I speak from my experience of publishing three books. I published two books with EPH, the publishing arm of Popular Bookstore and one book with Marshall Cavendish, the publishing arm of Times Bookstore. I worked with an old friend and an excellent teacher Winston Lin in writing all three books.
My conclusion after these publications is that, while the money is good, it does not really justify the amount of time spent in writing the books.
Why publish a book?
The real benefits of publishing books is for marketing purposes. When you publish a book through a well known publisher like EPH or Marshall Cavendish, it does a few wonderful things:
- It is a solid proof of your credibility. Most parents think that not every tutor is qualified to write a book with well known publishers. They are right to think so. When I was trying to publish my first book, the publisher had to look through my resume and credentials before they gave me the green light to work on the books. Having said that, the first step is always the toughest. Once I have written two books with EPH, my dealing with Marshall Cavendish was relatively easier.
- It positions you as an authority in your domain. As consumers, we all have an in-built affinity for authority, so now you, as a published tutor, is in a position of authority. As authority, you are less likely to get objections from parents when you charge a higher than-market rate.
- It shows to your customers that you have a set of well-organised content. You are different from tutors who only help their students with homework, because you have your own curriculum to teach to your students. If they like what they see in your book, who else should they learn from, other than the author himself, who knows the curriculum inside out? Instead of signing up for your classes without knowing much about the contents, you can know encourage parents to buy your book, let their kids try it out, and invite them to join your class for a full walk-through of the entire book. This is how I posted about my class on Facebook, feel free to adapt form it if it’s useful to you.
- It opens doors. The experience of writing three books opens up opportunity to write more books, conduct workshops and speak at events. After I finished writing my books, I was asked to propose to the publishers if I have interesting ideas for new books. Currently I am collaborating with a major publisher on parenting workshops and teachers’ workshop. These wouldn’t have been possible without the experience of writing books.
Remunerations: one time payment or royalties?
When I wrote my first two books with EPH in 2016, I was offered a lump sum upfront payment of about S$2,500 for each book. After submitting all manuscripts and upon receiving my remunerations, I had nothing else to do with the sales of the book. If the books sold well, I won’t receive a single cent more. Conversely, if the book did not sell well, it also would not affect me. The downside was that I would also be relinquishing all my rights to my content under this arrangement.
When I wrote my third book with Marshall Cavendish, I was offered a choice of one time lump sum payment or royalties (which meant no upfront payment for me). I opted for royalties, thinking that this would bring me a bigger fortune if the book did very well. I was also attracted to the idea that under royalties arrangement, I retain the copyright after the first print of the book. For example, let’s say that Marshall Cavendish printed 10,000 copies of my book. After the 10,000 copies have sold out, the publisher will have to renegotiate the new terms and conditions with me if they want to go for the next print.
Looking back now, I would have done better if I have opted for a lump sum one time payment for a few reasons:
- Assessment books are different from fiction or even non-fiction books which have an almost indefinite shelf life. Every new generation of readers are still buying Harry Porter or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People decades after their first publication. Not so for assessment books. I found out that the typical shelf life of assessment books is 3 years. That means that my books would be out of print in three years time and my royalty payment will stop. By that time, the total amount of royalty paid out to me might not even be equal to the upfront writing fee.
- There is very little I can do as a writer to promote my books. Publisher’s job, I found out, is to bring my book from conception to actually being displayed on bookshelves in various bookstores. After the books hit the bookstores, no special events will be organised for me to promote the book. The successful sale of the book is really up to factors beyond my control, like how each bookstores decide to display my books.
When talking about timeline, allow me to first give a disclaimer: I am not very good with time management and often get distracted, so hopefully you will be able to stick to the proposed timeline much better than I did.
The first thing I learnt about timeline was that it was usually negotiable. Publishers have their own schedules in publishing books, so if you cannot commit to a particular deadline, you should tell the representative from the publisher.
If they really need a book to be completed by a certain date, and you know you cannot commit to it for sure, it will be wise to sound it up right at the start. The publisher may decide to revise the publishing schedule, or they may decide to approach you for the next book they plan to publish instead. It is better than to commit to an unrealistic schedule and getting all stressed up over it.
The beginning part of writing the books were the most difficult and the slowest. Even after thinking though the concept for the books, and showing a draft to the publisher for approval, the second chapter still took me almost a week to write. But once I got through the first two or three chapters, things sped up significantly. So if you start writing a book, don’t get intimidated because of a rocky start. Things will get exponentially better.
When I was writing my books, I got seriously behind schedule. I was very worried for weeks. As the deadline for submitting manuscripts approached, I knew I could never make it, so I called the representatives from the publisher to explain my situation. I asked them whether I would be sued for not meeting deadlines. To my huge relief, the representatives were all very helpful. They assured me that they were not in the business of bringing their writers to court over missed deadlines. They explored alternatives with me, found out how I could speed up my work (for example, giving handwritten drafts instead of typewritten ones) and negotiated new deadlines with me.
How do I get connected to publishers?
According to my sources, academic publishers like EPH, Marshall Cavendish and CASCO, among others, are constantly on the lookout for good writers. Teachers, lecturers and tutors are the pool within which they usually source for writers. Some publishers have appointed agents who help them to source for writers. If you are interested to write for a publisher, consider approaching my friend Benedict Boo, who is a published author of several academic books. His company, Learning Books, helps to source for writers for his publisher clients. Benedict is very approachable and helpful; he will be able to help you.
If you don’t like the process of working with a better known publisher there is always an option of partnership publishing. I personally have not tried this before, but I have heard that it requires a significant investment upfront. You need a good partner if you want to go for partnership publishing. Within my network, I would recommend Phoon Kok Hwa from Candid Creation as the go-to person for partnership publishing. Kok Hwa has a good track record of being trustworthy, knowledgeable and well-connected. You can read more about partnership publishing on his company’s website here.
Stick to your area of expertise
Whether you publish with well known publishers or self-publish, the important thing is to write books that lend support to your area of expertise, so that you can use your books as marketing and branding tool.
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