Morality Clauses in Book Publishing

Publicity plays a crucial role in any publishing house. Authors who accrue bad publicity are often subjected to the morality clause in their contract so that the reputation of the publishing house is not tarnished by the actions of the author. Recent developments in the entertainment industry, especially in regards to the #MeToo movement, have led to an increased focus on ethics and morality in professional, educational, and media settings. Publishing houses and agents have faced similar problems, which is where the morality clause comes into play; an increasing number of publishing houses and agents are now including these clauses in their contracts, requiring authors to comply with acceptable professional standards and providing for the possible termination of the contractual relationship if the author fails to conduct themselves appropriately.
Definition
If you are unfamiliar with the term “morality clause,” here is a definition from Wikipedia: “A moral clause within contracts that is used as a means of holding the individual or party(s) to a certain behavioral standard so as not to bring disrepute, contempt or scandal to other individual or party to the contract and their interests. It attempts to preserve a public and private image of such a party to the contract.”
Example
All morality clauses look different depending on what they cover contractually, but here is a generic example from Author’s Guild:

Publisher may terminate…if Author’s conduct evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals, or Author commits a crime or any other act that will tend to bring Author into serious contempt, and such behavior would materially damage the Work’s reputation or sales.

Limitations and Benefits
There is much debate on whether or not morality clauses should be included in author contracts. Many publishers want to protect themselves from any bad publicity their authors might incur based on their beliefs, however, there are some who believe that morality clauses are inherently unethical because of the difficulty in drafting meaningful contractual clauses that explain what conduct is immoral or unacceptable other than in the vaguest terms possible. Because of this, publishers are able to terminate contracts based on what they deem to be inappropriate behavior. There is also the question of whether these clauses are necessary as a matter of law in regards to whether they add anything meaningful to what’s already in the contract.
While there are certainly limitations, there are also benefits to morality clauses. These clauses are meant to empower publishers to easily terminate contracts without having to go through a court proceeding. Publisher’s began adding morality clauses during the rise of #MeToo Movement as a way to protect victims and hold people accountable for their crimes.
Real Cases
In 2017, Simon & Schuster canceled Milo Yiannopoulos’s book contract after he made controversial comments on the topic of pedophilia. Instead of enacting the morality clause, which is harder to prove in court, Simon & Schuster claimed that the manuscript itself was unacceptable, which provided grounds for termination. This case provides some guidance about how already-existing contract clauses can be used to address situations like this, even in the absence of a morality clause.
Recently, Simon & Schuster also canceled their contract with Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri for his book, The Tyranny of Big Tech. In an Instagram post, the publisher wrote that it took this action “[a]fter witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.” Simon & Schuster went on to say, “We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints; at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom.”
It’s a matter of balancing two aspects in the drive for justice: the desire to protect people from being penalized for their sexuality, lifestyle, or political beliefs versus the desire to believe victims and hold people accountable for their crimes.
Are morality clauses needed in the publishing industry? As a matter of law, the answer is arguably no, but the answer can also be yes when the clause is used as a reminder that publishing is an industry whose participants should adhere to moral and ethical standards of conduct. Should authors need reminders such as these in this day and age? Theoretically no, but in practice, given the current political and cultural climate, sadly it may be a good idea.

Publishing in the Age of Visual Content

According to Bradley Wilson, consumers from the Gen Z population are more attracted to interactive and visual content. With shorter attention spans and the need for more stimulating content, this generation presents a unique challenge when it comes to not only capturing their attention, but also their loyalty. According to a recent study, Americans spend an average of six hours per day consuming digital media, while only eight minutes a day is spent on reading, and these findings skew even more when it comes to Gen Z consumers. This new generation also has a need for “mobile-friendly communication.” This can prove problematic if publishing companies continue with traditional modes of advertising, because Gen Z has indicated a preference for more personalized messaging and the ability to connect with brands through word of mouth and influencers. Publishers are reaching a point where they need to start rethinking the way they deliver and market their stories, because it’s important to provide consumers with material in the ways that they consume them.
One way publishers are doing this is with the use of visuals novels, which are defined by Cecil Choi as “text-based stories told in a digital medium, often accompanied by relevant visuals and/or audio.” This offers publishers a way to merge the digital and visual needs of this generation with the stories they are already producing.
Surges in the popularity of story-based apps is something that the industry should be closely monitoring. For example, a popular app that was designed specifically to market an already-produced television show is called Love Island: The Game. Based on the popular British reality television show that shares its name, this app is written with the arc of an entire season of the show in mind. Drawing on plot lines from the show itself, writers developed a story that readers were then able to play out. The game has been a highly successful marketing tool for the show, and has spawned an online community of readers who have created more buzz on social media through sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit. This is important because relationships that are formed on social media “have become a central life aspect” for Gen Z. There is so much untapped potential in the publishing industry for expanding into this market, and it is something that I feel publishing companies should strongly consider if they want to keep the attention of Gen Z while also redefining their own interactive digital marketing.
Marketing a novel using these avenues has the potential to be incredibly beneficial to publishers. It gives readers a chance to develop more interest and hold more stake in the success of the novel, since they are allowed to insert themselves and interact with the story in a way that they can’t with traditional publishing. This is a strategy that can be used to make backlist titles relevant and timely again; there is also potential to merge graphic novels with this visual formatting.
All in all, I believe that it offers incredible value for both designers and marketers. These apps are not only successful in that they are popular with Gen Z, but they are also lucrative. Many times these apps have the option to “buy in-game currency” (such as “gems” or “diamonds”) that lets readers make different choices or gives them the option to not have to wait until their “lives” are back in order to keep reading. This could potentially replicate the success that the industry has recently seen with new formats such as audiobooks, which saw a surge of “thirty-three percent last year,” and it is helping to keep the digital business of book publishing profitable. Because this is something that gaming and design companies seem to have a monopoly on at the moment, a partnership with one of these companies might be recommended for now.

Are the Big Five Backing Up Their 2020 Promises?

Between the outrage over American Dirt, Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing, the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and #publishingpaidme, there has been tremendous pressure on the Big Five to do their part to decolonize book publishing. As a show of good faith, each of the Big Five publishing houses made public promises to be more socially conscious. We are now well into 2021, which is heralded as the year that is meant to save us from the horrors of 2020, so let’s see if the Big Five have made any progress on following through with their promises.
In the second half of 2020, both Hatchette Book Group and Penguin Random House reviewed their hiring practices and analyzed the diversity of their staff. Both houses claim to have plans to hire more BIPOC professionals and publish more books by people of color.
Hatchette also created a BIPOC specific imprint called Legacy Lit, which is headed by Krishan Trotman, a Black woman.
Simon & Schuster began the new year by canceling Senator Josh Hawley’s book, The Tyranny of Big Tech, following the Senator’s support of unsubstantiated claims that the November election was illegitimate. The day after the attacks on the capitol, the publishing house announced that they were pulling the book, claiming that Hawley’s dangerous rhetoric was a threat to democracy.
Then on January 14, Simon & Schuster announced a two-book deal for Black journalist Errin Haines, whose books will detail the role of Black women in politics. Haines is currently editor-at-large for The 19th, a “non-profit, non-partisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics, and policy.”
Simon & Schuster also hired Dana Canedy, a Black woman, as publisher of its adult publishing group.
Not bad, Simon & Schuster, not bad.
HarperCollins recently announced that their minimum salary will increase to $45,000 for employees in New York City and San Francisco. This should probably be implemented throughout the world, but it’s a start. Now, if we could just get them to increase advances for BIPOC authors as well.
It’s noteworthy to point out that the hiring page for HarperCollins internships now says that they are searching for candidates from traditionally underrepresented groups. It is difficult to say if this is simply a boilerplate addition to the job posting that was made in order to cover some diversity quota or if it is a true effort to diversify hiring.
A quick glance at the top five books on the New York Times Best-Seller list reveals that not much has changed in regard to BIPOC authors. Former President Barack Obama is holding strong at number one on the nonfiction list, followed by Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste at number five, and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, which is number four on the fiction list.
Hopefully, we will not only see more BIPOC authors at the top of these lists but also more book deals—and bigger advances— for these authors from the Big Five.
It’s great to see initial progress being made, but there is one thing that publishers haven’t touched in an effort to be more socially conscious: ebook price fixing. On January 14, the Big Five and Amazon were accused of ebook price fixing. The suit, which was filed in a New York district court, alleges that Amazon and the Big Five agreed to keep prices artificially high for other ebook sellers so that consumers will be more inclined to buy their ebooks from Amazon.
Just when it looked like the Big Five were actually trying to be socially conscious, capitalism once again reared its ugly head.
There are definitely some good starts here, and I hope that the Big Five continue making improvements to support BIPOC authors and their employees and using their platforms for good. While it is too early in the year to tell how the rest of 2021 will play out, here is hoping that diversity continues to be a priority.

From Fanfiction to Publishing

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book series that you just had to continue the story beyond the pages? If so, then you are not alone! Before the internet, members of the Star Trek fandom would write fanfiction to send to their friends and pass out at fan conventions. This phenomenon has been around for quite some time, and it continues to grow in popularity as more and more fandoms are created.

I have been reading and writing fanfiction since I was thirteen, and it’s something that I have continued doing as an adult. For many of us who are prolific readers, the book doesn’t just stop on the last page; its world goes deeper than what is written in the pages of the book. As fans of both the world and the characters, we want the legacy of the series to continue long after the series ends. This mindset can not only get you started on the path to writing your own works of fiction, but it can also allow you the opportunity to edit new works by different authors before they get out into the world.

Cassandra Clare, author of the well-known series, The Mortal Instruments, got her career started by writing Harry Potter fanfiction. (If you’d like to check out her current fiction, you can do so on her website). You have to start somewhere, right?

Creating fanfiction is a great place to start writing. You can get feedback from the community, practice developing characters, and delve deeper into a world that you already love. It’s a great way to hone your craft from the very beginning, in a safe and welcoming environment. I’ve even seen fanfiction authors who have created their own characters that fit into the world of the original book.

Many fanfiction authors even have what they call beta-readers, who essentially act as editors to help with organization, plot, world-building, character development, and more. Some fanfiction authors even have people who create custom artwork for their stories! There are so many elements that go into the development of fanfiction that it’s almost a microcosm of the publishing industry.

Many people automatically equate publishing with editing, which isn’t necessarily the case. While it is true that editing is a crucial aspect of publishing, it isn’t the only aspect. If you enjoy reading and contributing to the numerous (and usually hilarious) tags on AO3 and Fanfiction.net, then search engine optimization (SEO) and social media work might be a great option for you to pursue. Do you love art and design? Then you can work in a design department creating book covers and art for the interior of books. If you are fascinated by computers and coding, then you can work in the relatively new and evolving field of ebooks and audiobooks. The publishing industry has a place for every bibliophile out there—even fanfiction writers. The best part? You are getting paid to do it ! My advice to you is to keep calm, follow your dreams, and write fanfiction!

Wattpad in Publishing: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going

Wattpad is an online platform for writers from all communities to post user-generated stories. What started as a public book domain quickly took the world by storm in 2011 when it hit one million users. Now, Wattpad Studios is merging with the entertainment industry to produce Wattpad stories for print and film.
The original idea behind the platform was to create a space for readers to come together to read and discuss a variety of novels from all over the world. Ivan Yuen, one of the creators of Wattpad alongside Allen Lau, said, “before the iPhone, before Kindle and before the rise of ebooks and self publishing, there was Wattpad.” Wattpad was built on the idea of creating free novels to share with the world and allowing people everywhere the opportunity to communicate about books.
Now, Wattpad Premium has joined the initiative as “an enhanced, subscription-based version of Wattpad” that highlights an ad-free space. Other perks of Premium include the ability to download stories when the user is offline, receiving bonus coins when purchasing a coin package, and customizable Wattpad themes. The idea that Wattpad is free and accessible for everyone has been extremely appealing to users since it first launched, and now my question is why? The founders of the website believe the better question to ask is how do we create a program that still “monetarily supports writers”?
The answer is simple: the Watty Awards. Through a lengthy judging system that not only takes into account fanbase, but also has specific teams that analyze the success of a story, the Watty Awards are titles and prizes that stories win based on different categories and genres.The Watty Awards have developed hand-in-hand with Wattpad Next—the newest name for the Paid Stories Program—and Wattpad Studios, the entertainment imprint of the company. Now, in addition to claiming victory of a Watty Award, these writers also qualify for payment, publication with Wattpad Books, and the possibility of a screen adaptation with Wattpad Studios.
Allen Lau wrote a blog post in 2016 called “The Master Plan,” where he outlined Wattpad’s once simple plan to revolutionize how society connects through stories. He goes on to talk about how even though reading has grown as an experience over the years “at its core, Wattpad is more than reading and writing—it’s entertainment,” thus promoting the newest branch of their company, Wattpad Studios, led by Aron Levitz.
One thing Wattpad consistently advocates for is the importance of storytelling. With the help of their Story DNA Machines and Story Insights, Levitz believes that they will be able to “easily spot the voices that resonate with audiences around the world and the stories that have an established fan base. Wattpad Studios will help industry executives make smarter decisions, faster.” This idea ties into another one of the company’s goals: to take the least amount of risk that they can. Wattpad Studios has different divisions within it—Wattpad Stars, Wattpad Words, Wattpad Presents, and Wattpad Insights—and each imprint focuses on their own initiatives, ranging from connecting to publishers and network producers, to utilizing their already successful writers and discovering the next best writer with trend reports. Lau thinks that Wattpad Studios as a whole “will also help shape the future of community and data-driven entertainment,” furthering the influence that the company currently holds, and has the possibility of holding, against traditional publishers and film production companies.
With all of the different imprints and visions that make Wattpad what it is, the Wattpad website decided to change its slogan from “Stories You’ll Love” to “Where Stories Live” in March 2019, therefore furthering their growing grasp on the idea of storytelling.What once started as a public book domain soon turned into a multi-media, world-building phenomenon.

pile of books with no time to read

Getting Published: The Magic of the First Page

So, You Want to Be an Author

You’ve probably spent years of your life hunched over your newest novel, affectionately referring to it as your “baby.” This is the culmination of your life’s work. It’s got it all: an interesting protagonist, a brewing mystery, the perfect romance, and an idyllic setting to ground it all. You’ve eagerly sent it off to all the local publishers who have reputable connections under their belt to launch your dreams of being published. Now you are impatiently waiting for that acceptance letter to hit your inbox.
You finally hear back from those sluggish publishers, and there you see it: rejected. Rejected. And rejected, again. It feels like years of your life have been thrown away like it was a haphazard poem scribbled on a Denny’s napkin, submitted on some drunken whim.

Think Like an Editor

Each year publishers receive thousands of submissions from hopefuls just like you. According to Sophie Playle, a writer for Liminal Pages, publishers receive “between three and ten . . . of thousands” of manuscripts per year. While editors would love to slush through each and every submission for the next best-seller, it just isn’t feasible.
Imagine you’re an editor at one of your local indie publishing houses. A slush pile of submissions stares back at you every day, overflowing your submissions inbox. One of your volunteer readers acquires one manuscript among every fifty; the first page kicks off without much of a bang, and the setting is described in a way that is reminiscent of the pastoral poetry of (way) yester-year. Maybe the volunteer reader has the time to graze the second page. More rolling hills. More “a whole lot of nothing.” The manuscript is tossed into the rejection pile along with eighty to ninety percent of the other submission hopefuls.
Now, imagine you’re an editor for a mid-range publishing house. They’ve got the higher-up connections of your dreams, and a few catchy titles to back them up. Their slush pile is about twice the size, if not more, of the indie publishers’. You pick up a manuscript, eye the lengthy, adjective-laden prose, and off it goes into the rejection pile. You dive into the next submission without a second thought, just waiting for the magic.
Publishers often have volunteer readers perform the preliminary acquisitions process in order to sort through their growing mound of submissions. These readers are typically undergrad or grad students who are engaged with literature in their programs. These readers don’t have time to sift through one hundred pages of every manuscript to wait for the storm to finally brew: if the magic isn’t there from the beginning, forget about it.

Think Like a Reader

According to Michael Shymanski, one of Ooligan’s Acquisitions Managers, think of your first page as the reader’s initial impression, much like “meeting your friend’s spouse for the first time.” First impressions can be insignificant, even disastrous, or they can be absolute magic. If the magic is there, an editor will know it immediately.
It’s no surprise then that pacing is crucial. While you wouldn’t want to jump straight into all the juicy details in the first paragraph, the first impression needs to “hint at an underlying theme,” and demonstrate a “nuance that provides depth to conflict and characters” (Shymanski). You want to give away just enough so that the reader gets a sense of the story’s direction and they can’t wait to continue reading.

Creating the Magic

So how do you create that “magic”? Shymanski suggests that it’s pretty simple: be original. A submission that may need some developmental or copyediting will receive more attention if it’s “beautifully written” and utterly original.
Hammering in on the importance of the first page, Lincoln Michel, author, editor, and Buzzfeed Contributor Extraordinaire, suggests that if your story can’t captivate the editor in the first page, the chances of it capturing a “random reader” are nil. Michel suggests constructing your story backwards if all the action begins on page three hundred.
Don’t be afraid to dive deep into “diversification and experimentation of voice” (Shymanski). Let your characters shine in a new light. Keep your reader craving more. And if the magic is there, maybe that editor will turn the page.
Oh, and please read the publisher’s submission guidelines before you submit your Harry Potter fan fiction to a poetry house.

From Knowledge to Power book cover

FROM KNOWLEDGE TO POWER: Spring Update

Since our last update in January, the project team for From Knowledge to Power: The Comprehensive Handbook to Climate Science and Advocacy has made immense developments with the book’s design elements and marketing components. We’re really proud of how far we’ve come with this book, and we’re eager to share it with the world. The book’s launch date, October 2021, is approaching quickly, and we could not be more excited.
We are happy to announce that the visuals for the book are complete and most of the interior has been laid out. For the book’s interior, our main focus was on keeping the visuals simple, while adding a splash of color to complement the aesthetics of the book. We hope that readers will appreciate the minimalist style coupled with the elaborate illustrations. We had a wonderful team design the visuals, and we’re very pleased with how they turned out. We want this book to be used as a tool to help guide and inform readers about climate change activism, and the visuals feed into this goal.
More recently, the project team has been focused on marketing outreach to climate change specialists. A few months ago, we compiled a list of distinguished scientists and climate change activists that might have an interest in the book. Our goal is to get in contact with professionals in the field of climate change who can further engage with the book and pass on its essential messages. While this is true with any book we work with, for this book in particular we want to emphasize the importance of climate change advocacy in the present times. We have also finished the book’s sales promotion video, which will be presented at an Ingram Publisher conference next week. The video features teasers of the book’s interior design and visuals, and highlights the optimism of the book.
For the next couple of months, we’ll be focusing on marketing outreach and social media promotion. The goal of our social media promotion is to convey the book’s positive message toward advocacy, while also highlighting national environmental dates to create awareness for climate change. Our social media posts will revolve around important international climate change awareness days such as World Environment Day, America Recycles Day, and Zero Emissions Day. The climate change awareness days that we chose coincide with the topics and themes of the book, since we are looking to draw parallels between the two. We are currently drafting social media content for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and we will begin posting on social media consistently as we draw closer to the publication date. When curating these posts, we are keeping our audience in mind to provide accessible content and language that’s easily shareable.
For our last update, press-wide we are in the process of passing over managerial roles across departments. Callie Brown, the current project manager, will be graduating from Ooligan this spring and I will be taking over the project until the book’s launch date. I’ve been working on this project team since last September and I’m so thrilled to see this book come to fruition.

Front cover of the book Finding the Vein which portrays the title on a forested background.

Positive Predictions for FINDING THE VEIN

As of writing this, Finding the Vein is on the verge of publication and the entire team is so excited! We’ve been working on a number of things to ensure that the book has an excellent launch. Ooligan has partnered with Hood River’s favorite indie book retailer, Waucoma Bookstore, to host our virtual launch event. Our team has been hard at work creating content for our social media campaign, and we’re getting the word out through our local library partners. While this post will be going up after the launch for Finding the Vein has officially kicked off, rest assured that our team will keep the enthusiasm rolling as we continue to promote Ooligan Press’s first mystery novel.
The Finding the Vein team partnered with Waucoma Bookstore to host our Zoom launch event on April 20, 2021. As Ooligan’s third foray into digital launches, it was an interesting event to set up and gave our team members the opportunity to work with an independent bookstore to arrange an evening that would serve the interests of the press, the author, and the shop itself. The terms of the launch had to be negotiated carefully to ensure that everyone was happy with the outcomes.
Originally, the bookstore wanted to do a traditional Zoom room for the event to allow the audience to pop on camera and ask their questions during the Q&A. The case they made for this modality was in good spirits, and the bookstore representatives wanting to allow for a similar kind of audience engagement one would have at an in-person launch event is understandable. However, our team was concerned about some of the hazards this modality could pose to the event’s schedule and that it might cause lag if the event was well attended. Most of us are familiar with Zoom-era horror stories of someone forgetting to turn off their microphone or have experienced firsthand the bandwidth problems of having too many cameras on at once. On top of that, we were also concerned that if people decided to keep their cameras on that it could distract from the author and do a disservice to the launch experience. Lastly, we were worried that the chat, which we wouldn’t be able to disable in a standard session, would also distract from the questions audience members wanted to ask. It took us a bit, but we got everyone on board with a webinar format instead as it would bypass so many of the problems we were hoping to avoid. Of course, by the time this blog is released, the event will have already happened, and because of the team’s careful planning and dedication to quality, I’m certain that it will have been a hit!
The Finding the Vein team is also hard at work creating engaging social media content both for the launch event and for the weeks following the launch. We’re leaning heavily into the mystery plot and imagery of the Pacific Northwest for our campaign, tapping into some of the most celebrated themes of the book to engage readers. On top of social media, Oolies have been distributing posters throughout the city to advertise the launch, using the beautiful Oolie-designed cover to catch the eyes of passersby. We’re not alone in promoting Finding the Vein as our partners at the Multnomah County Library Writers Project are also busily working to distribute the book through their system and help increase patron awareness of it once it officially launches.
With the launch of Finding the Vein, it’s only natural for one to think: “What’s next?” We have an exciting new project on the horizon—but all I can tell you right now is that it’s going to be awesome. The incoming project manager, Wren Haines, will be taking over for the outgoing manager, the amazing Bailey Potter, at the end of the term and they will be announcing the new project in detail soon! So stay tuned to Ooligan’s official channels for an update about next year’s Library Writers Project release.
Finding the Vein launched on April 20, 2021, in both trade paperback and ebook formats. To learn more about the Library Writers Project and how to submit work to the Multnomah County Library, please visit their website.

An outstretched hand holding a microphone against a green background

The Dilemma of Fact-Checking

I think we can all agree that fact-checking is important. There have been several high-profile cases over the past few years that have had authors and publishers scrambling to make sure their books are perfect. Overlooking fact-checking can lead to an ill-received book at best and a controversial book at worst.
For example, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson wrote a book titled Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts which “sparked a major controversy when multiple people featured in the book said she had misrepresented them.” Some of these stories included misgendering (which was later fixed), instructions given to a reporter regarding personal protective equipment during the Ebola outbreak, and the fact that people were never contacted by a fact-checker after their initial interviews.
Now where’s the problem with that? According to The Chicago Manual of Style:

In book publishing, the author is finally responsible for the accuracy of a work; most book publishers do not perform fact-checking in any systematic way or expect it of their manuscript editors unless specifically agreed upon up front. Nonetheless, obvious errors, including errors in mathematical calculations, should always be pointed out to the author, and questionable proper names, bibliographic references, and the like should be checked and any apparent irregularities queried.

However, according to Abramson’s title as executive editor at the New York Times, one would think she would be a qualified person to speak on fact-checking in journalism and would fact-check her book about fact-checking. But the dilemma here is that fact-checking is a time-consuming, expensive project to take on. Some books will be easier to fact-check than others—a fantasy set in a new world won’t need much, if at all. On the other hand, a book about climate change would need a lot of fact-checking in order to be portrayed as an accurate source of information. According to the Editorial Freelancer’s Association, the going rate for freelance fact checkers is forty-six to fifty dollars an hour. That’s a lot of money for many authors. Not everyone is going to have large advances or people backing them, nor is everyone simply rich. Authors come from a variety of backgrounds including stay-at-home parents, teachers, and students. It may not be in their budget to pay someone forty dollars an hour to check work when they’re already pretty certain they’re portraying the facts as accurately as possible.
The Chicago Manual of Style does state that glaring issues should be pointed out to the author. Even though the brunt of the responsibility is placed on the author, it doesn’t mean that publishing houses can turn a blind eye to something they know is incorrect. But, if that’s the case, why don’t publishing houses just foot the bill for fact-checking? For starters, it means they aren’t liable if a controversy does happen. All of that responsibility has fallen to the author and while the publishing house may get some backlash, they can ultimately say that it wasn’t their fault. Another reason is simply that it’s an expensive process. When you’re a larger press, a good chunk of your money is going toward paying royalties from the author and promoting the book. At a small press, it’s mostly just printing and promoting the book.
Publishers are beginning to look more into fact-checking! Whether it be hiring fact-checkers or, in Ooligan’s case, having a team dedicated to fact-checking manuscripts, the publishing world is shifting so that the responsibility is on both parties. While the author ultimately needs to be fact-checking, publishers cannot overlook fact-checkers and just assume that authors have done their research anymore. Doing so will leave a big, red mark on their backlist that can never be removed.

A desk filled with laptops and people working on them

Lurking Behind the Glamour: The Business of Publishing

Most authors are familiar with the publishing people they interact with: their agent, their editor, and maybe a publicist or someone from the marketing department if they’re really lucky. But a lot more is involved in getting a completed and edited manuscript onto the shelves of a regional bookstore, let alone into a national retailer or a library collection. While some of these roles are handled by the publisher themselves if they are a small house or just getting started, most of them require outsourcing. Some services can’t even be accessed until the publisher has a proven minimum sales record and backlist. This startup stage is when publishers must hustle to sell and ship their frontlist titles, and build their own backlists or buy the rights to books and catalogs from other publishers. After a publisher’s backlist gets to a certain size, they usually need to budget time and money for the following.

Printers

The easiest way to get a hard copy of a book onto a shelf is to use a print-on-demand (POD) service. This is where a printer holds the electronic files for a book and can print as few or as many copies as needed whenever they are ordered. This cuts down on inventory storage costs (no warehouse needed!). However, it is expensive to print: paper and ink cost less per piece the more you order. This makes many POD books more expensive than their offset-printed competition. How many consumers will pay twenty dollars for a two-hundred-page paperback novel?
The other standard method is to locate an offset printer. Many also offer binding services (yes, it’s not enough to just print the pages—you have to keep them fastened together with a cover!). Most of these printers are independent businesses, who work with many other businesses. Only the large publishers have dedicated printers that only print their material. This means that your print job has to fit into their schedule and use materials that will work with their machines. Most offset printers won’t do print runs under a thousand books, as it costs them time and money to set their machines up to print each new job. To put it in context, many indie publishers find it a challenge to sell more than eight hundred copies of a novel, and two thousand is considered very successful.
Of course, printing costs the publisher money. Ebook and audiobook production also cost time and money, although not quite as much as a hardcover print run.

Distribution

Distributors are the folks who make contact with the bookstores, gift shops, libraries, and all the larger stores that carry books. They have catalogs of all the titles they represent, and they know their customers well enough to make suggestions on what they might like (cookbooks for Williams Sonoma, the latest YA best seller for Target, a famous memoir for an indie bookstore in a suburb, etc.). It’s more efficient for larger retailers to place one order with a distributor than many smaller orders directly from publishers, and time is money!
Distributors range in size, from
Ingram
to Small Press Distribution. Each company has guidelines on what kinds of books they will represent, the retailers they will work with, and the sales minimums they expect a publisher to meet. Distributors don’t completely take over the sales responsibilities of a publisher, but they can reduce the amount of time spent traveling to each retailer, and they can provide access to retailers and markets beyond the resources of a small publisher with a limited staff.
Of course, this service costs the publisher money.

Wholesale

When books get printed in large quantities, they have to stay somewhere ready to be shipped to a retailer or even directly to a customer. Being made of paper, they need some climate control, pest control, and inventory management. Small publishers with a few titles can stash their titles on pallets in their garage, but as they grow larger, their space and shipping, handling, and tracking needs are more complicated. A wholesaler will safely store all the books from the printer, then pack and ship them out to wherever the publisher (or distributor) indicates. They can have multiple locations, making sure books get to New England at the same date as Texas.
Of course, this costs the publisher money.
Notice a theme? Most people understand that the cost of physical paper and ink goes into the price, but other services that actually get the completed book into the hands of retailers and make it available for more than local consumers to purchase are a bit more invisible, yet just as critical.
If you want to learn more about this and other parts of the publishing business, I highly recommend the class The Business of the Book taught by Kent Watson, Executive Director of PubWest and an instructor at PSU’s publishing program.
An additional note: sometimes distributors will offer wholesale warehouse services and sometimes printers will offer design and other services. Lines can blur, but most of it costs additional fees that come out of half of the book’s retail price the publisher gets. Once a publisher gets large enough to increase their sales volume, their profit margin may drop even though their cost per book of print materials drops.