If you are considering publishing a book to showcase your beading or jewelry designs, there are basically two routes to follow: work with an established publishing house or self-publish. I have looked at self-publishing in a different article, so go to that if you’re not interested in working with a professional publishing house.
Typically, when people think of publishing a book, they think of working with an established publisher. Professional publishing houses like Search Press, Kalmbach books or GMC Group have the advantage that they have established sales, marketing and distribution networks. This means that they will be looking to sell thousands of copies of a title and they will have access to markets across the world. Although this sounds as though it will bring huge benefits, the process involved in publishing a book is not nearly as lucrative or glamorous as you may think.
The Economics of Publishing a Book
If you are talking about publishing a book, then the major cost involved is the cost of printing. As with a lot of manufacturing processes, printing costs fall if you are able to print more copies. By this, I don’t mean that it will cost £5 to print one copy and £2 to print 10 copies, rather if it costs £5 to print one copy it may cost £40 to print 10 copies, but each of those single 10 copies will have cost £4. This means if you are selling the book for £7, then you will make £2 profit if you print each book one at a time, but £3 profit per book if you do a print run of ten. If you scale up this example, then the print cost per book will reduce massively, making it possible to sell a book for a reasonable price and make a good profit.
If you are interested in more detail about the economics of publishing books, then there is another article covering this here. For now, here is a quick overview. The book publishers sell through distribution networks. Basically, wholesalers will buy large quantities of the book and then split these up to distribute to individual shops. Some wholesalers you may not have heard of unless you are familiar with the industry, companies like Gardners, a huge wholesaler that operates throughout the entire publishing industry. In the beading world you may be familiar with wholesalers like Wellhead Books or The Beadsmith. In more common terms, Amazon also acts as a wholesaler. Now wholesale companies expect to make some profits, so they will not buy the book from the publisher at £14.99 (a hypothetical retail price), but will get a discount on that price, so they can then sell it on to shops and earn some money. Depending on the length of the distribution chain, the wholesaler may get a very large discount, so that it can in turn sell at perhaps £12.99 to a shop, who can then sell on at £14.99, so both the shop and the wholesaler will receive a portion of profit from each book sale. You may be asking why this boring economics is worth worrying about: well it directly affects the money you earn from your book.
Mostly you do not get paid a fee for writing the book: you will have to do that in your own time and at your own expense. The only possible exception is if you are contributing a chapter or small section to a larger volume, in which case you may receive a set fee, but no royalties. In the case of a beading book, it can be pretty expensive to write the manuscript – just think about the cost of buying the materials you need to create all the samples, not to mention the time it will take you to do this. All this is done as an up-front investment in the hope that you will eventually earn enough money from the sales of the book to pay the cost you incurred. The money you will earn is paid in ‘royalties’, so the contract with your publisher will state that every time a copy of the book sells, you will earn royalties in the form of a percentage of the profits. Now this is the profit to the publisher. So on your £14.99 book, by the time the publisher has paid the printing and production costs, then it has given a big discount to each wholesaler, it may only be making £1 profit per book. Your royalties are like to be set at less than 10%, so that means you will be paid less than 10p for every copy that sells. In reality, the lifetime of a book will probably be several years – with a publishing house, it most likely won’t be forever as there will come a point when sales decline so much that the publisher deems it unprofitable to continue printing new copies, so the title will revert to being ‘out of print’. If your book sold 10,000 copies in its lifetime (for a beading book, this would be a good rate of sales), then you are going to earn a grand total of no more than £1000 in royalties over the course of several years.
Sales and Marketing
I mentioned that publishers will have an established sales and marketing network too. However, this does not mean they magically have the means to launch your unknown name into a household beading name. This would take a huge amount of effort and expense and the reality of publishing today is that there isn’t a lot of money in it for anyone, so publishing houses do not have the budget to promote an unknown name. They are more likely to be looking for people with established connections in the industry or a proven track record of publishing. This does not mean that ‘new’ names cannot ever get contracts with publishing houses, but it does mean that if you are serious about publishing a book with a publishing house, you need to be prepared to do a lot of self-promotion. The publishing house will want their relationship with you to help them as much as it helps you. This means for example, a publishing house that is already established in some craft industries, but now wants to move into the beading world, may want to work with someone who already has a good reputation in that world. That reputation could be as a teacher or as a ‘guru’, not necessarily as an author. What it means is that when your book comes out, the publisher will know that hundreds or thousand of beaders are already aware of you and will probably be willing to buy your book. The publishing house will be able to market to its existing customers in the craft industry and some of them may like to try a beading book, but this market is less certain than the existing beading market. So, if you are thinking that you just need to send in a manuscript and the publisher will automatically make you into a household name, then think again!
The Experience of Publishing a Book
Just supposing you are fortunate enough to get a contract with a big publishing house, you will be allocated an editor to work on your book. You will submit your instructions and diagrams. These will probably be completely re-written. Your diagrams will be turned into a standard format using professional software. If you need photos, then these will be taken by a professional photographer. The editor will edit your instructions and prose to make it fit into the page format needed for the book. Unless you happen to be working with an editor who is also an avid beader, you may find yourself having to fight a lot of battles with someone who thinks that certain instructions are not needed and wants to cut them, or make stylistic changes that you’re not entirely happy about. By all means fight your corner, but everyone to whom I have spoken about their experience has told me that they ended up having to make changes that they would rather not have made. As the publishing house will be paying the cost of the designer, the photographer and the editor, your say in all of this may be a little limited. Much of this is dependent on the publishing house and the editor in question, so building up a good rapport with your editor is very important and I should emphasise that a good editor should and will respect the views of the writer.
As you will already know, there is a new market emerging: ebooks. I mentioned that a major cost for a book is printing. Well, with ebooks, you have no print cost. This changes the economics a lot. In some cases it will still not work in the author’s favour as the reduction in cost is passed directly onto the consumer. This is what has been putting such pressure on print book prices as they are having to compete with cheaper ebook alternatives. However, this does not seem to me to be a good argument for de-valuing the contribution of an author. Big publishing houses may be starting to get into the ebook market by simply turning their print book into a format that can be read on an e-reader, but there are now smaller publishing houses emerging that are focusing on this new market alone. A good example of this is Vivebooks, with whom I have worked. The advantage of setting up a totally new offering like this, is being able to re-scope the traditional financials behind publishing, for example royalties. There is a strong argument to be made that without the author there would be no book, so it is time to stop taking authors for granted and start paying them a little more fairly. The ebook format has also changed the way the distribution network operates, so it is now possible for an author with their own website to act as a distributor of the ebook and thus make some money from the distribution element in addition to royalties. This is certainly a model that is forcing big changes upon the whole publishing industry.
I hope this will have given you an insight into what is really involved in publishing a book in today’s craft or beading world. However, it reflects my views and experience, so if you are looking to become an author, this should be a good starting point from which you can talk to more people and start making contacts within publishing houses, or perhaps investigating the other options for publishing a book, including working with niche publishers or self-publishing.