Nelson CEO Hyatt Responds to Mike Shatzkin’s Questions About Self-Pub Division

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, brought to my attention that he actually did (and promptly) respond to questions raised by Mike Shatzkin about Nelson’s self-publishing venture, WestBow Press. His response was in the form of a comment on Shatzkin’s blog, and we’re very happy to reproduce it here.

Richard Curtis
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Mike,

Thanks for asking these questions and giving me a chance to respond. I do, by the way, enjoy your blog and your perspective on publishing.

“1. How many such titles will they do per season or per year?”

This question doesn’t apply to the WestBow Press situation in quite the same way it applies to a traditional publisher. The WestBow model is the exact opposite of traditional publishing. In the traditional model, the publisher is the customer because the publisher buys manuscripts from authors. In the WestBow model, the author is the customer because the author buys services from the publisher.

The traditional model is resource-driven. The publisher is constrained by its access to capital and its appetite for risk. At Thomas Nelson, for example, we only do about 500 new titles per year, because we have a finite amount of capital that we can invest in royalty advances, inventory, and accounts receivable.

The WestBow model is demand-driven. The author is putting up the capital and taking the risk, so the publisher—or service provider, if you prefer—is only constrained by its ability to scale its operation up quickly enough to meet the demand.

All that to say, I have no idea how many titles we will do per season or per year. This is completely a function of demand.

“2. How will access to Nelson’s (always limited, as is any publisher’s) sales and marketing bandwidth be allocated to this imprint?”

Other than macro-level advice from time to time, none of Thomas Nelson’s resources will be allocated to sales and marketing. This is entirely ASI’s responsibility in the partnership. This kind of sales and marketing bandwidth is available to WestBow authors as a service from ASI, just like other services. Thomas Nelson’s bandwidth will be 100% focused on Thomas Nelson authors—just like now.

By the way, some of the questions we have received like this imply that traditional booksellers are the primary or only legitimate outlet for distribution. Many authors have their own platforms (e.g., speaking, blog, radio show, etc.) which more than justifies their investment in the WestBow model. They don’t need anyone else’s bandwidth to be successful.

“3. Will the books be vetted as suitable for Nelson’s Christian mission? And, if so, how and by whom?”

Yes, all WestBow Press titles must be congruent with the Thomas Nelson Content Standards. Every manuscript will be reviewed by either a WestBow editor who has been trained by us or a qualified freelancer who has been trained by us. This is precisely how we do it now at Thomas Nelson. In fact, I joked the other day that I think we have given the WestBow editors more training than our own people.

“4. Will the books be vetted at all for quality? Or will an author just choose the WestBow option and, if that’s the case, how much extra will be they paying and what will they be told they’re getting for their money?”

No, they will not be vetted for quality. They will be given a candid assessment of the quality and offered various editorial services that will make the manuscript better. But in the end, we are providing a service to the customer. He or she will be the final judge of quality.

These services are priced differently, depending on how involved they are. For example, substantive editing is more expensive than copy editing. Copy editing is more expensive than proof-reading. This is how it works in the world of traditional publishing, too, when we hire outside editors or proofreaders.

“5. The story says that Nelson editors won’t touch the books but will ‘monitor sales to identify potential big sellers.’ What’s the pre-monitoring launch plan? What’s the plan if Nelson editors actually identify a ‘potential big’ book?”

I’d like to tell you that we have all this figured out. We don’t. Here’s what I can tell you: we will be getting weekly sales reports from ASI. It will show all WestBow Press titles and how they are selling. We currently do this internally for our own titles at Thomas Nelson. We call it our “Movement Report.”

We will obviously pay attention to those WestBow titles that are selling the most or at the highest velocity. At some point, I envision one our editors reviewing the WestBow edition of the book and then calling the author to discuss the possibility of entering into a traditional publishing relationship with Thomas Nelson.

From that point, it will be handled as a typical author-publisher negotiation. We do not require them to publish with us or “lock them in” in via the WestBow contract in any way. They are free to publish with anyone they wish. However, we will have the early visibility and, hopefully, the first-mover advantage.

Someone asked on another forum, why would a WestBow author want to sign with Thomas Nelson if they already had proven they can be successful without us. Good question. The short answer is that they may not want to sign with us. No problem. Every situation is different.

But if they do sign with us, they will then go into our catalog, be represented by our sales team, and have the potential to get their books into other channels and accounts not available to them through WestBow.

I hope this answers some of your questions, Mike. I’m sure that I have created others! Please know that it is my desire to be as transparent and open about this as I can be, subject only to the availability of my time and attention.

Thanks again.

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