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I've written and had illustrated a children's picture book.

I'm thinking of making this into an App for download from the Apple Apps store.

I'm also considering looking for a publisher to publish a printed version of the book. Perhaps via an agent.

I'm reluctant to sell the digital rights to a publisher (the rights to sell an App of the book) because I figure that since digital publishing is new, then publishers probably have lots to learn about it, and so I can perhaps do just as good a job as an established publisher can do in marketing the App. And if I publish the App myself, I would not need to give away a percentage of the revenue to a publisher. But equally, I don't know a lot about this yet, and there might be advantages that a major publisher would have, that I don't know about.

For a printed version, I do believe a publisher can do a much better job than I can in getting the book into bookstores, simply because of their connections with distributors, etc.

I'm guessing that an interested publisher would want the digital rights / rights to the App, if I don't first publish the App myself.

I'm guessing that the deal would be less attractive to a publisher if I don't offer the digital rights. But that if I publish the book as an app first and get a good number of sales, then this should demonstrate that the book sells well and therefore that it's worthwhile for a publisher to take on the printed rights only.

So I'm thinking of publishing the App first, and then approaching publishers or agents to offer the rights to the printed version.

Does this strategy sound sensible?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think you're going to need to figure out which is more important to you - getting traditionally published, or keeping dgital rights. Not that you can't necessarily manage both, but it'll be a long shot at best. A couple of considerations I can offer:

  • Contracts are negotiable. You can shop around your book, and see if you can negotiate a contract where you keep digital rights. If that's important to you, you might be willing to give up other reimbursement to keep the digital rights, or to get more of a share of e-book profits.
  • First publication rights are important. If you e-publish on your own, you'll never be able to meet a contract that demands those rights.
  • Your leverage in negotiations is correlated to the quality and projected success of your book. Which goes in several directions:
    • If your book is exceptional, you might be able to get a non-standard contract right from the start.
    • If your book does exceptionally well as an e-book, that gives you leverage to negotiate a non-standard contract.
    • If your book doesn't do very well as an e-book, then you'll be missing the leverage to negotiate for the rights you've already made impossible to offer.
  • Is a children's e-book a viable product? I don't know the field here very well, but it's crucial that you check this out before committing. I don't know many parents happy to let their 4-year olds play with their iPad. Childrens' books sound like tougher sells as an eBook than other work. Or, maybe they can have animations or voice narration that make them great for kids (and that you'll want to be sure to include!) Be sure you take this into consideration, particularly if you're counting on the eBook's success for further development.
  • Digital rights can be re-negotiated. You've made the unwarranted assumption that a publisher interested based on e-book sales won't try to negotiate for the digital rights. That's really not necessarily the case - they could negotiate for those as part of the contract.

My concern about your proposed strategy is that it really only works if both (A) your book and marketing are great enough to be a persuasive e-publishing success, and also (B) your book is not attractive enough for a publisher to relinquish digital rights to begin with. Now, there's definitely some territory there, but IMHO that's an awfully narrow target to be aiming for. Recall also that a publisher's primary function is just publicizing and distributing your book - so e-sales with a publisher and a commercially-sold real-world book might be a lot higher than if you're publicizing just the e-book all on your own.

My inclination would be to shop around the manuscript now to agents and publishers, and see what you can get for it. If you get an offer that satisfies you, then great. If not, the self-publishing avenue is wide open. And if you do wonderfully there, you can always go back to the publishers for a second round with more leverage.

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thanks, Standback –  Richard Jul 30 '11 at 11:00
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The one consideration I would probably want to factor in is that the publishing industry remains conservative. Until your app sells well enough for them to overlook your transgression of the "First Serial Publishing Rights" rule no one will likely want to buy it.

The way it would be viewed is that your privately owned app is "competing" with any printed product. They would be making money out of the printed version (in return for investment) the only person making money out of the app is you. Therefore in strict game theory terms it makes more sense for you to push the app from a financial point of view. In fact if you retain control over the app you will always make more money from the app version than the paper version if it is in the control of someone else.

It's a risk in an arena fraught with risks. Yours is no more foolish than anyone else's.

(Having said that every writer's strategy is foolish to a greater degree given the media tsunami of the modern world and the apathy of most people towards the printed word in general, let alone your specific collection of them...)

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thanks, One Monkey –  Richard Jul 30 '11 at 11:00
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