This is the last in my series on our experiences in self publishing. The title of this post — Send lawyers, guns, and money — is the title of a Warren Zevon song (a favorite artist). Hopefully, the connection will become obvious given the focus of the rest of this post.
Based on our experience working with a publishing company and then attempting to offer a related product without this support, I thought our insight into what you give up when you make the decision to go it alone might be of some value.
First, you give up the collaborative relationship with an editor and the others the editor might enlist to offer advice on the development of a manuscript. As an example of what I mean by others, an editor might enlist several individuals who teach the course a book is intended to address to offer advice. I must say I found little value in the comments of course instructors toward the end. After moving through five editions, we have a sense of the priorities our book should address. There were always those who valued these priorities and those who obviously were looking for something else. The feedback from course instructors would reflect this diversity of opinion. Some would like our approach and others would identify and endorse topics we did not cover. For example, we have never spent a great deal of time focused on interactive white boards. For some, this is what you prepare teachers to use. For other instructors, either they would take care of this themselves or they did not believe it was a topic deserving much attention.
I always valued the contributions of an editor. The level of discussion was much more detailed. It is helpful to have an experienced neutral party work with you to assist you in saying the things you want to say. Sometimes the issue was how to cut 35 pages to meet some imposed price/page limit (no longer an issue). If such modifications are necessary, it is helpful to discuss options with someone experienced in making such adjustments. Writing style also requires a neutral perspective. It is easy to fall in love with your own way of saying something and it is useful to have someone tell you that the point is not clear.
The lawyers (hence the title). This is likely a group providing services most would not identify as important. Perhaps our experiences in this regard is a function of the type of resources we provide. Our books made use of classroom examples using various software applications and online services. When you use a story about a teacher, an example of student work, or an screen capture showing what a specific software program looks like in action, you must secure the permission of the relevant teacher, student, or company. We took care of the people requests ourselves – Cindy has many classroom contacts and nearly all of our classroom examples relied on these opportunities. We also have some contacts with companies and were able to obtain releases for some of the applications we described. The greatest challenges tended to me with the large companies (you can fill in the examples). Requests to use a particular screen image are not rejected – they are simply ignored. Our publishers also were ignored in some cases. My impression is that the lawyers would sometimes make a judgment call to go ahead without a signed permission.
As I have indicated in a previous post, the permissions issue is probably the main reason we were unable to reach an agreement in publishing a shorter book at a significantly lower cost while taking advantage of the opportunity to place additional resources online. My interpretation is that companies are very sensitive to the intellectual property of other companies (this is my attempt to interpret this in a positive way). To reach the point at which they are comfortable, they invest time (and hence money) in negotations and decision making. There is simply not sufficient margin in an inexpensive book to support such expenditures.
Finally, a commercial publishers invests heavily in marketing. College profs (including me) do not cast a wide net when it comes to finding an appropriate textbook. Mostly, we wait for a book rep to come to our office and explain what resources their company has available. This is often the starting point. Simply put, you consider the options you know about. The other mechanism I use is to spend time in the “exhibits hall” while attending research conferences (e.g., American Educational Research Association). The book companies subsidize such conferences by paying fees in order secure exhibit hall space to reveal their wares to instructors. Sending the reps to your office and paying for exhibit hall space costs a lot and such costs are rolled into the cost of the books sold. So, it is easy to sell an equivalent book for a lower cost, but this lower cost means it is much less likely course instructors will discover the book.
P.S. – ignore the guns thing. This just happened to be included in the title of the song. I stand behind the request for money and lawyers.