We all know that self-publishers often evolve into publishers who bring out books by other authors. In fact, lots of us have made this transition, including me. The process of turning back into a self-publisher is less well known and somehow suspect, because so many prominent editors and publishers choose to take their literary creations to houses other than their own.
Early in 2000, when I began to think about having my company publish a new book of mine, I gave a lot of consideration to whether it was wise and ethical. I offer my story here for all of you who are tempted to follow the same pattern, or may be tempted some day in the future.
My company–Allworth Press, founded in 1989–has more than 150 titles in print, including many titles about success and survival for people in the creative arts, as well as more general coverage of business, financial, and legal issues. When the question of having Allworth publish my new book, The Money Mentor: A Tale of Finding Financial Freedom, came up, our backlist already included nine straightforward legal guides by me (I’m a lawyer by training) and I had also published six books with other houses.
My most recent and relevant book, The Secret Life of Money: How Money Can Be Food for the Soul, was one that I had thought about publishing through Allworth. However I had decided against it, for several apparently good reasons. I felt that I lacked credentials in the field, that the imprimatur of a big house would be a help, and that a house with marketing experience in the personal growth area would know the best way to reach the public for the book. But the big house that bought it seemed unable to explain the book to its sales force, the cover struck me as weak, and the advance didn’t earn out.
The fact that Allworth was able to buy back paperback rights to The Secret Life of Money may have helped pave the way for the decision that we would do The Money Mentor. Like The Secret Life of Money, The Money Mentor was a hybrid, this time a personal finance/personal growth book in the form of a novel.
Here are the factors we considered:
Does this book fit our list?
Although it was fiction, the answer was “Yes” because Allworth Press publishes money books in its business, money, and law category.
Does it fit our distributor’s profile?
Our distributor, Watson-Guptill Publications, had been successful with a number of our other money/personal-finance titles.
Does it need approval from gatekeepers to succeed?
After my experience with The Secret Life of Money, my esteem for the gatekeepers (in the shape of larger publishing houses) had fallen and I certainly didn’t think The Money Mentor would need such approval. Also, I felt that I could gain a different kind of approval by putting energy into obtaining excellent blurbs for the cover–a strategy that was very successful.
Would a large house with a strong personal growth list do a better job with marketing?
This was always a possibility and I explored it by having my agent submit to six or seven houses. With the exception of one editor who was overruled by her editorial board, these houses felt the fictional approach was too unusual and perilous.
Will my responses to editorial and marketing suggestions be warped because they’re from my own staff?
We encourage a lot of independence at Allworth, and I adopted the vast majority of editorial suggestions that were made. I also had the benefit of three editorial readings plus input from others on staff. In dealing with our distributor, I think I made a mistake by being too willing to meet marketing goals. I agreed to change the subtitle to obscure the fact that the book was fiction. Luckily I was later saved from my own mistake by the reaction of the reps.
Will the reps have a negative view of this kind of self-publishing?
I had my Associate Publisher present the book at a sales conference in the morning. When I arrived in the afternoon, I heard that the reps had been highly critical not of the book but of the cover. The subject was reopened, and in a candid and helpful way, the reps advised me that the serious business-type cover was losing the edgy, fun quality of the book. Not only did we have to redesign the cover, but I also had the opportunity to correct the subtitle and make it clear that the book was a “tale.”
Will the buyers’ responses to reps be different?
The reps had no problem selling the book to the trade. It advanced on par with our other titles.
Could Allworth negotiate fairly with me?
This really wasn’t an issue, since as a sole owner I didn’t have partners or shareholders to be concerned about. One interesting financial point is that I earn a far higher percentage for subsidiary rights licenses than I would if another publisher were involved.
Would the publicity and other marketing efforts at Allworth be adequate for the book?
I felt that they would be, especially since we had already done books in the personal finance area.
Of course, I kept reminding myself that other publishers are the gatekeepers only with respect to manuscripts. Once a book is published, the gatekeepers become the media.
Without effective promotion, the best book will languish and probably not reach its intended audience. With this in mind, I was delighted when Publishers Weekly gave The Money Mentor a favorable review as an “unusual yet practical look at financial management,” and especially pleased when my long-time, and highly supportive agent, Jean Naggar, who now handles foreign rights sales for Allworth Press, sold Korean rights just as the book was published in the United States.
Writing a book entails a strange transformation of something imagined and inner to something realized and outer. The acceptance by an editor validates, matching the inner urgency to create with a desire to transmit the work to an audience. When editorial acceptance is absent, the publisher as author may substitute other approvals–such as a review, a foreign rights sale, a serialization, an invitation to read, a radio interview, or a book signing–to gain that ever important feeling that, yes, readers really do want to read my book!
Tad Crawford, Publisher and President for Allworth Press in New York City is the author of “The Money Mentor: A Tale of Finding Financial Freedom,” “Business and Legal Forms for Authors & Self-Publishers,” and “The Writer’s Legal Guide.” He has been a guest on such programs as “The O’Reilly Report” and “New York and Company.”