BEYOND TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING: Comparing Cooperative and Subsidy Publishing

You’ve finished your manuscript and your book is ready to be published. You realize it isn’t likely to be a blockbuster that will interest a literary agent and traditional publisher, so what are the other options? Two of the most popular methods of publishing are compared below.

Cooperative Publishers

Typically these publishers specialize in specific genres and have established recognition, distribution and promotion channels within that market. Manuscripts are accepted that will complement the publisher’s existing lines and help build their brand and reputation. The publisher has a stake in the book, and the author’s success  shares in its success through profits from book sales. This type of publisher will have high standards for content and provide excellent design and copy editing services. Coop publishers charge an upfront fee for editorial, design and promotional services and you will pay for printing. For fees received from you, the publisher takes over all the functions that a traditional publisher provides. You’ll earn a percentage of net profit of book sales.
The publisher will make your book available through their own website and catalog, to wholesalers and distributors like Ingram and Baker-Taylor, and to book stores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Cooperative publishing is a good choice for nonfiction authors whose books fall into a specific niche. You’ll look for a small publisher with an established website, catalog and success in marketing in your field.

Subsidy Publishers & Author Services Companies

A few familiar imprints are AuthorHouse, Balboa Press, IUniverse, Xlibris, Palibro, AuthorHouse and Westbow Press — all subsidiaries of AuthorSolutions which was acquired by Penguin last year. These companies aggressively upsell packages that are often more promise than delivery. In this model you are paying for a product – your book – plus all of the services and materials needed for marketing and promotion Subsidy publishers will accept any manuscript with the exception of pornography or illegal content. Balboa Press specializes in self-help and mind/body/spirit categories but and will accept all manuscripts within that broad category.

A subsidy publisher provides the imprint and ISBN. They retain all rights to your book even though you have paid for all editorial and printing services, but they may release rights and files for a fee. Because the publisher has no financial stake in the success of your book they often contract copy editing and design to inexperienced contractors or staff. The publisher manages sales and distribution. You’re paid a small royalty on books sold. Pricing is also out of your hands and, oddly, the cover price is often far higher than other books in the same category. These companies can work for some authors, but be sure to do your homework and compare prices first.

Note: Hybrid author services providers such as Lulu, Blurb and CreateSpace also provide design, editing and distribution to resellers or offer only print-on-demand. However, their services are reasonably priced and are not aggressively upsold.

Subsidy publishing may work for authors who have no interest in, time for, or facilities to be involved in editing, designing, printing, or promoting their book, or for organizations with a fundraising publication such as a cookbook, catalog, manual or guide.

(Next month’s article will address “The Rewards and Challenges of Self-Publishing.”)