agents can increase your odds for success, but they are as selective as MPCs. Getting an agent is like asking out a popular girl in high school – you are often turned down without a clear explanation. She (the agent) might say:

• “I’m not looking.” (I’m not accepting new client submissions at this time).
• “You’re not my type.” (I don’t represent your genre).
• “I’m just not that into you.” (Your work is not what we’re looking for.)
• “Umm. . .” (I don’t have the time to crush you because you can’t edit or spell.)

Enter independent publishing, of which I am a BIG advocate. As you are a small business, all of the costs involved in independent publishing are completely tax deductible to you (of course, you are involved in everything, which can be a good or BAD thing).

Want to stay out of the process? Self-publish. But do your homework. (The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine; The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross).

Either way can get you a little leverage if you decide to go to a MPC one day. Selling a decent amount (around 2,000) of books shows that you have the skills and drive to supplement what the MPC will do for you. You’ll have an established audience and some knowledge of the process. Plus, you may be able to negotiate a better royalty rate in the end.

Of course, if you believe you can sell 100,000 copies of your book starting out as a new author (the exception, NOT the rule), 6% of a $15 novel X 100,000 is $90,000 before taxes. If you can pull down close to 50% of that $15, you’d only have to sell about 15,000 books to make $90,000 and you can deduct the remaining from your taxes as expenses. I want to sell 100,000 copies, but in the meantime, in-between time, I like getting 50% or more per book.

Witness indie publisher Amanda Hocking, who writes young adult vampire lit (which is WHITE HOT right now). Because of her electronic sales (in one month, she sold 450,000 copies of her books electronically), a bidding war ignited over her. Eventually, she came out of it with a $3.2 million contract. How did she do that? Leverage. She sold almost a half-million books without a MPC. The odds are in her favor that she could do it again without them.

Now, Hocking is the exception, not the rule. There’s no golden formula to replicate that kind of success. It’s is a matter of skill, timing, and chance. MPCs are trickier because the production time can take so long. With independent or self-publishing, like Hocking, you can get it done more quickly. Right now, the young adult set is eating up (excuse the pun) vampire and zombie novels. Will the market dry up a year or two from now? Maybe, maybe not. But Hocking has established a wide audience already, so it won’t matter as much for her.

What about you? Let’s assume you’re on a budget. Before you start talking about anything else, finish your work.

1. Find a professional editor (try Elance.com). I would not use anyone who doesn’t do it professionally. Poorly-edited work leaves a bad taste in the mouths of your readers. Think of it as a bad meal at a restaurant: you’re less likely to visit again even if you have a discount.

2. Get a reading group together who will be honest with you. I use people who I know won’t lie to me if it sucks. Trust me; you’d rather know that your work is terrible before it hits a shelf than after.

3.Go digital. Here are three sites you need to bookmark RIGHT NOW:
Pub It!, Amazon (a gimme), and Smashwords.

Smashwords formats in mobi (for Kindle) and e-pub (for Nook) and posts to iTunes. While Amazon uses only mobi, your audience members will go to Amazon LONG before they go to Smashwords. And PubIt! does the e-pub format exclusively, but if someone looks for your book at a brick and mortar
B&N store, they’ll find it. You can post your book at all three sites for NOTHING and you get 70%-80% of the sales. Not bad, huh?

4. Go on a Blog Tour to coincide with your release. Hocking used these to great effect. A blog tour, in essence, is when bloggers review your book and post it on their blog. In many instances, they’ll also do it anywhere your book is sold and people can post reviews. (I recommend Tywebbin‘ Ty, you rock!)

Now, what are you waiting for? Get started!

Author Brian L. Thompson is the president of Great Nation Publishing and author of the Christian fiction thriller The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate, due for release on June 7, 2011. You can read more about Brian by visiting his

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