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?

Peace,

Lisa

 

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!

 

Posted in Digital Media, E-Books and tagged , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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43 Comments on "When’s the Right Time to Leave Your Big Six Publisher?"

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Christina Katz
Wow, Jane. I think this is the best blog post you have ever done. I love that you are tackling this level of question and offering the depth of your expertise like only you can offer and inviting us to chime in. Bravo! And congratulations to Lisa. I can see the value in Lisa’s books in today’s marketplace but it looks to me like her Internet presence needs a complete makeover. However, for all the folks who like to say that traditional media is dead, it looks like traditional media CAN bring a book with waning sales back to life.… Read more »
Christina Katz
Wow, Jane. I think this is the best blog post you have ever done. I love that you are tackling this level of question and offering the depth of your expertise like only you can offer and inviting us to chime in. Bravo! And congratulations to Lisa. I can see the value in Lisa’s books in today’s marketplace but it looks to me like her Internet presence needs a complete makeover. However, for all the folks who like to say that traditional media is dead, it looks like traditional media CAN bring a book with waning sales back to life.… Read more »
Bob

Christina, Bob McLeod here (Lisa’s husband).  I appreciate your insight and comments but was curious if you could elaborate on your thoughts regarding an internet makeover.  Feel free to email me offline.  Bob@triangleoftruth.com.  Thanks

Christina Katz
Sure, Bob. So as not to steal Jane’s thunder here, I’ll just rattle off a few tips off the top of my head and then I expect that Jane has some more suggestions. Here we go: Personally, I always prefer a blog on the front of a site because that’s typically the most dynamic page. I want to see the author in action right now, rather than thumb through a static site. I need a second opinion on this, but I’d suggest a new headshot. This one is not as appealing as I am sure Lisa is in real life.… Read more »
Anne R. Allen

Fantastic post from Jane and really useful site analysis from you, Christina. Friendly, attractive headshots and good “above the fold” content are so important.

Melinda VanLone
If I were her, I would absolutely do this book on my own. She already has the platform, the PR is already in motion. Don’t be afraid of it, jump right in. She might have a talk with the publisher on the way out though. If they offer her a better deal it might be worth it to stay. But they’ve been ignoring her for years. She doesn’t owe them anything at this point. Cover designers are easy to hire. As are production people (to set up the e files if it comes to that), editors, etc. This is where… Read more »
April Line
If I were Lisa,  I would first ask Penguin to negotiate on the terms (or have her agent/attorney do it for her).  It sounds like she still wants some of the advantages of going with the big house, like half (or less) of the work she’ll have to do to generate competitive sales in self- or e-pub.   Generating buzz via social networking and well-placed blog content requires lot of toil, plus piles of diplomacy and the exhausting process of replying, following, and paying the networking forward.  That could be a full time job on its own for a period… Read more »
shirleyhs

I too think this is a wonderful post–thanks Lisa for allowing the rest of us to see inside the issues faced by authors today (I had never thought of this one as a beginning author). And Jane your knowledge of all the bits and pieces in the machinery of contemporary publishing truly knocks me out. Thanks both of you for providing a great tutorial. If Penguin is smart, it will  make you an offer you can’t refuse. 

Cathy Yardley
It’s a complicated dilemma!  I think that print distribution shouldn’t be discounted.  Right now, print books don’t have a chance of getting into B&N unless they have a print run, not just POD.  (At least, that’s their latest policy.)  I would imagine this book doing great in airports, as well.  I would think that negotiating for a higher ebook royalty with Penguin is very reasonable.  Best of all, Penguin will have the sales reps and print distribution in place… I can imagine a print book like this, with this topic, doing well as a re-release and even boosting digital sales… Read more »
Elle B

Fantastic post and comments! So hard to find good advice for NF authors. Now I have a roadmap. Thank you, Jane and readers.

Ed Cyzewski

Great advice. The more I think about the viability of releasing books on my own, the more I think freelance publicists are going to be in high demand. That’s probably one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle required for an author who already has a published book. A friend of mine is a motivational speaker who released his own book, and I suggested that he hire a publicist to walk him through the details of marketing rather than trying to find a publisher for his already published book. 

Lisa
Thanks for the feedback. This is a hot topic.  One thing that always surprises when it comes up is the animosity some authors have towards big publishers. I want to be clear, my original contract with Penguin 11 years ago was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  They took a chance on an unknown, and they have supported my work ever since. Without Penguin, Forget Perfect would have been another half-baked, self-published, poorly done book. Let’s be honest, most the self-published book never achieve the quality that the big 6 do. My 7.5% royalty (my bad it’s 7.5… Read more »
Pamela Beason

If Penguin will not give you a better contract that specifies a much better royalty and lays out their plan for publicity, you’d be much better off doing it on your own. You’ve already received much of what they can do for you–readers know about you! Take that and run with it.

Zeeen.com

Great discussion. I always emphasize partnerships for aspiring indie authors. 
Self-publishing doesn’t have to be “going it alone.” At it’s best you are establishing the right contacts (editor, publicist, etc.) directly instead of relying on a publisher to aggregate those people. 

So my recommendation would be to start networking for those people now. Tell Penguin what you’re thinking, giving them the opportunity to give you a better offer. Then based on your talent search and response from penguin make an informed decision.  

Zeeen.com

Great discussion. I always emphasize partnerships for aspiring indie authors. 
Self-publishing doesn’t have to be “going it alone.” At it’s best you are establishing the right contacts (editor, publicist, etc.) directly instead of relying on a publisher to aggregate those people. 

So my recommendation would be to start networking for those people now. Tell Penguin what you’re thinking, giving them the opportunity to give you a better offer. Then based on your talent search and response from penguin make an informed decision.  

Anonymous

Question for Jane – My understanding is that self-published books are not even considered for bookstore sales (including airports). Besides Amazon and back-of-the-room sales, what distribution could the author get on her own?

I understand that with exhaustive effort and publicity she could get the book attention. But where would people actually buy the book – and how would that impact profits?

Shevi Arnold
Great blog post! I agree with you completely. A writer who goes it on his or her own gets 70% of the cover price (for ebooks) and 100% control over the finished product. A writer who goes with a big publisher gets a better chance of getting his or her book reviewed and into brick-and-mortar bookstores–for about three months before it’s remaindered. Sure there are other benefits of going with a traditional publisher, but at what cost? I created a side-by-side comparison chart of indie versus traditional publishing for novelists here on my blog: http://shevi.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-know-my-friends-mean-well-when-they.html The post is called “How… Read more »
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[…] When’s the Right Time to Leave Your Big Six Publisher? | Jane Friedman If you have backlist books that you can reclaim your rights to, it might be time to relaunch those works on your own—and start earning much higher royalties than what your Big Six publisher will pay. Source: janefriedman.com […]

Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg

Being that Lisa is a public speaker, getting the reach in airport bookstores, getting high fees for consulting and speaking… i would vote AGAINST her leaving that publisher. 

Yes, there is much more money to be made by self publishing (and it doesn’t have to be ebook, it could be paperback via amazon’s createspace.com using Print on Demand (POD) technology), but if this is actually about the book being the business card and credibility builder, self publishing is an awful idea.

it’s like offering a business lunch cooked in your home instead of an upscale restaurant or cafe…

Mary s

If you read Publishers Weekly and all of the other information coming out about e-books, they aren’t just for amateurs any more. I think people have underestimated how “electronic” younger people are. Interesting discussion here, thanks so much.

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[…] When’s the Right Time to Leave Your Big Six Publisher? | Jane Friedman If you have backlist books that you can reclaim your rights to, it might be time to relaunch those works on your own—and start earning much higher royalties than what your Big Six publisher will pay. Source: janefriedman.com […]

danastabenow

How much is Penguin offering Lisa for her cut of e-sales?  If it’s less than 75 percent, she should definitely go out on her own.

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[…] When’s the Right Time to Leave Your Big Six Publisher? | Jane Friedman If you have backlist books that you can reclaim your rights to, it might be time to relaunch those works on your own—and start earning much higher royalties than what your Big Six publisher will pay. Source: janefriedman.com […]

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