If you publish a book through the traditional publishing channels, one of the considerations you must make is which publisher to take your book to. This raises the question of whether or not you need to pay the publisher for their services.

Reputable publishers don’t usually ask for money, but they don’t work for free. They take a percentage of every book sold that they publish. The publisher also assumes all initial publication costs and pays the author. Although the author doesn’t pay the publisher directly, they make money through royalties.

This article details the financial relationship between authors and publishers and how publishers make their money.

Why Publishers Don’t Ask Authors for Money

Reputable mainstream publishers won’t ask the author to pay them to publish their book. If a publisher wants to publish an author’s book, they pay that author an advance and cover all publishing costs. 

They do this as a sort of investment because if the book makes money, the investment will be successful.

The only fees incurred during the initial book deal will likely be paying for the manuscript to be mailed to editors if you want them to have a physical copy. The only time you should be paying money up front is if you are self-publishing with a non-pay on-demand service. 

Otherwise, you may be getting scammed.

Educating yourself on what a scam looks like in the publishing industry is the best way to avoid getting involved in one. Gatekeeper Press outlines a few red flags to look for and what publishers to avoid. 

The only money authors need to pay comes from sales. The ultimate goal is for the book to sell until the author’s advance has been “paid back,” after which they can earn royalties.

Even if the advance amount isn’t met through sales, the author can keep the advance money they made from the book deal. This is good news financially but may cause potential future publishers to be wary of working with you. 

Do Self-Publishing Companies Ask for Money?

Self-publishing companies do not ask the author for money if they’re legitimate, so be very wary if you find them asking for a fee just to look at your work. However, in this case, the author will be responsible for every aspect of the publishing process. 

For example, authors who publish with Kindle Direct Publishing don’t have to pay to publish their book on the platform. But they must still pay for any editing, marketing, printing, and distribution involved in the publication process.

If you’re leaning more towards the self-publishing side of things, look at this list of reputable self-publishing organizations rated the best of 2022. 

How Publishers Make Money

Every time a publisher decides to publish a book, especially one written by a first-time author, they are taking a risk. They have no way of knowing whether or not the book will be a success, and all they can do is make calculated guesses and give it 100%.

This is especially true because the publisher covers all publishing costs when a book is published. The author takes on the financial responsibility for the book, hoping that once it sells, it will make a profit and end up being a good investment. 

There are many reasons that your next NY Times bestseller flops. A lot of publishing relies on luck, and not everyone gets lucky. The life of a publisher isn’t always fast-paced and glamorous, but it can be gratifying in other ways.  

Where Do Publishers Get the Money To Publish Books?

The entire publishing process takes thousands of dollars to fund. You may wonder where publishers get all this money to cover publishing costs when they don’t get any money from the author.

Publishers get the money to publish books through royalties. They get around 15% of the royalties accumulated from the first book sold of a new published work and commission on every book sold after that. If your book is successful, publishers stand to make a fair amount of money. 

The exact percentage that publishers get will most likely not fluctuate that much, but you should still check the fine print in your contract.

Another way publishers make money is by selling publishing rights. Since most contracts require the author to sign over the copyright ownership of their work, the publisher owns the work and can do whatever they like with it.

Publishing rights can include permission to photocopy, edit and republish a book. A publisher is usually approached by someone who wants publishing rights, and after negotiating and agreeing to their contract terms, the third party will pay a fee to use these rights.

Publishers can also sell publishing rights to overseas publishers. They might make 20% of the profit accumulated through overseas publishing. 

An example of a situation where this might happen is if someone wanted to have sole permission to republish a book in their country or if they wanted to publish translations of said book. 

Take a look at Scribe Media’s explanation of royalties, advances, and how to put all of these numbers together in a way that makes sense. 

Advantages of Publishing Traditionally

Traditional publishing, though daunting to approach as an author, hugely benefits a writer’s career. There are several advantages of taking your book to a publisher:

  • Traditional publishing is cheaper: Self-publishing requires the author to cover all publishing costs, which can become quite costly. Traditional publishing is more cost-effective, as publishers cover all publication costs. 
  • There’s a team behind you: Traditional publishing has the benefit of teamwork. You can rely on others to focus on editing and design while you focus on writing. This can benefit the quality of every aspect of a published work. 
  • You make professional connections: Though it’s not a must that an author has connections in publishing, it certainly doesn’t hurt. You can form essential relationships that further your career and offer new insight into the writing world.
  • You have advisors: Self-published authors may lack constructive criticism. Publishers and publishing teams can provide a range of new perspectives and fresh ideas you may not even realize you need. 

Some Disadvantages of Traditional Publishing

There are, of course, disadvantages to traditional publishing. One of these is that the publishing process, from manuscript to sales, can take far longer than it would have if the author had self-published. 

Publishing a book is a vast operation, and coordinating dozens of people in dozens of departments is challenging. 

Self-publishing cuts away all the middlemen and can streamline the process.

Another disadvantage of traditional publishing is that you have less control over your work. Often publishers require you to sign over copyright ownership of your work to them. You also must share the profit from sales amongst a group, rather than getting most of it yourself.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or vice-versa. An author’s publishing journey is unique to them, and only they can say which route suits them best.

Conclusion

Reputable, legitimate publishers will never ask an author for money. They invest in your work by covering all publishing costs, with the expectation that they will gain as much from its success as you will. 

You can avoid scammers and vanity press projects by educating yourself on the proper publishing procedures.

Categories: Publishing

Ol Adams

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Ol Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.