If Random House pulls up to your house with a U-haul filled with millions and wants to buy your book, maybe you’d consider giving up the rights forever. But, let’s come back to the real world. In the real world, many authors find that the best way to launch a writing career is to essentially self-publish by using a print-on-demand (POD) publisher.
The problem is that the POD buffet is filled with the equivalent of healthy choices (publishers who charge low or no publishing fees and allow authors to terminate the contracts at anytime) and unhealthy choices (publishers that charge exorbitant upfront fees and lock authors into contracts for years). Often the writer’s eyes are bigger than her stomach – she makes a move for the first publisher who tells her that her work is great.
Signing a POD contract impulsively is always a mistake. Unless you are trained as a lawyer, deciphering a POD contract can be tricky since many POD publishers have paid some hefty legal fees to have attorneys sculpt contracts that could easily crush an unsuspecting author.
If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer to review your POD contract you need to arm yourself with some knowledge before signing one. In my book, The Fine Print (www.book-publishers-compared.com), I take the legalese commonly found in most POD contracts and explain it in terms that will actually make sense. I also tell you the types of clauses in a POD contract that should cause you to run away from a publisher as quickly as possible.
If you don’t want or can’t purchase The Fine Print, here are three tips that may help you avoid a bad publishing experience.
1. Never pay more than $500 in up front POD publishing fees.
The most reputable POD publishers charge between $300-$500 for the publishing package which should always include customized cover art, formatting, placement of your book on Amazon, etc.; and ISBN number, bar code, and a sales page on the publisher’s website. If you are paying more and not getting at least the services mentioned above, you are getting taken.
2. Only Sign a Contract That You Can Terminate When You Want
The best contracts are those you can terminate at any time (usually by giving 30-90 days notice). Some POD publishers that don’t charge or charge very little for their services require a longer commitment on your end (1-2 years) before you can terminate. Because they have money invested in you this is understandable. Never sign a POD contract that you can’t get out of easily. Some POD publishers require that you give them the rights to your book for the term of the copyright. When you see this run fast! The term of the copyright is for the life of the author, plus another 70 years – basically forever.
3. If the Publisher offers less than 30% Royalties on the Gross Sale Price Find Another Publisher
The royalties paid should, at a minimum, be 30% of the sales prices of each book. Be wary of contracts that give you some high percentage of the net sales price. This is where fuzzy math can creep in and take away almost all your profits.
The factors you should use to determine whether or not the proposed royalty is acceptable are:
• Whether it is based on the gross or net sales amount (and if based on the net sales amount, the calculation must be on hard numbers (production costs, credit card processing fees, etc.) and not vague items ("administrative costs", etc.);
• The actual production cost of the book (Production costs on POD books should be between $3.50 and $5.50. Anything higher than that and you can bet that the publisher is padding this amount to lower your actual royalty);
• The size of the publisher's distribution network and traffic to the publisher's online store (the more places your books are for sale, the more chance people have to find them); and
• Marketing efforts the publisher engages to inform readers of your book (if a publisher actually spends money to help sell your book, a lower royalty is not out of line).
• Whether the publisher treats itself like a third-party retailer (e.g. Amazon.com) and gives itself a trade discount to sell you book (For example, for a $15 book, Amazon gets $7.50 for each book sold, then the remaining $7.50 is divided between the author and publisher based the royalty agreement. Some publishers give themselves a trade discount so in effect they end up making 80% of each sale for a book that you paid them to publish!)
Again, these are just the basics of the basics, but they provide the building blocks of the foundation of knowledge you will need to have before you sign a POD publishing contract.
About the author:
Mark Levine is the author of The Fine Print (www.book-publishers-compared.com), which dissects, analyzes and ranks the publishing contracts and services of 74 of the top POD publishers. He is also the president of Click Industries which provides business incorporation services (www.clickandinc.com) and copyright registration services (www.clickandcopyright.com)
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