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The Perils and Promise of Publishing
By Renata Rafferty

Editor-in-Chief, Nonprofit Consulting Review
President, Rafferty Consulting Group Incorporated
Author, Don't Just Give It Away: How To Make the Most of Your Charitable Giving

Nov 15, 2002

I used to be in awe of book authors. I imagined that they were brilliant, organized and well-connected. I assumed they made lots of money. And I doubted I would ever have the opportunity to be one. But in 1999, I found myself in a room full of friends, family, clients and media toasting the launch of Don't Just Give It Away: How To Make the Most of Your Charitable Giving followed by a national media tour. The details of how I got to that room are interesting but immaterial. What I discovered through the process, however, was how very wrong I was in my pre-publication assumptions.

Anyone can publish a book. Period.

Brilliance, organization, and connections got nuthin' to do with it.

In fact, you may not even have to write the book. You could, for example, use a "ghost writer" to put your thoughts into words. Or you could dictate it using voice recognition software. You could even compile interviews or writings from other people. The biggest hurdle in publishing a book is determining WHY you want to do it. From that decision will follow a whole set of options, opportunities and challenges that will lead you to your objective.

What's there to decide?

Well, if you want to make money with a book, you're more likely to do so by self-publishing.

If you're looking for broader recognition as an expert -- or "legitimacy" -- you should probably strive for an established publishing house to issue your book.

If you know exactly who will want to buy your book, and you have a channel of communication for reaching prospective buyers directly, you should self-publish.

If your book is for a general audience... for example, people both inside and outside the nonprofit sector, get a publisher with established book distribution.

If you want your book in the marketplace FAST ... self-publish.

If time is not of the essence and your professional game plan allows for a couple of years to write and get the book to market ... get a publisher.

If you're willing to assume all the financial risk -- as well as the potential payoff -- of publishing a book, do it yourself.

If you've got no money to invest in your book*, you'll have to rely on a publisher.

WHOA! What's that asterisk about?

Should you decide to self-publish, be prepared to market, market, market!

If you hope to go with a publishing house, be prepared to market, market, market (they won't)!

And marketing can and will cost you some money.

Let's Talk About Money

In a traditional publishing relationship, the publisher assumes the financial risk for the editing, production, marketing and distribution costs for your book based  on their bet that your book will earn more money than it costs them. The publisher may or may not offer you an "advance" (money paid to you before a single copy is ever sold) just for writing the book and licensing the rights to
them. Your contract will typically guarantee you a royalty of somewhere between 7% and 12% of wholesale price per book sold -- once the advance has been earned back at the royalty rate. For example, three years and thousands of sold books later, I have yet to earn a royalty beyond the advance paid me four years ago.

In self-publishing, you pay all upfront costs including editorial services (if required), design, production, promotion, distribution, and sales. But you keep all the money generated from sales ... and you get it the minute the buyer's check comes over the transom.

So, If I Go With a Publisher, It Won't Cost Me Any Money!

Wrong! I've already suggested that you go with a publisher if you're looking for legitimacy, recognition as an expert, or acceptance of your book by a wide or general audience. Most publishers -- especially the largest ones -- have dozens if not hundreds of books coming out in any given season. They have very limited manpower or budget to devote to each individual book. At best, they may spend a few thousand dollars on publicity and sales promotion before your book is relegated to their backlist or catalogue.

To get any REAL visibility and staying power in the media, in major bookstores, or before the public, you will have to  actively invest in publicizing and promoting your own book. For example, I spent -- conservatively -- $25,000 of my own money to publicize Don't Just Give It Away properly. And remember -- I have
not earned a penny back beyond my original advance.

So why would I do something like that? Well, my objective was to firmly establish my position as an expert and gain national credibility, which would, in turn, position me in new markets I had previously identified and targeted, which would expand my client base and allow me to increase my consulting fees, and that would raise my profile and fees as a speaker as well.

In other words, I have earned my investment back many times over.

But I Thought You Said You Make More Money on Books by Self-Publishing

I did and you do. Generally, you can make and keep far more money from book sales by self-publishing. Notice, I didn't make any money from book sales by working with a publisher -- I made the return on my investment in the book through increased fees in other areas of my professional practice.

In Other Words, I Have to BE Rich In Order To GET Rich Writing Books?

Not at all! In just the three years since my book has been out, there have been enormous advances made in the printing and publishing business that make it both affordable and possible for virtually anyone to self-publish -- even in quantities as low as 100 or 500 books. Through print-on-demand (POD) technology, you can publish your own book at production costs as low as $2.00 per book!

As for promotion, there are loads of no-cost and very low cost methods for promoting and selling your book, especially if you are targeting a very narrow market and have a good understanding of exactly why someone would want/need to buy your book. Unfortunately for me, I had no idea how much I would need to do to publicize my own book (after all, the publisher does all that, no?), therefore I didn't really research the many free and low-cost options I could have utilized.

Is There A Middle-of-the-Road Course?

"Vanity publishing" is a relationship in which you pay a vanity publishing house a fixed fee -- usually several thousands of dollars -- for handling the design, production and distribution of your book. The publisher may or may not keep a percentage of sales income. Although it may be less work for you upfront, it can be the most costly of the options. You pay for production and for promotion, but have to split the return with a middleman. They act as more of a "facade" than as a "back room" for your publishing endeavor.

Where Do I Learn More?

The decision -- and commitment -- to write a book is a
major one. It represents an investment of time, money, energy, and
emotion, and is not a decision to be made lightly. Explore your
objectives and all your options before settling on a course of

Renata Rafferty is the author of the best-selling Don't Just Give It Away: How To Make the Most of Your Charitable Giving, with Foreword by Paul Newman (Chandler House Press, 1999), and a nationally-syndicated columnist. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Nonprofit Consulting Review and a founding member of the
CharityChannel Advisory Board.

Rafferty Consulting Group Incorporated
45-775 Indian Wells Lane
Indian Wells, CA 92210 U.S.A.

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