Weekly Musing: What is Partnership Publishing?

Since one of my goals this year is start learning more about the publishing business, I thought I would spend this week’s musing explaining what partnership publishing is. Honestly, even though I re-read the November/December 2014 Writer’s Digest article by April Eberhardt which inspired this post, I was still a little bit confused. Looking up additional information helped as did figuring how it differs from vanity and some other forms of non-traditional publishing.

The best way to define what partnership publishing is the author pays a publisher, either up front or from profits from book sales, to have their book published. This sounds very similar to the definition of a vanity publisher however, there are several large differences.

With a vanity publisher, a term that’s been around since 1941 although the concept has been around far longer, the only way the “publisher” turns a profit is from how many authors it convinces to give them money to physically publish their book. The vanity publisher doesn’t care if the book is good is properly edited, nor do they help with book cover design, distribution, or marketing. Essentially the author gives the publisher a certain amount of money in exchange for the publisher printing out a certain amount of books for that author. After that, it is up to the author to sell their own book to recuperate their costs which rarely happens.

In partnership publishing, an author approaches a publisher to possibly publish their book. The publisher reads and reviews it to see if it has merit. Then they work with the author and come up with a plan for cover design, marketing, publicity, and distribution. The catch is the author does bare part of the cost for all of this. From my research, partnership publishers are often willing to stick with an author beyond the initial release of their book. I guess in traditional Big Five Publishing, it’s not uncommon for the publisher to give a book a big push for six weeks and if it hasn’t gotten any traction, then that’s it in terms of promotion and marketing and most likely, their contract with the author.

If some of what I described about partnership publishing sounds similar to self-publishing it’s because it does. However, with self-publishing you are doing all of this on your own meaning you are hiring and paying for an editor (and please get a quality editor!), a book cover designer, as well as marketing and publication. Also, unlike either traditional or partnership publishing, you don’t have the backing of a publishing company who will do both print and digital publishing.

So now that you’re probably a bit confused, let’s refocus on partnership publishing. I’ll admit, the first time I read the Writer’s Digest article I was very skeptical. I still am even though it sounds like it is different enough from vanity publishing to be legit, different enough from self-publishing to shake off the DIY stigma that still exists, and different enough from traditional publishing where the author might actually be allowed to have a say in each step.

Publishing a book is a team effort no matter which route you take. But I guess what concerns me the most with partnership publishing is how much money it costs the author. On average, according to the Writer’s Digest article, it can cost $5,000 to $10,000 and that’s not including printing costs. If an author wants to focus strictly on digital, then the average costs are $3,000 to $5,000. Of course, as mentioned above, these are to pay for services such as editing, cover design, initial marketing and promotion, and distribution. Some of the websites referenced in the article I took a look at and some only provide a few of these services while others provided all of them or would work with places that handle marketing, for example. So in a way there could be multiple companies involved beyond the publisher.

Another concern I have is how is partnership publishing different from an author approaching a small or medium-sized publisher? Some of the authors I know who are with small to medium sized publishers have mentioned they were involved with the cover design decision as well as marketing and promotion. That’s one of the draws many newer authors have to a small or medium-sized publisher is that more personal relationship. So instead of paying a publisher to help with marketing and promotion, which many authors are expected to be responsible for regardless of who has published their book, to do this, why not pursue a small to medium-sized publisher?

I’ll be honest, partnership publishing doesn’t make much sense to me especially in light of small to medium-sized publishers. I understand and appreciate that within a partnership publisher that the author retains the rights to their book, rather than the publisher, and that it is a team effort with the author having input along every step of the way. But there is an alternative that exist which can allow for the author to not pony up the money directly. Or why not just self-publish? Of course, self-publishing doesn’t allow an author to distribute paper copies of their book unless they partner up with an independent book store.

Perhaps I’m missing the appeal of it which is fine. If this particular business model works for an author, and it’s legit, then go for it. Personally I’d rather save that several thousands of dollars I don’t have and take my chances in the future either doing parts of it on my own or going through traditional or smaller publishers.


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