Breaking the publishing mold Print
Written by DAVE SHEETS   
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 02:21 PM America/New_York

Discovering the differences between traditional and independent publishers in a changing marketplace

DaveSheetsAs a book retailer, you’re familiar with traditional CBA publishers like Thomas Nelson, Howard Books, Harvest House Publishers, Zondervan and Bethany House. You typically know what to expect from these well-known publishers. You know the genres in which they specialize, you understand the audiences they’re reaching, and you’re familiar with the doctrine governing the pages of the books they publish.

So, when you hear the phrase, “independent publisher,” what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of books with poor editing, subpar printing, badly designed covers, unknown authors and questionable content.

While these descriptors may have applied to the early days of independent publishers, the industry has come a long way in a relatively short time.

Today’s independently published books can have professionally designed covers, content that is edited and proofed by some of the industry’s top editors, pages printed in the United States, and sound doctrinal governance—and may even be written by authors typically published traditionally.

As a Christian retailer, what do you need to know about independent publishing? How can independent authors and publishers work within the constraints of today’s constantly changing publishing marketplace, especially with distributors and retailers? What do independent authors and publishers need to do to build relationships with retailers—relationships that will help them both reach their goal to get the right books into the hands of customers who need the information, inspiration, help and guidance within these books’ pages?

In future columns, we will address the “trust factor” and how retailers can learn to trust indie content and marketability, especially as it comes from established service providers.

Rights and Royalties

Traditional publishers take on the financial responsibility and risk for the books they choose to produce. They pay up-front for the editing, cover design, printing, distribution, marketing and publicity (if they’ve even budgeted for that), and they typically pay the author an advance and royalties, but the publisher owns the rights to the book.

Conversely, independent publishers offer editing, design, printing, distribution and—in some cases—marketing, promotion and distribution services for a fee. But all or most of the rights for that book remain with the author, so all or most of the money from sales goes directly to the author. The author is the publisher. And with the evolution of print-on-demand (P.O.D.), by which a book can be printed in any number (from one copy to hundreds of copies) at a low cost, there’s no need for today’s independently published authors to purchase large inventories that may sit in their garage.

Broad Distribution

Some independent publishing service companies, including BelieversPress, have partnered with well-known distributors and can ensure the books they’ve produced are available in brick-and-mortar stores and on Internet retailers’ sites. These books are available for retailers to purchase from the same distributor(s) you’re accustomed to dealing with for other books and products.

At BelieversPress, we realize not every independent book is ready for retail. We coach authors to prepare them for retail distribution, but many times the author needs to spend time developing a local grass-roots strategy before taking their book to the national distribution stage—or they may be better suited to local distribution only.

New and Local

As retailers, you can provide your customers the opportunity to discover a new favorite author. New writers often turn to independent publishers or service organizations when their books aren’t picked up by traditional publishers, who may be more focused on publishing books by established authors. This gives independent publishers a huge advantage in offering retailers new authors writing fascinating books just waiting for customers to discover.

Many independent retailers understand the importance of connecting with local authors to build a sense of community in their store. Having a “Local Authors” section that’s highly visible and well-merchandised at the front of your store is a great way to draw sidewalk traffic.

Better yet, connecting with local authors to have a special reception and book signing will help solidify your store in the community. Independent authors need to establish their brand and platform, and local retail provides a great source for coaching, encouragement and engagement with consumers. If coached properly, independent authors can provide stores with a steady stream of promotion, traffic and new buyers—for a win-win relationship.

An Open Book

Independent publishing offers people the opportunity to live out their dream of writing a book and having it published. What once may have seemed like a pipe dream can be a reality with the guidance of an independent publishing company.

Stories that may have gone unwritten are now being published. Sermon series that pastors longed to share with an audience beyond their congregations are now being distributed as books.

Aspiring writers today have options that don’t leave them discouraged—they can self-publish and hone their craft with each book. The world of independent publishing is, indeed, an open book—one that is quickly finding its way into the publishing marketplace.
The Future

We live in interesting and exciting times for the publishing industry. Authors—debut and best-selling—have strong publishing options. And those options continue to acknowledge the importance of brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Likewise, Christian bookstore owners continually seek ways to differentiate themselves from the big box stores and the Internet retail giants. Enabling customers to discover new authors—who might otherwise never have the chance to publish and distribute their books—helps create a sense of awe that can’t be found in the cavernous aisles of a big box or in an impersonal online bookstore.

In upcoming Independent Thoughts columns, we’ll bring you information on a variety of topics, including:

  •  Working with independent publishers
  •  Driving consumer traffic
  •  Using your store as a gathering place for writers’ clubs
  •  Indie book merchandising tips
  •  Creating a sense of “discovery” in your store

I look forward to sharing our excitement with you as we work together to reach readers with Christ-honoring books that deliver messages of faith and hope.

A publishing industry veteran, Dave Sheets is a thought leader with 1Source—a consortium that includes BelieversPress, SuzyQ Author Coaching, Bethany Press, Glass Road Media and Anchor Distributors—that provides a full range of independent publishing services for print and e-books for faith authors and publishers. Sheets has worked for Tyndale House Publishers, Multnomah Publishers, Send The Light Distribution, Harvest House Publishers and Snowfall Press. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..