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The publishing scene September 5, 2007

Posted by Andrew Killick (Publishing Manager) in 1. How Castle Works, 1. The Publishing Scene.
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I’d like to start by giving a bit of an overview of the publishing scene.

Good old-fashioned publishing

Traditional publishing is a pretty tough game. In the old days, a publisher would find a manuscript that they wanted to publish in book form, and they would pay for all the capital costs of production. The author’s cut would be in the form of royalties – usually a percentage of sales. This method made book publishing highly risky, because large amounts of capital were invested in books that may or may not sell.

This publishing model was constructed in a time when the publishing market was less competitive – there were fewer new books entering the market, and books weren’t competing so much with other media. To reduce the risk of this model, publishers started to seek out authors that were already well known or produce books based on buzz topics that were more likely to yield a profit. Author royalties also shrank. Famous authors who sell millions of books make money but mid-range authors selling say 5000 make very little.

How to get a bestseller

This model still exists, but it results in a very small number of manuscripts by ‘ordinary’ people being published by publishing houses. It has been estimated that only about 1% of unsolicited manuscripts (ie manuscripts that the publishing house hasn’t directly asked the author for) are published worldwide.

This problem is made worse in a country like New Zealand where a very small market exists. We only have a population of about 4 million people. To give you an idea of what ‘good’ sales figures are in NZ, to achieve platinum level premier bestseller status you need to sell 50,000 copies if it is a fiction title, 5,000 copies if it is a poetry title, 100,000 if it is non-fiction title, and 40,000 if it is a children or teen title (source: Booksellers NZ). The list of platinum bestsellers includes Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider and the Edmonds Cookbook – if you are a New Zealander, you know how popular these titles have been. At the time of writing, the platinum list only includes 26 titles – that is the total number of NZ books that have achieved platinum sales.

Bronze level (the lowest bestseller status) is achieved by selling just 5,000 fiction units, 1,000 poetry units, 10,000 non-fiction units or 7,000 children/teen units. While these figures look modest, most publishers in NZ are very happy to reach these levels. If 5,000 novels sold is a bestseller, you can imagine how many novels don’t reach that level.

New approaches…

So, New Zealand is a small market. If you are writing a Christian book, for example, your market gets even smaller. Local titles compete with 100s of overseas titles being released each month. In reality traditional publishing is hardly feasible in New Zealand. This sounds like a pretty sad state of affairs, but the publishing scene is moving to adjust. Castle, for example, has found some ways to make it as feasible as possible. In the next installment I’ll discuss how Castle works.