Major Publisher Opens Subsidy Publishing Division

As you all know, yesterday Thomas Nelson announced they are launching a new imprint, WestBow Press, which will operate as a subsidy publisher. Lots of people are talking about it and I thought I’d weigh in with a few thoughts.

*Please note, this is preliminary since I’ve only had a few hours to think about it. I’m sure I will have more to say, or my thinking may evolve, so I’ll keep you updated.*

There will probably be some criticisms of Nelson’s move, but looking at the big picture of publishing, I think WestBow Press is a step in the right direction (and by the way, Nelson isn’t the first or only publisher to add a subsidy division). The reality is that technology is making it easier and easier for writers to bypass the traditional pubs and get their own work published. More importantly, technology is increasingly allowing readers to bypass traditional pubs, too. With our Kindles (and other current and future e-readers), we can read anything from just about anyone. This means authors and readers can now connect with each other without the help of a middleman, a big publisher. This is a cataclysmic change in how authors find readers, and how readers find and read books.

Yes, we are at the beginning of this shift, but make no mistake, the trend is going to continue. Publishers need to embrace this shift and try to be a part of it; trying to fight it or stop it will ensure their slow deaths.

This is NOT to say that in the future, we won’t have the traditional publishers. But it’s naive to think the traditional pubs are going to stay as important as they are; they’ll certainly no longer monopolize publishing. In the future, they will be part of the landscape, but not the entire picture. If the traditional publishers want to stay relevant, they need to be taking steps to be a part of that future publishing landscape rather than digging their heels in. Serious competition will eventually come from self-publishing. Only those who embrace that fact are going to stay in the game.

We have only to look at what happened to the music industry to see that this is exactly the kind of step publishers should be taking. The big mistake the music business made was turning a blind eye on the fact that new technology was making it easier for artists to record and distribute their own music. They refused to try and be part of the new landscape and instead tried to fight against it. It was devastating for the industry, which has never recovered. They could have joined in and been part of the innovation and revolution; they could have had a piece of the pie. Instead they lost their shirts.

Having a self-publishing imprint might not be the best response to the changing publishing environment, just like the Kindle might not be the best e-reader. But in order for change to happen, companies have to take small steps out of the box. Like Seth Godin says, whatever is new isn’t immediately going to be better than the old. But give it time to keep evolving, and eventually it will be. The only way to get to something better is to step out and embrace the new. I think Nelson is trying to do this.

The Kindle and all the other e-readers are analogous to MP3s and iPods. With my iPod I can download a song and I don’t have a clue, nor do I care, if the song came from a big music company or not. I can get plenty of garage bands who independently put out their own records… and I love it. On Kindle, it’s the same thing but with books. Whole subcultures will start to grow made of fans of certain self-publishing authors, just like there are tribes of fans of artists and bands that have never been put out by a major label. In the long run, it serves not just the author but the consumer. And that’s why it’s a smart move to enter the self-pub business. If you want to make money, you’ve got to keep your eye on what the consumer wants.

What about distribution?

As a subsidy publisher, not technically a self publisher, WestBow will have “sales reps working to sell to Christian book buyers,” according to their website. This means that unlike some forms of self-publishing, there’s some kind of distribution plan in place. Ostensibly the WestBow books could appear on shelves at Family Christian or Barnes & Noble. Pardon me if I let my skepticism show here, but c’mon. The bookstore buyers already say no to so many books publishers pitch. Aren’t they going to look at the subsidy books and say something like, “Are you kidding me?” I think the chances of those books actually having a very effective distribution channel are fairly slim. But of course I could be wrong, it’s happened before.

A note about the name “WestBow Press.”

I have concerns about the name they chose for the imprint. As many of you know, back when Thomas Nelson had many imprints, WestBow was one of them. It was the fiction line, and it was very well known by the name WestBow. Many current authors still have books in print under the WestBow name, published as recently as mid-2008. To call a new self-publishing imprint by the same name as a former, well-known and highly respected fiction imprint (with extremely high quality standards) seems unfair to the authors who previously wrote for WestBow.

If you search Amazon for WestBow, you’ll find books by authors like Ted Dekker, Karen Kingsbury, and Colleen Coble. I wonder how these folks will feel about their books being on a shelf next to a self-pubbed title, both books with “WestBow” on the spine. It seems like it might fool unsuspecting consumers into thinking a WestBow book (of the the current self-published variety) is somehow of the same quality as a WestBow book of the past. This really surprises me, because I know the folks at Nelson to be of high integrity and character. I hope Mike Hyatt blogs about this. Even more, I hope Nelson changes the name of the subsidy division.

So how does this affect YOU?

I have a couple of notes for those of you who are right about now thinking self-pubbing with WestBow looks pretty good. In Mike Hyatt’s blog post, he gives a good list of situations in which self-publishing might be right for you. The list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, of course, so there are a couple things that could be added. Such as:

→ Self publishing is right for you if you have several thousand dollars to invest in publishing your book, with no guarantee of a return. The packages at WestBow run from about a grand to more than six grand; realistically, even if you chose the less expensive package, you’re likely going to need at least $5,000 to $10,000 when you add in the cost of marketing.

→ The other thing that needs to be said is this: If you want people to read your book, then self or subsidy publishing only makes sense if you have a real, solid, honest-to-goodness way to market and sell your book. A large business or organization through which you can move copies; frequent speaking engagements; a high-traffic blog or website; a large church that you pastor. (What’s that? Sounds like a platform??? Say it isn’t so!) Think hard about this.

When is it not a good idea to consider self or subsidy publishing?

In the first place, let it be said that self-pubbing is usually only a viable business plan for non-fiction authors, not novelists. That’s just a general caveat. And by “business plan” I mean, of course, a plan with some potential to recoup the original investment and eventually make a profit.

My biggest caution would be to you authors, particularly fiction authors, who have been trying to get published for less than two or three years, and you’re getting impatient to get your books in print. Especially if you’ve been told your writing is good and getting better. For you, the process of traditional publishing may actually be working for you; i.e. encouraging you to continue improving your books until they become something really good that many people will read.

To self-pub out of impatience may be subverting this process and short-changing yourself of the experience of continuing to grow yourself as a writer. Besides, last I checked, impatience doesn’t bring with it a marketing plan. You may be impatient to publish, but if you do, you may end up with the same old problem: nobody’s reading your books. First, because they’re not good enough, or at least not as good as the competition. Second, because you have no way to sell them.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now. Questions? Comments? Bored out of your mind?
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  • Andrew

    >Not boring at all! This is a post that REALLY needed to be written.

    I would echo the advice to have a sound and VERIFIED marketing plan before going that route. The book won't sell itself. Books don't care if they sit in boxes in your garage, or what.

    I worked for ten years as a published of educational software/audio-visual/books, and marketing was eight hundred pound gorilla who needed three square meals a day (how's that for a mixed metaphor!).

    It was the days before the Internet, and I did direct mail marketing…the mail went to a highly targeted clientele, people and institutions who used our and similar products. The response rate was 0.75%, and eventually the rising cost of postage outstripped the profits. I was selling critically-acclaimed products, that were (at the time) unique to the market…and I could not make it pay.

    I know people who've worked with subsidy publishers, and while they do give you a product, and it does have an ISBN you won't see it in a bookstore…or anywhere else unless you are specifically looking for it. And you'll probably be they only one looking for it.

    So – kudos to you, Rachelle, for telling it like it is. Please continue!

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Thank you. What a world we live in. Ever changing.

    Mike's article mentioned a payment from WestBow for agents who recommended the WestBow alternative for publishing.

    I'm wondering how helpful that will be for agents? A good thing?

  • Andrew

    >One question – do any of the e-book platforms really work well?

    I wonder if self-publishing could work better in music because the user-friendliness of technology shift from, say, portable cassette players to Ipods gave increased convenience with no real downside.

    However…every e-book platform I've seen has a screen, and there is no screen in the industry that doesn't have a glare problem (I've got a laptop with a low-glare screen, and it's a joke…a $3000 joke).

    I've also heard that scrolling and 'page-turning' are a pain.

    And…isn't there a reason that most editors, and agents, prefer to read hard copies?

    Just wondering.

  • Andrew

    >Re Sharon's post, and the parallel with the music industry…

    …sounds a bit like payola to me.

  • writer jim

    >As long as subsidy publishers treat authors fair and honest, WHAT could possibly be wrong with that type self-publishing? There are lots of ways to sell your book, IF it is a book that people WANT to read.

    I was invited to do business with a promoter of famous secular musicians. I met with him in person several times. I talked to him about receiving Jesus to be saved. He talked to me about, "It's all about making money". And he definitely knew how to make big money very quickly.

    IF you are a true Christian… Above all; if you are doing your writing FOR God: He can be trusted to use your work as He wants. And that is what really matters.

    • Enoch

      “IF you are a true Christian… Above all; if you are doing your writing FOR God: He can be trusted to use your work as He wants. And that is what really matters.” This is a statement from Andrew, this dates back as 2009 and it just spoke to me so much. I truly believe that the bottom lilne is God, if your book was prompted by the spirit of God, I believe wheter traditional or subsidy publishing God should “sell” his book…Andrew thank you…I think we should look more at the lives that wiill be touched, rather than the sales levels.

  • Andrew

    >Having just read Mike Hyatt's post on Westbow -

    All due respect to him (and a LOT is due), but the idea of giving agents a fee for referrals seems awful.

    An agent's job is to represent her client, the author, and to hold said client's best interests first. To be in a position of potentially accepting a money directly from a publisher as a referral fee seems to be a tremendous conflict of interest, at least.

    It's troubling that he'd go that route, unless there are rules about representation that I am missing.

    Rachelle, could you please give us an agent's take on this?

  • Nicola Morgan

    >Rachelle – this is a fantastic exposition of the situation. While being happily in the "mainstream" publishing camp myself, I agree with you that we'd be foolish to ignore the possibilities that quality self-publishing offers. And we very much do need articles like this which calmly and realistically set out the sitaution for anyone thinking of choosing thie route. Eyes wide open in my motto.

  • Timothy Fish

    >Overall, I agree with most of what you said, but your numbers are a little off. Given that how a self-published author measures success may be different from how the traditional publishing industry measures it, an author can achieve success with far less than $5,000 to $10,000. To think otherwise is to pass self-publishing off as infeasible, which we know it is not. Take for example my book Church Website Design. My profits are several times the production cost. If I had gone with a program like WestBow, I would still be making a profit. Could I have made more money if I had spent that additional $4,000 to $9,000 on marketing? Perhaps, but the simple truth is that if an author writes a book that people need and finds a way to inform the people who need it of its existence, it will market itself. Self-published authors will not see success through the traditional means. A one man publishing team can’t compete with a publisher with hundreds of employees when he is on the traditional publishing playing field, but when we strip all that away and the book must stand on its own with nothing but the enthusiasm of the customers to determine what sells and what doesn’t, any book can be successful, or fail, as the case may be.

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >Thanks for this analysis, Rachelle. I agree with 90% of it.

    With regard to WestBow, I am big on history. I wanted something that spoke of a beginning—a "start," if you will.

    At first, we picked MacNeil Press. MacNeil was the Scottish clan from which Thomas Nelson came originally. We got pretty far down the line with this, but then discovered that it was already a small imprint of another publisher. The trademark was already taken.

    So then we thought, we can use WestBow. We already have paid the thousands of dollars it takes to register the trademark. We own the URL. And we love everything it stands for. (It was the street on which Thomas Nelson first opened his second-hand book shop in Edinburgh.)

    Honestly, we didn't think about the impact it might have on authors who published under that imprint when it was our fiction division. Our bad.

    Having said that, I really don't think it is going to make a material difference. The best-selling authors who published under that imprint were all converted over to Thomas Nelson when we did away with our various imprints. The newest editions of their books are all under Thomas Nelson. So this really only affects the books on the shelves, primarily in homes and libraries.

    I know that we in the publishing industry pay attention to imprints, but, as I have argued for some time, consumers don't care. It's just not an issue, so I don't think it will have an adverse impact.

    With regard to agents getting a referral fee, I don't see how that is much different than the way it is now. (I was an agent myself for eight years, so I am speaking from my experience.) While the agent represents the author in a traditional relationship, his or her money comes from the publisher. In this case, the same is true. Obviously, as an agent of integrity, you wouldn't make this recommendation to your client unless you (a) disclosed your compensation and (b) felt it was good for your client—just like traditional publishing.

    Thanks for providing me with a chance to weight in. I always appreciate your posts!

  • Katie Ganshert

    >I think this is all very interesting stuff. I wasted a lot of time last night reading all the comments on Michael Hyatt's blog (shame on me). Things are definitely changing.

    I find it exciting and frightening all at the same time. I'm not sure anyone will jump up and say, "I love change!" I think most of us tend to resist it. As a writer, I have dreams of getting published through a traditional house. Maybe that won't ever happen, but it's still my dream. It's hard to release my claws from that dream and consider that by the time I'm "ready", traditional might not mean as much as it used to.

    As I was reading the comments on the loop and the comments on Michael Hyatt's blog, the question that kept popping into my mind was: How will this industry shift affect agents?

  • Cecelia Dowdy

    >On Mike Hyatt's blog post, I made a comment similiar to yours, Rachelle. Here's the comment that I made:
    I wonder why you don't just create a new imprint for the self-pubbed titles? Isn't Ted Dekker published under Westbow? Wouldn't it look weird for people to perceive Ted's novels as being self-pubbed?

    Interesting business concept, though. I'm anxious to see if it'll become lucrative.
    >>>I noticed that Mike Hyatt was answering some of the comments, but he failed to address this one and I was hoping he would. I don't, for the life of me, understand why they don't give the self-pubbed imprint a new name?

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >Cecelia, please see my comment above. Thanks.

  • Timothy Fish

    >In defense of the little WestBow guy, if Thomas Nelson intends to say that they are serious about this thing, it makes sense for them to choose an imprint with some history behind it. For them to now go back and say, “Oops, we forgot that we used to publish some important authors under that imprint, so we’ll have to choose something else,” would be to tell the authors who publish under the new imprint, “We want your money, but you really aren’t important to us.” On the other hand, to stick the WestBow guy on these books is to tell these authors, “We’re so committed to this that we’re willing to put an important imprint on you book.”

    I must respectfully disagree with Mike about consumers not caring about imprint. That may be somewhat true with fiction, where the story is king, but with non-fiction, consumers pay close attention to imprint. I work with software engineers and if I were to hand them a list of imprints for computer books, I have no doubt that they could quickly place them in order by which they would choose first when faced with choosing a book from among others on the same topic. I’ve even heard engineers discussing which books they liked or didn’t like in terms of the imprint on the books.

  • Kelly Combs

    >Rachelle – thanks for all this information! I found it very informative and interesting. And thanks to Michael Hyatt for responding too.

  • Jason

    >This is interesting stuff, which I honestly haven't thought a lot about…thanks for the info Rachelle and Michael!

  • Jim Marr

    >For one who has chosen a "custom publishing route" (full editing and full marketing), it is a "good fit" for me and my situation. But I can see why it isn't a good choice for everyone.

    It will be interesting to see how this model of publishing evolves over the long haul for those of you called to a life of writing.

    Jim

  • Anonymous

    >Reference Michael Hyatt's comment about agent referral fees:

    "I don't see how that is much different than the way it is now. (I was an agent myself for eight years, so I am speaking from my experience.) While the agent represents the author in a traditional relationship, his or her money comes from the publisher."

    This understanding is incorrect and is in direct violation of several points of the AAR's (Association of Author's Representatives) canon of ethics.

    The agent is always (and only) paid by the client. An AAR agent only makes money when their clients make money. No member of AAR would refer their clients to WestBow under this arrangement…and no writer would want to sign with an agent who is not a member of the AAR.

  • Helena Halme

    >The new digital world and how it'll affect publishing is such and interesting and scary issue that it's good to read a calm and informed post about it. As a writer I too am still holding onto the dream of becoming published the old-fashioned way. In the meantime, I'm building a platform online with my blog, which I see as a good calling card and a way to attract potential readers. My only fear for the future is that we writers have to continue giving our material away free (which is exactly what some think my blog does). If publishing industry goes the same way as the music industry, this may well happen. As a writer you cannot make a sustainable living out of performances alone.

  • lynnrush

    >This has been an interesting turn of events. I'll be watching to see how it turns out. Michael Hyatt is a stand up guy, I read his blog daily, and I know he doesn't do anything without much prayer and consideration.

    Insightful post, though.

  • Rachelle

    >Anon 6:30, you wrote "no writer would want to sign with an agent who is not a member of the AAR." Actually, I strongly disagree. There are many legitimate agents who do not belong to AAR for various reasons. Until the last couple of years, most Christian agents were not members. Some agents adhere to all the guidelines of the AAR yet are not members. I myself am not a member because I don't meet the requirements yet (2 years as an agent). Just be careful throwing around generalities that imply that a non-AAR agent can't possibly be legitimate.

  • Lynn Squire

    >Your comment:

    It seems like it might fool unsuspecting consumers into thinking a WestBow book (of the the current self-published variety) is somehow of the same quality as a WestBow book of the past.

    Makes the assumption that a self-published book is of a lower quality and has less value than that of a traditionally published book. I object to that – I do not disagree that there are plenty of self-published books that could have benefited from an editor, but I have several self-published books on my shelf that are of great value to me – meet a need that could not be met through the traditional publisher route.

    I can understand how those authors under the imprint as fiction authors might feel, but I'm with Mr. Hyatt on this, readers generally don't look at imprints. Ask the grocery clerk next time you're in the store if she does. Ask your mailman, ask your dentist – I imagine, unless they have considered getting published themselves, that they do not know one imprint from the next.

  • Marla Taviano

    >I love this discussion. (And great post, Rachelle.) My initial thoughts when I read Michael Hyatt's post was–Wow, Thomas Nelson just made a really good business move.

    I'll bet there are thousands of people who'd give an arm and a leg to be published by Thomas Nelson. Now, they can just give a few thousand bucks for the chance that maybe, just maybe, they'll sell enough books to be noticed and offered a traditional contract. (I'll believe it when it happens for the first time.)

    It's oddly appealing to me though. If I had an extra few grand lying around, I think I'd give it a shot. It'd be a fun challenge. And I think a lot of people will take TN up on it. Maybe.

  • Marla Taviano

    >p.s. I absolutely look at imprints. Every single time.

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >Timothy Fish said:

    “I must respectfully disagree with Mike about consumers not caring about imprint. That may be somewhat true with fiction, where the story is king, but with non-fiction, consumers pay close attention to imprint.”

    I think you are making a good distinction, but, based on our experience over the last three years, I think it is more granulated than this.

    From my perspective it is all about the brand. Sometimes this is the author (e.g., Stephen King, Seth Godin, Max Lucado). Sometimes, it is the series (e.g., “Left Behind,” “Dummies Guides”). And sometimes— as you point out—it is the publisher. I think this is especially true in strong niche categories like computers and programming. But it is also true in some other genre's like Romance or even certain kinds of Christian publishing. When I was in college, for example, I used to buy everything InterVaristy Press published.

    But by and large, I don’t think imprints mean anything to the average consumer who are shopping in those non-niche categories. For example, without looking, take this tes: Identify the publisher for the top 10 books currently on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list. You can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/bestseller

    You may do better than the average because many of Rachelle's readers are authors or want-to-be authors, but when I have done this experiment in my speaking engagements, less than 10% of the room could guess *any* of the imprints correctly.

    In fact, using fiction as an example (and that was the issue with WestBow), I dare you to go ask 100 customers in a bookstore who the publisher of the Twilight Series is. This is the best-selling series we have seen since Left Behind. In fact, one major retail buyer told me that 1-in-5 books sold in her chain last year were in this series.

    If you can get more than 10% of the sample to respond with the correct answer, I will send you 10 Thomas Nelson books of your choice!

    I think I may blog on this issue tomorrow. It is an important one for all of us to understand. Thanks, Timothy!

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >@Andrew, I personally don’t think there is an ethical conflict for agents. People you turn away are NOT your clients. That's the key distinction.

    Regardless, this obviously give you the right to deceive them or defraud them. Therefore, I think it is imperative that you disclose that you are being compensated. This can be done in a simple disclosure statement.

    I see this kind of referral as providing a helpful service, provided you are sending them to someone you know will take care of them. People are smart. If it's right for them, they will do it. If not, they won't. It's just an option.

    Thanks.

  • mary bailey

    >Just wanted to say how much I appreciate Writer Jim's comment: "God can be trusted to use your work as He wants".

    I needed a reminder like that. In fact I think I will write that quote on an index card and keep it on my desk!

    Thanks, Rachelle, for keeping us up-to-date on everything current in the industry and for hosting great discussions here each day.

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >Oops, I obviously meant it does NOT give you the right to deceive or defraud them. (The fingers are faster than the brain.)

  • Matilda McCloud

    >I have mixed feelings about it. Some subsidy publishers like Heritage (genealogical pub.) have minumum standards, offer indexing services etc, so the product is something a consumer will trust and may want to buy. If it's just offering the publisher's name on the book for lots of extra money, I think authors can find a cheapter alternative (unless the publisher provides distribution etc). I work for a printer, for example, and we do lots of projects for individuals–but it doesn't involve expensive "packages"–just send in your file and we print gorgeous hardcover, paperbacks etc for a reasonable cost. For a pastor printing his/her sermons or whatever, this is a better way to go, IMHO.

  • Patti Lacy

    >Rachelle, many thanks for tackling this tough issue! Just being able to read a concise response from an industry professional loosed the tightness about the rib cage on a rainy Tuesday morning.

    Hope you get in a good jog today and don't get lost (LOL).

    Blessings,
    Patti

  • Rosslyn Elliott

    >Rachelle, it's good to have your perspective! And Mike, I really appreciate the fact that you are willing to get in here and talk to everybody. I think this imprint is a great idea. I'll look forward to seeing how it goes.

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >Forgive me if this is a double-post. I am not seeing what I posted a moment ago …

    We apply the Thomas Nelson "Content Standards" to all WestBow Books. (I posted about this yesterday on my blog.) We have trained the WestBow editors and sales staff. We will say "no" to anyone who doesn't meet those standards.

    Thanks.

  • Cliff Graham

    >I think you guys are on the right track, Michael. Thanks for being savvy (and brave) enough to recognize a changing industry landscape. I published through a system like Westbow, and now I have a movie deal. So it deserves it's day in the sun. Only after a contract was being drawn up did the film producers even care who the publisher was. All they wanted to know was, "Do you own the rights?"

  • Rachel

    >I always look at imprints.

    And if I thought self-pubbed books were mixed in with traditionally published books in bookstores, I'd pay even more attention. I agree that there are good reasons to pursue self-publishing, but I would be very, very wary as a consumer before purchasing a self-pubbed book. I'd have to have some seriously glowing recommendations.

  • Rachel Starr Thomson

    >Excellent post. I especially appreciate the recognition that self-publishing is going to become a major player on the publishing scene. Michael, thanks for your comments as well! This is turning into a fascinating discussion.

    Rachelle, you said, "I think the chances of those books actually having a very effective distribution channel are fairly slim." As an independently published author, I absolutely agree–as long as the "very effective distribution channel" means bookstores. For self-published authors, I believe online distribution channels are key–and these are getting better all the time, as you pointed out when talking about the Kindle.

    For the record, I'm a self-published author of fiction who has recouped all of her investment costs and makes a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year depending on how much marketing I do. Many of these sales are through the Internet; others through live events. I skipped the subsidy publishers and went straight through Lightning Source. If you can turn out a quality product on your own, it's a much cheaper way to go.

  • Deb

    >Seems to me there's a Catch-22 in this somewhere. For years we've been telling authors, "Don't rush to self-publication! You won't get distribution, you won't (automatically) get sales, you won't get the legitimacy you're offered if you stay patient."

    Now I'm thinking we might have to say, "Well, sorry, we were too hasty. Self-publishing was not okay last year, but this year it's okay because some big players have decided to take this on."

    We in ACFW just last month decided "an e-book is a book." Now e-books have been around for a while, but it took us more than a while to get to the point of acceptance. I'm wondering what the Christian fic community will have to say about self-published books, and how long it might take us to say it.

  • Five Rivers Chapmanry

    >One quibble with this informative piece — self-publishing does not have to be expensive. There is an enormous and growing group of us who use Ingram Books print on demand division, Lightning Source Inc. (in fact many legacy publishers use them) to bring our books to print and into a worldwide data stream that feeds to every online bookseller.
    Agreed, an effective marketing plan should be in place, with realistic expectations.
    It should be noted, however, that after going completely indie in 2008 with my own imprint, Five Rivers Chapmanry, things have favourably ballooned.
    Along with three titles of my own in print and selling fairly, I have two other authors currently published, and have signed another three with a total of eight books between them, most of which will be released in 2010.
    One of my own titles, Shadow Song, is selling comparatively well in Canada against award winners and better known names, not bad for an upstart indie author and publisher.
    For more details, check out my blog at: http://5riversnews.blogspot.com/2009/09/award-winners-and-amazon-rankings.html

  • Jan Dunlap

    >Rachelle,
    Thanks so much for exploring this topic, and thanks to Michael for continuing to illuminate this development. New authors have so many options available to them, it is hard to know what is the best way to proceed into publishing. The big eye-opener for me this past year when I started doing booksignings at chain bookstores was to realize that not all the books on the shelves were 'vetted' by publishers – that there were, indeed, self-published books on the shelf. It changed the way I perceived traditional bookstores and what they offer the reader/consumer. Certainly, one of the most important things for an author is to know the market she is writing for, and then to figure out how to reach that market, whether by self-publishing or via the alternative, competitive world of general publishing.

  • Amy

    >No time to read all the comments but self-published books and bands that record independently….totally different!!! Indie bands have a history of cool factor and it's easier to check out the music before buying whereas self publishing has a history of ick factor and with so many books in the world I don't have time to read excerpts to see if I want to read it. You may be right…this may be where we're going but as a reader (not a writer) it scares me.

  • Rachelle

    >Love everyone's comments, keep 'em coming! I have a limited perspective on this from my position as agent (never having personally worked with a self-publisher), so I appreciate people stepping up and illuminating various aspects of this.

    I'm investigating WestBow's affiliate program for agents and consultants, and will write about it once I understand it all.

  • Sandie Bricker

    >I don't yet know much about how Nelson's program is going to work. Nuts and bolts of it anyway. For instance, I've read many self-published books over the years, and the one thing they've often had in common was the lack of quality. I know there are usually editorial services offered with the publishing packages, but I've often wondered where those editors come from. My day job as an editor perhaps makes me overly eagle-eyed, but I just don't think there's anything that speaks to a writer's professional status like the quality of the books they produce. When one of my (non-subsidy) published books came out with a hotsheet of editorial errors, I was mortified. I even got reader letters because of it. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to make revisions when it went to second printing, but still it was a huge issue for me. I'm just curious … Is there any indication how the editorial process will be handled (or not) with this new venture in order to set themselves apart from the traditional self-pub selections? I'm such a fan of Nelson, and particularly loved Westbow fiction in its early days. I'll be curious and eager to see how this all plays out, and how it affects the decisions of other publishers in the CBA market.

  • Anonymous

    >When you can be published by Lulu and get on Amazon.com for hundreds (not thousands) of dollars, that raises an important issue. Why go with WestBow? If you can do your own editing, design, promotion, etc., do it cheaper elsewhere. In my mind, the main advantage of WestBow would be distribution, but I'm very pessimistic about the amount of time they'd devote to trying to get a self-published book on the shelves when it's already so hard to get traditionally published books sold.

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >Sandie, I met the lead people on the WestBow editorial team. They all previously worked for major trade publishers (and still freelance for some). The only potential difference I see is the quality of the raw material. The model is flipped on its head, so the editor can only do what the customer—the author—will allow.

  • Tamera Lynn Kraft

    >I would have a real problem with an agent who refers all rejections to a subsidy publisher and gets a kick-back from it. Getting published is a long process with a huge learning curve. Those who work at trying to get an agent don't need the added discouragement of a note on the end of the rejection recommending a self-publishing company. I would not want to go with an agent who went down this ethical slippery slope, and I'm surprized at Thomas Nelson for recommending it.

    There's enough advertising for self-publishing through all the companies who want to draw business from discouraged writers without agents adding to it.

  • Terry Burns

    >Very interesting discussion. The bottom line is the fact that are a lot of ways to get a book into print, all the way from your local printer up to the major publishers. Granted the quality of the product is generally much better with the editing and production skills of the major publisher, but assuming a self published book is produced that is of an equal quality, the next big difference is distribution.

    Do you end up with a book or boxes of books and are on your own, or is some level of distribution support offered? Most common is the book being made available through a distributor such as Ingram or Baker and Taylor, but this just makes the book available, somebody still has to sell it into the stores or sell it in some other manner and that is usually the author. In addition a lot of stores will not shelve self-published books.

    Some publishers offer different levels of distribution support and I'm seeing some of that here but the degree and effectiveness are of course yet to be demonstrated. This support would be worth a price tag greater than what is charged by someone who gives no additional support. Particularly help getting around those stores that don't want to shelve them.

    And while I understand what Mike is saying about previous authors not being hurt I have talked to some of them and they are not happy. I think there might be a way to differentiate between self-published and traditionally published within the imprint that would solve this and leave the door for you to continue to do some traditional publishing here in the future if desired. A number of imprints do traditional publishing and POD under the same label. Would be a nice gesture to those who traditionally published in good faith.

    I do work as a literry agent but am also an author who has had both traditionally published and a couple of POD titles.

    Terry Burns
    Hartline Literary

  • scott bailey

    >I appreciate this blog and the comments. I am a new author trying to break into the business. I have contract proposals from two publishers with subsidy offers over $8k. Then I have another publisher offering to publish at no charge, then I am trying to get a well know agent to pick me and hope take this farther. So, trying to make a sound decision is tough with so many choices.
    I dont really see a conflict to the agents by offering them a referal fee…as Mike said, the publisher pays them anyway. So, as long as the integrity is right with the agent you are using the prospective author should be in good hands and respect the advice of his agent.
    As far as Westbow, I see no issue with using that name for the subsidy program. I understand the issue of previous authors, but Ted Dekkar will sell a book no matter who publishes it and many other authors. I look particular writers not publishers…have never looked at the publisher until I became an author. Most people I think buy books either by series title or author not publisher.
    I for one just would like to find a good publisher to pick me up and run with this book I have written at no charge to me. I just started on book #2 this week geared to parents training the child to adulthood.
    My books are non-fiction so this is all coming from a non-fiction side of things, but I think it works on both sides of that isle.

  • Joe

    >Rachelle,

    Your music analogy breaks down when you say, at the end of the post, "You may be impatient to publish, but if you do, you may end up with the same old problem: nobody's reading your books. First, because they're not good enough, or at least not as good as the competition. Second, because you have no way to sell them."

    Music: Independently recorded; sold through iTunes and many other online channels. Book: Self-published; sold through Amazon and many other online channels (esp. when we're talking e-books). So you're not saying that Indie iTunes music that has a smaller audience is not as good as the music of signed bands that sell more. Or that the Indie bands ought to have been patient and waited to be signed by a major label (and that the experts at the label would've made their music stronger). So why is it necessarily different with books?

    Most young authors in my circle don't care at all about trying to make money or gain publicity from a book or from album sales. They–authors and Indie bands–just want to take that step in the life of an artist that requires making the work available to the public. And the work, when it's good, will usually find people it was meant to find.

    In my experience, it's usually you guys in the industry who are thinking about turning art into dollars. I know Indie bands who have turned down contracts because of the fear of losing the artistic freedom to do as they wish their music. I've known other bands who came out of studio sessions with overly-produced, slicky music that frustrated and dissapointed them, prompting them to go back to being Indie.

    Many young authors are thinking very much the same way.

    They are finally counting the costs of even trying to work with traditional publishers, and often finding the commercial route wanting. There are more important formulas for this generation than "biggest audience, most money." And to think that the only way their books will get better is by working with agents and editors at major publishing houses is obviously foolish. The feedback I get on my work from my local small-town librarian (and for free!) is at least as sophisticated as what I usually get from people in the industry.

    These kinds of issues are a big deal, at least in my small circle of young artist friends, whose habits and attitudes may ultimately spur much more dramatic changes in the publishing business.

  • Michael S. Hyatt

    >@Anonymous, you can do a lot of things cheaper on your own. You can sew your own clothes, grow your own food, or build your own home. It comes down to what your time is worth vs. your access to money.

    Also, I think your implicit assumption is that traditional booksellers are—and will continue to be—the major distribution channel. I can tell you that is shifting dramatically. Non-traditional sales channels are our fastest growing segment. As Rachelle mentioned in her post, much of this comes down to platform.

    Not every author needs to have significant sales through bookstores to make it work. I pointed out many reasons in my original post for authors to self-publish.

    Thanks.

    P.S. Is there a reason you post under Anonymous rather than your real name?

  • Amy Storms

    >I'm not surprised that TN is among the first to make this shift.-Mr. Hyatt seems ahead of the curve on things. I was surprised, though, by the name choice. I'm with Marla-I look at imprints…but I still don't think I could win Mr. Hyatt's challenge. :) Can't argue with his facts. I'm also glad that WestBow will apply TN's content standards.

    In all, it sounds like a great plan. Thanks for another great post and discussion, Rachelle!

  • Terry Burns

    >How embarrasing, a literary agent that can't type the word literary.

    Terry

  • Eva Ulian

    >I should like to post the comment I placed on Michael Hyatt's blog earlier this morning:

    I am certainly interested in this new Nelson self-published line, which after a good night sleep and input from friends have come to the conclusion it is suitable, not so much for my fiction, as I am still confident there is a chance a traditional publisher will pick it up one day, but for my narrative history of Rajasthan- “Rajput”. Because of its niche quality, I know it is difficult for a traditional publisher to be interested since it is aimed at a limited audience, India, and more precisely, Hindu oriented schools. However, even though it is not completed, I can work miracles under pressure- I shall be in touch. As I am giving up building my patio to pay for this, I hope I shall make enough to do both!!!

  • charread09

    >My first concern when I heard this was I hope there is a good adherance to Christian content. I am sad to see Thomas Nelson publishing some material lately that makes me wonder if they are moving away from their Christian standards. That aside this is definitely a way for Thomas Nelson to add a lot of $$ to their bottom line. There a lot of people who so desire to have something published that I'm afraid they will do whatever financially to be associated with the Thomas Nelson affiliate. I myself have a dream to one day write and publish a book but I know at this point I would have to finance this dream. I do wish those who endeavor at this much success and I hope the integrity issue is not lowered for this venture. I worked in the music industry many many years ago in Nashville and I saw people who spent their life savings to pay someone to cut a record for them and most of them never got distributed. I see this self publishing era as the pioneer I saw in those days. My how things have evolved. I myself am having a hard time becoming an e-reader. I love the feel and even smell of a book. Yes, I'm one of those. It frightens me to think that one day books will be no longer except for those you have left on your bookshelves.

  • Cindy

    >For the most part, I'm impressed with Thomas Nelson's step into the future of publishing. I agree with your thoughts, Rachelle. When I first heard about this my first thought was what about distribution and then my second was, how will this affect aspiring authors?

    It's hard enough for smaller presses and sometimes even larger ones to get books on the shelves, it seems to be with WestBow this may potentially be a challenge as well. Though the fact they're going to try is more than some of the other companies do. Not to mention they're backed up by the Thomas Nelson name.

    I'm so glad you mentioned how a change like this and the other subsidy, self-publishing options out there affect writers. I think, even for those of us on a path we're certain of, we're susceptible to being swayed by the opportunity to simply get our book out there. By an opportunity, such as this, to be published. It's wonderful for those who know this is the path for them, particularly through an imprint such as this. But for others who have a goal to work with an agent and a traditional publisher, it's great for them to have the encouragement to keep their eye on their goal. To know what they want, what path they're supposed to be on, and stick through it even when it gets tough.

    Thanks, Rachelle! Oh by the way, I finally watched Shark Tank last night. It's cool to see the parallel's between that and the publishing industry. The last contestant impressed me. It was talent, passion and charisma all in one!

  • Jen Chandler

    >This is a very interesting post with a lot to think about. For me, the self "publishing" of music works because you're able to get out in front of people and they can hear what you have to say. I don't know of any authors who have "concerts" during which they read excerpt from their books. It's a different industry. I agree that it works best for non-fiction but I feel that if you have weighted all your options and this is the best way YOU feel YOU should go with your work, then take the risk and give it a go! Amazing things can happen when you believe in yourself and your dream and refuse to give up. That being said, I'm still out to seek traditional publishing routes. Thank you, Rachelle, for keeping us informed and thinking.

    Cheers,
    Jen

  • Anonymous

    >I would say I'm amazed, but that word has lost its value due to immoderate popular use,so I will say I am very surprised and impressed that one who is part of traditional publishing has addressed the issues outlined in today's posting. Rachelle, you have been forthright. I have observed agents and editors at conferences smiling weakly and ignoring the whole issue when asked questions in this vein.

    After reading about and observing the pub industry, I too have begun to wonder if traditional publishing will survive. When I read that a published author is now often required to be solely responsible for marketing and publicity, it begs the question, so is a publishing house now simply a printer and distributor? It also prompts one to ask, does it really make any sense to pay for publication rights and then leave the book's sales success in the hands of a marketing amateur? No one seems to have the answer.

    Instead, there is the appearance of a dog chasing its tail. The message coming from the industry is we're soooo busy; we've got to watch the bottom line (obviously); we're just too busy; we're willing to pay $1 mil advances for a single book; we've got to make money; we have no time; we consider only (you fill in the blank); we want to be all things to all people; we really are VERY VERY BUSY. Is it just me, or is there something really wrong here?

    I have begun to wonder if traditional publishing would benefit from being decentralized from NYC's death grip. The gigantic NY part of the industry is populated by mostly nice, sincere people, but they exist in such an insular world that it often feels like a whole lot of inbreeding is going on. Is there possibly hope for traditional publishing in the growth and proliferation of smaller regional publishers?

  • Laurinda

    >From the consumer point of view, does it really make a difference? I had no idea "The Shack" was self-published, initially, until someone told me. I'm an avid reader and I own way too many books. But I've never cracked open a book and bought it based on the publisher. In fact I never paid attention to the publisher until I thought about becoming published myself. I opened up one of John Maxwell's books and saw he was published by Thomas Nelson. Up until then, I didn't know Thomas Nelson did more than bibles.

    So for those of us who really aren't trying to get rich via writing, but just want some product at the back of the room after a speaking gig, this is a wonderful opportunity.

  • Christine Prescott

    >EEEUW. Just imagine how a traditionally published author would feel to see his/her book next to a self-published book. Dirty? Polluted? You make it sound like the self-published book has the H1N1 virus and didn't wear a mask to protect the "real" book from infection.
    Plenty of traditionally published books aren't that great. Shouldn't it be about the book, traditionally published or self-published?
    Funny you should mention Seth Godin. He also says that the best work today is coming from self-published authors.

  • Payneless Life Coaching by Donald Payne

    >It started with the music industry, now it has moved into the publishing arena. The trend will continue it's just up to the big wigs to figure out how they can get in on the action. As for distribution I guess there really isn't a way to get around them unless you have very long tentacles. I also like this move because there are times when a person needs a book as part of their overall business. They could care less about NY bestseller's list. Great article and may I add I have that I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

  • DeadlyAccurate

    >Can we please, please, please stop using the phrase "traditional publishing" when referring to commercial publishing? Traditional publishing is the term vanity presses use to make themselves not look like vanity presses. Vanity and self-publishing is also traditional publishing.

    Thomas Nelson is a commercial publisher. WestBow is a self-publisher. Both are traditional publishing.

  • Amy

    >Interesting debate. I'm clueless when it comes to the nitty-gritty of publishing, and reading both Rachelle's and Hyatt's blogs have been eye-opening to me. Personally, I'm really excited to see how WestBow grows, evolves and succeeds in making the dreams of future authors come true.

  • Marla Taviano

    >Whoa, Anonymous. I'm with Michael. I see no reason to be anonymous except to save your skin when you leave rude comments.

  • Timothy Fish

    >I've seen several comments about shelf space and competing for shelf space. The most important shelf space anyone needs to be worried about is that space in the Amazon.com warehouse. As many books have demonstrated, if you gain enough shelf space there (which happens as you sell more and more books on Amazon.com), the brick and mortar stores will make room on their shelves for your book also. That doesn’t work well with the traditional publishing model, but with POD, where it costs us nothing to keep the book in print, we have plenty of time to let a book gradually increase in popularity.

  • DeadlyAccurate

    >By the way, if you want to know what writers think of the idea of kickbacks and vanity press referrals from agencies, read the Objective Entertainment thread on Absolute Write.

    In a word: sleazy.

    Agents should not be making money off writers they don't represent.

  • Timothy Fish

    >If we’re going to quibble over terminology that isn’t well defined, I suggest the following:

    self-publisher – a publisher who publishes his own work.

    self-publishing company – a company like Lightning Source, BookSurge, LuLu, etc. that provides a combination of printing and distribution for self-publishers who submit print-ready files.

    subsidy publisher – a company like WestBow Press, Wine Press Publishing, BookSurge, etc. that offer packages whereby the author is able to submit a manuscript from which the company creates a book and makes it available for sale.

    vanity press – a company that provides much of what a traditional publisher provides, but does so at the expense of the author. As I alluded to in my post on the subject, WestBow Press appears to have a vanity press component. For the author willing to pay the tens of thousands of dollars required, the publisher will do all of the normal work that goes into a book.

    traditional publisher – a publishing company that pays the author for a manuscript and takes on all of the risk in bringing it to print. The company is highly selective in order to mitigate the risk.

  • DeadlyAccurate

    >@scott bailey, if that publisher offering to publish you at no charge is PublishAmerica, run as far and as fast as you can in the opposite direction.

  • Mary DeMuth

    >I know I'd feel a little weird having my former imprint now a self-publishing entity. As someone mentioned above, is there a way you can differentiate a bit? I'm assuming Westbow will sport a new logo?

    I hope, too, that folks who pursue avenues like WinePress or Believers Press or Westbow will fully understand self publishing–the risks, the distribution, the effort, the need for strong editing.

    As others mentioned, I don't equate cool indie bands with self published books. Some self published books break out of that less-than-stellar stigma, but a great majority still suffer from content and editorial problems. And if someone wants to produce a great product, they will certainly have to pay for editorial services.

    Another aspect of this is media. How does the media view self published books, particularly as those books flood the market? Won't this produce a glut? Won't the media grow weary of all the constant pitching? Just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    >TIMOTHY FISH:
    Thanks for explaining the TRUTH about what Mr.Hyatt's co. is up to. If everyone had your knowledge, then people wouldn't get fooled so easily.

  • Cliff Graham

    >I am still waiting for a thorough rebuttal to Michael's comments. His points are entirely valid, and changing the subject does not answer his questions.
    Since when did publishers have to follow only one business model?
    Why is every business but publishing allowed to undergo change?
    Why do authors have to whine so much?

    Publishers are businesses that desire to make money. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and changing around the business model once in a while to ensure that money is being made does not inherently lower the quality of the material.

    There is no deception involved at all here; it's a company that is savvy enough to understand that the Titanic is sinking and it is time to jump on board Royal Caribbean.

  • Laura Christianson

    >I agree with Mary DeMuth that quality control is a major consideration for authors who are thinking of self-publishing.

    I had books published simultaneously with both a royalty publisher and a self-publisher, and I didn't notice much difference in the publishing process or in the marketing.

    I do hope that authors who self-publish hold their writing to the same editing standards as those who are royalty published.

    I ranted about this topic on my blog last week in "Six Reasons Why You Should NOT Write a Book" – http://tinyurl.com/yawe45e

  • Michael Hyatt

    >@Mary, with regard to media, I think this is true if you are primarily focused on pitching traditional media. But they, too, are becoming less and less important. We are putting more energy into engaging niche blogs and social media. It has been highly productive.

    Regardless, just getting a book into print, whether it is through a traditional publisher or some other, isn't enough. That's just half the work. The promotion is crucial, which is why (in my opinion) authors need to be building a platform as they work on their content.

  • To God Be Glory

    >Kickbacks
    I can't believe someone like Rachelle would be invovled in sending someone to Thomas Nelson vanity; when she knows the poor author could do the same thing for less than 25% of the cost. Mr. Hyatt may be all for making exorbinate profits off poor writers; but he may find some agents care about what God thinks about how they treat their fellowman.

  • Anne L.B.

    >I'll make a confession. One of the first things I do when evalutating if a book is of interest to me as a reader is go on Amazon to locate the name of the publisher. If a book proves to be self-pubbed, I take note that it does not have the affirmation of a publisher behind it, and may not be professionally edited. It strongly influences my decision.

    The fact that WestBow will require conformity to Nelson's content standards will definitely confer credibility to their publications. I can't imagine pursuing self-publication myself. But WestBow just shot to the top of the list of who I'd recommend to anyone else looking at it. As a reader, I'd now give a WestBow book an edge as I consider it.

    All that said, I strongly agree with Rachelle about disappointment in Nelson choosing to use the WestBow trade name. I agree it is a detriment to those books previously published under the imprint. My bigger objection is that however small the segment of readers who pay attention to imprint names, they may feel a bait and switch has been pulled on them. WestBow established a name as an imprint of Thomas Nelson, a well known and highly respected publisher. I would not underestimate the possible impact, despite trademark costs. Countless examples abound of a business thinking something like this would slide under the radar, and too late discovering that it did not.

  • T. Anne

    >Rachelle, I like the points you raise. I must say, the magnitude regarding the marketing aspect of self publishing or using a small press is a huge undertaking. The platform to pull it off effectively would have to be enormous. I hope everyone going into such an endeavor is able to really grasp the reality of the road that lies ahead. Thanks for spelling it out!

  • Timothy Fish

    >Anonymous 10:03,

    Please, don’t try to draw me into this. I don’t profess to know the intentions of Mike or Thomas Nelson. From what I know of them, I would guess that their intentions are good, but I would rather judge people on results rather than their intentions. I don’t see a problem with Thomas Nelson offering the higher in packages as long as the authors involved are well aware of their chances of success. I’m sure there as instances where the $20,000 package would be ideal for an author, but it’s a gamble the author will have to take that Thomas Nelson isn’t willing to take. I suppose that’s how vanity presses managed to fall into such ill repute, so it’s an area in which Thomas Nelson should tread very carefully. It appears unscrupulous when the salesman in the front office is saying, “here spend $20,000 and you’ll improve your chances of success,” while the editor in the back office is saying, “there’s no way that book will ever sell enough copies to earn the author $20,000.” But there are cases in which the author knows more than the publisher and while he knows he’ll be able to regain the $20,000, the publisher doesn’t believe him. It is in those cases that these options make sense.

  • Eric von Mizener

    >Just a few thoughts. There is a time and place for self-publishing; Rachelle mentioned a few. Others who might consider it include poets and playwrights.

    Back in the 90s I sold a few hundred copies of my poetry chapbooks – but I had a platform and worked to make books professional. I set myself up as a publisher, complete with ISBN, and used my experience in journalism when deciding on layout, fonts, etc. I brought in a photographer to do my cover art. I brought in an outside editor to work with me and my cherished words. Then I sent out mailers and pushed the books at my frequent readings. (And I was aggressive about getting booked at those readings.)

    I also know a playwright who has benefited from self-publishing. He did the same thing. He set himself up as a publisher – own name, own ISBN, etc. – and put in the time and money to make a first-rate book. He then sent the published play to theatres and was taken far more seriously than the playwrights who sent manuscripts. It worked.

    And I know more stories. But the point is that the book has to be professional and the writer has to have a way to sell it. My poetry never made me rich. But when KPFK wanted a new host for its Poetry Café program, they remembered me from that platform I had built. Today at 12:30 pm Pacific my first show as host will air (90.7 FM Los Angeles, kpfk.org on the web).

    My new work in non-fiction. Do I want to self-pub? No. But if I build a speaking audience wanting books faster than I can get traditionally published, I’ll consider it. But I won’t consider putting out something sloppy.

    Should POD reach the point that I can have a book printed at an airport kiosk while the reader waits for a plane, or even if Barnes & Noble lets customers order the book online, then pick up the POD copy when they arrive at the store, that’s great. Or if e-book readers replace traditional publishing – which would mean they would have to read a wider range of files, etc. – it would be something to consider.

    Hope to fiction writers includes that Eregon was originally self-published. But the Paolinis – people who knew publishing – made that book their family business.

    So if WestBow is for you, go with them. Just remember the purpose of your book, why you’re publishing, and how you’re going to get your book into the hands of the people who should read it. If you do that, the other decisions will follow.

  • Terry Burns

    >I did mention that part of my books are traditionally published and I do have a couple of POD. I don't have a problem with the phrase traditionally published as it is generally accepted in that context today in the industry. I used to own a small commercial print shop and the phrase "commercial printer" to me and to a lot of others means you are jobbing the book out locally. It'll be listed that way in the yellow pages.

    Having said that, I have on occassion suggested that self-publishing was the right option for an author, particularly in nich market nonfiction where the primary outlet will be in connection with the authors speaking venues. It's also a great way to take a book going out of print and keeping it available through POD technology.

    I've never recomended a specific publisher in such a case, just as I do not recomend a specific publicist, freelance editor or other industry professional. I do keep lists on my website in those categories if people want some suggestions.

    When I have advised it, it was not because the book wasn't finding a home as quickly as the author wanted. Like any other publishing decision it should be a business decision where the person is weighing what they are getting and what the cost is as well as what they may be giving up. If it makes good business sense then it is a good decision.

    Very illuminating discussion, Rachael, thanks for initiating it.

    Terry Burns
    Hartline Literary (spelled right)

  • Sandi Greene

    >Thank you, Rachelle, for this. Before I read this blog and I heard the TN announcement, my first thought was “smart.” Michael Hyatt is innovative and he knows the publishing industry is changing. It has shifted dramatically the last couple of years. With the economy, online presence, e-books, etc…, it will only continue to shift.

    I think we need to rid ourselves of this bad stigma that self-published books have. I’ve read some great self-published books, and I’ve read some horrible commercial books. It’s not fair to make generalizations on books based on how they make their way out there.

    This is a great way for a company to make money and help authors—and not just those with speaking platforms, but also those who know how to market online. Ultimately, though, books (no matter how they are published) will sell in the best way they do: word of mouth.

  • April L. Hamilton

    >Great post and discussion, I'd just like to add…Rachelle said:

    "…self-pubbing is usually only a viable business plan for non-fiction authors, not novelists."

    What most aspiring authors don't realize, and most pundits don't point out, is the fact that making a living as an author isn't a viable plan for MOST writers, regardless of who published them. The great majority of all mainstream books published don't earn back their advances, never mind going on to make a good profit.

    But if you've got a good book and a strong author platform, your odds of keeping a steady side income stream alive indefinitely are actually much better as a self-published author than if you'd been published by a mainstream imprint. This is because mainstream-produced books have built-in time limitations on brick-and-mortar distribution. If you're a previously unknown, debut author and your book fails to "break out" within 6 months (or less) of its publication date, it will vanish from store shelves. And while such a book will remain available on Amazon and through other online outlets, since you're the only one interested in continuing to promote it you're no better off than if you'd self-published in the first place. Actually, you're a bit worse off since if you were smart about it, your self-pub royalties would easily be 2-3x as much as you'd receive from a mainstream publisher.

  • N. J. Lindquist

    >Terr said, "I did mention that part of my books are traditionally published and I do have a couple of POD."

    POD is not a synonym for self-published. POD is simply a form of printing. It can be used by any publishers.

  • Sara ♥

    >For a girl just stepping through the entrance of this novel writing/publishing world – this was a really wonderful post. So educational. I'd never even thought about self-publishing. (I still don't – a big part of my whole dream is to find a spectacular agent and publishing company. I doubt that will ever change.) But if I want to be a part of this world, I need to know what's going on in it, and you just gave me one of the many lessons that I need. Thanks :)

  • Terry Burns

    >Yes, thank you for clarifying that

  • PatriciaW

    >I'll just say I agree that it's good to see the traditional publishers trying to take steps to deal with a changing, evolving business model.

    All the same caveats, which you eloquently laid out, apply.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003406008449 Pat

      Wonderful blog! So good to see the pics. Reading with Robin, Walking with Robin, Ranting with Robin all you need now is to create some new verbs bauecse you’re going to do everything that is in existence! I will send more pics along so that you may add, of course!!!Love, Michele

  • Timothy Fish

    >N. J. Lindquist,

    POD is an acronym having two different meanings. One is Print on Demand, which refers a printing process in which a book is printed on a high speed laser printer, one at a time, allowing books to be printed as needed. The other is Publish on Demand, which refers to any form of publishing in which a work can be taken to a publisher and at the request of the content owner the publisher publishes the book. Self-publishing doesn’t have to be Print on Demand, though that is often the best option for books that will have a low rate of sales. We could, however, argue that all self-publishing is publishing on demand, unless the author is actually standing at the printer, making the book himself.

  • Shawneda Marks

    >If we put half the energy into making sure our writing is done in excellence and our stories fulfill the purpose we say God gave us to write we wouldn't have time or need to "quibble" over independent press, small press, self publishing, agent kickbacks or any of the other nitpicky topics on this post. What God has for you is for you. Follow His direction for you as an author, publisher, agent or editor and keep it moving. Instead of elitist judgmental whiny blogs lets discuss how we can continue to bless readers however our works get published.

    At the end of the day isn't the desire of everyone in the literary industry's desire to have their books in the hands of readers? Instead of placing our worth and value in our colleages opinions how about we allow the readers to decide who they'll read and focus on writing and yes marketing, from whichever publishing path we find ourselves on. Just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    >Sandi wrote…
    I think we need to rid ourselves of this bad stigma that self-published books have. I’ve read some great self-published books, and I’ve read some horrible commercial books. It’s not fair to make generalizations on books based on how they make their way out there.

    How very true.

    Just think of how the Bible came to be.

    I've tried self publishing, well Print on Demand. Yes, I could have done better with my editing. But the house I went through is offering more of that.

    I also did an ebook many years ago and the company folded at the time from little interest.
    And look where it's head now.

    The thing that gets me about all this is there seems to be a snobbery from those who have "traditional houses" and those who don't.

    There are some wonderful stories out there, that have just been passed over because of the volume of work out there to go through.

    Things are changing in the publishing world. Not quite sure where it will all end up, but change isn't always bad. Scary, but not bad.

  • Tina Pinson

    >Rachelle,

    After reading through the posts, all I can say… is Wow.

    there are some strong emotions on both sides.

    It will take some time to see the outcome of all this.

    Thanks for tackling the issue.

  • Deb Watson

    >Rachelle,

    This is an interesting discussion to me because if I had my choice of an agent it would be yourself and if I had my choice of a publisher it would be TN.

    In April of this past year I self-published my first book, Kiss Goodbye: The Story of God's Presence in the Dark Night. It had never been my personal desire to write a book, but the story needed to be told. For seven years, I avoided God's prompting. Finally, I yielded and sat down with a pen and paper and began to write. The response from the readers has been above and beyond my own imagination. I wrote because God convicted me to do so with the full knowledge and understanding that I was ill-equipped for such an undertaking.

    In hindsight, I wish I had known how to research self-publishing entities.My immediate response to Thomas Nelson's announcement this morning was, "I wish they had been around fifteen months ago."

    I believe that with the backing of Thomas Nelson WestBow will do their best to create a great product. Unfortunately, the contents will only be as good as the writer.

    Thanks for the enlightening discussion.

    Deb

  • Kristin

    >As an author on the early DVD to launch WestBow, I am not happy about this. I worked hard to be a published author. I wrote my way up the ranks, and did the work, and now I feel my name is going to be associated with writers who haven't done the work, but have laid out cash. That is bothersome because I'm very proud of What a Girl Wants and my other Ashley Stockingdale books that bear the WestBow label.

  • Michael Hyatt

    >Just one correction to Rachelle's post: we haven't used the WestBow name since April, 2006—three-and-a-half years. Those books that were originally published under that imprint and are still selling have long been converted to the Thomas Nelson imprint.

  • tiffany marie

    >This may sound cruel and I know it doesn't apply to ALL self publishers but to a certain extent it's like the rejects of American Idol in the publishing world.

    Self publishing makes me think of those contestants that didn't make it because they couldn't sing- then on their way out the door they turn to the camera and say, "You just wait! I'll be back. I CAN SING! My momma says I can sing… you just wait!" And all the while we are cringing because they CAN'T sing, or they aren't that great and it's like a train wreck waiting to happen.

    I don't know, call me old fashioned at 36 but the cold hard truth is that not every body is a great writer and the publishing companies DO offer a filtering system that is based on years of professionalism, experience, and knowledge. There is a level of respect that comes with that. And to be published by them carries a weight unlike self publishing. There is credibility. Almost a certain level of honor in it, ya know?

    Self publishing, to a certain extent, also reminds me of what's happened to art these days. Throw a bucket of paint on a canvas and that's art. Cost $300.000.00 What?! I'll pass. I think it's the trend of our self centered and egotistical culture to go this route because we all feel like we deserve it, deserve our moment, deserve our fame, deserve a moment to be heard. And we don't want to take the hard road, or face competition or hear from someone that we might suck.

  • JFBookman

    >I think TN's response to the market and to the increasing number of authors exploring the self-publishing route to publication makes a lot of sense.

    In the coming months it will be interesting to see whether other publishers begin to establish "Subsidy Imprints" to sell along with their traditionally-published brethren.

    Certainly we are just getting our feet wet crossing this incredible river of change that is remaking the publishing world. Thanks for a thoughtful post and the discussion that has ensued from it.

  • Anonymous

    >The WestBow name hasn't been used since 2006 and is 'dead' as far as TN is concerned, yet they use traditionally published authors like Kristin Billerbeck to promote the 'new' WestBow? That's not right. It sounds like they're hoping the memory of that imprint is very much alive. Which way is it?

  • DeadlyAccurate

    >Mr. Hyatt mentioned content control, but what about quality control? Many, many self-published books simply aren't well written. There's a website that mocks vanity published books (I won't link to it for obvious reasons), but one example I saw the time I went there was a book written entirely in ALL CAPS that rambled on and on in a fashion that could only be described as insane.

    Will WestBow turn down books that their editorial staff knows would never be commercially published because the writer has only the barest grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation?

  • Michael Hyatt

    >We are not using Kristen. We are not hoping the memory is alive. We just love the history of the name and it's tie-in with our company.

    By the way, here is an excellent—and I think balanced—post on the value of self-publishing from Carol Hoenig, writing for the Huffington Post. She is a self-published author and sits on Author Solutions Author's Advisory Council: http://bit.ly/1qJ9l1

  • elaine @ peace for the journey

    >Wow…

    Pass me a Starbucks. My brain hurts.

    peace~elaine

  • Alexis @ tobebeautiful

    >First of all, I want to thank both Rachelle and Michael for weighing in on this topic. It is nice to know all the sides of the argument.

    Personally, I don't see a problem with self-publishing from reputable companies. If you are a good writer, the company should not matter. I liked that Michael said the content guidelines will be the same. If these books will be under the same guidelines, what is the problem? If you have the money and feel self-publishing is best, I say go for it.

    Rachelle, I liked what you said about looking into self-publishing for the RIGHT reasons. I'll admit, when I read Thomas Nelson's announcement yesterday, my mind starting dreaming. I wondered if maybe I should self-publish instead of doing the dreading word- waiting. What I've determined is this: If I want to self-publish for the sole reason of not wanting to wait, I am making a grave mistake. Publishing (of any form) should not be a way to bypass the growth process of waiting.

    So for that reason I am sitting on my tush and waiting for the rejection letters to come in.

  • Anonymous

    >… what Katie Ganshert said above about “I love change” and about resisting… How true, but we, funny human beings that we are, need choice and options and for the writer to have choice is power.

    Kudos to TN for offering options to the writer. Even more so, maybe it’ll give some of those writers the gratification of finally writing the piece they always wanted to:
    Dear Mr/s Whatshisherface Agent, Sorry, not quite right for me, of course this business is all subjective, perhaps another writer will feel different, and by all means, Mr/s Whatshisherface Agent, please feel free to tweet this.

  • Lynnda – Passionate for the Glory of God

    >Hello Rachelle,

    As part of my education in publishing, I sent drafts of two manuscripts (different genres sent seperately about ten months apart)to a smaller publisher who does both traditional publishing and subsidy publishing. The publisher has a good reputation, so I was curious to see what transpired.

    The publisher expressed interest in both manuscripts. The quality of the writing was not an issue. In both cases, the risk was too great for them to back an unknown writer.

    The issue that made me most uncomfortable in working with their subsidy side was my perception of the lack of support in making publishing decisions. After reading Michael Hyatt's comment: "The model is flipped on its head, so the editor can only do what the customer—the author—will allow" I recognize that my head was still with the traditional publisher model and not the subsidy publishing one.

    One of the key differences in the model is the answer to this question: who is the customer? In the traditional model, the writer is the supplier of a raw commodity – the manuscript. In the subsidy model, the writer is the customer buying a finished product. Hopefully, the writer will not be the ONLY customer for the finished product. That is a risk the writer takes, however.

    Thanks to both Rachelle and Michael Hyatt for bringing this together.

    Be blessed,

    Lynnda

  • Rachel

    >Whoa. What a fiesty comment thread this turned out to be. Totally interesting.

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  • Rebekah

    >Wow, I think you answered my question regarding Inkwater Press. So, if a person goes the non-traditional route for publishing help they can basically expect to pay something from their own bank account? Arg, I don't really like that. Is this correct?

  • Praise and Coffee

    >Wow Rachelle, thanks for this post! I have learned so much from the post and all these comments.

    I'm off to a writer's conference this weekend, I'm sure this will be part of the discussion and now I feel more informed about it!

    Thanks,
    Sue Cramer

  • mary bailey

    >Tiffany Marie, I would hope the American Idol-style-rejects would get the idea that they "suck" when they only sell one copy of their book…to their mama :-)

    I agree with the commenter who said that there are some great self-published books and some awful "traditionally published" books. But its probably more the other way around.

  • Anonymous

    >I would hope the American Idol-style-rejects would get the idea that they "suck" when they only sell one copy of their book…to their mama :-)

    But not all the people who are kicked off American Idol suck. The judges just liked someone elses style better. And some of those rejects have gone on to win awards (oscar) and do better than
    the winner.

    what do you do with the author who's won awards and been plugging away to get published, and who's been told, we can only take so many writers and we have someone who writes your style of stories?

  • Mary DeMuth

    >Anonymous,

    I'd tell him/her to try another publishing house. The most important trait a writer can have beyond craft is tenacity. Great books find a home, particularly when the author persists.

  • tiffany marie

    >Like I said, "to a certain extent" and "not all." Thanks for emphasizing my point. And you are so right they'd only sell one copy! LOL. That made me laugh. ;-)

  • Angela Breidenbach

    >Thank you for coming at this from a business sense and not an emotional one. Our writing is our job. That's business. Thank you for broadening author understanding. Whether we write full or part-time, it's a full or part-time job.

    If we think of it as business, we begin to make appropriate business decisions. If we think of it as a hobby level desire, then we make more emotional decisions.

    I really appreciate the future thinking in your blog post.

    Angie Breidenbach
    http://www.MyGemofWisdom.com

  • Katie Hart – Freelance Writer

    >What I haven't seen so far in the comments (and I may have missed it – there are so many), is someone other than Michael Hyatt liking the name for the subsidy division.

    I love the name WestBow Press! I was so sorry to see it go when Thomas Nelson got rid of all the imprints. I am glad Thomas Nelson is bringing it and its logo back. Based of off what I've read on the website, WestBow books should tend to have a higher standard of quality than the majority of self-published books, which may cause hesitant readers to try them out.

    As far as selling to bookstores, I'd like to see sales reps recommending books based on their quality, not the price paid for the package. The inclusion of a return program in all but the two least expensive packages is a great step. From my experience working in a bookstore, book buyers FAR prefer the guarantee of a return if the book doesn't sell.

  • Rachelle

    >Thanks, everyone for your insightful comments, corrections and observations. This has been a terrific discussion. There are a few aspects of it that I will come back to on a later blog post. I appreciate your participation!

  • Roxane B. Salonen

    >Rachelle, by the end of your post (which was very illuminating, by the way)…the thought that came to me was Cable TV and how we went from having only a few channels to having a hundred channels, with (in my mind) very few quality stations as the result. One of the reasons I was on such a high upon receiving my first contract is that I had gotten through the hard way. It wasn't just me believing in myself, it was a publisher saying they would invest in my work because they believed in it. It did take patience to get there, but it was so worth it. I have no doubt that brilliant works can be produced by self-pubbing, but finding them amidst the blizzard of books out there might be like finding a good channel on TV these days. I also agree with you that hiding out in the turtle shell is really going to hurt publishers. You really summed up this situation well and wrote a very balanced post given what you know of the situation so far. Bravo to your bravery!

  • Jennifer L. Griffith

    >Kudo for this great post and to Mr Hyatt for being transparent here today…whether you agree with him or not.

  • Steve

    >I saw this on Michael's blog, and one thing I noticed was that those who seemed most knowlegable about the self-publishing marketplace all seemed to agree that Michael's rates are higher, compared to other players. That was a red flag to me.

    Also, after recently having become an aspiring writer I've spent a lot of time online educating myself. One place I was at explained clearly and in some depth the difference between self-publishing and subsidy publishing. Technically, it boils down to whom the ISBN number is issued. If Michael gets the number, then he is a subsidy publisher not a self publisher.

    What disturbs me is that Michael, as a major publishing executive, knows or should know all this. To deliberately use the inaccurate term in promoting the service smacks of dishonesty.

    As the Thomas Nelson standards require authors to be professing Christians, I would not be eligible for the service in any case. However, even as a secular individual, it strikes me as particularly disturbing that a Christian publisher would use questionable promotional tactics (ie. labeling a service self=publishing when it is not that) to market to others of his own faith.

    Sorry, but I must call it as I see it.

    -Steve

  • Steve

    >I posted an earlier comment at more length which did not register. The gist of it was that it's wrong for Michael to call his service "self-publishing" when it is really subsidy publishing. There is a well-defined difference between the two, and Michael, as a professional, should know better.

    -Steve

  • Lance Albury

    >I don't like the comparison to the music industry. That industry is different in that, let's face it, American listeners are not musically discerning – that's why Achy Braky Heart made it to #1.

    For me, traditional publishing, as challenging as it is, validates good authors. It is a certification of sorts. This may lend itself more to non-fiction, but I don't see it as a healthy thing for fiction.

    I forget who mentioned that you don't typically look at who the publisher is when picking up a book in the store, I have to disagree with that. Maybe I'm wierd, but even before I pursued writing, I looked at the publisher.

  • hillary@dark :: light

    >Writer Jim said: "Above all; if you are doing your writing FOR God: He can be trusted to use your work as He wants. And that is what really matters." SO TRUE. Thank you for this reminder.

  • Anonymous

    >It is apparent from some comments that nonchristians are offended by Mr. Hyatt's tactics. That doesn't seem to help lead people to Christ. God looks at the intentions of our hearts.

  • Michael

    >>>Major Publisher Opens Subsidy Publishing Division<<

    "Subsidy publishing division" is as bad a misnomer as "self-publishing company."

    In other forms of subsidies — such as subsidized housing, subsidized child care, subsidized education, subsidized farming — the subsidized person or business pays just part of the cost.

    Writers who understand the normal meaning of "subsidy" might think that they will have to pay just part of cost of publication.

    But that's not how things work in the Humpty Dumpty world of subsidy publishing.

    Writers will have to pay 100% of the cost of publishing — which can be thousands of dollars.

    There is no subsidy in subsidy publishing.

    In Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Humpty Dumpty said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

    It's ironic and disturbing that publishing — which depends on words — so frequently misuses them.

    Michael N. Marcus
    author of Become a Real Self Publisher.

    http://BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com

  • Cathy Shouse

    >It's been said everyone has a book in them. As a reporter who's interviewed numerous self-pubbed authors and read their books, I'd say the majority of people have a bad book in them that should stay there.

    I understand business and if someone is willing to pay for something, it should be okay to provide it.

    But this could become a P.R. nightmare for TN. There's a potential for backlash from disappointed, broke and bitter self-pubbed authors to boycott TN's other publishing offerings and talk nasty on blogs, etc.

    It will be interesting to see if this is profitable in the long term.

    Cathy

  • desertson

    >Very sound advice, love your blog.
    I have a question that maybe you or your readers can help me on. A noted artist has offered to do aprox. 40 pages of art in my book and also help me publish and promote it. He wants a percentage of the profits. What is it worth…20%, 30%, 50%? I have no idea. Please help.

  • Todd Rutherford, Vice-President, Yorkshire Publishing

    >The deception is that West Bow is a self-publishing company. They are really a vanity publishing company. If an author self-publishes, they won't be paying someone to publish and then receiving a 20% royalty. If West Bow wants to provide legitimate services that assist authors with the self-publishing process for a fee, that would be different.

    Many Christian authors will be deceived by this charade because they believe they might have a chance to be picked up by Thomas Nelson.

    I believe in capitalism. Create a profit by offering legitimate services, not by deceiving people.

  • Michael Hyatt

    >Todd, these are surprisingly harsh accusations. I don't mind the criticism or the debate. I do object to you accusing us of deception or fraud.

    It would also be helpful to the overall community here if you would disclose that you are not a disinterested party. Your company offers a competing, albeit different, service.

    Finally, how can you be so certain that we won't pick up some of these authors for Thomas Nelson? I am on the record saying that we will. Time will tell, but I think I am in a pretty good position to make good on that promise.

    Kind regards.

  • Rachelle

    >Thanks for all the input! I am closing comments now.

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    I leave a leave a response each time I especially enjoy a post on a site or if I have something to valuable to contribute to the discussion. It is triggered by the passion displayed in the post I browsed. And on this article Major Publisher Opens Subsidy Publishing Division | Rachelle Gardner. I was actually excited enough to drop a thought :-P I do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright. Is it only me or do a few of these remarks come across like left by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are writing at other online sites, I would like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Could you make a list all of your public sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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