Is it a good idea for new authors if it's a reputable publisher. Also, if a publisher asks for $4000, is it too much? Do you suppose all of that money goes toward the publishing of the book?
Based on the last half of your question, I’m assuming you’re referring to an increasingly common option offered by legitimate publishing houses who will publish a book if the author puts up some of the money. Many houses, agents, editors and authors are appalled by this trend. I know some people in the industry who insist that money flows to the authors, always, period, no exceptions whatsoever. And ideally, this is indeed how it should be. But there are two legitimate reasons for asking an author to share in the risk of publishing—particularly in a small niche market like ours.
But before we get to that, you need to understand that when you publish in a small and limited market, like we do, the per book production price is higher**, the total number of copies you can sell are limited, lifetime of the book is shorter, the avenues to reach the consumer are limited, the cost of marketing to a scattered demographic are higher, and yet, we can only price our book so high because in the consumer’s mind, we are competing with a national market. Therefore, the overall risk is higher, causing us to take a pass on “good” books, and concentrate on the “better” books. (Who decides on the criteria of good vs better books is a whole ‘nother post.) If you write “good” books for this market, you may be called upon to share in the risk.
Without knowing the specifics of your book, the publisher you’re negotiating with, their contract, whether this is a rare practice with them or fairly common, etc., it’s hard for me to say if this is a good idea for you or not. Our company does, on occasion, offer this option, but it’s extremely rare. The only time we do so is when we’d love to accept the book under the traditional publishing process, but 1) Our publishing budget is already committed for the year and it’s a timely topic that we feel needs to be on the bookshelf soon; and/or 2) It’s a midlist/backlist title—meaning we could probably sell a few thousand, but it’s not going to be a money-maker and it will probably not go into a second printing.
Under no condition do we make this offer on a book that is poorly written. We have our reputation to consider. If your book stinks, you could offer me a million dollars and I wouldn’t take it. (Well... maybe I would take a MILLION dollars, but I certainly wouldn’t sell my reputation as a publisher for only $4,000.)
On the extremely rare occasion when we do make this offer, we pay for all the pre-press and marketing costs and the author pays for the printing costs. We have the author write their check directly to the printer—the author absolutely knows what his/her money is paying for. Then, as we sell the books, we pay the author the standard royalty PLUS we reimburse them for the cost of printing the book. If the book sells through, they get their entire investment back and we pay for all subsequent printings. If the book doesn’t sell, then at some point we give them the remaining copies of their book to sell or give away as they please. At no point does the author ever reimburse us for our share of the expenses.
So if the contract is something like this, and you have the money, and you believe in your book, and you trust the publishing company to market your book the same as the books they’ve fully invested in, and you’ve tried every other publisher in the market, and those other publishers have liked the book but just don’t feel it fits their needs (ie: they’re rejecting it due to causes other than quality of the manuscript) then you might want to consider taking the risk. But if you don’t feel good about it, then definitely do not do it. (Also, just to be safe, have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the publishing industry read through the contract before signing it.)
Now, as to the $4000 all going toward publishing? Yes, I’m sure it does. “Publishing” refers to everything involved in getting your manuscript onto the bookstore shelf—and that costs much more than $4,000. We budget a MINIMUM of $10,000 per title—and that’s for a small print run. If you mean does the entire $4,000 go toward printing costs, then the answer is still yes. Our smallest print runs are 2,500 and the per book charge in that quantity averages $2.** But if you want to make sure, ask for an itemization of the budget and what the $4,000 will be applied to. If you’re investing in your book, you have every right to know how that investment will be used.
** Price per book is the answer to 90% of the questions concerning the nuts and bolts of publishing in the LDS market. For a price comparison of our per book costs with that of a large national, see this estimate on book pricing from Anna Louise at Live Journal
"...the more books we can print, the cheaper it is to print them. It's too bad we're only printing 35,000 copies...because if we were printing 100,000 copies...then instead of paying $.5513 per book for the PP&B [paper, print, binding], we'd be paying $.3944, and that would be with both foiling and embossing on the cover, instead of just a plain matte finish."