The Inner Workings of Ag Book Publishing

A few years back, a publisher specializing in agriculture books contacted me about distributing my book, "Cows Eat Weeds." In spite of myself I was flattered, because if a publisher wants your book that seems like a good thing, right? Well, maybe not. This is how things work for most of us in the publishing world: When I started writing my book, I decided to learn more about the ins and outs. What I found is that it is typical for an author to sign a contract that gives her 6 to 10% of each book sale. The rest goes to the publisher to cover printing, shipping and marketing. Marketing is different than promoting. It's all about the little ads you see, or the publisher's website, or the cost of mailing a book to someone who might review it. Promoting is the author's job. That means making public appearances, like book tours and presentations at conferences. While on tour, you can buy your own books at a reduced rate to sell to the people you meet. But of course you don't get the 6 to 10% on top of that. It was that information that turned me into a self-publisher. But I didn't go the typical self-publisher route. Instead I found a printer whose specialty is books and I did all the layout so that they could print my book for me. Working with them I got 500, full-color, 150 page books printed and shipped to me for about $5 each. In the instance above, the publisher wanted to distribute the most recent printing of my book. They'd pay me the $5 it cost to print it plus

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2 thoughts on “The Inner Workings of Ag Book Publishing

  1. Thanks for affirming my understanding of the problems of working with publishers. It is not just the ag book world where this is true, and the publishing industry is in a similar bind to that of print journalism. In this age of constant internet blahblah, quality writing is being undervalued and good writers end up needing day jobs (or a partner who can support their habit).

    The promotion piece can be a big time suck too, and if a publisher is able to set up book events and do publicity, as well as getting the book in front of reviewers, it is a huge plus for someone who is not able to offer practical workshops. I’ve hired an editor, indexer, and book designer/social media maven, and am working on my own promotion – besides all the stuff involved in making a living. It’s exhausting!

    If you’re interested, check out

    P.S. I sometimes use your columns for my on-line class for Green Mt. College, Theory &Practice of Sustainable Agriculture. Great stuff!

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