The Perils and Promise
By Renata Rafferty
Editor-in-Chief, Nonprofit Consulting
President, Rafferty Consulting Group Incorporated
Author, Don't Just Give It Away: How To Make the Most of Your Charitable
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.
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.
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
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
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
And marketing can and will
cost you some money.
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.
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
In other words, I have
earned my investment back many times over.
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.
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.
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.
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
45-775 Indian Wells Lane
Indian Wells, CA 92210 U.S.A.
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