How we cash in on authors - publisher confession


I was inspired to write this short article by the article “ How much a writer earns and How to send intermediaries to the tundra ”. It turned out to be a little unexpected for me that the material, relevant, at first glance, only among authors, publishers and booksellers - that is, an audience mainly of a humanitarian orientation - caused a large number of responses on a resource that was so pronounced anthropogenic in nature. On the other hand, programming is perhaps the most humanitarian of all technical disciplines, so I hope this text will also be interesting to readers.


First of all, I would like to admit that in recent years I worked as the commercial director of a small book publishing house that produced IT-oriented books, and therefore I am doomed to participate in this dispute on the other side of the barricades. Simply put, I am a representative of the very mediators, the blood-eating world-eaters, whom the authors passionately hate and cannot tolerate by readers. Before the wave of well-deserved national anger covers me headlong, I would like to explain in a farewell pre-firing note how we, publishers, came to life such as how much we drink the blood of Christian babies we earn from the authors, how the book market works, where the world is headingwhat are the trends of its development and - most importantly - where to go to an author who does not want to endure a more publishing yoke. Yes, exactly! .. Authors and sympathizers under the habracat expect quite specific recommendations on this matter! ..

So, I will begin my speech in the same place where my vis-a-vis began to expose, namely, in a conditional bookstore, holding a conditional book for a conditional 100 rubles, trying to count in the mind the future profits of the author and the superprofits of the publishers. Counting in your mind - especially when you need to take into account taxes, deductions and other boring things - is not the easiest or most fun thing, because it is not surprising that at some point we will get bored, put this book back on the shelf and just look around to the parties. And what will we see? ..

Part 1 - as it is

Book Shop

Large room. Most often - bright and with a good repair. With utility rooms and pantries, with racks, trade equipment, cash registers, computers, sometimes even with information kiosks. Amidst all this kind of stuff, people of varying degrees of usefulness and smile are scurrying around - cleaners, storekeepers, consultants, cashiers, merchandisers ... And they are all united by the same desire ... No, not to bring to the masses the good and the bright - this goes without saying - but I had mind their desire to ultimately receive a well-deserved reward for their work. Hand on heart, I can not blame them for this. I myself, you know, also love salaries and all sorts of material goods, but this is not about that now. Now we will focus on the fact that we are in a large store, the maintenance of which in normal working condition requires quite decent money.

Regardless of the size of the store, its equipment and the cost of its maintenance, you need to remember that this is the end link of a long production chain that connects the author of the book with the reader’s money. Of course, if you wish, you can try to exclude any link in this chain. However, before starting a decisive amputation of a link, it is better to have a good idea of ​​the consequences of our bold experiment. In the case of bookstores, I regret to my regret to admit that so far for the sale of paper books - this is still one of the most effective tools. Even taking into account that the effectiveness of this channel is falling, and will fall in the foreseeable future, the situation with bookstores is very simple. If you plan to make money on books, they should be in stores. Moreover:
  • books should be competently laid out on shelves. Yes, merchandising is also relevant here. That mayonnaise in the supermarket, that the bestseller in the bookstore - any product needs a correct and effective display. As a rule, the publisher’s representative is responsible for this;
  • store staff must be trained to sell this particular book. Yes, trainings are also conducted for consultants and commodity experts, and as a rule, representatives of the publisher also do this;
  • A competent advertising campaign should be conducted. Remember how actively the books of the same Rowling or Isaacson were promoted. Guess three times who pays for the development and conduct of these companies. Hint - find the publisher’s name in the book’s output, this will reduce the number of attempts to one.

The bookselling is not as simple an activity as it seems at first glance, and definitely not the easiest in terms of making money. Therefore, least of all I would like to look into the pocket of store owners and tell them about the rate of profit with which they are supposed to conduct business. The expression “100% margin”, which was used as a criterion for the greed of booksellers, does not seem successful to me, if only because, as a rule, the store itself does not “margin” anything. In my practice, we, as publishers, independently determined the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) for each particular book - based on our vision of the market capacity for this topic in general, the solvency of its target audience and the prospects for selling a particular book in particular. Talks are being held with bookstore buyers about what discount from RRP might suit them. Most often, they really push off from the 50% RRP bar - but this is not a dogma. For example, we always tried to stay within 60-70%, and usually achieved our goal. On the other hand, there were people who wanted to push the purchase price up to 30% of RRP - I remember that this is how we lost one partner. In any case, a specific figure is always the subject of negotiations and mutual compromises. An important role in determining the exact purchase price is played by the terms and conditions of settlements, the ability to control the layout of books and provide the best places on the shelves, arrangements for maintaining stocks, logistics conditions, and much more. I came across those who wanted to push through the purchase price and up to 30% of RRP - I remember that this is how we lost one partner. In any case, a specific figure is always the subject of negotiations and mutual compromises. An important role in determining the exact purchase price is played by the terms and conditions of settlements, the ability to control the layout of books and provide the best places on the shelves, arrangements for maintaining stocks, logistics conditions, and much more. I came across those who wanted to push through the purchase price and up to 30% of RRP - I remember that this is how we lost one partner. In any case, a specific figure is always the subject of negotiations and mutual compromises. An important role in determining the exact purchase price is played by the terms and conditions of settlements, the ability to control the layout of books and provide the best places on the shelves, arrangements for maintaining stocks, logistics conditions, and much more.

Can the author himself organize work on interaction with bookselling? .. Yes, maybe, why not - gods do not burn pots. But I am afraid, in this case, most of his time he will be occupied precisely with burning pots, and not with creating books. In any case, the book trade closes the process of moving a book from the author to the buyer. Perhaps this sounds strange - but sales are a costly step, and to organize them you need to lay a certain share in the cost of the book. As the author quite rightly remarked, the margin rate in trade is approximately the same for books and other positions. This is no coincidence - if the store owner makes less money selling books than the industry average, the store will soon cease to exist or change its profile. This is life.


Before the book becomes a subject of negotiations between store buyers and sellers of the publisher, it must be printed at the printing house. Most often, we are really talking about the volume of 3-5 thousand copies - today this is the average circulation of a new book on the market. I can’t say that publishers receive some special preferences in printing houses - except that they print in millions of copies, but there are few such eagles, and the times are not the same. Our publishing house did receive good prices for printing - but not because we were in collusion with the book mafia, but because we constantly and tightly monitored the printing market for price levels. For instance:
  • we regularly monitored prices for materials in general and paper in particular, tested new and inexpensive grades in our home - taking this opportunity, I send a ray of hatred to Chinese paper suppliers;
  • they took into account at what time of the year it is best to place orders for production - for example, before the New Year printing houses are loaded to capacity and “squeezing” the order will cost more. But they also have periods of decline in print volumes, when printers need to download to avoid downtime. Under this you can get additional discounts;
  • the same task (sometimes it was real books, sometimes just a “conditional” layout) was given to the miscalculated technologists of different printing houses to compare the price level, production time and quality of the final product. For an objective picture, printing houses for comparison were chosen in different regions and even countries. The process was ongoing;
  • carefully controlled the entire manufacturing process, from the output of films to the gluing of finished books. If there were any deviations from the approved layout, the question of reprinting the print run or lowering the price for the work done could immediately be raised.

In general - we were just “in the subject”, the printing industry respected us, and at times quietly hated us. Everything happened - returning the print run to the printing house, complaints, going to the production day or late at night to control the press, making out-of-office calls to familiar technologists for consultations in solving any unexpected problems ...

Can the author independently engage in this whole process? Again - maybe why not. The world of printing is interesting and fascinating in itself, and the printing house will gladly take the job - and with particular joy the payment - that from the publisher, that from the author. But from experience - not every author is ready to independently pay for the production of a book and to control all stages of its production. Obviously, production is a costly phase, and one of the largest in terms of investments in the chain. Typically, the cost of making a book in a printing house is about 40% of the total project budget.

Publishing house

Let's go back a little more along our product chain. Before the book gets to the printing house, it must be compiled, framed with illustrations (not always necessary, often it is expensive and long, but always improves sales), checked by the corrector, editor, ISBN must be obtained, etc. etc. Again - all these stages can be completed by the author independently. In the end - not the gods work with InDesign. But it is better when proofreading is done not by the author, but by another person, and well trained. And it is clear that a professional typesetter will issue a book much faster and better than an amateur who has mastered typesetting by typing. The need to attract specialists applies to any stage of preparation of a book in a publishing house. And at any of these stages - we need to pay for their work. Layout designers want money. Artists also want, have a right. Editors, proofreaders - all these unconditionally holy people, despite all their spirituality and elevation, also want to eat, and it is advisable to do it regularly.

In addition, in any publishing house there is still a mass of equipment that also costs money, and you need technical personnel who will maintain this equipment in good condition, and who also need it ... Well, you guessed it already - pay your wages on time. For example, a typical workplace of our layout designer is not the newest iMac and a bunch of Adobe software, costing as another iMac. Proofreaders are content with the Mac Mini with office suites. Editors are the same Mini, plus InDesign. Network, storage, printers for proofreading and color proofing. Surprisingly, I had to buy all this, for some reason no one wanted to give the equipment for nothing, no matter how we hinted.

Conclusion - prepress and work with the publication, oddly enough, are also costly, especially if professionals are involved in the processes. It is difficult to determine the exact level of investments at this stage, since most of the expenses are fixed and scattered on the number of book projects that are in work. In other words, the more publishers make books, the lower the level of editorial costs in the budget of a particular book. Optimally, if the share of these expenses does not exceed 20% of the budget, but this figure is not a dogma and greatly depends on specific circumstances. I draw your attention - this is not the publisher’s earnings, it’s just production costs.


So we almost reached the beginning of the path - to the author. This is the same person who wrote all that - or almost all - that we then read in the book we bought. From the point of view of the publisher, the author is just another link in the chain of movement of the book from idea to sale in the store, and the link is also costly. Cruel, but true. Let's try to estimate the level of costs for this link. But before that, let us once again take a look at the whole way the book moves from the manuscript to the reader.

The entire chain, as we have seen, is quite long - and over its entire length we see primarily costs. The cost of the author’s fee. The cost of turning a book from a manuscript (honestly - at times a very crude manuscript) into a full-fledged publication. The cost of making a book in a print shop. For logistics and storage. For promotion and advertising. After all, for sales. And only at the end of this whole process appears what we all started for - the reader’s money. Failure at every stage can make it difficult or impossible to get this money. Can the participants of all these links, from the store to the editorial office, be satisfied with a fair share in all of 5% of the sale price of the book, leaving the author 95% deserved for him?

Unlikely. In fact, even those notorious 15% of the publisher’s selling price are probably closer to the top bar of the publisher’s financial capabilities. In addition, in general it is not always a question of paying interest. For example, we took for ourselves the optimal payment to the author of a fixed fee immediately upon conclusion of the contract, regardless of the fate of the book. Plus this approach for the writer - a person gets all his money right away, without waiting for the start of book sales, and sometimes sad news about their absence. Minus - this amount, as a rule, did not exceed 10% of the RRP. On the one hand - perhaps some of the authors lost this in the long run. On the other hand, there were cases when the author was the only person who made money on the project, and the publisher suffered losses. This is life, this is business, these are our risks.

It is possible to increase the author’s share in the budget structure only by reducing costs at other stages — and this leads to losses in the quality of the preparation of the book, its production and sales. You can, of course, stand in a pose and ask, why should this writer, in fact, suffer from the appetites of other participants in the process? .. Of course, he should not. But the rest are not required to suffer. Therefore, the greater the ambition of the author, the higher the likelihood that he will have to go through all the above steps independently.

Work on the book is a serious project. The key to his success is the coordinated teamwork of all participants, from the author to the seller in the store. For those interested in this issue, I recommend watching the best film of all time, fully revealing the essence of the modern publishing industry, namely, the 6th episode of the 23rd season of The Simpsons, The Book Job. Laughter, laughter, but basically it is.

What to do?

And now - the breakdown of the integument. In fact, there is no conflict of interest between the author and publisher. All participants in the process, from the writer to the consultant in the trading floor of the bookstore, are primarily concerned about the money that they can earn by selling the book. Well, if not the first, then the second for sure. You just need to see the whole picture and understand that only the joint and professional work of all participants in the chain will sell the book to the reader. The role of the publisher is primarily to finance the entire project, in that it would take all the risks on it. Risks, unlike fees, for some reason, few people like to take on themselves. I’ll draw a dangerous analogy - but there are probably no safe ones. Suppose you are young, promising and like to play football on Saturdays with your friends. If your job is to have a good time, stretch yourself, running around, chatting with each other, having a beer after a match and discussing the latest news - you don’t have to take a steam bath with many things and just scamper around the field for your pleasure. But if you plan to pursue a career in a major league team and earn a living by playing it, you will obviously have to make less beer, more workloads, pay for training, equipment, services of doctors, specialists ... Or “sell yourself” to a club that takes these cares and costs yourself, in exchange for making future profit from your own merits.

If you are a writer and want to be in the top league of this business, learn to see partners as publishers, not enemies. We invest in the possible, probable commercial success of a book project. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes not. If we are mistaken, all losses lie with us. We do not come to take away the fees from the author, we do not return already printed books in the wording “not needed” to the printing house, we do not offer our employees to sit a couple of months without a salary. Want to earn more? Great - start taking on risks and your share of expenses. Be the publishers.

Part 2 - How It Can Be

Where are we going?

Everything written does not convince you; you still consider publishers an extra, dead end branch of evolution; you still want fame and money earned by writing, but without a publisher. Great, now let's tell you how to do without us. Seriously - well, or almost seriously.

Everything described in the first part of the article concerned primarily the traditional, “paper” publication. But time does not stand still, but even vice versa; and who, if not the readers of Habr, should know about one of the greatest inventions of mankind in the field of information dissemination since the time of Gutenberg ... No, I do not mean Vkontakte. It will be about the so-called "e-books."

One often hears that electronic books “kill” paper ones and will soon completely supplant them. This, of course, is an exaggeration - completely, of course, they will not crowd out. There are a lot of segments where the paper book was, is and will be the main form of content delivery - for example, a children's book, primarily for the youngest. If you regularly visit bookstores, you probably noticed that every year there are more and more children’s books on the shelves - well, this is no accident. On the other hand, it would be foolish to turn a blind eye to the fact that it was electronic books that irrevocably changed the bookselling and publishing business in general. For the reader, this is a more convenient way to obtain and consume content. For a publisher, a great way to minimize their costs and increase audience reach. For the author ... We’ll talk about the authors now.

In fact, it has never been more convenient to create and publish a book yourself, as it is now. For example, instead of writing this article, I could write a book in my favorite Apple Pages. Could pick up illustrations for it on some stock of images, for example, iStock. And then compose the publication in iBooks Author and publish in iTunes, in BookStore. Is free. Or get an epub publication from the same iBooks Author and distribute it for free.

“Stop! ..” the attentive reader will exclaim. It was about how to make money on books, what does it have to do “for free”! .. Well, if they asked me, we answer.

And where is the money? ..

From this point, our narrative will begin to suspiciously resemble the first part of the article in some places. So, let's go through again, again, along the entire chain from the author to the grateful reader, who is ready to support the materially talent of the writer.

Book Shop

Forget about the big rooms, bookshelf shelves and utility rooms, merchandisers and consultants. The staff was fired, the books handed over to the waste paper, the shelves went to barbecue, the cafe was opened in the room. Now we do all sales online. Amazon, BookStore, Ozone, Liters. You can choose your own site to your liking. Yes, placing a book there will require additional movements from you - but they are all within the limits of a reasonable and quite realistic one. At least, from my publishing bell tower, all the requirements seem reasonable to me. For example, for a commercial publication on Apple Bookstore, you need a sanitary minimum:
  • ISBN books - which is obvious. Books, like any product, must be uniquely identified. The book number is obtained without any problems;
  • US TaxID - which is also obvious. It requires one short telephone conversation with the States and filling out one paper form.

That's it, now you can sell your book in one of the largest stores on the planet. This pleasure will cost you 30% of its cost. Maybe this is not 5% desired by the author - but let's just forget about unscientific fiction and fairy tales for primary school age. Supporting Amazon or iTunes-level resources requires a very, very, very decent cost. I'm afraid a joke about 5% there may not be appreciated. In any case, 30% is definitely less than the usual margin of bookstores.


In this case, the printing house is absent, which really greatly simplifies life and reduces the cost of the process. On the other hand, the book still needs to be prepared for publication. For simplicity's sake, let's put these processes in the same place as the last time - in the publishing house.

Publishing house

Here the nuances begin. Proofreading and editing do not disappear anywhere - the author can still try to save money and do everything on his own, which practically guarantees the occurrence of problems with the text, or invite experts. Specialists will want money, and most likely - right away. I will give the author an opportunity to bargain with them on the level of payment on their own, and I myself will observe this from the side with poorly concealed pleasure, having prepared myself more popcorn in advance.

The design of the book also carries a lot of surprises. Of course, if the text is the basis of the content, then there are no questions regarding layout. And if you need illustrations - remember, they increase sales? .. - then you need to take care that they appear in the right place in the text, regardless of the orientation of the device and the resolution of the display. And think about how the result will be clear to the reader. I’ll explain my thought - in the paper version of the book it is easy to achieve that each spread contains a text on a given topic, illustrations to the text, necessary explanations and footnotes. This is convenient - readers appreciate it and vote in rubles for such a presentation of information. But there are no U-turns in the e-book. And the logic for submitting content should be different. Have you heard anything about such an original Russian word as usability? It's about time to take care of this issue.

In addition, it is a sin not to take advantage of the opportunities that an electronic book provides. For example, interactive illustrations. You can’t download them from iStock - you need to attract a specialist. Searching for the right specialist by the author of the book, setting the task, agreeing on the terms of work and payment - this exciting story will make me stock up on popcorn again for an exciting pastime. Warning questions - such opportunities are not gimmicks, but really strongly distinguish your book from others and significantly increase sales. You want to earn money, and not just tell your friends girls that you publish books? ..

But if you put aside all my gloating, then you must admit that yes, the author can either handle everything on his own (if the publication is simple), or independently find artists for these works among freelancers (if there is a financial opportunity) and, thus to become a little publisher yourself.

So still - where is the money?

Obviously, writing a book, preparing a publication, getting an ISBN on it, and posting it on BookStore does not really guarantee the commercial success of the enterprise. Much depends on how the author is promoting the book after its publication. How many references to her are in the press? Are there any reviews and reviews - or rather, what needs to be done to make them appear? Is there any kind of advertising activity on the web? In general, in order for sales to go after publication, it will be necessary to make some efforts after successful publication.

It seems to me that it is precisely in the scope of the necessary efforts that the authors' fear lies in independently publishing their masterpieces. From a purely technical point of view, there are no restrictions on independent work, or they are minimized. But it’s always easier to blame the publishing house or the book network for its failure than to admit that the material was not of the best quality, the preparation was lame, and in general, something went wrong ...

Nevertheless, this is a very real way for the author to do without the services of hated intermediaries and get yourself most of the money from selling your creations. Another thing is that such work requires more exactingness for oneself, for one’s books, and willingness to take responsibility for the result, whatever it may be.

But what about piracy?

I’ll say terrible. Get ready to hear from the publisher two of the scariest things about piracy in the book market:

  1. He cannot be defeated. Content in general and books in particular have been stolen, stolen and will be stolen. To the question "why?!." the only true answer is “because.”
  2. There is no point fighting him. It makes sense to fight so that it would be more convenient for the reader to buy a book than to look for it on torrents. We need to focus on making it easy for a person to find it, it’s easy to buy, and it’s nice to use it. Then success will not be long in coming.

Of course, don’t make life easier for pirates. I myself spent a lot of time in my time sending letters to site administrators, from whom it was possible to find some of our scanned books. Then threw it. The time, effort and money spent on such a struggle is much more efficient to use to create a new book and organize its sales. If the choice is between making the book convenient, and its purchase simple, and between a complex protection system - hammer in for protection. Customer convenience is more important.


As long as there is a book market, there will be publishers. You just need to understand that the publisher, as a partner of the author, is primarily interested in monetizing the written book. And even in the e-book market, our services are in demand - sooner or later, a writer who wants to not only publish, but to earn a lot and earn a lot, will still come to the idea of ​​working with professionals. But if you want to try yourself in this business - nothing prevents you from now preparing and publishing your first book yourself. Just do it - everyone will benefit. You can really appreciate your strengths and abilities. Publishers will be able to see how your books are interesting and promising. Reader - will be able to buy it.

In general, more books are good and different; and may force be with all market players - and worthy royalties.

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