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Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Hell
 
2009-08-12, 16:40

I apparently have a call with an editor in the morning concerning a technical textbook I've been working on for a while, and it strikes me... I have no idea what I'm doing.

Anyone on here have any experience in the publishing industry, either side of it? What advice would you give to someone who is about to enter the viper's den? Pros? Cons? Publishing houses to avoid? Ones to court? What's a reasonable set of compensation terms?

Halp.

My other brain is hung like a horse too.
#IRC isn't old school.
Old school is being able to say 'finger me' with a straight face.
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Brad
Selfish Heathen
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Zone of Pain
 
2009-08-12, 16:55

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post
Anyone on here have any experience in the publishing industry, either side of it?
I know "a little bit" about the publishing industry, but any advice I give would be "a little" biased.
  quote
Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-12, 16:57

Hey, go for it, man. I know you're at lulu.com, so consider yourself disclosed.
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2009-08-12, 17:33

Define "published." Novel? Essay? A short story in a "little magazine"?
  quote
curiousuburb
Antimatter Man
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-12, 17:33

I think a 'technical textbook' limits the pool already. Who publishes in your genre or specialty?


All those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand.

Last edited by curiousuburb : 2009-08-12 at 18:03.
  quote
Kickaha
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Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-12, 17:48

It's a textbook on software engineering and design patterns. Publisher is Pearson (Addison-Wesley, Safari Online, etc).

While that is kind of limited, I'm interested in any experiences or advice folks might have with publishing in general... I'm a total n00b.

Basically, I'm curious about the editorial process, contracts, etc, etc.

My other brain is hung like a horse too.
#IRC isn't old school.
Old school is being able to say 'finger me' with a straight face.
  quote
Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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2009-08-12, 18:04

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post
What advice would you give to someone who is about to enter the viper's den?
I'm not really familiar with the textbook market, so this is just super-general advice. I hope it helps...

I recommend almost everybody try to court an agent, but the textbook market might be totally different. (Some markets, like poetry, are totally unagented.) So first I'd advise you to get thee a book on publishing! Just a general overview, a la A Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Your Book, or maybe one specific to textbooks, if you can find one. Libraries tend to have lots of books on writing/publishing. As an added bonus, you'll essentially be studying a published textbook!

Quote:
What's a reasonable set of compensation terms?
We'll start from the beginning. A definition of terms:

Royalty - the cut you get out of every book sold
Advance - "guaranteed" money you get before the book is published. Usually the royalty for the initial print run of the book. So your royalty account essentially starts off in a hole, and you have to "earn" your advance first before you get future royalties. For example:

My Amazing Novel catches the attention of publishers. My agent (who I got because they know way more about selling books than I do) holds an auction, and two publishers bid against each other for the rights to publish My Amazing Novel. The winning bid will include an advance, and royalty rate and the size of the initial print run will usually be decided later. We'll say My Amazing Novel gets an initial print run of 25,000, and my agent and I earn $2 per book. I will receive $50,000 (less my agent's commission) up front, but I will need to sell 25,001 books before I start making any more money. (It's the advances, and not the recurring royalties after them, that make up the bulk of many authors' incomes. A book doesn't have to totally sell out its initial print run to be considered a "success.")

The royalty/advance system is the system for nearly all published works, including textbooks, with the exception of books written for hire (for a flat fee). Harry Potter earns J. K. Rowling a royalty; crappy paperback Magic: The Gathering novels are written for hire. Some textbooks will probably fall in each category, but if you wrote a textbook and are now trying to publish it, you're working in the royalty/advance system. If an editor approached you and offered you $X (with no future royalties) to write Y, you're writing for hire.

How much is a fair royalty? That's hard to say. Depending on the publisher, your royalty will be calculated based on list price or purchase price (after discounts) - switching between these two systems is not normally up for debate in the typical book contract signing sessions. Purchase price royalties tend to be higher (percentage-wise), since many books are purchased below list. For My Amazing Novel above, I assumed 10% based on the list price of a $19.99 hardcover. If there's an intense bidding war, or you're a celebrity author, that number could go up to...well, anything, really. An agent that specializes in the textbook market would know far more about what to expect than I would.

Agents in the US almost universally collect 15% of your advance and royalties. Agents in the UK collect 10%, the lucky bastards. They're worth it, IMO, even if you're already in contact with a publisher. (In fact, if you already have a publishing deal, you can still go back and get an agent to help you with the negotiation process, but they should be getting less than 15% at that point.)

Agents should work solely on commission - they should not get their income from "reading fees" or selling you services to book doctors (which they receive kickbacks from). They should make their money by selling your book, not by making you buy services. Agents sometimes cap the cost of supplies (postage, copies) and bill any amount over, say, $300 to the author; this is reasonable (if they agree to take it out of your eventual royalties, as they should, it's even a bit of a show of confidence). But they should not be pushing you to go to a book doctor right out of the gate.

There's a lot of crappy agents out there. But they're invaluable (if textbooks are an agented market).

Listen to any editor - they're the ones you need to please - but don't let them take you for a ride. Editors need authors, all publishers need authors, no matter how poorly they treat them sometimes.

If you do get a book deal, try to remove any joint accounting clause from it. You know how I said that, with the advance, each book starts out in the "hole"? Joint accounting means that if you publish a second book with that house, they will share that same hole - so if you still haven't "earned back" $2,000 of your previous advance, they'll make you "earn back" that, and your new advance, before you start getting royalties. Each book should stand on its own. Many houses also try to get first refusal rights, meaning you have to submit your next book to them first; these are a bad idea with your first book because you don't know how they're going to really treat you or your book yet. A multi-book deal is, of course, entirely different.

Hope that helps!

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
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curiousuburb
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Join Date: May 2004
Location: that interweb thing
 
2009-08-12, 18:18

Textbooks are their own ecosystem. Texas sets many trends for curricula, Arnie wants CA to look at digital books, blah blah...

edit: ah, Robo probably covered this better than I

Generally, a contract might specify royalty rates for hardcover, softcover, and international/translated editions. How optimistic/realistic/pessimistic are those numbers today/5yrs/etc?
A portion up front as advance is possible, with benchmarks or distribution thresholds possible for later achievement... but the larger the advance is, the lower the royalty rate tends to be.
Many authors publicize their books to drive sales... not sure how much of that happens in the world of textbooks.

In your case, it might be work seeking out an agent who specializes in textbooks for advice on particular quirks or industry assholes.

Is yours a 'fundamentals' text which will be evergreen, or is it a subject in flux with built-in need for updated editions?

All those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand.
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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2009-08-12, 18:34

Quote:
Originally Posted by curiousuburb View Post
Generally, a contract might specify royalty rates for hardcover, softcover, and international/translated editions.
I would hope that the contract would specify the royalty rates. But I get what you're saying. Some houses take a "wait and see" approach to paperbacks; some plan for them (WRT royalties, if nothing else) up front. The days of making a "paperback sale" to another house (as Stephen King did with Carrie) seem to be pretty much over.

Basically, the boilerplate contract will give the publisher rights to publish your book in English all over the world, and it will give them the right to contract out translations, and it will give them excerpt rights, and the film/television/drama rights, and the rights to the e-book edition and the audiobook edition and the braille edition...

You can negotiate to keep those rights, of course. It's all a negotiation, which is why an agent (or at least a publishing lawyer) is so important - I don't know of a single published author who advises against getting one, and I'm talking about people who have paid their agents millions of dollars. The agent is someone who's on your side - they have just as much of an interest in those rights as you do. If the agency has branches in Hollywood, they'd rather farm out film rights themselves, earning them and you more money, &c.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curiousuburb
A portion up front as advance is possible, with benchmarks or distribution thresholds possible for later achievement.
I forgot to mention that. Royalty rates aren't fixed and immutable; they can change throughout the life of the book (even before it goes paperback, whatever) depending on how it's selling. They do need to follow the benchmarks and thresholds set forth in the contract, though. You should have the right to an audit if you think you're getting scammed (an agent would probably notice this before you).

On the first part, I would argue that an advance is a minimum professional standard for a published book, because it gives the publisher a vested interest in its success. If you are interested in the traditional publishing model (not self publishing), avoid anyone giving you no advance, or especially a nominal ($1) one, like the plague. These are not publishers; they are POD vanity presses pretending to be publishers. There's nothing wrong with POD but they shouldn't also try and claim the rights of publishers (they shouldn't ever keep the rights to your book, for example). Compare PublishAmerica with angelic Lulu.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curiousuburb
In your case, it might be work seeking out an agent who specializes in textbooks for advice on particular quirks or industry assholes.
Again, I have never heard a published author, in an agented market, advise against getting an agent. Ever.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Hell
 
2009-08-12, 18:43

Fundamentals of software design, actually... ie, where there's a BIG GAPING HOLE in the literature. So this should have the same sort of legs as, say, the original Design Patterns text, which is coming up on 15 years. I hope.

Robo, thank you - that's the sort of publishing for dummies I needed.

I feel like I've skipped over a few of the steps... this was originally my dissertation (ie, I have 400 pages to pull material from, so a lot of it is already written in better than rough draft form), I got introduced to an editor at A-W through a colleague, and in one week I've gone from "oh hey, I should do this" to having a call with said editor in the morning to discuss next steps. That was my cue to find out what the hell I was getting into. (Especially since he also mentioned a video series?!? WTF??)

I appreciate any and all info/advice/wisdom, guys.

My other brain is hung like a horse too.
#IRC isn't old school.
Old school is being able to say 'finger me' with a straight face.
  quote
Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2009-08-12, 18:57

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post
I feel like I've skipped over a few of the steps... this was originally my dissertation (ie, I have 400 pages to pull material from, so a lot of it is already written in better than rough draft form), I got introduced to an editor at A-W through a colleague, and in one week I've gone from "oh hey, I should do this" to having a call with said editor in the morning to discuss next steps. That was my cue to find out what the hell I was getting into. (Especially since he also mentioned a video series?!? WTF??)
Good luck!

Editors are very busy people. Any book you read on publishing (usually written by editors) will spend about a chapter emphasizing how busy editors are. But you're the author, you wrote the damn thing, and you should feel "in the loop" and okay with how things are going. Don't feel shy about asking questions, expressing concerns, &c., especially when you're already on the phone. Any book on publishing (hint, hint) will give you a nice little set of questions to ask.

But the best part of getting an agent is that you have an agent to bug the editor about all the things that are bothering you, while you get to sit quietly and smile and make the editor Totally Like You (which is important - publishing is, like all businesses, a People Business).

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Hell
 
2009-08-12, 19:02

So... you're saying I should get an agent? I'm not sure, you're so subtle on that point...

I'll definitely look into it, thanks, if I can just get over my control freak nature. I'll let you know what I find out tomorrow. Hell, he may pawn me off on another imprint, for all I know at this point. Maybe I need to flutter my eyelashes at him. (Do you think I have time for a boob job? Too much too soon?)

Also, Brad... don't think I didn't consider Lulu in all of this. I asked my colleague for his advice, and next thing you know I'm talking to a publisher. Yoiks. If it doesn't work out, or it seems hinky, lulu is my next stop.

My other brain is hung like a horse too.
#IRC isn't old school.
Old school is being able to say 'finger me' with a straight face.
  quote
Iago
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Hmm?
 
2009-08-12, 19:02

My eldest sister is a novelist. I don't know if this applies to the technical non-fiction market, but she says the best advice she ever got was to get a damned good agent. Having someone who makes money if you make money is so useful when you're trying to get a publisher. Good luck!
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Robo
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2009-08-12, 19:05

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post
So... you're saying I should get an agent? I'm not sure, you're so subtle on that point...
I'm not super familiar with how the textbook business is run - it might be more straightforward. But for any other sort of book, yes yes oh god yes.

Agents are an author's best friend.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha
I'll definitely look into it, thanks, if I can just get over my control freak nature.
If you have a control freak nature, as I do - my book is my baby, and I am its domineering parent - I would think getting an agent would be more important. They are, again, on your side, so if you have any gripes about the cover/typeface/anything you can tell your agent, who can bitch to the editor on your behalf (while you still look like a perfect angel). Or if they think that the editor is right on something and knows better than you (which might happen, sometimes, idunno, you did make a fancy-pants dissertation) they can break the news to you in a kinder, gentler way, and maybe work towards a compromise.

Let me put it this way: WRT to control, you're probably better off with an agent than just with an editor. But you do pay for that, of course.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
Chris A
Formerly "Nurdley"
 
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Upper Manhattan
 
2009-08-12, 19:40

I do have published books, but they are of this ilk http://www.amazon.com/Bessie-Revised-expanded-Chris-Albertson/dp/0300107560/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1250123777&sr=1-1 and I think textbooks are handled differently.

BTW, I have had very bad experience with literary agents, so I did this last one on my own, dealing directly with the publisher (Yale University Press)

Chris
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Brad
Selfish Heathen
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-12, 21:25

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post
Also, Brad... don't think I didn't consider Lulu in all of this. I asked my colleague for his advice, and next thing you know I'm talking to a publisher. Yoiks. If it doesn't work out, or it seems hinky, lulu is my next stop.
No skin off my back! I'll be the first to admit that there are big differences in POD and traditional publishing and that neither one is the perfect solution for everyone. Generally, the former assumes you want (and can handle) full control of every little thing from typefaces and margins to marketing and publicity, whereas the latter assumes you don't want that control (or responsibility) and are instead interested in paying someone else to handle them.

Sounds like Roboman has said pretty much anything else I could possibly think to say on the subject.

The quality of this board depends on the quality of the posts. The only way to guarantee thoughtful, informative discussion is to write thoughtful, informative posts. AppleNova is not a real-time chat forum. You have time to compose messages and edit them before and after posting.
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Robo
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2009-08-12, 22:23

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad View Post
No skin off my back! I'll be the first to admit that there are big differences in POD and traditional publishing and that neither one is the perfect solution for everyone. Generally, the former assumes you want (and can handle) full control of every little thing from typefaces and margins to marketing and publicity, whereas the latter assumes you don't want that control (or responsibility) and are instead interested in paying someone else to handle them.
Of course, the hard part is when you have a semi-professional existence in both the writing and graphic/book design fields, and you have to convince the Big Publishing Company that you're not just a silly little author who needs to run along and clarify tenses while the Professional Graphic Artists do their thing.

But there's ways around that. My favorite is to essentially dictate the design of the book in the text. Not, like, in a "This book is set in Helvetica, which symbolizes..." sort of way (because they'd just as easily make you change that to Garamond) but if there's something specific you want on the cover, you can basically write the book in a way that the Professional Cover Designer can't possibly choose anything else. I think of it as...making their work easy for them.

This is far easier for fiction, of course. For textbooks, you're kind of on your own.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
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ezkcdude
Veteran Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
 
2009-08-13, 07:11

I learned everything I know about publishing from watching Californication.
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SpecMode
Wait what
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
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2009-08-13, 07:32

Only vaguely related, but humorous nonetheless: The Last Samurai Agent.
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Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Hell
 
2009-08-13, 14:33

OH THANK GOD. They will take LaTeX files directly, and have templates I can use for formatting.

Honestly, even more than any contract terms, that was my biggest question. I am a control freak when it comes to layout and design. Marketing? Pfft. I'll let them handle that part.

My other brain is hung like a horse too.
#IRC isn't old school.
Old school is being able to say 'finger me' with a straight face.
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ezkcdude
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Join Date: Jan 2005
 
2009-08-14, 14:07

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kickaha View Post
OH THANK GOD. They will take LaTeX files directly, and have templates I can use for formatting.

Honestly, even more than any contract terms, that was my biggest question. I am a control freak when it comes to layout and design. Marketing? Pfft. I'll let them handle that part.
That's really nice. What font do they use for the book? I starting using Palatino for my grant proposals and I really like it (NIH/NSF only accept Helevetica/Arial, Palatino, and Times New Roman).
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Kickaha
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2009-08-14, 14:12

I have no idea... most LaTeX documents default to Computer Modern, but I'm sure they'll tell me eventually.
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curiousuburb
Antimatter Man
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-14, 17:11

NYT talks about rental textbooks
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Kickaha
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2009-08-14, 17:12

Cool. Honestly, I always kept my texts, but I know a lot of people don't, and that's fine. Such a damned racket though.
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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2009-08-14, 17:28

Quote:
Originally Posted by ezkcdude View Post
Helevetica/Arial
*dies*

Kick: But it's a racket you can be part of!

I keep my textbooks...if they're good. And if I don't get rid of almost all my belongings in an quasi-spiritual detox/escape from Las Vegas months later.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
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Iago
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Hmm?
 
2009-08-14, 17:47

Best thing about a liberal arts degree: your text books just turn into, um, books
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Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-14, 17:53

Heh, I kept all mine as references. It's shocking how often I still go back to them, and for the strangest reasons.
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
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2009-08-14, 18:02

Quote:
Originally Posted by Iago View Post
Best thing about a liberal arts degree: your text books just turn into, um, books
And with an Art History major, you never have to buy coffee table books again.

(Finally, a use for an Art History major. I kid, I kid!)
  quote
Kickaha
Likes his boobies blue.
 
Join Date: May 2004
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2009-08-14, 18:16

Quote:
Originally Posted by Roboman View Post
And with an Art History major, you never have to buy coffee table books again.

(Finally, a use for an Art History major. I kid, I kid!)
No kidding!

Get them down on all fours, throw a sheet of plywood on their back, and voila! A place to put your coffee!


Oh, you said coffee table BOOKS... sorry, misread...

My other brain is hung like a horse too.
#IRC isn't old school.
Old school is being able to say 'finger me' with a straight face.
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Iago
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Join Date: Jul 2009
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2009-08-14, 18:21

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrĂ¼no View Post
Get them down on all fours, throw a sheet of plywood on their back, and voila! A place to put Paula Abdul!
(Humour me.)
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