Angela Engel, an Oakland, California-based mother to three girls (ages 4, 8 and 12), has more than a decade of experience in sales strategy and business development for companies like Chronicle Books, Dwell Studio and Moleskine. In short, she knows what getting published takes, landing an aesthetic book in retailers like Nordstrom, Amazon, and Target. After having her third child, she successfully transitioned into consulting, but couldn’t quite hush her “dream to disrupt publishing.”
“I saw this surge of self-publishing with Amazon where Amazon was promising the world to these authors,” says Engel, “then a light bulb went on … there has to be a middle ground between the benefits of self-publishing and the art of the well-crafted book.”
Nowadays it seems like writers and artists still have two options for getting published and finding their book into the hands of readers:
A) Get a deal with a major traditional publishing house like Penguin Randomhouse or Simon & Schuster … but lose the rights to your work and likely wait an average of three years to get acquired.
B) skip the lengthy traditional process by taking the self-publishing route … but expect to handle all the business and marketing alone. Of equal concern, your product might lack a professional-looking book cover, minimizing your credibility and marketability.
“Book publishing can’t be this black and white,” says Engel. “It can’t just be self-publishing a PDF on Amazon, or traditional publishing in an age of instant tech.”
That’s why she launched The Collective Book Studio last year to offer authors the best of both worlds. By partnering with her full-service publishing studio, you can retain the rights to your work while working with a “collective” of professionals, each specializing in a specific step of the publishing process. From editing, art direction and layout to sales, distribution and marketing, her team takes the load off so you can focus on content.
“We’ve created a hybrid model so the product doesn’t look self-published,” says Engel. Just a year into her venture, she’s already built momentum. The Collective Book Studio is currently in talks with an array of founders, influencers, artistic institutions as well as major publishers and indie publishers—each with a goal of bringing beautiful and enlightening tomes to market.
Engel says before choosing your publishing path, get educated about the ins and outs of each model. Here, she outlines the fine print, chapter by chapter.
1) What are the costs of self-publishing?
You can spend very little, but you get what you pay for. While you may be a wonderful writer, you aren’t necessarily an expert designer, copy editor, illustrator, and sales person. Generally, an author has a choice about whether or not to invest in cover design, professional editing, printing, promotion, etc.
2) How can I promote my book if I don’t have a huge following?
Even if you have a stellar book, the market is so saturated that it is hard to stand out. You need to commit to tireless self-promotion. This requires building a following with social media, in-person readings, guest-posting on relevant platforms, and gathering a targeted mailing list. It is also important to get your book reviewed. There is no secret formula but your plan should consist of many small, focused marketing efforts over time.
3) What are the benefits of going with a traditional publisher?
Choosing a traditional publisher certainly makes sense for some authors. Publishers know what they are doing when it comes to making a beautiful, marketable book. Traditional publishers understand what it takes to not only create the finished product, but they also have the infrastructure in-place to market the title. They also have relationships with trade distribution and book reviewers.
4) What else should I focus on if I aim for traditional publishing?
Even if you are interested in traditional publishing it is worth investing time and money in finding the right agent and spending time crafting your book proposals.
5) What are the benefits of self-publishing:
The downsides of traditional publishing usually explain why self-publishing has become so popular. Traditional publishers can be extremely choosy and generally won’t accept un-agented submissions. The profit margin in publishing is very slim, and publishers generally don’t want to take on titles unless they are secure that they will get a large return on investment. This means that platform, over content, is often the holy grail.
If you are one of the select few offered a book deal, the process is very slow and you sign over rights and creative control along with your book. Since it was the publisher who was willing to take on the risk involved of publishing your title, they will reap the lion-share of the rewards if your book succeeds.
6) When it comes to self-publishing, how much should I budget from start to finish?
It truly depends on the subject matter and scope of the project. I would say a minimum of $20,000 and up to $100K+.
7) What are the benefits of going with a partner publisher like The Collective Book Studio?
With self-publishing, you have to market your book on your own, which is why I started my company. We bring together experts in the field of publishing. They know how to market and promote books, and have connections with the buyers at the stores where you want to see your book shelved and on display.
8) What else should I know about partner publishing?
While you’ll need to spend a bit upfront with a hybrid or partner publisher, you’ll get many of the benefits that go along with traditional publishing while retaining control over the final product, often a quicker turnaround time to market, and the profits (if the book is successful in the marketplace).
9) Do traditional publishers prefer to see raw material or to be presented with a book dummy?
This depends on what type of book you are pitching. For a novel, publishers generally want a complete manuscript. Great writing is the key to success with fiction, so you won’t be able to sell your novel with an idea and outline alone. Same is true for memoirs.
Non-fiction authors aren’t generally picked up just for their writing, but also because of their expertise, existing platform and following. So, if you are strong in those areas, you can generally get away with a proposal and some sample chapters.
10) I want to self-publish a book but need help with ISBN Assignment, Copyright registration, traditional printing, distribution, etc. How do I do it?
There are various self-publishing platforms that offer these services. However, I would advise against investing in these specific services unless you have first invested in making sure you have a beautiful product to begin with. It isn’t always worth spending money on printing and distributing a title that hasn’t benefitted from some expert eyes during its formation.