When’s the Right Time to Leave Your Big Six Publisher?

Jane Knows

I received the following question from published author Lisa Earle McLeod—who I remember first meeting at a Foothills Writers Guild conference in South Carolina:

Hi Jane,

My first book, Forget Perfect, was published by Perigee (Penguin USA) in 2001. It did moderately well. Now 10 years later, as sales were starting to peter out, Forget Perfect was featured on The Today Show and NBC Nightly News, both within the last 30 days.

The book’s core message—don’t undervalue your own life, instead of trying to do everything perfectly, start defining yourself in the context of a larger purpose—resonates with the cultural climate of our times.

I’m going to update Forget Perfect and relaunch it.

Here’s the question, do I do it with Penguin or on my own?

Penguin wants to relaunch it, with a new cover and a new foreword. No additional advance, but the prospect of additional earnings (at the thrilling 7% rate).

But, per the terms of my original contract, I’m within my rights to ask for the rights to be reverted back to me (based on current sales volume).

So I could release it on my own, if I wanted to.

Based on my platform, Internet presence, mailing list and promotion plans, I’m confident that I can generate significant e-book sales.

Should I go with Penguin, or do it on my own?

If I do it on my own, I could generate more revenue and have more control of the process. If I go with Penguin, I have the cache of a big publisher, along with their editorial and cover expertise.

What would you do?




Wow … only 7%? That’s pretty miserable.

The more you have the following things in place—or are ready to jump into action—the more I’d tip in favor of you doing it on your own:

  • A strong e-mail list with a good open rate (25%+)
  • Well-established social media network that can help spread word of mouth
  • The right contacts to help place guest articles/posts on the right sites/blogs that target the book’s target audience
  • An existing website that can be quickly adjusted on the fly to focus on the re-release
  • A nice backlog of content connected to the book—or re-purposed from the book—that can be excerpted across sites/blogs interested in your work
  • Resources to hire a good publicist for the first 3 months of relaunch
  • Resources to hire a good cover designer

I know you’re business savvy enough to do this on your own and earn quite a bit of money doing it. The big questions for me would be:

  1. Do you have the time & energy to spend on it?
  2. Do you have the resources to hire help as needed?

I don’t think you need Penguin’s editorial help if the bulk of the book has already been through the editorial process, or you don’t anticipate sweeping changes.

[But, editorial tangent: I’d also be thinking of upsells, e.g., companion workbooks or tutorials or something to make your efforts go even further. You could always hire freelance editorial assistance if necessary.]

I wonder if the publisher would be willing to budge on that percentage if they knew you wanted to do this on your own? Seems silly of them not to offer a better deal, but not surprising.

For readers of this blog, what do you think? Is there a stronger advantage in sticking with Penguin, particularly for physical store distribution, even at 7% royalty? Make sure you check out Lisa’s site before giving your final answer!


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