Recently a pastor asked if we could just publish his book and take our costs out of the royalties. When I explained that we are not a royalty publisher and don’t feel that business model is always in the author’s best interest, he asked me to explain why. I thought this explanation might be helpful to those exploring all the different publishing options.
A Royalty Publisher May Not Be Best Publishing Option
With a royalty publisher, (if you can even get one these days…they expect you to have a huge platform and guaranteed sales in excess of 20,000 copies in order to risk investing in a new author…some even require that you purchase 10,000 copies of the initial print run): You no longer own the rights, including foreign rights, ebook rights, etc. They keep the profits and only pay you a small royalty, usually 10-15% of the NET, which equals about 5-7.5% of the retail price. They have all editorial rights, which means they can change the content without your approval. They retain control of all artistic decisions, the cover design, any illustrations, the layout, etc.
With self-publishing: You own all your rights Since you take the risk financially, you keep all the profits. You retain editorial rights, even when working with one of our editors. You determine the look and feel of your book. Although we offer professional graphic design to make sure you don’t look self-published, you still give us your input and have the final say on how your book looks.
As an example, when I was in ministry back in the 80’s, we had a book that we published under the ministry name, a donor paid for the entire print run, we printed 10,000 copies and sold them all in 2 years. Then Multnomah Press picked up the rights and sold another 40,000 copies over the next 8 years. To date the book has sold over 150,000 copies.
This was a very successful self-publishing experience and began my journey as the pioneer in Christian self-publishing. But here is the bottom line difference between self and royalty publishing and what it meant to the ministry in dollars and cents: 10,000 copies printed, we sold 8,000 and gave away 2,000…ministry received $40,000 in revenue from the sales. 40,000 copies sold through the royalty publisher made the ministry $21,000. $5.00 a book vs $0.50 a book. Ummmm… this is definitely not rocket science!
That’s the basic reason it’s not always in the authors’ best interest, and over the last five years or so, there’s a growing list of bestselling novelists from the Christian market who are moving away from their publishers and going independent for this very reason.
Another trend I’ve seen over the years is that most royalty publishers put all their marketing money into publicity and promotional campaigns for their A list (big name celebrity) authors. That means all the other B & C list authors are expected to do all their own promotion and marketing. There were many times where I wanted to interview an author for my radio show and called the publisher’s publicity department, only to find out they didn’t provide any publicity at all for the author…no press kit, no suggested interview questions, no review copies…nada. If you, as the author, are going to have to pay for that, why not make the profit instead of a small royalty?
Christian Royalty Publishers Owned by Secular Companies
Now for my last and largest area of concern… I’ve seen over the last 25 years many, many Christian royalty publishers being bought out by secular companies. Sooner or later, this changes the heart and mission of a company, especially when the bottom line of profits comes down from the parent company. Just recently Multnomah Press, who was bought out by secular publisher Random House, launched a disturbing new imprint to market books to the LGBT Christian community. In fact, here’s an article about it.
I could probably list a handful of other explanations, but I think these are the main ones that keep us from using the royalty business model. Our motto is “Authors in Charge.” And we offer, I believe, the best of both worlds. In my next post I’ll be discussing all the different models out there, so you can make an informed decision on how best to get your message out to those who need to read it.
-Athena Dean Holtz