After I decided to write a book I set out to learn about the publishing process. I learned there were two primary options: traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Traditional publishing consists of the author sending a book proposal to a large publishing company such as Norton, HarperCollins, or Simon & Schuster. If the company thinks the book will sell it will send the author a contract containing the following:
- Lump sum (usually called an advance) for the author to complete the book
- Publishing company ultimately controls editing, cover design, marketing, and distribution
- Author retains a small percentage of book sales royalties
- Publishing company retains majority of book sales royalties
The traditional contract places the liability on the publishing company. They provide the capital for the book. They benefit from high book sales…but also suffer from low book sales. The primary way publishing companies make money is through book sales so their financial and legal priorities are making sure they sell as many books as possible to make as much money as possible.
The other option is self-publishing. In this model the author is responsible for everything, including writing the manuscript, editing, cover design, marketing, and distribution. He or she may hire creative professionals to do all or part of the publishing work for him or her. The author is ultimately responsible for the entire process. He or she bears full financial and legal responsibility: if the book sells well he or she makes money…if it doesn’t he or she loses money.
I chose the self-publishing option because my first priority was creating a high-quality book. Selling copies was a secondary goal. Furthermore author benefits for writing a book go beyond profits from book sales: they include increasing visibility in his or her field, speaking engagements, and other ancillary opportunities. For an author the primary benefits of writing a book are not the volume of book sales. This is why I chose the self-publishing option. I wanted to focus on the quality of my book not pump out safe, processed, mediocre content to sell books.
Luckily for me one of my mentors in residency, Dr. Kaveh Navab, introduced me to a company called Scribe Media. Scribe is a publishing company that specializes in the “back-end” publishing tasks: essentially all of the things first-time book writers like me don’t know how to do including editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design, copywriting, marketing, printing, and distribution. More importantly they will do all of these tasks for an up-front cost. In the process the author retains full creative and legal control of the process. They will only work with authors who have a tangible target audience, reasonable expectations, and the motivation to survive the arduous process of writing a book.
I chose to work with Scribe because I thought our goal is the same: to create the highest quality book possible. My primary benefits are from writing a high quality book that creates ancillary benefits for my myself. Their primary benefit is me writing a high quality book because it raises the profile of their company, incentives me to recommend them to others, and creates a constructive, profitable business relationship. They get paid the same whether my book sells well or poorly. Our priority is book quality. Book sales are still important, just not the primary goal.
The shift in priorities reflects the changing publishing market of the 21st century. Book sales are conducted primarily online instead of in book stores. Therefore a book that sells only 500 copies but results in millions of dollars in ancillary opportunities for the author is much more valuable than one that sells 10,000 copies without those opportunities. Non-fiction books written by professionals are the most valuable when they are targeted at a specific audience or solves a specific problem. When drilling for oil you don’t pick 20 sites and drill shallow, you pick the best spot and drill deep.
Like the publishing industry the rest of our world is also changing. I decided to write a book because my experiences in anesthesiology give me a unique perspective into the management of those changes- especially synergy, Black Swans, and complex systems. The reality is I may not make any money from this book. I may not even gain additional opportunities. Regardless of the outcome I will be happy as long as my book remains true to my observations, education, and values. Readers can decide the rest. Results are temporary, the process is eternal.
More information about Scribe can be found at https://scribemedia.com/