Interview with author DeAnna Knippling

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This week, I’m interviewing Colorado freelance writer, editor, author and book designer, DeAnna Knippling. I first met DeAnna through the Pike’s Peak Writers when I was still serving as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. What struck me about her was her enthusiasm and willingness to help where ever she can. She treats her writing as a business and goes at it with a high degree of professionalism, yet she is personable and willing to share what she’s learned from her own writing experiences.

DeAnna Knippling writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, and mystery for adults under her own name; adventurous and weird fiction for middle-grade (8-12 year old) kids under the pseudonym De Kenyon; and various thriller and suspense fiction for her ghostwriting clients under various and non-disclosable names. Her latest book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland:  The Queen of Stilled Hearts, combines two of her favorite topics–zombies and Lewis Carroll.  It’s the story of a tame zombie who told a little girl named Alice a story that got them both in more trouble than they could handle. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Penumbra, Crossed Genres, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and more.

Kaye: You created Wonderland Press to get your books out there. What all is involved in creating a press for your work and what are the advantages of doing so? I mean, why would an author do this rather than just throwing their book out on Amazon or Smashwords?

DeAnna: This isn’t one of the fun answers.  It’s stupid easy to make a “press.”  It involves no special equipment.  You look online, make sure nobody else has one of that name in your state, register a business name with your state or county (look up, “How to register a business name in [name of state]”), and Bob’s your uncle.  You might want to get more complex with an LLC or something–but I recommend leaving that for later, unless you already have experience doing that.  I am, of course not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice.  When you want to start looking at an LLC or corporation, I believe, is when you start having to worry about taxes and tax brackets.

I set up my press, “Wonderland Press,” because some publishing sites back in the day didn’t want you to publish books under multiple pen names under the same account without having a publisher name.  Then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with multiple blogs for my pen names, and moved the names to the same website (for now).  However, things are changing, and I may need to move back to multiple websites, mailing lists, etc.  The thing about business is that everything changes based on the scale of what you’re doing and how much time has passed since you set things up.  It seems like it’s more important to stick to a couple of core principles (bring customers back to a location you can control rather than social media–that kind of thing) and stay flexible in the details than it is to get wrapped up in questions like, “Should I set up a small press?”
Kaye: A lot of your books don’t fit neatly into a genre category or subcategory. How do you describe your books?
DeAnna: I’ve struggled with genre categories since I started publishing.  Part of the reason for that is that my subconscious loves to smash incongruous things together.  For example, I love puns and double entendres–two ways of seeing meaning at the same time–and I love stories that are really two things that don’t really go together being put together (like cowboys in space–Firefly).  The kinds of stories that I tend to write are kind of the opposite of sitting firmly within a genre and therefore being easy to describe.
I’m both looking into ways to get around this (by sneaking more solidly into genres) and finding out what parts of my genres I’m missing out on.  I recently finished up what I call “my cheesy ’80s genre novel.”  When I did the research to try to find out where to put it, I found that…it actually fits pretty solidly into the current Occult subgenre of Horror.  I keep trying to tell myself there’s nothing wrong with writing what feels cheesy (I certainly read it), but sometimes it takes a while for me to learn the obvious.
To actually answer your question?  Since I can’t copy my competitors, I describe my books by putting on the silliest movie announcer voice I can come up with and reading the blurbs out loud.  The more mock-serious the better.  Somehow it works.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or a story? What’s the least fun part?
DeAnna: Most fun:  The fun parts. Least fun:  The parts that stick the fun parts together.
I get really bored at the least fun parts.  I think that’s where the books I write start getting weird.  If I plan a book, then I plan something at least a little bit more genre-specific than what actually comes out.  But then I get bored and jump the tracks.  I feel like writing a book is a process of going “Ooooh, shiny” over and over until I step into the circle of rope hidden under the leaves in the jungle, and the ending jerks me upside down into the air.
I wish it were that quick to write the end–it’s the slowest part of the book for me as I wrap up all the shinies that I’ve picked up throughout the plot–but that’s what it feels like.
Kaye: If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?
DeAnna: More of the same.  My major goal in life is to allow my wonderful spouse to become a pool boy at our eccentric castle in the mountains.  Travel more.  At least, I say those things.  Probably I’d still just begrudge the time I wasn’t reading or writing.  I’d go to exotic locations and just read a book.
Kaye: Why do you think some writers sell well, and others don’t?
DeAnna: Probably that stuff I mentioned about genre.  A lot of writers will look at a successful writer’s book and go, “What a terrible writer!  Why do they sell?!?”
But here’s my experience (based on ghostwriting so much):
The stuff that I’m forced to write to genre by my clients sells a lot better than the stuff I write for myself.
Granted, you still need to know what you’re doing.  But writing a book isn’t just about pretty sentences–it’s about making the constant readers happy, feeding their addictions.  The answer to why some books are massive successes when others aren’t is often, “Because they can see the forest for the trees–and you can’t.”  Cold but true.
Kaye: Any advice for upcoming authors who are trying to get a foot in the door?

DeAnna: Just keep working.  Everybody’s in a hurry to succeed.  Success!  Millions!  Riches!  Fame! But, in the end, it comes back to the basics.  Did you read?  Did you write?  Did you learn something?  Did you talk to other people in the writing community?

“A foot in the door” is just the feeling that the universe owes you something, or that you can sneak something past somebody.  “How do I cut in line past the people who have been working their asses off for years?” And the only answers are:  Write a good story, network, value your readers, don’t be stupid about genre, work your ass off, don’t fail on purpose.  That last one is pretty significant.  I’ve seen a lot of people give up or just put things off until they’re “ready.”  The hell with waiting for “ready.”  If you’re going to do that, you’ve already failed, because this is a bootstrap industry–nobody gets the magic green light.  Even people who are going traditional start out by hustling for publishers and agents.  Make someone else tell you no.  Make them tell you no a lot.
I want to thank DeAnna for joining us here on Writing to be Read, and for sharing her knowledge with us. If you’d like to learn more about Deanna or her books, her website and blog are at www.WonderlandPress.com.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs.Self-Publishing (Part 10): Conclusions

Red Quill

This series on publishing has been a lot of fun to create, and I hope maybe there are some of you who have read all of parts 1-9. I started it because I found that while those in my academic career seemed to be in favor of traditional publishing, with many instructors providing information about self-publishing as an option only reluctantly, while authors all around me were getting their work out there by self-publishing their books.

As I looked into the topic more, I found that some folks used the terms independently published and self-published as if they were interchangeable, while independent publishers are really smaller independent publishing houses that are not among the “big five” traditional publishers. As stated in Part 2, for the purposes of this series that is how I will refer to and view independent publishers.

One of the reasons I enjoyed writing this publishing series was that I am fortunate to know many authors, from all three publishing models, and I was able to gather many different viewpoints, examining it from all sides. Overall, I was able to obtain a pretty healthy balance between the three models. I interviewed self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch. In the traditional publishing arena, I talked with children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and historical and biographical author, Mark Shaw. I was only able to interview one independently published author, YA author Jordan Elizabeth, but to even it out, I also interviewed two independent publishers, Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press. And for a nice rounded point of view, I spoke with my friend and children’s author, Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models.

Now is the time to look at the series as a whole and see what conclusions can be drawn. While I think all authors secretly long for a traditional publishing deal, because being picked up by a major publishing house is ingrained in us as a symbol of success, I see independent publishing houses as a feasible alternative to holding out for the big boys, which can take a long time and for some of us, may never pay off. In some instances, debut authors have a better chance of being picked up by a smaller independent press. With both these options identifying markets which would be a good fit for your work, preparing submissions, writing cover letters and queries, synopsis and outlines will take up a lot of time which might be better spent on writing stories. Once accepted by either a major or a smaller publishing house, the author may be expected to do a good portion of the marketing and promotion, as well, although services such as editing  and illustration may be provided.

The upside to signing with a traditional publisher is that the major publishing houses pay out an advance on projected royalties, so major money can be seen in your near future. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties. Of course, as Tim Baker pointed out in Part 2, the flip side to collecting a sizeable royalty is if your book flops. It would be a drag to have to pay it all back. Independent houses may also pay out advances, but they won’t be nearly as big, and some do pay out a higher percentage of royalties.

For self-published authors, there are no advances, but they keep a higher portion of their royalties than with traditional or independent publishing houses. Still, there is no big money now, and no guarantee that there ever will be. Authors may be waiting a long time for their writing to pay off.

As Stacia Deutsch mentioned in Part 4 of the series, traditional publishers provide professional editing and illustrators, to be sure your final product is of good quality. I believe this is true of independent publishing houses, as well, but you won’t find it available through the self-publishing process; one reason self-publishing carries with it such stigma. Gatekeepers insure the book you put out will be the absolute best it can be.

Despite the stigma surrounding self-published authors, due in part to a few self-publishers who like to take short cuts in lieu of putting out a quality product, there are some very good self-published authors out there.  As Jordan Elizabeth pointed out in Part 6, self-publishing has a lot to offer. Self-published authors have a lot more control over their work than traditionally published authors, who do not chose their own cover art, and may not even get to keep their own title.

As Jeff Bowles pointed out in Part 1, another possible advantage to self-publishing is the ease and relative inexpense for today’s authors. You can publish a book with Amazon almost for free, and collect either 35% or 70% of your royalties, depending on the price you place on your book. I can attest to this as it is what I did with my short story, Last Call, and it didn’t cost me one cent. At least that way, if my story doesn’t rise to the top of the best sellers lists, (which it hasn’t), I really haven’t lost anything. The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you need to put out a quality product. It is worth it to find a good editor, and for all of us starving writers out there, an editor can be employed for a minimal expense. I also suggest utilizing a good critique partner when funds are low, but be sure to have some type of editing done, by someone other than yourself, before publishing your book.

Although Amazon has made publishing extremely easy and inexpensive for authors, they have also monopolized the industry and are making it more difficult for independent publishers, as Caleb Seeling explained in Part 8. Learn more about the negative effects Amazon has had on the publishing industry in the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s report, which emphasizes, from a consumer standpoint, the need to buy local and battle monopolization. If readers heed this warning and buy their books from local independent, or chain, bookstores right down the block, the publishing industry may change yet again.

Amazon’s monopolization affects authors and reviewers as well, as is discussed in What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for “Writing to be Read”. As much as Amazon’s review policies effect the reviewer, they also effect the authors who are depending on those reviews to get their books sold.

Author Mark Shaw gave us a heads up about vanity, or subsidy publishers, charging unsuspecting authors exorbitant fees to publish their work as Mark Shaw warns in Part 5. They prey on authors who desire to get their work published so bad that they are willing to empty their coffers to do so. These publishers can get outrageously expensive for authors, so don’t be drawn in. The kicker is that even if you publish on Amazon or Create Space in order to fit your budget, you still may need to spend quite a bit of time and/or money on marketing as Art Rosch tells us in Part 3.

Independent publishing houses, also referred to as small or medium-sized presses, work along the same lines as traditional publishers, but they don’t publish as many books each year as the big five do. In addition, they tend to be more specific in what they are looking for, with most having very specialized niches that your book must fit into to be published. Although all independent publishers may not follow this practice, publisher Caleb Seeling says he actually seeks out authors whose work fits into his niche. In any case, authors should be familiar with submission guidelines of the publishing house they are submitting to, whether large or small. In her article, How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher, Jane Friedman, of The Hot Sheet, (the publishing industry’s news letter for authors), offers some great tips on what to look for.

In Part 7, Nancy Oswald points out one of the big advantages to publishing with a small press is the more personal relationship between author and publisher. Whereas a traditional publishing house may not be able to put a name with a face, independent publishers work closely with their authors because they only have a few at any one time. Independent publishers may also have a shorter wait time for publication than traditional houses, which can be quite lengthy.

And then there are the new kids on the block, like Curiosity Quills Press, which are hybrid publishers, offering various combinations of traditional percs with self-publishing author responsibilities. These small independent presses may charge authors for some services, like subsidy publishing, but they also provide a certain amount of author copies at no cost, provide author support, and the services they do charge for are optional. You can find out more about this new model of publishing in my post, Hybrid Publishers: What are they all about?

After hearing from the experts, it seems no matter which model you choose to publish under, there is still a lot of non-writing activities required of authors, including marketing and promotion, resulting in the need for Today’s Authors to Wear Many Different Hats. Of course, you can also do as author Jeff Lyons suggests in his interview with Arwen Chandler, and hire a third party to handle such tasks, so we, as authors can get down to the business of writing. The only problem I see with this is that you must make money before you can spend money, paying someone else to do the tasks that don’t come as naturally as writing does.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 7): Interview with Children’s Author, Nancy Oswald

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In this series, we’ve taken a look at the publishing industry, which today, isn’t played by the same rules as it was 30 years ago, when traditional or independent publishing houses were about the only options an aspiring writer had. The rise in digital and self-publishing has opened up new options for aspiring authors and changed some of the rules by which the game is now played. We’ve heard from self-published authors, Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch, and traditionally published authors, Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw, as well as independently published author, Jordan Elizabeth.

In this week’s interview, we’ll hear from an author who has published work via all three publishing models, award winning children’s author, Nancy Oswald. She’s published traditionally with Holt, a big New York publisher, and a small independent publisher, Filter Press, LLC. In addition, her first book was published by Scholastic Canada, but she later rewrote it and self-published a Create Space version in 2013. Nancy’s Ruby and Maude Adventure series includes Rescue in Poverty Gulch, Trouble on the Tracks and her latest book, to be released this month, Trouble Returns. (Be sure and catch my review of Trouble Returns this Friday on Writing to be Read.) Her other publishing credits include Hard Face Moon, Edward Wynkoop: Soldier and Indian Agent, Nothing Here But Stones, and Insects in the Infield. And she has a very unusual story about how she broke into the publishing industry.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?  

Nancy: In my early teens, I thought writing children’s books would be really cool and I enjoyed writing—some poetry—but most of it school related.  I didn’t get serious about publication until I was in my late twenties. 

Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us? 

Nancy: I wrote several books that I call my “cardboard cover” books for my stepson who was five when I married my husband.  They were hand written and crudely illustrated and as you’ve probably guessed, had cardboard covers that were put together with rings that clipped through the pages and the cardboard and held the whole thing together.  I did a couple of cardboard cover books for friends, too.  But my stepson outgrew his “picture” books, so I started in on a chapter book.  We lived in British Columbia at that time, so I mailed him the first chapter for Christmas and sent one chapter a month to him, finishing the book the next Christmas.  This book was typed, yes on a typewriter, but still was a FAT cardboard cover book.  After many many rewrites, this book became my first published novel for young readers.  It had 35 rejections and was finally picked up by Scholastic Canada and five years later was reprinted by them.  To this day, thanks to Scholastic’s book club program, it has outsold any of my other books. 

Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?   

Nancy: In 2013, I self-published the above mentioned book.  I’ve had the rights back since about 1996, so I rewrote the book, adding about 10,000 words and it ended up as a winner in the CIPA Evvy award competition.   My likes:  I really enjoyed having full control.  I used Create Space and used their interior design service, but did the other parts myself. The Create Space team was accessible and helpful, and I had a really positive experience from beginning to end.  A word of caution:  you really need to have a clear idea of the design, font size, layout ahead of time.  You have to be clear in communicating what you want. Negatives:  Reviews were hard to get, ALL of the marketing is up to you, and if you don’t have a well-edited, professional looking copy, it will sink you

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?  
Nancy: I’m not sure about this term.  I’ve heard self-publishing referred to as Independent publishing.  My current publisher refers to herself as a small (traditional) publisher, although I’ve also heard small publishers referred to as Independent Publishers.  As for the pros of working with a small publisher, I love it.  One real perk with my publisher, at least, is my books will not ever go out of print as long as this publisher is in business.  I have a very personal (face to face) relationship with my publisher and have lots of input on design, covers, and other aspects of publication.  Also, the time from acceptance to publication is shorter. Cons:  No advance, lower sales, lower visibility.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing? 
Nancy: I was fortunate to have my first historical fiction book for young readers published by Henry Holt which clearly is a traditional publisher.  Pros:  Nice advance, publicity in major library catalogs, great editing (multiple editors with eyes on the book—particularly for the final reads). 
Cons:  Long wait before publication,  (like being on the tarmac at an airport, you’re given your place in line and inch forward with all the other waiting planes before take-off)  My book went into a “temporarily our of stock” status after about 4 years.
Kaye: How much does the non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), that you must do yourself vary between the different models? 
Nancy: For my self-published book, I might have done a little more particularly researching and soliciting reviews.  But otherwise, I’d say it’s a wash.  I do about the same amount for every book and have had to advocate for each and every one of them.  With Holt, and their catalog, there was some inherent publicity with the catalog and the visibility of Holt, but other than that, I have been in the trenches with everyone else.  I’ve tried a laundry list of things and am still trying.  There is no magic bullet.
Kaye: Which publishing model would you recommend to aspiring authors, and why? 
Nancy: My answer here is, it depends.  I think you have to take a good look at your goals as a writer and your reasons for writing your book.  If, for instance, you have a non-fiction book with information people are drooling over, then self-publish and get yourself out there to groups to speak about your topic.  This is a great way to sell books.  If you want a book for family and friends, and don’t care about sales, this is also best.  And if you have lots of energy for marketing and love interacting with people and don’t mind selling, then, go for it!  Self-publishing does not have the stigma it used to, but first and foremost create a good product, so your book doesn’t fall into the negative paradigm some people still hold about self-publishing.  Other than that, research publishers and find the one you feel is the best match for your book.  If your heart is set on being published with a New York publisher, keep at it—go to conferences, get an agent, and start in.  People have done this successfully, but I believe you have to be more patient and persistent and also very savvy about book publication in 2016.  Otherwise, just start in by researching small publishers and see which ones fit your project.  You’ll know it’s the right one because they will like your work and you will like their mission and goals. 
I want to thank Nancy for joining us and sharing her thoughts and her unique publishing story here on Writing to be Read. You can learn more about Nancy and her books on her website. Be sure and join us the next two Mondays for Part 8 and Part 9, when we will hear from two independent publishing houses, Curiosity Quills Press and Conundrum Press. It promises to be interesting, so don’t miss it.
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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 5): Interview with Traditionally Published Author, Mark Shaw

 

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Those who remember traditional publishing prior to the digital age, recall an industry which was not easy to break into, but with persistence, it could pay off with large advances, and a contract from one of the “Big Five” publishing houses. Your publisher took care of the rest: editing and proofreading, cover and/or illustrations, publicity and marketing. In many ways, it is the same today, but one thing self-publishing and independent publishing have changed, is that they showed traditional publishers that authors were capable of doing their own promotion and marketing. Today’s authors, it seems, are now expected to carry the weight for these tasks no matter which model is chosen.

The rise of digital and self-publishing also brought about a rise in publishing scams, designed to take advantage of aspiring authors and empty their pocketbooks. In the 1990s, when I began writing, they called them vanity presses.An author would send in their work and receive a very favorable response, praising their work and offering to publish it for a fee. As the author moves through the publishing process, the fees keep adding up. Today they are called subsidy publishers. As with traditional publishers, subsidy publishers hold the rights to the book, although the author is paying them to publish it.

So far in the series we’ve heard from self-published authors, Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, and we’ve heard from traditionally published author Stacia Deutsch. Join me today to get more of the traditionally published POV in my interview with author Mark Shaw. Among his 25 published works are books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing as The Southern Colorado Literature Examiner: The Mask of Holiness, a biography of Thomas Merton, and Stations Along the Way, a biography of former Hitler youth leader, Ursela Martens. In addition  to being a traditionally published author, Mark is a literary consultant and entertainment attorney, so he knows of what he speaks.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Mark: I’m a former criminal defense lawyer and I never considered being an author until I covered the Mike Tyson rape trial for CNN, ESPN, and USA Today. I believed Tyson was denied justice and so I wrote my first book, Down For the Count.

Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?

Mark: I was able to find a literary agent to represent the Tyson book and he found a traditional publisher. I had enjoyed the writing process and the book sold well so I looked for new subjects to write about and within a few years I had published several traditionally published books. Looking for a theme to weave through new books, I landed on “justice denied” and the last four or five I have written including my latest “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen,” are symbolic of the type of books I write. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that this book will be my 25th since I never had any formal training as a writer but I’m blessed that people have enjoyed the “stop and think” aspect of the books and continue to praise my body of work.

Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?

Mark: As noted in my book about the publishing process, “How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication,” as long as it’s what we call “traditional self-publishing (no subsidy publisher) then okay, but the career of any writer who uses a subsidy publisher where they pay to have the book published (Dorrance, iUniverse, Trafford, AuthorHouse, XLibris, etc.) is doomed with many who have come to me for consulting telling horror stories of losing their life savings, their homes, etc. Subsidy Publishing is the absolute kiss of death and so many writers fall prey to subsidy publishers that promise the moon and end up with boxes of books in the basement they can never sell since libraries and most bookstores won’t touch them. This is unfortunate since aspiring authors can use a combination of Create Space and Ingram Spark to publish a book with very minimal cost and this traditional self-publishing method is a badge of honor and libraries and bookstores will be interested in purchasing and stocking the book.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?

Mark: There seems to be confusion as to what this term means but as long as it doesn’t include subsidy publishing, I’m all for it.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?

Mark: I encourage writers to try the traditional publishing route by using query letters and book proposals and a good strategy for landing a literary agent or publisher and if that doesn’t work, then use traditional self-publishing. The advantages of traditional publishing include the publisher paying for all aspects of the publishing process, editing, layout, cover, etc. without the writer putting up a cent but most importantly traditional publishing includes distribution (my new book has Simon&Schuster distribution) which traditional self-publishing lacks since the author must do the distribution. One disadvantage these days for a first time author is that unlike ten years ago, many traditional publishers will not do much toward promotion and thus the author is expected to do the major part of the work.

Kaye: How much does the non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), that you must do yourself vary between the different models?

Mark: You are talking about completely different subjects here. With marketing and promotion, regardless of the method of publishing, an author has to understand that he or she must be the guiding force behind book publicity. With illustrations and book covers, etc. traditional publishers will handle this task while the author of any traditional self-published book is responsible for handling these matters and there are several outstanding consultants who can help with this tasks. Again, writers should stay away from subsidy publishers many of whom produce inferior books that cause problems right away with the authors’ reputation.

Kaye: Do you recommend traditional publishing for today’s aspiring authors, and why or why not?

Mark: Absolutely but writers must proceed with a well-developed strategy such as the “10-Step Method” outlined in “How to Become a Published Author.” There are no shortcuts possible here and most writers don’t want to put in the hard work necessary to secure a literary agent so their chances of securing a publisher are optimized.

 

I want to thank Mark for sharing his thoughts with us.  Also, I’m excited to be reviewing his latest book. Be sure and catch my review of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much on November 25, right here on Writing to be Read. To learn more about Mark Shaw or his books visit his website.

Don’t miss next Monday’s post and my interview with independently published YA author, Jordan Elizabeth, and get her thoughts on today’s publishing industry on Writing to be Read.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 4): Interview with Traditionally Published Children’s Author, Stacia Deutsch

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So far, in this publishing series, we’ve heard from three self-published authors who say self-publishing is the way to go for today’s authors. In Part 1, we heard from my talented friend and cohort, Jeff Bowles. In Part 2, we heard from tale spinner, Tim Baker. And last week, in Part 3, we heard from storyteller and author, Arthur Rosch. This week, we’ll hear from the other side of the writing field, as I interview a traditionally published author.

Join me for today’s interview with Stacia Deutsch, who is the author of more than two hundred children’s books, both original and write for hire. I had the pleasure of first, being a cohort to and then, studying under this amazing children’s author, so vibrant and full of energy, and always smiling. She is the author of the eight book, award winning, chapter book series Blast to the Past. Her resume includes Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew,The Boxcar Children, and Mean Ghouls from Scholastic. Stacia has also written junior movie tie in novels for summer blockbuster films, including BATMAN, THE DARK KNIGHT and the New York Times Best Sellers: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS JR.  and THE SMURFS.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

 Stacia: I didn’t know early on. This is a second career for me. One night when my kids were small, I was reading Harry Potter outlaid to them when I had an idea for a kids book about 4 kids who time travel and meet famous people n history. That became Blast to the Past. I wrote 3 whole books in the series before I ever tried to sell them.
Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?
Stacia: Tell everyone you know you are writing a book. I was at dinner with people I didn’t know well. I said I’d finished a book and the woman said, “My nephew is an agent.” He wasn’t, but he knew a lot of them and helped get my first agent. Once I sold Blast to the Past, the editor asked if I wanted to ghost write Nancy Drew. I’ve been working steadily, mostly in licensed work, ever since.
Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?
Stacia: I decided to try it with a book called Lucky Phoo about 3 girls who share a lucky dog. If you aren’t committed to making your self published book your life, and working at it daily, then don’t start. I sell hardly any because I am doing other things. People who do well are dedicated to the process.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing? 

Stacia: I love being with traditional houses and finding my books in the big box stores, or at the airport, or at Scholastic book fairs. There is no other way into those places. The issue is that you aren’t making every cent from your own book, but you have little outlay as well. My agent gets 15% of everything I sell.

Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Stacia: It’s a big deal for the author to do their own promotion and really necessary. You have to be devoted to your audience, and build a following to be successful. You need a budget. Do you want to travel, do a book tour? website? blog tour? Everything costs. So, regardless of how you get published, play how much money and time you are willing to put into it.

Kaye: Would you recommend your chosen path to publication, to emerging writers? Why or why not?

Stacia: I am an advocate for traditional publishing. I think agents and editors are gate keepers for quality. But if you have a good idea, that doesn’t fit what houses are looking for, go for it. Just be aware of what you’ll need to do to make it work.

I want to thank Stacia for sharing her thoughts on the publishing industry with us today. If you’d like to learn more about Stacia, you can find her at www.staciadeutsch.com, @staciadeutsch and http://www.facebook/staciadeutsch. Be sure and catch Part 4 of the series next week, when I’ll interview traditionally published author Mark Shaw on Writing to be Read.
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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 3): Interview with Self-Published Author Arthur Rosch

art-rosch-books

Your at a dinner party, chatting with other guests when someone asks what you do. You say that you’re an author and everyone is adequately impressed. It’s not every day you meet a bonefide author. Then you mention that you are self-published, and suddenly they all have somewhere better to be.

Self-publishing carries with it a certain stigma. In part, it may be due to a certain number of poor quality self-published books that flooded the market with the rise in popularity of the self-publishing market. With the rise of digital media, almost over night, it was no longer necessary to seek out and captivate a traditional publisher, and anyone, whether they write well or not, could become an author. In the beginning, as it is with most rising trends, self-publishing was a rather expensive proposition, and many authors didn’t have a whole lot to invest, so they skimped by on costs by skipping things like professional editing. Some maybe had their mother or their aunt or their brother give it a once over, but none of them had a trained eye. Others didn’t even do that, believing that their writing was so good, it didn’t need to be edited, or perhaps they were just out to make a buck, and didn’t really care if they put out a quality book. But, for whatever reasons, a lot of less than good quality self-published books made their way out into the market, marring the reputation of the self-publishing industry.

Companies like Amazon and Smashwords put another bump in the industry when they offered authors yet another avenue for publication with the e-book. Digital publishing was cheaper and easier than publishing print copies. In fact, it is virtually free to publish digitally, freeing up funds to be used for things like editing in order to create a quality piece of literature. Of course, there will always be those who are just in it for the money and don’t really care if the book they put out there is good quality, as long as it makes them money. They’re the types that will take advantage of the savings of digital publication to line their own pockets and still won;t bother to pay an editor. They are the authors that wouldn’t survive in the digital publishing world, but hopefullly, there are less of them now.

Despite the stigma attached to self-publishing, there are many talented self-published authors out there, who care about creating and publishing a quality literary product. Today’s interview is with self-published author, Arthur Rosch, who puts whatever time and effort is required into his books, sometimes taking years to complete them. Art is a talented writer. His publishing credits include his travel memoir, The Road has Eyes: A Relationship, An RV, and a Wild Ride through Indian Country, his literary novel, Confessions of an Honest Man, and his epic science fiction novel, The Gods of the Gift. Art shares a positive outlook on self-publishing with previously interviewed self-published authors, Tim Baker and Jeff Bowles. Here, Art shares his thoughts on the publishing industry with his very generous answers, as he candidly relates his own publishing journey.

Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?

Art: I’ve been reading for pleasure since I was five.years old I remember the day I learned to read. It came like a lightning bolt. Aha! So that’s how it works! I made the connection between letters and the sounds they represented. It was my third week in kindergarten. I hated school but I loved to read books. I started by reading historical novels. The other kids were reading “Dick And Jane Go To The Farm”.

When I was fifteen I fell madly in love with a girl. She wanted certain attributes in a boyfriend. One of those requirements was that said boyfriend should be a poet. So, I began to write poetry to please my girlfriend. She turned out to be far less faithful than the process of writing. I gave up on the girl and stuck with the writing. When I was twenty five I was seized by the ambition to write a novel. The project became a science fiction novel called THE GONGS OF SPACE. It was awful. It did, however, attract the interest of literary agent Scott Meredith. I signed a two year contract, and proceeded to write more novels. None of them sold. I had plenty of imagination but lacked some fundamental skills in the craft of writing.. I also needed more life experience.

I’m old enough to remember the “old” model of publishing. I had an entree into that world of agents, editors and publishers. A short story of mine won Playboy Magazine’s Best Story Of The Year Award. I had my fifteen minutes of fame. All the doors were open.

Playboy invited me (with an expense account) to their twenty fifth anniversary party.. I came away with a pocket full of business cards from important people in the publishing industry. Unfortunately, at that time I was dabbling in drugs. That dabble turned into a roaring addiction that derailed me for twenty years. I wrote during those decades. I wrote a lot. But I was like the Hubble Telescope before it was repaired. I couldn’t focus. I had a wonderful opportunity that I wasted by making a very bad choice. This kind of blunder is the stuff of life. I admit, I screwed up. I prefer to regard that interval in my life as “experience”. It was my Dark Night Of The Soul I had lost my family, my home, my possessions and my dignity. But I learned from my suffering.

What can a writer do without insight into the human condition? What decent writer is not also an observer and a psychologist?. My addiction years were loaded with with lessons. I sank to the bottom of the social order. I was on the streets, completely mired in the human experience. I learned from the streets. I learned hard. Then I had to put myself back together.

Addiction is one of the central pillars of my life narrative. I wanted to heal myself, so I went into a long therapy and read everything I could find about family dynamics, addiction and obsession.. Some writers need to spend an apprenticeship in the realm of compulsion, irrationality, bad choices and failure. By the time I was in my mid forties I had a thorough apprenticeship under my belt.

When I surfaced from that underworld, I started looking for an agent. A whole generation of agents had come and gone. The publishing world had changed. I was now (by my own evaluation) a fine writer with a distinctive voice. Agents weren’t interested in me. I wrote hundreds of query letters. I had three novels and a memoir that were ready for editing and representation. I got rejections again and again. How many times did I read the same phrases? “Not quite right for us”, “good luck with your writing career”, “though you write well, I couldn’t quite fall in love with this project.”

It’s likely that you’ve also read these phrases.. In 2001 I wrote to the Scott Meredith Agency in an attempt to re-kindle some kind of relationship. My letter was answered by the head editor. Meredith had passed away and the agency continued under a new owner. My novel, CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN was well under way. The editor loved the manuscript and offered to work with me. I was not a client of the agency. I was a side-project. The editor, B.N. Malzberg., charged no fee, and worked with me on his own time. The guidance he provided helped to make CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN into a mature and viable novel.

Still, no agents wanted to represent me. It was an odd situation. Malzberg didn’t have the authority to bring me on board. I don’t know why. I never will. I’m grateful to Mr. Malzberg for the help he gave me in bringing that wonderful novel to fruition.

Kaye: What are your thoughts on the self-publishing industry?

Art: I spend a lot of time writing my novels. Some of my books have been in process for thirty years. THE GODS OF THE GIFT, a sci fi epic, was begun in 1978 and wasn’t completed until 2012. Nowadays the book scene is so competitive that a writer needs to have an extensive body of work. Writers are forced to view their works as Product. The more product you have, the more you can sell. I have to learn to write more quickly. My travel memoir, THE ROAD HAS EYES, was finished in a year. Now I’m writing a crime novel. In a month I’ve racked up 20,000 words. I do all my own cover designs. I hire out the formatting. I mostly self-edit but that’s not really a good idea. It’s better to join a writing group and share your work with your peers. Better still, hire a good editor.

It’s useful to identify one’s “brand” with a genre. It’s also good to write series. The reading audience loves series. My crime novel will be a series based on the characters I’ve invented. I have a fantasy trilogy in the works. Book One is complete. Book Two, the sequel, is under way. I’m not known as a genre writer. With good reason. My portfolio consists of one memoir, one literary novel, three sci fi novels and a crime novel-in-progress. I also have nearly three hundred blog posts in the form of reviews, poems and essays. My “brand recognition” doesn’t stick. Fortunately I have relationships with magazines like Across The Margin and Exquisite Corpse. ATM has published a lot of my work. I’ve also published as a photographer with magazines like

Shutterbug and Popular Photography. I had a centerfold in CAT FANCY. Our beautiful cat, Agate, was shown without her clothes. Agate didn’t care. She never wears clothes. We don’t believe in dressing up animals to look like people.

Kaye: Why did you choose to self-publish your books?

Art: Four years ago I began to explore the self-publishing world. Getting a book published is easy. Marketing the book is another matter. I’m not a good marketer. I plunged into the crazy world of podcasts, webinars and the pitches of various book marketing gurus. I was trying to get a basic grip on marketing strategies. The problem is that the parameters for marketing change so fast that it’s impossible to know how to approach the world of self-promotion.. Also, I was broke. Marketing costs money. I spent $1500 on paid-for reviews and marketing “helpers”. These investments weren’t completely useless, but they didn’t do much to boost my sales.

I would estimate that at least $5000 is required for a marketing budget. That’s just for starters. If you’re lucky, and if you have some talent, your investment will begin to show returns fairly quickly. You’re going to need a knack for business promotion. Marketing a self published book requires patience. Patience. Patience. Just don’t give up. You’re going to encounter a lot of rejection and a lot of discouragement. It goes with the profession of writing.

Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Art: The first thing I do every day is drop a Tweet about one of my books. Twitter is free. Facebook is…well, not quite free. As the world’s population increases, so do the number of writers competing for a piece of the audience pie. I’ve learned, to my dismay, that you don’t have to be a good writer to be successful. You just have to be a good story teller. Many popular writers tell the same story over and over again. They hit on a formula that works, and they milk it. I don’t have it in me, to be a lazy writer. I pour my heart and soul into everything I do. My books enjoy modest sales. My platform is almost non–existent. It will take time to develop my platform until it’s something more than a few Popsicle sticks taped together.

Most of my “writing time” is actually study time. When I write, I write. But I spend three or four hours a day studying marketing. And I’ll admit I’m confused. The major advertising venues change their parameters suddenly and arbitrarily. Facebook had an advertising algorithm that was favorable to the writer. Then they changed the algorithm. The amount of pay changed downward. Same with Amazon, same with Google. It’s like writing in an earthquake. The ground shifts under our feet. But that’s life, isn’t it? The ground always shifts under our feet. The one thing you can count on is CHANGE.

Kaye: Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors?

Art: Traditional publishing now resembles self-publishing so much that it’s difficult to pry them apart. If you sign a contract with a big house you’re still going to have to do your own marketing. If you’re a major name, that’s different. Steven King doesn’t do his own marketing. But Arthur Rosch will indeed have to market, whether he’s self published or under contract to Random House. So…why not self publish? Statistics reveal that self publishing is garnering an ever-increasing market share. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self publishing.

Don’t give up. Persist. Stay with what you love, and if you love writing, then, you must write. Right?

You can visit my book website at roschbooks.com. My e-books are $2.99. I signed up for the Amazon KDP promotion but I haven’t seen any benefit. Next step will be to publish real paperback books. I recommend self-publishing for the simple reason that many of us have no choice. It’s so difficult to hook an agent these days that you might as well fish for salmon in the local park’s swimming pool.

I want to thank Art for sharing his story with us. Be sure and check in next week on Writing to be Read, when I’ll talk with traditionally published children’s author, Stacia Deutsch and get her views on the publishing industry.

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Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 2): Interview with Self-Published author, Tim Baker

tim-baker-books

Today I want to talk a little about definitions, because people often independent publishing as an umbrella term to cover authors who are self-published, as well as those authors who are published through an independent publishing house. I’m guilty of this, too, as the title for this article series does not differentiate, although the series will be looking at all three options. From here on out, I will differentiate between self-published and independently published authors, and refer to smaller presses as independent presses vs, the larger publishing houses, which shall be referred to as traditional publishers.

 

In Part 1 of this series, I interviewed self-published author Jeff Bowles to get his thoughts on the publishing industry as an emerging author today. Today’s interview is with Tim Baker, the author of nine novels, two novellas, and a collection of short stories, all self-published under his own brand, Blindogg Books. I’ve had the privilege of reviewing many of those books and can tell you he writes a well crafted story. His publishing credits include Living the Dream, Water Hazard, Backseat to Justice, No Good Deed, Unfinished Business, Eyewitness BluesPump It Up, Full Circle, Dying Days, with Armand Rosamillia, and Path of a Bullet. You can contact Tim Baker or find out more about his work by visiting his website at blindoggbooks.com.

 

Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?

Tim: My love for reading came early in life when I discovered Treasure Island and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at the age of ten.

A high school journalism class and a creative writing course in college turned my love of reading into a love of writing. In 1988, I began writing a book called Full Circle, which combined my love of writing with my interest in Karma. A chain of events caused the unfinished, handwritten manuscript to be tucked into a box. During the ‘90s, my time was divided between raising my son, owning a home and building a career in engineering, leaving no time for writing. It remained untouched until February of 2015 when I dusted it off and completed it for release in November 2015.

By the time I moved to Florida in 2006, my dream of penning a novel was all but forgotten…until one night when a dream rekindled my passion for writing.

Then, in April 2007, I had a dream about two old friends and a submerged box of gold bars. The next day I found himself trying to figure out the story behind the dream. By the end of that day, the impetus of a story had formed and I had scribbled out two chapters in a spiral notebook.

One year later, my first novel, Living the Dream, was complete and the dam had burst — I soon followed up with my second novel Water Hazard.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Tim: The funny thing is that I never really wanted to be an author – at least not consciously.

Even though I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing…it wasn’t until after my first book was published that I realized I was an author. All of a sudden I was an author – which was fine, because by then I had come to the realization that I loved writing.

Kaye: What made you decide to self-publish?

Tim: It wasn’t until after I completed the manuscript for my first novel (Living the Dream) that I started thinking about having it published. After a year of research I had learned a great deal about the differences between traditional publishing and indie publishing, and I decided that indie suited me better – primarily because I had read dozens of accounts about the overwhelming odds of landing a traditional publishing contract. I was not thrilled with the prospect of putting the fate of my novel in the hands of somebody who could shoot it down for any reason at all. This just didn’t seem fair.

Kaye: How did Blindogg Books come about?

Tim: Blindogg Books came about because my research taught me that indie authors need a brand for marketing purposes. I also learned that there are at least 3 other published authors named Tim Baker…so I decided to go with something other than my name.

During the 90s I raised and socialized puppies to be guide dogs for the blind…eventually I picked up the nickname “blind dog” which was changed to blindogg for internet identity reasons. When I needed a name for my brand I thought Blindogg Books had a nice ring to it. (for more info on this go to my blog)

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?

Tim: I’ve had this conversation with many people and I like to sum it up this way;

Independent publishing is a “good news/bad news” situation. The good news is that anybody can publish a book – the bad news…anybody can publish a book. The vast majority of indie authors produce quality work, however the fate of their work depends on the book buying public, so when potential readers read one of the few indie works that just wasn’t ready for publication (for whatever reason) they tend to paint all indie authors with the broad brush of low quality. So even though it’s very easy to have your work published, it’s very difficult to convince readers who have had a bad experience that your work is worthy of their money.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?

Tim: Not having any experience in the traditional world I can only speculate. I have to think that having the power of a large publishing house behind you for promotion and advertising is a nice relief from self-promotion. I also think it would be nice to get a big advance for a book. On the down side, I wouldn’t want to work under a contract which dictates when I have to finish a book. I’ve also heard that those big advances are only good if you sell enough books to cover the amount advanced. Obviously we all think our work will sell – but if it doesn’t (for whatever reason) I’d hate to have to give money back!

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?

Tim: I’ve had this conversation with many people and I like to sum it up this way;

Independent publishing is a “good news/bad news” situation.

The good news is that anybody can publish a book – the bad news…anybody can publish a book.

The vast majority of indie authors produce quality work, however the fate of their work depends on the book buying public, so when potential readers read one of the few indie works that just wasn’t ready for publication (for whatever reason) they tend to paint all indie authors with the broad brush of low quality. So even though it’s very easy to have your work published, it’s very difficult to convince readers who have had a bad experience that your work is worthy of their money.

Kaye: How much work do you contract out? Book Covers? Editing? Etc…?

Tim: Everything!! I write it – then let others do the things I’m not qualified to do. This includes editing, formatting (for kindle and paperback) and cover design/layout. Many indie authors try to do these things themselves, but I would rather pay somebody to do it because I know they’ll do a much better job than I will and I won’t be wasting my time doing something that somebody else could do in half the time, leaving me more time for writing and marketing.

The most important one of the lot (in my opinion) is editing. Any money spent on a qualified editor is money well spent. Hiring your high school English teacher or a friend/relative who is “really good at English and reads a lot” will not give you a professional quality job.

Nobody knows more than me how difficult it is to fork out hundreds of dollars foran editor, but I want my books to be the best they can be.

Kaye: So, you’re saying self-published books that aren’t of good quality stigmatize the reputation of independently published books in general?

Tim: Yes. Readers, like all consumers, don’t want to waste money on sub-par products, so if they buy an indie book that is poorly written, edited or formatted they are likely to assume that this is the level of quality for all indie books.

Kaye: Do you think one of the major contributing factors to this stigma is authors who don’t want to spend money to have their books professionally edited? Or do you see other causes?

Tim: Absolutely. This is one of my biggest pet peeves. As I said above, many indie authors think editors are like dentists – a necessary evil. I think a qualified editor is more like a good tailor. You can buy a suit off the rack and it might look decent, but a suit that is professionally tailored will make you look outstanding – and people will notice the difference!

This is not to say there aren’t other causes.

People who write a book without trying to learn even the most basic “rules” lower the bar for all of us. I hate using the word rules, let’s say guidelines…whatever you want to call them – they are critical to producing a book that will make people want to read your next one. These days there is no excuse for not learning how to write a good book. There are a gazillion websites and blogs out there devoted to teaching people how to write – use them. Most of them are free.

But – the best way to learn how to write is to read. Learn from the good books as well as the bad…

Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Tim: I don’t have an exact number, but my conservative estimate is that for every hour I spend writing – I spend three hours marketing. I tell people all the time – writing the book is the easy part…selling it is where the work starts.

Kaye: Would you recommend your chosen path to publication, to emerging writers? Why or why not?

Tim: I’m not sure how to answer that – mostly because my path wasn’t chosen as much as it was found. I had no idea what I was doing – so I did lots of research – the most valuable of which was learning from other writers. So for any emerging writers who may be reading this I can only say this…there is a ton of information at your fingertips. The internet and especially social media can help you find the path best suited for you. Get out there and tap into it. Ask questions, do your research and learn from those who went before you.

I want to thank Tim for sharing his thoughts on the publishing industry and his advice with us.  Be sure to check out next weeks interview with self-published author, Arthur Rosch, on Writing to be Read.

 

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