Ask the Authors: Publishing

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We’ve already taken a look at the different publishing arenas in my series Pros and Cons of Traditional vs Independent vs Self-Publishing, so this installment will be a brief discussion on the topic that may repeat some of that information. Some of our panelists here also participated in that series, so if you’d like to take a more in depth look you can visit my interview with Tim Baker, or see what Art Rosch has to say, or discover Jordan Elizabeth‘s take on it, or check it out from the beginning and move on from there.

Regarding the whole publishing thing, DeAnna Knippling: I can’t answer the questions directly (nnnnnn), but if you want, here’s a blanket statement to cover the week’s stuff:

Okay, I’m deadly bored of these kinds of questions.  I know you need to ask them, but I’ve answered them so often that I really don’t have much to say other than, “Do what you want!  Mix it up!  Stir the pot!  Try something new!  Don’t try something new!”  I feel like authors get so wrapped up in “what is the secret trick to making a bajillion dollars?!?” that they stop moving forward on their journeys as writers.  The second you stop learning and growing, you’re dead.  Some of your growth comes in the publishing and marketing areas, that’s true, but writers get obsessed with success over quality, and they burn out or become repetitive cheesemongers.  And then they push forward without learning about copyright and contracts and rights and get screwed over by the people who are supposed to be “helping” them.  It’s nuts.  Read The Copyright Handbook, stop whining about having to write synopses and bios and blurbs, spend some time studying, and read the fine @#$%^&* print.

Some, like DeAnna Knippling, feel this topic is one of many which has been done to death. Of course, it has, because the rise of digital pubishing changed the game for authors and would be authors, restructuring the playing field, so today’s struggling authors may not even be sure of the rules. In today’s publishing world, this is a delimma every author has to face and we’re all looking for answers. Upcoming authors are trying to figure out this whole thing and decide which publishing route is best for them. Published authors whose books aren’t selling as well as they had hoped wonder if they made the right choice and entertain thoughts of going ‘the other way’ next time. Let’s start out this discussion by seeing what kind of mix we have on our panel.

Are you a traditionally published, small press published or self-published author?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I have books out with three small presses: Curiosity Quills, Clean Reads, and CHBB.

Cynthia Vespia: I’m what’s called a hybrid. I’ve been both small press published and now I’m mostly self-published. But the holy grail is always to land a contract with one of the big names in publishing.

Carol Riggs: All three. I have two traditionally published book with Entangled Teen, which is a smaller publisher but a notch above “small press” in my opinion. For example, they distribute with Macmillan, and my debut novel, THE BODY INSTITUTE, was featured in Barnes & Noble stores. THE LYING PLANET is also published by Entangled, while BOTTLED is published via a small press, Clean Reads. Then I’ve self-published two of my five-book series of JUNCTION 2020. I hope to release the third in the series this summer.

Chris Barili: Yes. I am a true hybrid author, with a traditional book sale (small publisher, but traditional) and a self-published series.

Janet Garber: Self Published via Lulu.

Follow-up: Would you talk a little bit about Lulu. How do they measure up as a publishing platform? What services do they offer their authors?

Janet Garber: Researching the different options was confusing. I probably decided on Lulu because I liked the salesman and also I did not find many complaints online at the time. I would not say that my approach was very scientific, but the results were more than satisfactory. I do think there are probably much cheaper options particularly if one is tech-savvy and confident about a DIY approach. I purchased additional service of press release — they basically just took what I wrote. They were supposed to send it out to appropriate outlets, but I was not at all satisfied with the outlets they approached. This was a waste of about $400!  Buyer beware!

They also offer proofreading and editing – I did not feel I needed either but I did invest in a private developmental editor and that was money well spent. As part of the LULU package, they distribute your book. So my novel is available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Ingram in paperback and ebook.
Margareth Stewart: This sounds quite intriguing for me as I have been published in many forms. I was traditionally published by Chiado Press – with my first book I have divorced, so now what? (Portuguese Edition). I self-published twice as it was taking too long to receive a positive answer from English Publishers. When I had my first novel ready, I did not want to self-publish – I wanted the experience of having someone from an out source to read Open and say: “Ok, let´s publish it” – Open/Pierre´s journey after war by Margareth Stewart was published by Web-e-books at the end of 2017. So from the experience above, nowadays I would say we all want recognition in a certain form. This may come through publishers, agents, readers, amazon – it does not matter – as long as it comes. Writing is an art waiting to being read.
The publishing journey is different for every author. We’ve all heard the sucess stories of a book that got miraculously got picked up by one of the big five and turned into a movie in a whirlwind of activity, and all the author had to do was type out the words. But for most of us, it isn’t that easy. We struggle and climb up from the bottom of the literary barrel, vying for the attention of either publishers or readers, trying to get our books onto the best seller lists, or at least sell well enough to be profitable.
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Many of you may already be familiar with my story. I sold a poem in 1996, when we still submitted via snail mail, but decided it wasn’t profitable for me until the rise of the computer age and digital publishing. I knew I wanted to write, so I landed gigs where ever I could, including the content factories, such as Demand Studios and Examiner.com. I founded an online writng group, I started this blog, Writing to be Read, and I went back to school and got my M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I self-published Last Call as an experiment. After getting several short stories and poems published, last April I found a small press publisher for Delilah, Dusty Saddle Publishing. Since then, I have become a college level English lecturer, and I’m working on increasing my marketing and promotion knowledge in order to promote the sales of my books, because with a small press, that’s pretty much up to the author. We all had to start somewhere. Let’s ask our panel members about their rise to get where they are now.

Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I feel as if I have written forever.  It wasn’t until college that I started taking my writing more seriously.  I queried agents until I finally found a home at the Belcastro Agency.  It was a short while after that my friend and fellow author Eliza Tilton introduced me to Curiosity Quills Press.  Another friend and fellow author, Cathrina Constantine, introduced me to CHBB.

Cynthia Vespia: When I was a senior in high school I picked up a copy of Dean Koontz’ Intensity from the library and I was immediately hooked. When I finished reading it, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to pull emotions from people the way Dean Koontz had done for me. (I’ll jump ahead here so I don’t drag on) Flash forward to the completion of my first novel The Crescent. I sent it around to different agencies, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old agent wound up reading it, but nothing panned out. I remember coming very close to a deal with a local publishing house early on in my career but they opted to go another way. But I had a finished book, and I wanted to see what it would look like in print, so I self-published when self-publishing wasn’t cool yet. But that little book has gone on to create some great attention and is in the middle of pre-production for a movie.

My small press experience hasn’t been ideal which is why I’ve gone back to self-publishing. The one thing I will say about my small press journey is it got my series Demon Hunter in front of a lot of people and I wound up being nominated in 2009 for a Best Series award.
Carol Riggs: It took me 11 years, more than 350 rejection letters, and twelve previously written novels until my debut novel was taken on by an agent and sold to Entangled Teen. During those 11 years, I had tons of writing, rewriting, frustration, and refusing to quit going on. The road was rocky even after my debut, THE BODY INSTITUTE, got sold to Strange Chemistry, an imprint of the UK publisher, Angry Robot. Five months before my book was to come out, they closed down Strange Chemistry, and my agent and I had to scurry around and start the whole submission process over again. Pretty tooth-gnashing!

Chris Barili: My first fiction sale was a western short story called “Yellow” that I wrote for my first summer semester of my MFA studies. That story sold to The Western Online that fall, and I only mention it because 13 short story sales later, it remains the starting point for me selling fiction. My novel Smothered (as B.T. Clearwater) was originally my MFA thesis. It was a standalone romance, and I had no plans for it until Winlock Press (part of Permuted Press) held a contest to find books to premier their supernatural romance lineup. I entered and won, so not only did the book go on sale for e-books, but through Permuted’s deal with Simon and Shuster, a limited print run took place, as well, meaning–book signings at Barnes and Noble!

My Hell’s Butcher series of novellas is self-published, and I did that for the simple reason that there just aren’t markets for novellas out there in the traditional world. And since I wanted to try my hand at self-publishing, I decided the series would be my foray into that battle.

Janet Garber:  I researched the different companies online, called a few, and went with Lulu.  I was under a deadline because I wanted to sell my book at a professional conference and Lulu came through, publishing my book in a short five weeks. I was actively involved in proofing very very carefully and am happy to say end result was a fine looking book with a wonderful cover.

Margareth Stewart: I come from Academics which is a hard field to be published and to write something original. Scientific papers are  full of rules. To write a 15-page-article, it is necessary to read around 15,000 words or more, and to process it all with a very unique view. It is a though and painful process. So, when I got into the fiction world – Oh, I thought: “Heaven, I’m in heaven, And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…”. Difficulties are part of the process. Keep writing and keep reading.

In today’s publishing world, the question of whether to go the traditional route, search out a small press with interest in your book, or to go ahead and self-publish and get your work out there is something every author has pondered at one time or another. Chances are a publisher, either taditional or small press, is not going to come knocking down your door to publish your book. Although there are authors who have had a previously self-published picked up by a publisher, it is not the norm, and although not like it once was, self-published authors may still carry a bit of stigma with publishing houses. Let’s take a look at how our panel members tackled the delimma.

What made you decide to go with traditional/small press/self-publishing?  

Jordan Elizabeth: I was hoping for a traditional publisher, but I’m thankful to my friends who have found me homes with small presses.  It seems to be true what they say about small presses being more family-oriented and helpful.

Cynthia Vespia: I went back to self-publishing because #1 the small press companies I was working with all closed their doors, and #2 because I had a very specific vision in mind for what I wanted to do with Demon Hunter when I got my rights back. But I have a few new ideas in the works that could be very successful mainstream properties, so I’m looking to go back to the traditional publishing route and finally capture that holy grail.

Carol Riggs: I think the traditional publishing makes me feel more accomplished, like my books are of better quality. I know that’s not necessarily the case, but to have professionals rooting for your writing is really reassuring and gratifying to me. For my self-published books, I’m using my JUNCTION 2020 series to grow my newsletter subscription by giving away book 1 as a freebie incentive. Find it on my website at carolriggs.com!

Janet Garber:  I was very impatient to see my book in print and hold it in my hands. So much work had gone into it, years and years of procrastination too, and I wasn’t getting any younger. For these reasons I did not even consider traditional publishers. I still hesitate on going that route because I do not want to wait 2-3 years to see my Paris novel in print, the time to secure an agent and then a publisher.  My first (nonfiction) book was traditionally published by Silver Lining Press, a branch of Barnes & Noble, and that book was brought out very quickly; I did not need an agent since they approached me with the offer to do a book, etc.

In the self-publishing arena, which platforms have you found good to work with? How do you deal with KDP’s exclusivity clause, which states that your work may not appear on any other platform?

Art Rosch: The KDP Select option IS exclusive but operates for 90 days.  There’s an auto-renew function, and if you don’t want to be enslaved by it, make sure that it is not checked.  I tried it for a few cycles.  I had to remove my book from Smashwords and go into the Dashboard to Channel Manager and remove distribution channels like Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc.  In any case, my books didn’t  sell.

I like Smashwords approach and the universality of their formats.  But no one competes with Amazon.  I haven’t published any physical books yet, but I have a bit of change on hand and I think I”ll give it a go.  Everyone has their favorite provider of such services, so there’s plenty of choice.  Publish-on-demand.  I have no demand.  I have a more serious issue, it’s a literary one, a revision of Chapter One of my autobiographical novel.  I don’t care for it at the moment.  A book begun in 1976 and I’m still revising it.  Heh!

 Cynthia Vespia: I use Amazon for ebook and print. I also have my work on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and I’ve used LuLu for some hardcover print because Amazon didn’t have that option at the time. I’ve heard that Draft 2 Digital is the place to have your ebooks as well, but I haven’t looked at it yet.

For the KDP clause what I have been doing is using it for a new release and then not renewing the enrollment. I’d rather have my work in as many spots as possible.

Although you are self-published, do you still long for the esteem of a traditional publisher? Why or why not?

Janet Garber: Since I have published widely in multiple genres and have one book traditionally published, I’m not craving validation from a traditional publisher. The appeal is mainly the feeling that a traditional publisher would sell more of my books and be better equipped to setting up opportunities for promotion (book tours, speaking engagements, etc.) Let’s not forget hybrid publishers – not sure where they fit in.

What are your thoughts on small presses? What are the pros and cons? Do you curse them or sing their praises?

Cynthia Vespia: I’ve worked with a few small presses and TBH it wasn’t ever anything that wowed me in terms of packaging. As a graphic designer I can do my own covers, and there are more than a few freelance editors whom I can hire to polish the manuscript. I never saw being under the label of a small press to be more beneficial to going indie. They just did not have the means to promote my work in a manner any better than I could do myself. Actually, it really tied my hands sometimes because if I wanted to do a sale or bring some physical copies to an event I had to go through the small press as wait. In the indie publishing world you are in charge of it all. I like that freedom of movement. I will say the one good thing about a small press would be if they have the means to get you into a bookstore or a library because most of those retailers frown upon the POD style of print that most indie authors use.

Traditional publishing has always been a tough road, and with the rise of independent publishing, I think it has gotten even tougher. Although the ‘big five’ are still out there, many traditional publishing houses and small presses are finding it hard to stay in the game with the rise of the ebook and digital publishing. Independent bookstores, as well as some of the larger chains of brick and mortar stores have folded in recent years.

According to Author Earnings’ Print vs. Digital Report, independent authors walk away with a bigger piece of the pie, overall, than traditionally published authors. Pair that with the continuous upward struggle to get noticed by traditional publishers, it is no wonder so many authors are publishing independently, even though by doing so they are taking on multiple roles that traditional publishers would cover, such as covers, marketing and promotion, etc… Let’s see if our panel members agree.

What do you see as the pros and cons of independent/traditional publishing? 

(First from those in favor of the traditional route): 

Jordan Elizabeth: The best pro I can see for traditional publishing is that you get help with marketing.  They might not hold your hand, but they will give you guidance.  A con is that you don’t make as much off ads as you would if you self-publish.

Carol Riggs: Obviously, an author has more control over writing content and cover art with indie publishing. We can make more money per book, although often a traditional publisher can help market an author, so sometimes more books are sold overall; maybe that evens out, I’m not sure. I do know authors who have done awesomely with both indie and traditional publishing. Which path you take depends on what your needs and goals are. But a definite downside to indie is you do ALL the marketing yourself, and you’d better have or hire a good editor, or quality will suffer and your book’s reception likewise. Authors being in a rush to get their books out before they’re ready gives indie publishing a bad name. Editing and polishing are essential.

(Now let’s here from the independent publishing fans):

Cynthia Vespia: There’s a lot of pros to indie publishing. As I said, you have complete control over your own work. It allows books that might never see the light of day get out to readers who enjoy the story. On the other hand, that’s the same con. There are so many people out there writing books now, and they aren’t taking the time to polish them before they get published so you get a lot of, dare I say “garage sale junk” out there. Writing is a business like anything else. You have to take the time to learn everything about it from the craft of writing, to presentation, to marketing. And that isn’t strictly for indie authors either. If you get traditional or small press published you still need to be your biggest fan to get your work out there. In a sea of books yours needs to stand out.

(And from those who have dipped into both publishing arenas):

Chris Barili: Indy publishing is great if you want control, want higher royalty cuts, and don’t like the “gatekeeper” system, but it is a LOT of work. And money. I spend between $500 and $600 publishing each Hell’s Butcher novella. That’s money I’ll never get back, as they are very  unlikely to round up a big enough audience on their own. And as an Indy author, all that marketing, publicity, and so forth — that’s on you. And I suck at it.

The traditional route costs you little or nothing out of pocket, but you give up some control, and of course it takes a MUCH longer time. I was fortunate with Winlock , as they got my e-books out in 3 months. Paperbacks a year later. A traditional publisher would take 18 – 24 months. Self-publishing about a month, probably.

Janet Garber: Pros: [With the traditional route] many people are involved in evaluating your book, making developmental suggestions and edits; these people are very savvy about the publishing world and what appeals to readers; the publishers hopefully undertake some degree of marketing for you or at least guide you to getting best bang for your book in terms of marketing dollars spent.

Cons: effort required to send queries to agents and wait-wait-wait for a positive response; possibility that agent or publisher could change their minds about publishing your book after you’ve invested a lot of time on pleasing them; need to do multiple rewrites and revisions that may alter what you wanted to say and how you wanted to say it.

It seems each publishing avenue has its advantages and disadvantages. Traditionl publishing is a tough road to travel, but it carries the advantages of having available editors, cover artists and media coverage, as well as possible prestige in some areas. While it may be at least a little bit easier to get noticed by a small independent press, the advantages are neglible, depending on the press. While some provide editing and cover artists, others don’t even do that. Most will provide some marketing and promotion, but even that isn’t guarunteed, and you may have to give up control over your work. In self publishing, you maintain control of your work, but you also have to hire out for editing and cover artists, and take on the role of marketer or pay to have it done, as well.

Whether you choose to seek out and strive for a traditional publisher, aim your efforts toward small presses, or do it all yourself to get your work out there and maintain control over it, we all have to find ways to make our writing stand out amongst a diluge of other writers and authors. Most of that must come from craft, but choosing the right cover image and giving your book a killer title help, too. But no one will ever pick up yoru book and read it unless they know it’s there, so marketing and promotion are a bigger here. We have a segment coming in about three weeks on that topic, but for now be sure and drop by next Monday, when we’ll be talking about the differences in genres.

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.

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