Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What I've Learned About Publishing

So, this past week I went up to the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. It was a really fun trip. Didn't get a whole lot of sleep beforehand, and definitely not enough after. (We made it a day trip and got up at four in the morning to drive up there for six hours to turn around and come back home.) And, unfortunately, we did not find any diamonds, but I think we found something more valuable. We made connections.

This fantastic connection is a fellow writer/author, like me, a bit newer to the game than I am, but hey, aren't we all at one point or another? So, to help out those of my fellow writer/authors who are new, like me, I wanted to tell you what I've learned so far about the publishing industry.

First off, there are several different routes you can go. The main ones are traditional, vanity, independent, and a hybrid mix of sorts. For all intents and purposes, here's a basic rundown, as I understand it.

Traditional publishers are the ones that every new writer/author dreams about. You know who you are, idealistic, stars in your eyes, hoping for that big break like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, etc.  These usually include big name houses, like Penguin, Random House and the like. These almost always require that you have an intermediary to contact them, aka an agent. (And believe you me, getting either can be a very grueling, time consuming and heart wrenching process so keep a thick skin and a backup plan in mind should you choose to go this route. Sometimes it works out. A lot more, it seems you get pushed into the slush pile, but even Stephenie Meyer was there and got back out so there's always hope, right?)

Traditional publishers usually have some kind of promotional backing, but unless you're a big name, it seems understood that you can't count on them to do the majority of your promoting. You can either do it yourself, or hire someone to help you out. Most of us don't have the money to hire someone so we end up doing it ourselves. Of course, if you make it big, you'll probably be more than able to hire someone, or have someone hired for you to do that.

The typical traditional publisher will have that big name behind it to help promote sales, but that doesn't mean you'll get a spot on a bookshelf in a store, and chances are good that if you do, that spot might only last for a week or so, especially if sales don't pick up.

30% seems to be the magic number for how much you'll make from going this route. The publishers keep the other 70%, part of which is publishing costs, the rest being money in their pockets. Advances seem to be typically small for unknown authors and books considered risky for business, so don't expect any big advances. And I hear that if your book doesn't make up the money you are advanced, some publishers make you pay them back. Not sure how true that one is, but I've heard people say that.

Cons of traditional publishing: You lose a lot of control over your work. Editors have their ideas of what should be changed, etc, and you sometimes have to give them those chances or risk your contract. You have next to no feedback on the book cover, if you get any say in it at all. And they tend to weasel as many of the rights from you as possible, so having someone to look over contracts is a must. A good agent will fight for you to have the most rights possible, but if you don't have a good agent, or lawyer, chances are good that you are kissing most of your rights away, including movie, ebook, audio book, etc, and when you get the rights back. So be careful with that one. It also can take years before your book actually gets into print, even after it is accepted, which can also take a long time. Additional royalties past the advance are paid over time, not as the books sell.

Pros: You get a big name behind your book. You have a bit more support, pending on the size of your publishing house. I hear that smaller houses give more support than the larger ones. Your books will probably go on the shelf, at least for a little while.

I'm sure there are more, but my brain's still trying to catch up from my vacation.

Vanity Presses. My advice, stay away from them. basically speaking, you pay them to print up your stuff, with no guarantees of promotion, sales, etc. It's just as the name says, so you can say you "published" something. You usually end up losing money on this one so it's only a real win for the company you got suckered in by. They'll usually print just about anything, so long as you're willing to pay. You also can lose all your rights with this option

Independent Publishing: Is you footing the bill for pretty much everything and doing it yourself. You can hire out for editing and whatnot, which reaches into the realm of Assisted Self Publishing, more or less the same thing but more fancy name, I guess.

Pros: You decide when your work is published. You keep all creative license to your work. You can either hire an editor or do it yourself, or ask friends and others to edit/BETA read for you. (Getting someone who as at least competent is a good idea. Also a good idea to have several different people read your story to give you feedback from different perspectives.) You get to keep all the copyrights. You also get to design your cover, or hire someone to do it, be it independent or someone in the company you are using to publish your work (example: Createspace). You usually end up earning more on each sale than with a traditional company (or at least have the potential.)

Cons: You usually pay for everything, including promoting your book. No guarantee that your book will be on bookshelves. In fact, it's less likely unless you're willing to go out there and do the legwork for it, making sure you use a printer that partners with Ingram, etc.

This image below seems to show the best general idea of how Self-Publishing works.

Personally, I have used CreateSpace, which is considered a POD, or Print On Demand printer. Amazon prints a copy of the book as it is ordered, so it's not stored in a warehouse, which means it can take a bit longer for anyone's product to arrive than if it were "in stock", but it also means it's technically always "in stock" as well. And you can buy copies at a discounted price that you can either sell yourself, use in giveaways, etc. And you don't have to pay for anything you don't want, except for the cost of printing copies for yourself. They do require that you purchase a "proof" of your books before you print. Well, they give you the option, which I highly recommend as I seem to catch more mistakes when I'm holding a paper version of my book as opposed to checking out a digital version. And if you know how to use Word, you should have no problems with formatting. But you can also pay them to do it for your, or find people who know who might be willing to do it for a reasonable price.


I have to admit that I am a big advocate for self-publishing. It's hard work, and I probably don't put in as much as I could/should on promoting, but it's nice to have the control over my work.  I'm not opposed to trying the traditional route at some time, but, for now, I'll stick with what I'm doing.

Here are some good resources that I've used to help me out.

Predators and Editors They have some great lists of the majority of known publishers, agents, lawyers, etc pertaining to the book world, and give you a general idea of if they're reputable or not, which are great to work with, and which to steer clear of. I recommend using them to get a general idea of agents/editors/publishers you can trust, or to just check out in general. Their information is alphabetical, so keep that in mind. It's not separated by genre.

CreateSpace for those interested. Also, check out KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks). Some people swear by going Select with them, but that means you can't publish your ebook with any other company during the time its enrolled in that program.  Smashwords is also great for creating ebooks. You can do both for free. Writer's Digest is also an amazing resource. There are hundreds of others out there, but be careful for the "sharks" that just want your money. Speaking of which, Query Shark is a great resource for writing query letters and whatnot.

I would also recommend joining writing groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. Join groups that help you with your craft, that help you understand the different publishing routes and how to promote.

Develop a writer's platform. Very important. I"m still working on mine. It's a "work in progress", if you will.
And network! Network, network, network! The more writer/authors you know, the more you can learn from each other.

I am, by no means, an expert, so look into these for yourself. And don't forget that there are a lot of resources out there, including great writing contests and so forth for independent writers, which give you more credibility, if you want to go that route. And don't discount traditional, especially if you're not on a strict deadline.

Happy writing and publishing! And I hope that helps someone out there!

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