Trade Publishers Buy Self Published POD Titles

Every month or so I get a question from an author who has one major worry about self publishing with print-on-demand - whether the "stigma" will prevent a major trade publisher from purchasing the rights to their title down the road. If the author is talking about paying a subsidy publisher to publish his book, there may be some complications with the contract if it included rights, and it will be more difficult to get a trade publisher to take the book seriously unless sales are in the 5,000+ range. On the other hand, if the author is talking about becoming a true self publisher, purchasing his own ISBN block and signing up with a print and distribution provider like Lightning Source to do the heavy lifting, most trades will be happy to acquire the rights to a book if it fits their plans.

I've self published three titles with print-on-demand and I've received trade offers on all of them, some multiple times. I haven't solicited any of the offers, they've all come from acquisitions editors who've seen my titles ranking well on Amazon or encountered them while doing market research for a new title or series of their own. However, this year was the first time I got an offer for my entire list. I was initially a little annoyed with the offer, thinking, "If this guy had read anything on my site he'd know that I'm not some wide-eyed newbie waiting for a trade to knock on the door," but I decided to hear him out and maybe educate him a little in the process. The following is an edited version of my reply to his offer. My bits are original, I've paraphrased his lines to make them clear and because I've left out much of his original prose. AE is Acquisitions Editor, MR is Morris Rosenthal:

AE: You must be receiving far more returns than you would with a traditional publishing house.

MR: You meant fewer, I'm sure. My return rate is well under 1%, and the truth is, most publishers using POD simply don't accept returns. At a short discount, it doesn't make a difference since nobody orders without an order in hand.

AE: On the other hand, our distribution would bring you a much larger audience.

MR: I've had offers to distribute my books from McGraw-Hill, for whom I author one title. Economics never made sense, they wanted 30% of net, and I didn't want to print a lot of books and get returns.

AE: You have to ask yourself if your titles sales would grow significantly from being in the chains and independent bookstores.

MR: Answer is, I believe not, but thank you for asking. I've had a "bestseller" with a major trade, around 150,000 copies sold, wasn't impressed.

AE: We'd likely offer you our standard contract to new authors: a $2,000 advance on royalties and royalties of 14% of net. How does this fair against your agreement with Lightning Source.

MR: Ah, read my case study at and replace 35% with 25%. I net around $8.00 on a $14.95 cover price. Always interested in hearing offers, but I suspect I have a better chance of talking you into Lightning Source than you have of talking me into returning to authoring for a royalty. If you have any questions about the Lightning Source model, feel free to ask. BTW, if you read between the lines of the top 10,000 books on Amazon, you'll find plenty of Lightning Source titles from small publishers and self publishers.

The AE's reply to this was:

AE: Thanks, Morris. Best of luck to you. Sounds like you've got self-publishing down.

The amusing thing about the exchange, to me, was the AE wasn't just looking to acquire all of my titles, he was looking to get them on the cheap! Last three advances I got in the trade were all above $10K, with some of the cash showing up before I even started writing the book. This outfit was "tempting" me with $2K per title and 14% of net for titles I'd already published and proven. Sounds like a pretty good way to cut my income by about 75% while giving up control, devaluing my business and seeing my titles get remaindered early.

If you get an offer from the trades, keep in mind that they probably haven't done their homework. Oh, they might have a notion of how many copies they might be able to sell a year, and they might even share that number with you, though you'll probably be hearing the high end of the range. What they won't have done is sat down and figured out how much money you are likely making in your publishing business and what sort of offer they'd have to make for you to take them seriously. They have the tools to do this, it's not a lot of work, but they expect you to roll over with your paws in the air and beg for a bone

No comments: