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

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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

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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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