A number of our blog posts over the past months have dealt with agents and authors thinking outside the box as they pursue their book projects. Today, I would like to discuss what I hope is the beginning of a trend on the publishing side: Publishers dealing with authors in non-traditional ways whereby ultimately both Publisher and author establish a more lucrative and satisfying relationship.
A number of years ago, I heard of a CDS Books which had been founded as a distribution company but which, after a number of successful years in business had begun a publishing program of one or two books a season. They had a very unusual business model: CDS would not pay any advances to their authors; what they would do however was to “buy” only North American book publishing rights and pay a royalty beginning at 20% and escalating up to 35%. They would also commit to spending a minimum of six figures for promotion, publicity and advertising. They allowed the author to retain serial, book club, audio, video, multimedia, electronic and all translation rights so that he or she could sell these rights themselves.
One of our new clients whose sales had been falling due to a lack of attention on his previous publisher’s and agent’s part agreed with me that being published by CDS might well be an interesting and successful experience. As it turns out, we were correct. That author has enjoyed increased sales of his last two books in all arenas. Since he was first published by this company, it has been sold, and its two founders have gone off to pursue other ventures. Now known as Vanguard Press, the company is beginning to publish more books and my one fear is that it will morph into a traditional publishing organization and will stop paying as much attention as it has in the past to each individual author and book – thereby losing its distinctive advantages in the marketplace.
And now another company is being formed, this time as a division of HarperCollins. Bob Miller has left Hyperion, after almost twenty years as founder and President, to start up an as yet unnamed “publishing studio” at HarperCollins. He will begin this new gig with a very exciting business model. It is a bit different from the Vanguard model, but it is still distinctive and shares an “out of the box” philosophy.
In this case the author will receive an advance of no more than $100,000.00 for book rights which will almost always include the author selling many of the traditional rights – book, serialization, book club, audio, foreign and translation rights. The royalty on book sales however will be 50% of the profits. This will enable the author to ultimately earn far more money than he or she might have with even a significantly higher advance and a standard 10%, 12.5% and 15% royalty rate.
Admittedly, neither of these formulas will work for every author; many require money up front in order to finish their books; others believe that the success of their books is tied to the size of the advance they receive (I am not a believer in this theory having seen it disproved too many times).
I urge all authors, however, to consider these new “out of the box” publishing formulas for their books; I, for one, hope that more of my colleagues on the publishing side will strike out with adaptations of these new and creative business models.