Saturday, 26 November 2011

Publishing a Fishing Book - 90% (Pt1)

You may have considered writing an angling book, even got some way towards writing one or perhaps wrote a few chapters but put the project to bed meaning to pick it up again at a later date and finish the damn thing. You may even have written the whole damn thing, looked at it later and thought better of it with the benefit of critical distance.
In the past months I have hit all the brick walls an author encounters and through sheer determination got through it all and succeeded in writing an entire book that I am happy with.

That was the first stage. The easy bit as it happens. The words, when they were ready to be born, came out as an unimpeded torrent. I'd make a good mother! I wrote 60,130 in a month and then, as a way of removing myself from the thing, started a second book and completed a third of that in about a week.

Then the real trouble started - when I had to look into getting the thing published.

Received wisdom would say send off a synopsis and a few sample chapters to a list of publishing companies and sit back to await a string of rejection slips before finding a saviour who believes in the book and who then promotes the book to the best seller list.

Fine. But what's a 'best seller' when it comes to a fishing book?

Not an awful lot, that's what. Chris Yates is a best selling angling writer and John Wilson could make a book about just about anything, 'Wilson's Hundred Favourite Knots' or something equally anodyne and have it sell, but even then we are not talking about millions of books sold, or even hundreds of thousands, but tens of thousands at most and probably far, far, far less.

Let's say we have a book published and it does, by the intervention of angels, sell ten thousand copies. The author will be on a commission of around ten percent so with a hardback costing, say, fifteen quid, which is what I paid for a hardback of Yates' 'Out of the Blue', we have a gross total of £150,000 but a cut for Chris of £15,000.

What sort of business is that?

Rubbish business is what! And that is business at the top of the tree when it comes to books about angling...

Most angling books only sell over a thousand, if they are very lucky.

Even at top sales of ten thousand, £15,000 is just not enough turnover for a project that may have taken a year or more in conception and execution even if it is just one of many projects in the pipeline. A bank manager would laugh his socks off if you went along and asked for backing for a business as a fishing author going down the traditional route. Almost all the money is going to the publisher, and hardly any to you - but you are still doing the majority of the work because without you diligently researching your subject in real detail and ultimately knuckling down to work and producing the first cut, they have no business at all.

They can't sell blank pages!

(...actually they can, and I have a book called "All That Men Know About Women' to prove it!)

So, how exactly, does a publisher justify a cut of 90% for work where all they have to do is throw the thing on the cart and take it to market?

Easy. They'll say they have to take an enormous risk and put cash up front, employing all kinds of people to do all kinds of work, from editing and typesetting to graphic design and illustration in order to have a presentable book to print. Well, how long do you really think any good graphic designer really has to spend on a book cover?

One working day is the answer. I know, I used to be one, and where I worked such a thing as a book cover would be knocked out rapidly and without any real care and attention, but because you really did know what you were up to, the result would look utterly professional and more importantly, be print ready in every respect. The cost of such work? Probably a lot on the open market, as the work is not the kind of thing that any old Tom, Dick or Harry can do, and is sold as such, but really, I'll knock you out a book cover for a hundred quid at 'mates rates', and still be quids in.

I designed my own cover for my book and it was ready to go in four hours but if I were selling to a publishing house I would have charged at least £750 for the same work. I will also produce all my own illustrations, a job that commands an awful lot in the marketplace but really, when the style is established and approved, is like shelling peas. There's the rub. They are all in business and have to cover all kinds of overheads to make it all pay, and so the costs rack up ever more, with everybody charging whatever they can command for even the simplest of jobs.

The truth is that all the operations of publishing are operating the same way. Really practiced and professional people doing their jobs at breakneck speed but still pushing out the work at the expected standard and charging the earth for it.

That's where all the 90% goes. There, and in the publishers pocket...

It cannot be accident that 'author' rhymes, and chimes, very well with 'pauper', can it?

Next: Looking into the alternatives


  1. Publishing...both discouraging and depressing of a process. Great post, and even though publishing isn't going to make you any money, I do hope you find a publishing source for your book soon...

  2. After publishing a few fishing articles in local fishing magazines I quickly realized what a racquet the business really is. A small percentage of readers want the details of the adventure as where most simply want to know the what, where and how on your fishing spots. I wish you the best on your book ventures, as your work deserves the literary spotlight.

  3. Fascinating stuff Jeff, and although I've never looked into it in any depth, your observations come as no surprise to me. But surely the act of having a book published is a justifiable ends in itself regardless of financial gain?

    Keep us posted - I'll be buying a copy, that's for sure.


  4. I do agree to a point. Having a book published by a renowned angling publishing house carries lots of kudos and they will reach all the right places and get all the right people to the launch, but it seems that many are not in the volume business but in the business of supplying collectors with leatherbound issues at high prices, £180 or so for each, which does defray the costs somewhat when they sell well but really, the book is the same but with a fancy cover, and that's all.

    It does not cost £165 to slap a bit of cow hide around a book and stamp a quids worth of 24 carat leaf into the title!

    My issue is with the paltry sum given over to the author, who sells on the mechanical copyright and then has no real control over what happens after.

    It's not like publishing music where the record company operates just like a book publisher giving the author similar rates and prints copies of CD's because with music the intellectual property rights, which the author retains and sells through a publisher who then sells the rights to perform the work in public, so every time a radio station or pub plays a tune, the artist makes money via the PRS who pool all the moneys gotten from public replay or performance and pay the artists with royalty cheques, and they keep rolling in for as long as the song is played and that can be decades for some big hits.

    With books this doesn't happen - once its out of print, that's it. Kaput. No more money rolls in.