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Amazon’s real-time experiment with the livelihoods they have provided to their exclusive self-published KDP authors through Kindle Unlimited (KU) continues to draw concern on online forums. The most recent scrutiny stems from a post by bestselling author Holly (H.M.) Ward on Kindle Boards from the Friday after Thanksgiving, which continues to draw follow-up remarks.
Ward said that her Amazon income dropped substantially when she participated in Kindle Unlimited: “[I] had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income [from KDP]. Thats counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t compliment each other, as expected.” She added, “I planned on giving it 90 days, but I have a kid in the hospital for long term care and I noticed my spending was going to exceed my income–by a lot. I couldn’t wait and watch thing plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither performed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).”
Perhaps more resonant for self-published authors broadly, she wrote, “This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn’t be paid lottery style.” (In the current system, Amazon decides, retroactively, how much money to allocate to authors for each KU borrow. The amount paid per borrow has been dropping since the program launched in late July.)
In follow-up comments, Ward added, “That’s why I posted this info. I assumed I was the only one. I thought I was too stupid to make KU work, but both months I was an ‘All Star’ so something just doesn’t work. Plus other heavy hitters starting talking, telling me a similar story. The model itself is flawed….I have 60+ books, lots of new titles, and if I’m at the top of the KU list for the entire 60 days I was enrolled and lost a LOT of money, then something is wrong with the model.” (By our own data, Ward has had 12 works appears on bestseller lists during 2014.) She also indicated the KU experience affected all of her titles at Amazon, even the ones that were not part of the subscription service, “because buyers changed into borrowers, who in turn did not spend money on my other titles.” And “Ditto on audio sales. They’ve vanished.”
A number of other authors joining the forum tell stories similar to Ward’s, though there are also authors who say that KU has increased their net earnings. One common belief is that the current KU economics favor short works — “KU has allowed for shorter works to steal marketshare from longer works, pushing them out of sales rankings, search result rankings, also boughts, top 100 lists, and overall visibility. You think I’m wrong? Go read any of the popular erotica forums, those writers are cleaning up like it’s 2012 again.”
Self Published authors. We need to keep our eyes open for more info on this subject.
It's difficult for any writer to get published by a traditional publisher, whether you write for adults or for children. That's why more writers than ever are turning to self-publishing. But before you jump on the bandwagon, especially if you write for children, it's helpful to find out more about self-publishing. Check out the recent post by guest blogger Sangeeta Mehta on publishing expert Jane Friedman's blog. Mehta, a former acquiring editor of children's books at Little, Brown and Simon & Schuster who runs her own editorial services company, interviewed agents Kate McKean and Kevan Lyon for answers to key questions on self-publishing children's books.
Here are some highlights:
Kate McKean: “The anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, however, is that the more titles a self-published author has up, the more visibility they can possibly garner.”
Kevan Lyon: “I do believe that YA writers probably have an edge over middle grade writers in the indie publishing world.”
Kate McKean: “For picture book writers, the cost of producing the book is one hurdle, and distributing it is another bigger hurdle.”
Kevan Lyon: “Self-publishing a full-color print picture book can be very expensive with little room for a profit margin, especially without distribution.”
Click here to visit Jane Friedman's blog for the complete post. What do you think about the pros and cons of self-publishing? Please share your experiences.
Hope you enjoyed this post! To be notified of future updates, use the subscription options on the right side bar.
If Bill Gates said it, I tend to believe it. The software tycoon-turned-philanthropisthas been proven right on just about everything. (If you forget the Zune and that CTRL-ALT-DEL thing.)
At the dawn of the internet, Gates published an essay that started off with this line: “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet.”
The name of the essay? “Content is King”.
His 1996 prediction – made during the prehistoric online period of dial up modems, AOL and floppy discs – came true. From cat videos to eyewitness reports of government crackdowns– and billions of terabytes of everything in between — ours truly is the age of information on demand. As predicted the revenue followed, from eCommerce purchasing to monetizing traffic through advertising. Over the years Gates’ truism about the value of information has been stated and restated with almost religious fervor.
Yet the explosion of information is only half the story, and that’s where Blue Ash Publishing comes into play. Anyone on the planet has the potential to create the most eloquent, breathtaking, astonishing, even life-changing content. But without an audience – or more precisely the means to reach it — this rich content will never be fully appreciated.
Enter the new king – distribution. Some have likened the concept of distribution as the ‘queen’ to Gates’ king content. To rephrase the slightly sexist expression, in this family it’s the queen who “wears the pants!” Call it what you want — transmitter, network or bullhorn – it’s the vital infrastructure to broadcasting your message. Without distribution there is no discovery — no matter how brilliant the content.
Authors depend on Blue Ash Publishing for self publishing ebooks and many things but especially distribution. We’re the pipeline to help them find their readers. Just last week that pipeline just got a whole lot bigger with millions of potential new readers on the end of the line. Our retail store network leaped from 12 to over 60 retail stores around the globe.
We’ve been covering the majors for years including Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and all the majors. Now our authors’ books are featured in stores such as Spanish eBook giant 24Symbols, Waterstone from the UK and eChristian.com.
One of the reasons authors choose Blue Ash and its distribution engine BookBaby is what I term our “books without boundaries” approach to retail store distribution. We’ve been at the forefront of eBook globalization and for good reason. After all, it’s called the World Wide Web, not the Internet of the United States! The physical logistics of print books didn’t allow for such widespread international audiences for most authors. Digital truly changes everything.
I predict it won’t be long until the international English-language eBook market easily surpasses the US market. Some numbers shared by the Ebook Bargains UK (EBUK) newsletter illustrate why I’m so bullish on the global market.
Thinking about self-publishing? Blue Ash Publishing (a division of Writer’s Digest)
can provide all the tools and know-how you need to properly write, publish and
sell your book. Whether it’s digital publishing or print, Blue Ash has you
covered—and it’s completely customizable. Click here for more details.
Let’s span the globe According to EBUK, there’s upwards of 75 million English speakers in the Philippines as we’ve mentioned already. Over 40 million English speakers in Germany. 30 million in Bangladesh. 30 million in Egypt. 25 million in France. 20 million in Italy. 17 million in Thailand. 15 million in the Netherlands. 15 million in South Africa. 12 million in Poland.12 million in Turkey. 11 million in Iraq. 10 million in Spain.
In just India, Pakistan and Nigeria, the number of English-speakers exceeds the entire population of the United States! Then there’s Brazil, Sweden, Kenya, Cameroon, Malaysia, Russia, Belgium, Israel, Zimbabwe, Romania, Austria and Greece, all with between 5 and 10 million English speakers each. That all adds up a lot of potential readers in every corner of the planet. Blue Ash Publishing is your ticket to get your book out there.
Whether you’re ready to take that journey now or need some inspiration, we’ve put together a helpful new guide to get your through the process. It’s called Self Publishing 101: The Quick Start Guide for Writers. It’s FREE from your friends at Blue Ash and you’ll gain knowledge about such critical issues as:
Proven eBook pricing strategies and tactics
Why authors can’t skimp on editing or cover design
How metadata is vital to your online sales success
Whether you’re a rookie or an experienced pro in the eBook world Blue Ash Publishing’s newest guide has something for everyone who needs ideas how to create, price, sell and how to promote your eBook.
“Fast Fingers” by Katie Kreuger via Flickr. (Creative Commons licensed image)
BY AMANDA L. BARBARA
The Internet has brought about a new age of experimentation in publishing, and stepping into the literary laboratory is the prolific storytelling duo, Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant.
The authors’ recent project, “Fiction Unboxed,” was a crowdfunded experiment in writing and publishing a book live in 30 days. Platt’s and Truant’s goal was to give aspiring authors and fans of their popular podcast a look behind the curtain at their writing process.
Platt and Truant are no strangers to writing quickly. They wrote more than 1.5 million words in a year and continue to publish fiction at a breakneck pace.
For “Fiction Unboxed,” they started without any characters, a plot, or even a genre in mind and careened into publishing a book in front of a live audience. This project had nearly 1,000 backers and overfunded at $65,535. Backers got to see the authors’ story meetings, watch them hammer out the plot, write, and edit the final draft.
It’s easy to see the appeal in writing a book quickly. Platt’s and Truant’s method meant they could start earning revenue from their published book right away and get to work on their next project.
But what about the average writer who isn’t used to cranking out a story at such a fast pace? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of rapid writing.
The Benefits of Writing Fast
There are a number of potential rewards to producing and publishing quickly, including:
Reader engagement. “Fiction Unboxed” generated an enormous amount of engagement among indie authors, the duo’s nonfiction audience. But even for fiction writers, publishing quickly can help maintain readers’ interest in your work. The New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout has cultivated an enormous fan base due to her ability to quickly produce more of the books her readers love on an accelerated timeline.
Exposure. Doing something out of the ordinary is a great way to get noticed as an author. Platt and Truant used their writing process to create a highly shareable and marketable product that gained a lot of attention simply because it had never been done before.
Momentum. Writing quickly obviously helps you produce more work, but it also helps you gain traction from a publishing and marketing perspective. The more you publish, the more chances readers have to discover your work, and a new title can provide a boost to your entire catalogue.
Potential Drawbacks of Rapid Production
While there are a number of benefits to writing and publishing quickly, Platt and Truant are experienced writers who understand the publishing process. They know what they can reasonably accomplish, and they have a team in place to help with other aspects of book production, such as audio and cover design.
Producing a book in 30 days probably wouldn’t work for a less experienced writer. If you’re thinking of giving yourself an ambitious deadline, proceed with caution to avoid these pitfalls:
Lower quality: The duo’s final product, a YA Steampunk novel called “The Dream Engine,” has a 4.8 rating on Amazon. But for new authors, a tight deadline may not leave enough time for professional editing and cover design, which could result in a lackluster book.
Public failure: “Fiction Unboxed” was a risky endeavor. What if they hadn’t completed the project? What if the book flopped?
Want to have the first draft of your novel finished one month from today? Use this discounted bundle of
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While you shouldn’t let fear hold you back as a writer, always consider how readers will receive your book.
“Fiction Unboxed” was a fun experiment, but the underlying message isn’t that you should try to write a book in 30 days. Platt and Truant wanted to show writers that storytelling doesn’t have to be a painful process and that with practice, good stories can be written quickly.
Most importantly, you have to do the work. Platt and Truant haven’t produced so many books by sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike — they’ve done it by hitting their word count day after day. Hard work is something they stressed in the book that inspired the project and in “Fiction Unboxed” itself.
There’s no one process that works for every author, but you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. Just keep writing, and the words will come.
Amanda L. Barbarais vice president of Pubslush, a global crowdfunding publishing platform for the literary world. This platform is bridging the gap between writers, readers, publishers and industry leaders. Follow Amanda on Twitter and Google+.
I was recently at an event where I was told, rather snidely, that I'd better be out looking for another job since it won't be long before literary agents are obsolete. This isn't the first time in the past few years I've heard a statement like this. It's also ironic since BookEnds has been growing and growing with each coming year.
I'm not a fan of a black and white world. I feel blessed that I can see the blue in the sky and the green in the leaves. I like to look at the world that way as well. There's a lot more than just do it this way or do it that way. There are a lot of other colors to consider.
There are a lot of authors who are having great success self-publishing. I'm thrilled for them and I commend them for the work they're doing because, who are we kidding, it's a hell of a lot of work to self-publish successfully.
There is no doubt in my mind that agents have and will face challenges brought on by the changing face of publishing. That we'll all experience a moment when an author decides that she no longer needs us. Heck, that happened well before self-publishing anyway. That being said, there are just as many authors out there who really don't want to be business owners. That's also why people outside of publishing continue to go to work for corporations. Not everyone wants to deal with all of the details that owning a business entails. Some people just want to crunch numbers or write the book and let someone else deal with payroll, IRS census forms, hiring, firing, and banking.
I feel pretty confident that I'm going to be around for a long time, at this desk, selling these books. Authors will come and go, agents will come and go, publishers will come and go, but in the end we're all shooting for the same goal. We want great books to be read. So let's stop predicting the end of everyone else's career and instead applaud each other for whichever path we've chosen to take.
If you’re considering going the self-publishing route, go to this article full of insights from writers who have been there. And then go to my website for how I can help writers publish strong books. Here’s an excerpt from Self-Publishing Stars Speak Out by Betty Kelly Sargent:
“Before you do it, take time to understand why you’re doing it, to research your opinions, and to hire experts if needed to help you achieve your goals. Take enough time to produce a product that’s worth your reader’s time and money.” Jane Friedman
My friends, I am in COUNTDOWN MODE. Beth Revis’s new novel The Body Electricis nearly with us, and it’s so close I can taste it! October 6th, you are so close! From the NYT bestselling author who catapulted us into space with Across The Universe, this is a new story that answers the question: what happened on earth while the Godspeed was making her way to a new world? Bring. It. On. I’ve already ordered my limited-edition copy! And today, I’ve got Beth here with us to answer all our burning questions!
But first, a little about The Body Electric…
Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories.
But not all is at it seems.
Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing…
Someone’s altered her memory.
Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings.
So who can she trust?
Beth, welcome! In Across The Universe and its sequels, you took us into space, trapped us on claustrophobic ships and landed us on incredible new planets. Tell us about your inspiration for The Body Electric! Where did this story start? A dream? A musical clip? Plain, old-fashioned brainstorming?
I first started getting the idea for The Body Electric while writing Shades of Earth, the last AtU novel. Amy and Elder have a little interaction with Earth, and it’s not positive. It made me start thinking: what was happening on Earth while Amy and Elder were in space? How did Earth change to become the kind of place where the events that happened in Shades of Earth happened?
Of course, I was also influenced by a lifetime of reading and SF movies–especially the works of Philip K. Dick. There are hints of Total Recall and Blade Runner in this book.
That’s insanely cool, and I think it’s a question more than one reader has wondered about– I certainly did! So, if you were transported into your book, which scene would you most want to reenact?
NONE OF THEM OMG EVERYONE IS ALWAYS ABOUT A CHAPTER AWAY FROM DEATH IN MY BOOKS. I want to stay right here, pants-less and on my couch, thank you very much.
That is a point very well made. On to other things! Your decision to self-publish The Body Electric has given you a lot of freedom to release and promote the book exactly the way you want, from getting hands-on in cover design to the choice to include amazing swag with your limited-edition paperback. Can you tell us a bit about that decision and your journey?
I did not come to self-publishing lightly, although now it seems like the clear, obvious choice. My agent helped me a TON in making this decision and in realizing the potential I had with doing this book exactly the right way for my readers. A big part of my motivation to self publish came from wanting to thank the people who made my career what it is: my readers and indie bookstores. So I made the Limited Edition–it has 30 pages of extra content, full color art cards, a coupon for an ebook copy, swag, and more. And I was able to choose the price, and keep it at $14.99. And the Limited Edition is only available from my local indie bookstore, but the Special Edition–with all the same content, minus the art cards and my signature–is available from any bookstore in America.
Of course, the book is available in lots of other formats: a cheaper paperback available through Amazon, e-book editions, etc.
The freedom of this has been amazing. I love having such a voice in every aspect, from the cover design, to the price, to literally everything. It’s been so freeing.
Seriousness aside: Pub Brawl!!!!! What weapon are you wielding?
My weapon is Jayne from Firefly. I win.
Yes, yes you do. I have nothing to add on that count. What are you reading right now?
I’ve just started reading The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin. I’m so jealous I didn’t write this book. It’s been brilliant–an engaging plot, crafted masterfully. [Amie: On Beth's recommendation I've just picked up a copy, can't wait to get stuck in!]
Beth, thank you so much for visiting! We can’t WAIT for The Body Electric!
Beth Revis is the NY Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe series. The complete trilogy is now available in more than 20 languages. A native of North Carolina, Beth’s new science fiction novel for teens, The Body Electric, will release October 6, 2014. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram.
Amie Kaufman is the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, a YA sci-fi novel out now from Disney-Hyperion (US) and Allen & Unwin (Australia). Book two, THIS SHATTERED WORLD is out in December! Her new trilogy will start with ILLUMINAE, coming from Random House/Knopf in 2015. She is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook, or visit the These Broken Stars website for exclusive sneak-peeks and contests. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and rescue dog.
“How do I get my eBook on Amazon?”
“Do I really need both printed books and eBooks?”
“What price should I charge for my eBook?”
There’s never been a better time to be an author. It’s an oft-stated truth, as the digital technology driving the publishing revolution now enables creative people around the globe to develop and market content in truly unique ways. But with anything new and unfamiliar, questions are sure to follow:
“Can you help me design a cover for my book?”
“How much money can I make from my eBook?”
The stigma of failure that used to be associated with self publishing is a thing of the past.
Digital delivery systems such as Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle bring your readers right to your doorstep. Gone too are the old barriers that kept self published authors from seeing their words in print. Digital printing and POD (print on demand) have expanded writers’ horizons. New mediums are being invented and old ones are being re-invented. New devices are being created at unprecedented rates.
“What’s an ISBN?”
“How can I distribute my book to Europe and other regions?”
With all the rapid changes in publishing swirling around, there’s another less-stated truth: there’s never been a more confusing time for authors, especially the ones who have chosen to self-publish. The process of taking your finished manuscript and putting it into the marketplace can be daunting for even the most tech-savvy author.
That’s one of the reasons why Blue Ash Publishing was created. We believe that self publishing doesn’t necessarily mean going it alone. Authors can rely on the resources of two publishing industry heavyweights – Writer’s Digest and BookBaby – who have the experience and knowhow to answer all the questions posed above – and then some!
The two companies that comprise Blue Ash provide everything an aspiring author needs to take their work directly to the marketplace. Blue Ash publishing packages are powered by BookBaby, so you can sell your eBook in the world’s biggest online bookstores — including Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and beyond. BookBaby is the sister company of CD Baby, the indie music powerhouse that’s helped musicians sell their music around the globe.
Meanwhile our writer’s resources are powered by Writer’s Digest, giving you access to their wealth of marketing and educational information. For more than 90 years, the experts at Writer’s Digest have been creating books, magazines, competitions, conferences and distance education materials for writers who want to polish their skills and hone their craft.
By providing answers to all your questions and taking care of the heavy lifting for all technology issues, we help writers concentrate on what they do best: Writing.
To help authors get a jump start on their self publishing efforts, we’ve put together a Blue Ash Publishing guide called:
Self Publishing 101 – The Quick Start Guide for Authors
It’s free to any author thinking seriously about pursuing the path of self publishing. The guide is available for download HERE.
Don’t Confuse Independent Publishing with Self-Publishing
Indie, Independent and Small Press Publishing Are So, Soooooo Different from Self-Publishing, Vanity Presses and Pay-to-Publish “Publishing”
I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a zillion times: yes, dear author-to-be (and those already published), there is a difference between self-publishing, vanity presses, pay-to-publish, a small press, and independent publishing. Don’t mix them up. Don’t get confused.
She quotes Wikipedia:
The majority of small presses are independent or indie publishers, thismeans that they are separate from the handful of major publishing house conglomerates, such as Random House or Hachette. The term ‘indie publisher’ should not be confused with ‘self-publisher’, which is where the author publishes only their own books.
Defined this way, these presses make up approximately half of the market share of the book publishing industry.
This is a great article if you're confused about any of these terms. Go and check it out.
Unfortunately, I feel the term independent publishing (Indie) is going the same way so many words have already gone--Verbicide. It is used so frequently in the wrong sense that it's original meaning is becoming lost.
Do you have an idea for a children’s book? Would you like to share your story with children around the world? Well, Laurie Wallmark is teaching WRITING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN at Princeton Adult School.
October 2 – November 6
In this course you’ll explore: the many joys of writing for children; types of children’s books; elements of a great story; tips to make your writing sparkle; traditional vs. self-publishing; printed books and e-books; avoiding scams, and much more.
Share it with your friends who may be starting out on their path to publishing.
Most of you already know Laurie, she was a wonderful Assistant Regional Advisor while I was Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI.
Here is a little bit about Laurie you might not know:
Laurie is pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has written numerous articles and stories in children’s magazines (Highlights, Spider, Cricket, and others). Her debut picture book, Ada, will be published by Creston Books in 2016.
(Kate Wilson of the wonderful Nosy Crow asked me to write a guest post for her on my experiences of self-publishing as a published author. For your info, she didn't know what those experiences were, so there was no direction or expectation. I have re-posted it here, with permission. Note that this is personal experience, not advice.)
Many writers, previously published or not, talk excitedly about why they enjoy self-publishing. Let me tell you why I don’t.
I’ve self-published (only as ebooks) three of my previously published YA novels and three adult non-fiction titles which hadn’t been published before. From these books I make a welcome income of around £250 a month – a figure that is remarkably constant. So, why have I not enjoyed it and why won’t I do it again?
It’s damned hard to sell fiction! (Over 90% of that £250 is from the non-fiction titles.) Publishers know this. They also know that high sales are not always about “quality”, which is precisely why very good novels can be rejected over and over. Non-fiction is easier because it’s easy to find your readers and for them to find your book. Take my book about writing a synopsis, for example; anyone looking for a book on writing a synopsis will Google “books on writing a synopsis” and, hey presto, Write a Great Synopsis appears. But if someone wants a novel, the chances of finding mine out of the available eleventy million are slim. This despite the fact that they had fab reviews and a few awards from their former lives.
But some novels do sell well. So why don’t mine? Because I do absolutely nothing to sell them. Why not? Well, this is the point. Several points.
First, time. I am too busy with other writing and public-speaking but, even if I weren’t, the necessary marketing takes far too long (for me) and goes on for too long after publication: the very time when I want to be writing another one. This is precisely why publishers tend only to work on publicity for a short while after publication: they have other books to work on. We may moan but it has to be like that – unless a book does phenomenally well at first, you have to keep working at selling it.
Second, I dislike the stuff I’d have to do to sell more books. Now, this is where you start leaping up and down saying, “But published authors have to do that, too!” Yes, and I do, but it’s different. When a publisher has invested money because they believe in your book, you obviously want to help them sell it. But when the only person who has actually committed any money is you, the selling part feels different. It’s a case of “I love my book so much that I published it – now you need to believe in me enough to buy it.” I can’t do it. Maybe I don’t believe in myself enough. Fine. I think books need more than the author believing in them. The author might be right and the book be fabulous, but I tend to be distrustful of strangers telling me they are wonderful so why should I expect others to believe me if I say I am? And I don’t want to spend time on forums just to sell more books.
Third, I love being part of a team. Yes, I’ve had my share of frustrating experiences in the course of 100 or so published books, but I enjoy the teamwork – even though I’m an introvert who loves working alone in a shed; I love the fact that other people put money and time and passion into selling my book. It gives me confidence and support. They won’t make money if they don’t sell my book and I still like and trust that model.
And I especially love that once I’ve written it and done my bit for the publicity machine and done the best I can for my book, I can let it go and write another.
See, I’m a writer, not a publisher. I may love control – the usual reason given for self-publishing – but I mostly want control over my words, not the rest. (That control, by the way, is never lost to a good editor, and I’ve been lucky with genius editors.) So, yes, I am pleased with the money I’ve earned from self-publishing and I love what I’ve learnt about the whole process, but now I’m going back to where I am happy to do battle for real control: my keyboard.
It’s all I want to do.
Nicola Morgan has written about 100 books, with half a dozen "traditional" publishers of various sizes from tiny to huge. She is a former chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland and advises hard-working writers on becoming and staying published, and on the marketing/publicity/events/behaviour that goes along with that. She has also just created BRAIN STICKS™, an original and huuuuuuge set of teaching resources about the brain and mental health.
As a hybrid author, I have one foot each in two very different worlds. I am traditionally published and as an author/publisher, I release my own books.
The worlds operate at tangents to each other and one point of contention is this question: how long does it take you to write a novel? Independent author Dean Wesley Smith has recently finished a year of blogging about his daily output, which includes emails, blog posts, novels and short stories. For example in June, Smith wrote 52,800 words of fiction, 14,700 nonfiction, 14,000 for blog posts, and 827 emails of about 22,900 words, for a grand total of 105,200 words.
However, traditionally published authors often agonize over a novel for two or three years. Or more.
Let’s just ask the question straight out? Which method of writing produces great novels? Both.
And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Not editors and not indies.
Then why is there such a wide range of discussion on the merits of the two viewpoints on the speed of writing?
Fast or Slow? From the Business POV
From a Traditional-POV, publishers generate over 50% of their income on their backlist, books that continue to sell 1000 copies a year and do so year-after-year. Yes, they need to add new books each year, but because their income isn’t starting at zero, they can be very selective in adding new books. Another strength of traditional publishers is that they have multiple sources of new stories each year, i.e. multiple authors. In fact, they will seldom put all their eggs in one basket, especially not yours. If you write quickly, a publisher will only take ONE of your mss in any given year, at least until you build a stellar reputation.
Writing the Aliens, Inc series was fast! Each book took a month to write and after comments, a week to revise. By contrast, a middle grade novel might take me a year to write.
By contrast, from a Business-POV, indie author/publishers need to write quickly. They need to quickly build a backlist that generates an ongoing income. One-book-wonders, or authors who only write one book every five years, would be foolish to go indie. Let’s say you need $1000 income from your books each month. If you only have one book out that one book MUST generate $1000 month-after-month. If, however, you have ten books out, each book must AVERAGE only $100 in sales, month-after-month. In any given month, Book 3 might sell zero and Book 9 might sell $1000. The key is that the books must AVERAGE only $100. If Book 5 contributes only $50, but does it consistently, month-after-month, that’s a valuable book for you. For a traditional publisher, though, that’s not enough income generated and they would put it out of print. (And some publishers are more wont to cut the lower producing books than others.)
Traditional publishers source stories from multiple sources, spreading the risk among many authors. Indie author/publishers have only one source of stories, and they must maximize their output.
Fast or Slow? From the Creative POV
As my grandchildren are learning to walk and run, it’s tempting to compare the age at which they take that first step. NOT FAIR! Each child–like each novel you write–develops at its own pace. Comparison does nothing but add unnecessary anxiety.
Thus, you’ll hear editors saying, “Take your time. Get it right.”
Of course, editors advise writers to slow down. They can’t handle ten books from you in one year. If you write ten in a year, you’ll likely need 5-10 publishers (if you can find them), at least until you build that reputation for blockbuster sales.
Is there value in slowing down? Yes and no. Yes, it’s good to take the time to write well. Speed CAN lead to sloppiness, but it doesn’t necessarily. On the other hand, if your normal writing speed is fast, and you manage to turn out good stories, then slowing down feels like being hobbled. For some, it’s boring to write slow and only work on one project at a time.
The Indie world emphasizes the need for speed. Dean Wesley Smith once asked a group of writers how many words they write in an hour. I shrugged. I could easily write a 1000-words in an hour. Then he suggested that I should be writing 8000 words/day, which would be 192,000 words or about 4 middle-grade novels (or two full-length adult novels) per month.
Wait. Does that math work? Yes.
But it’s also not that easy. When I know what I want to write—such as this blog post—I can easily turn out 1000 words per hour. But writing a novel is a different task. I like the analogy of a spider spinning a web. From her gut, she must create the raw materials of spider web silk, and then like an architect, she lays in the foundations of her web, hanging for her life from that slender silk while she does so. Once the foundation threads are laid, she spins more silk—from her very gut—and weaves a circular web on that foundation. She then lies in wait for a victim to arrive.
Novelists spin characters and conflicts from their very guts and soul. We lay in the foundation of a novel’s plot, and then spin a story around that foundation. Finally, we lay in wait for a reader to be captured by the story.
Once I get a foundation laid, I can spin out that 1000 words per hour. It’s that first part, creating the story’s silk from my very soul, that is hard. As the creator of the Novel Revision Retreat, I also understand the imperative of revising multiple times to get a story right. I teach and practice that a first draft tells you what the story is; the following drafts are for finding a way to tell the story in the most dramatic way possible to hold readers’ attention.
My feet are firmly in both worlds. I need to produce works so I can build my indie backlist and thus up my income levels. However, I also understand that my process is slower than I’d like.
I am working on various ways to boosting productivity, such as learning Scrivener. But in the end, I’m left somewhere in the middle, and I don’t think it’s a matter of straddling the fence.
Honor Your Own Process
Instead, I think I am honoring my own process. For blog posts and picture books, I can and do write fast. But for novels, the thinking process is much slower than my ability to type. MUCH slower. It might take me six to twelve months to do this next novel. I refuse to be intimidated by the Indie crowd into going faster. Likewise, one of the appeals of being a hybrid or indie author is that no one can force me to slow down. I don’t have to wait a year for an editor to get back to me with revision notes. I don’t have to wait for an editor who promises a contract for fourteen months, and then rejects the novel, sending me into a new round of hopeful submissions.
Slow writing doesn’t equal good.
Slow writing doesn’t equal bad.
Fast writing doesn’t equal good.
Fast writing doesn’t equal bad.
Instead, I will write at the pace each piece of work demands and allows.
Working with Deadlines
There will always be the Tyranny of the Urgent. This week I’ll be going to North Andover, MA to teach a Novel Revision Retreat and that means I must have the teaching materials done by Wednesday. That’s my writing focus this week.
Fortunately, other deadlines loom in the future and those deadlines will demand that other projects consume my attention. For traditional publishers, the deadlines are few and far between. For indie publishing, I need to have books come out about six months before publication so they can be sent for review. Can I delay a book a month? Easily. But I try to set a publication date and stick with that. It’s a business thing.
Some argue that if you can write quickly under a deadline, then you could do it anytime. Not for me. Because a deadline FOCUSES my writing and writing time in a way nothing else can do.
In other words, external deadlines also affect my output. I still honor what a piece of writing demands, but at the back of my mind, I know what that demand is. And when I add that to the deadlines, I can instinctively allow more or less time before a deadline for that piece.
Do You Work Fast or Slow?
Good. Write at the pace that works for you for any particular project.
Learn from productivity tips and use whatever software is most productive for you. Don’t be intimidated by editors who demand slow work, or contemporaries who rave about the benefits of writing fast. In the midst of the swirl of opinions, write. Your way. Your stories. As David Bayles and Ted Orland say in Art and Fear, “Your job is to learn to work on your work.” I’ll add: And do it at your own pace.
Here's what I find interesting about this: Jerry self-published his first Mama's Boyz book in 1996. And now he's illustrating a book for Scholastic and getting written up in Publishers Weekly! But it's not 1996 anymore. It's 2014. Jerry didn't go directly from self-publishing to working with a traditional publisher. In between he's worked as a cartoonist on graphic novels for Marvel and Harvey Comics, his cartoons have have been syndicated through King Features, where he also worked in sales, and he was the Editorial Director for the Sports Illustrated for Kids web site. He's also done covers for other authors' self-published books.
My point is, he did not self-publish a book and become some kind of over-night sensation. He maintained creative day jobs while working toward success. To me, this is a great and realistic career model.
I’m busy working on my presentation for The State of the Market Report that I’m giving at the NJSCBWI conference to kick off Sunday morning. The report is chuck full of statistics, survey answers from editors and agents, and lots of analyst. Since all of my time has been going into that report and not on my blog, I thought I would give you a glimpse.
Young Adult ebooks are doing really well and I know many of you are considering going the digitally root hoping to ride that wave. I was surprised how many digital publishers are out there and since this research taught me things, I thought you might be interested in seeing the list and the number of deals each had during the last year. Please note some publishers were not in business for the full year.
14 deals in the last 12 Astraea Press
12 deals in the last 12 months Bloomsbury Spark
11 deals in the last 12 months Vinspire
6 deals in the last 12 months Entangled
4 deals in the last 12 months Diversion Books
4 deals in the last 12 months Entranced
4 deals in the last 12 months Harlequin Teen
4 deals in the last 12 months Polis
3 deals in the last 12 months In This Together Media
3 deals in the last 12 months Lyrical Press
2 deals in the last 12 months Evernight Teen
2 deals in the last 12 months Inkspell
1 deal in the last 12 months Simon & Schuster Children’s
1 deal in the last 12 months Untreed Reads
1 deal in the last 12 months Champagne Books
1 deal in the last 12 Little, Brown Children’s
1 deal in the last 12 months Bold Strokes Books
1 deal in the last 12 Adaptive
1 deal in the last 12 months Midnight Frost
1 deal in the last 12 months Thought Catalog
1 deal in the last 12 months Fire & Ice
1 deal in the last 12 months Anaiah
1 deal in the last 12 months Spencer Hill Contemporary
1 deal in the last 12 months Month9Books
1 deal in the last 12 months Candlemark & Gleam
1 deal in the last 12 months TouchPoint Press
1 deal in the last 12 months Kindle Worlds
1 deal in the last 12 months Buzz Books USA
1 deal in the last 12 months
Now it is time to do your homework to see if any of them are a good fit for you.
" Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended."
– Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist and author of My Name is Not EasyRead a sample chapter.
With limited time to keep up on the business of writing and publishing, I have found myself turning to podcasts. A podcast is like a radio program, but you can play it on demand. To listen, I have the Pocket Casts Lite app on my iPhone; the free version allows me to set up five podcasts to follow. I listen while I’m at the gym or taking a walk using ear buds; I have a wireless bluetooth earbud setup, so I don’t have to worry about cords. Or, I plug into the auxiliary input on my car radio/cd system to listen. At home, I have a portable bluetooth speaker that sounds great. Of course, you’ll need to find a set of apps for your particular system. If you already have something set up to listen to music on your smart phone, just use that same thing for listening to podcasts.
Using Pocket Casts Lite, I can log onto the iTunes store and search podcasts to find something I want to listen to. My friend who write history nonfiction, tends to listen to history podcasts for tidbits that might spark an idea. No, really, she just listens to them for pleasure! If it sparks something, great. Almost any topic that interests you, there’s a podcast. Here, I’ll mention five podcasts that I’ve been listening to lately.
If you’re interested in just hearing authors talk about their books–and not the publishing side of it all–then you can look at podcast lists here or here, here or here.
Katie Davis’s Brain Burps is the longest running podcast about children’s books. Each week, she interviews someone about their work and publishing experience, provides a book review and gives tips. Find her on iTunes.
Cheryl Fusco Johnson takes a slightly different approach to podcasts by using a local access radio station, KRUU in Fairfield, Iowa for her show, The Studio. For her show, you must download files and put them on your smartphone like you would a music file. Her interviews are with a wide-ranging set of authors–always interesting.
One of my favorite podcast is Social Media Marketing with Michael Stelzner, which isn’t necessarily about book marketing, but about using social media in general. It comes from the folks at SocialMediaExaminer.com and some of their strategies are stellar tools for your book marketing. Look for it on iTunes.
There are strong podcasts for self-publishers, including Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn Podcast. She’s got a long record of interviewing the most successful self-publishers and being on the cutting edge of new developments.
But my favorite right now is Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. Yes, I was just interviewed on this podcast, but I have been listening to it for the last few months because of Simon’s great British accent. He’s got one of the best radio voices around right now. Simon’s interest in self-publishing is–of course–doing narration of audio books. But ont he podcast, eh talks to a wide range of authors about their publishing experiences.
What apps do you use to listen to podcasts? What is your favorite podcast?
With all the usual caveats that this is a for-fun unscientific quiz on a cybertown weblog, here's how the publishing plans of those intrepid people who voted on our How do you plan to publish your WIP? quiz compare to the intrepid people who voted on the same quiz in 2013.
Bad news first. That page on your website so lovingly curated and carefully updated with links to your published work? No one reads it. OK, maybe your Mom and an editor who wants to see samples of previous work, but no one else. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer and it certainly doesn’t mean humanity has lost interest in riveting tales or important topics like education, healthcare, and cat shampoo. It only means that you live and write in an age when the battle for attention is beyond ferocious. I, for one, am quite interested in your writing. Really. The thing is, I’m running to catch a plane. After that I’m facing a tough deadline, hurrying to get the kids from daycare, and—I’ll be honest—cuing up another episode of “Top of the Lake.” I could read some of your stuff later tonight, true, but at night I don’t care much for websites and scrolling to eternity. I want a book or an e-book.
The good news? With today’s digital publishing tools, you can easily transform your archive of work into an e-book. You not only can, you should. Articles, short stories, poems, books—your stuff is gathering e-dust in forgotten corners of the Web. Go find those favorites and (if you retain rights), breathe new life into them to create a unified and elegant product. Then—and here’s the radical bit—sell it. Your writing is a professional-caliber product, is it not? Then treat it like one, for heaven’s sake.
Now, you could produce your collection merely by cutting and pasting text files and clicking “enter,” but that would be unwise. Readers will detect haste and a lack of attention to their experience with the prose and digital page. There is also the matter of value. Pulling disparate works into one place and format provides some value, but you can do better. The real added value in an e-anthology are the ingredients that make it new and different. The meat is previously published works, yes, but with footnotes, postscripts, photos, videos, and links, the selections become something more. Got a funny anecdote about the writing process that you share at cocktail parties? Include it! Is there a substantial update to some political or scientific idea addressed in a story from 5 years ago? Let’s hear it.
Just so there’s zero confusion on this point: Your Digital Age collected works will not make you rich. There’s long tail potential, though. A few years from now, when you publish your latest terrific magazine story, someone, possibly even a handful of someones, will wonder what else you’ve written. Maybe they will jump online and buy a book you’ve published. If you don’t have any books and haven’t put together a compendium, they might make their way to your website, but that will be the end of it. (See above re: harsh reality of your mostly ignored website.) Yet what if those readers instead found this aesthetically produced collection of stories available for a fraction of what they paid for Mother’s Day flowers? They might just buy it.
Irrespective of potential sales, you will also have this wonderful thing: a product to share with friends and family who’ve been nagging you for years to tell them when and where to read your stuff. (Don’t worry, Mom doesn’t have to pay; you can gift the collection or send a password-protected version.) Besides, you may find, as I did, that the experience of assembling, rereading, and remastering some of the work you’re most proud of will provide a rare opportunity to reflect on your career, not as a constellation of unrelated assignments, but as a body of writing that rather resembles an accomplishment.
David Wolman is an author and a contributing editor at Wired. His new collection, FIRSTHAND, is out this month. He used Creatavist to produce it, but the book is also available for Kindle and other e-readers. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two children. You can follow him on Twitter @davidwolman.
This past week was finals week for me, both as a teacher and a graduate student. When I wasn’t grading student essays, I was cramming for my own exams and rushing to submit final portfolios. Imagine an out of shape 44-year-old baseball player sliding into home plate. Asί terminé.
I’m happy to say, though, that it wasn’t all pain, sweat, and skid marks. There were those queer little chapbooks that accompanied me during my end-of-the-quarter madness, offering momentary escapes, carcajadas, and poetic musings. I love me some libritos (AKA chapbooks). Aside from being easy-to-carry, they are quick reads and generally inexpensive to make and purchase. Although as a writer I have to say that putting a chapbook together no es cualquier cosita. Tiene su chiste. Tiene su magia.
Take Myriam Gurba’s latest chapbooks, Sweatsuits of the Damned (which won the Eli Coppola Memorial Chapbook Prize of 2013) and A Flower for that Bitch (the story formerly known as A Rose for Emily). Rumor has it there was some Frankensteinish electricity guiding the births of these strange lovely creatures.
Gurba Wielding Chapbook-Making Electricity
As always, Gurba's poetry and prose does not disappoint. Her “klassy” rewrite/re-envisioning of Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, for instance, lo tiene todo: crazy Southern bitches, a mysterious Mexican moso, butcher knives, smelly corpses, and critiques of old-school White privilege, tax evasion, and welfare. There are even warnings of the extreme dangers of not eating enough fiber (this chapbook is good for your health, Raza).
Faulkner’s famous 19th Century character Emily Grierson is the main protagonist in Gurba’s A Flower for that Bitch. But do not fret y’all, you won’t get stuck in the deep South in the post-Civil War era. That would be like having to watch a re-run of Birth of a Nation or Gone with the Wind or as Gurba eloquently sums up, that would be “some Django shit.” To lessen the trauma of the traumatic setting (Mississippi KKK town circa 1890's) Gurba provides us with a subversive re-scripting of Emily Grierson's vida loca. Best of all Gurba give us an orgy of anachronisms, such as sightings of KFC, Norman Bates, Bettie Davis taking a selfie, Christina Ricci in chains and calzones, Homer Simpson, Madonna, and a mention of “the Aztec cure-all: Vicks VapoRub.” Because everyone, even crazy peeps from the Southern post-Civil War era should know about and have access to that beloved Mexican panacea, VapoRu.
This librito, with a photocopied strand of Gurba's hair in the final pages, is too weird of a journey to recreate. You gotta buy and read it yourself to experience and believe it. You will laugh. You will freak out. You will say, "WTF?" If you cry, it will most likely be because you are laughing or because the stench of the smelly corpse in the story rose out of the pages like steam and messed with your eyes and your nostrils. I can't wait to teach "English" Literature again (hopefully soon), so that I can have students write a comparative essay between Faulkner's and Gurba's versions of this story.
Gurba's grade for fucking with Faulkner = A+.
Gurba’s other librito, Sweatsuits of the Damned,
está bonito, even if it is wearing a damned sweat suit. Since it’s a Radar Production and a prize winner, the chapbook has a cover made out of fancy cardboard and it is hand-stitched at the center. But don’t let that fool you, it has still got the ghettofabulous Gurba touch, as is evident in her following short poem:
Downward facing wassup dog?
Spread ‘em, hands against the wall.
I know it is a tad ridiculious, but isn't it great? When I asked Gurba how she comes up with all this wacky chapbook material, she FB messaged me back with the following: “I will write something that I’m pretty sure is unpublishable but something that I think would like to interact with people. I do believe that things we create enjoy interacting with society, and so I take creativity into my own hands and decide to self-publish. I do it because if I don’t do it, probs no one else will. Even if my art is shitty, it has a right to live. Just like so many unaborted babies who grow up to be shitty adults. I need to be engaged in projects. Otherwise, I feel a desperate sense of languishing. It’s like having homework! Adult homework.”
Sigh. I love Myriam. My girlfriend loves Myriam. Everyone I have ever shared Myriam’s work with ends up loving Myriam. Our dear dear Myriam Dearest.
My parents took my twin brother and sister and I on day trips to relatively desolate California missions where Spanish priests once enslaved native people and forced them to tend heirloom goats, make candles from rendered fats, contract poxes, and bury one another in mass graves that resembled capirotada: Mexican bread pudding.
I rejoiced during these childhood day trips to the missions.
During them, an odd quiet felt untouchable.
The smell of anciency seeped into my sweat suits.
I walked through oatmeal cookie crumble chapels and across bishops sleeping dreadfully beneath altar tiles.
I looked out tall doors, along stone veranda, to our minivan parked alone in the parking lot. I looked at the wooden crucifix standing in the parched crab grasses. Its lumber would burn if it got any hotter.
Indian ghosts rubbed against me. They were welcoming me psychically and whispering into my brain that they had suffered and died and that they liked my shoes.
Velcro, very innovative.
Myriam Gurba: As American As Capirotada
Myriam Gurba is the author of Dahlia Season (Manic D Press 2007), Wish You Were Me (Future Tense Press 2010), and several self-published things. She worked as an editorial assistant for On Our Backsand toured North America with Sister Spit. She irregularly blogs at lesbrain.wordpress.com. She is allergic to penicillin.Add a Comment
The following is a guest post from the grand prize winner of our 1st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards (featured in InkWell in the May/June 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest).
Judith Gille is the founder and owner of City People’s stores in Seattle, but her passion is writing about Mexican art and culture and immigration issues. Her articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angles Times, The Dallas Morning News, the Florida Sun-Sentinel, in magazines, online journals and numerous anthologies. Her memoir The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border was released by Davis Bay Press in October 2013.
In this post, Judith reflects on her unique experience in deciding to self-publish, and why she has been happier with the decision, more than she could ever be with a traditional publisher.
* * * * *
I signed up for the Writer’s Digest 2012 Conference in New York City with the goal of finding an agent to represent me and bring my nearly-finished memoir to a major publishing house.
Writer friends had described WD’s new Pitch Slam as the literary equivalent of speed dating. Since I’m modestly attractive, a fast talker, and had honed my pitch to three minute perfection, I figured I’d do okay.
By the time the conference was over, however, I’d made a complete about-face. I was no longer interested in finding an agent or going with a large publishing house. Based on what I heard from a number of different panelists (agents, editors and publishing experts), I was convinced that indie (or self) publishing was the direction for me. Here’s why I came to that conclusion, how I subsequently published my book, and why I haven’t regretted my decision for a single minute.
While the Pitch Slam was the big event everyone was hyped up about, I also found the panel discussions to be enlightening. It was the first time I’d attended a writer’s conference where self-publishing panels were being given equal time with the ever-popular agent and author panels. And guess what? The self-publishing types were just as enthusiastic (and maybe more so) about the future of publishing than the agents seemed to be. Literary agent and author advocate, April Eberhardt and Keith Ogorek of Author Solutions shed light on the good and bad news about the current state of traditional publishing that led to my change of heart.
Ms. Eberhardt expressed dismay at the state of traditional publishing. Few editors and agents, she said, were taking risks on unknown or emerging authors. I felt as if she was speaking directly to me when she said, “Quality manuscripts are not getting published,” and, “A tiny fraction of writers will ever be published by the traditional publishers.”
The other bad news, for me at least, was that I’d written a memoir. Word on the ground was that memoirs were no longer “de rigeur.” Unless you were a rock star or a lapsed Mormon, a refuge from a currently war-torn country or the victim of incest, chances were slim any editor would be interested. Memoirs written by middle-aged white women were a “dime a dozen,” according to one agent. What agents were looking for was prescriptive nonfiction written by experts with built-in audiences, YA books and genre novels. Thrillers, mysteries, and romances were high on their lists. A semi-literary memoir about Mexican immigrants was not.
I’d gone to the conference thinking I had at least a 50-50 chance of getting an agent’s attention but have since learned that the odds are steep: most of us madly pitching our manuscripts to agents that weekend would probably never land a book deal with a major publisher. So why bother to attend these conferences? Because you can learn about other paths to publishing, and make your dream come true all by yourself.
I learned from Keith Ogorek’s panelon Navigating the World of Self-Publishing, and by talking to a number of representatives for independent publishers, that self-publishing was the fastest growing segment of the industry. Every week companies were sprouting up to meet the demand in the independent market. Even the big guys wanted in: Simon & Schuster was developing a self-publishing arm (Archway Publishing), Amazon had hired Larry Kirshbaum to head up Amazon Publishing, and the following July, Penguin would buy Author Solutions for $116 million.
Print-on-demand (POD) had finally been perfected to such a point that it was difficult to tell if a book was produced via POD or printed on an offset press. It was faster, easier and cheaper to create a book yourself than ever before. At the WD conference, tables were set up in a hallway where Abbott Press and a number other self-publishing companies were showing off their wares. Examples of books that looked professionally produced and felt good in your hands abounded.
My own prejudice against self-publishing began to wane.
Back home I began researching my options. I looked into the various packages offered by Author Solutions, Archway and Abbott Press. I studied the websites of Bookbaby, CreateSpace, Smashwords and Lulu to see what they had to offer. For various reasons, most of them having to do with the cost, I decided not to use the services of any of the self-publishing companies. I wanted complete control of my product and royalties and figured I could get more bang for my buck by doing it myself. My husband had years of experience in the printing industry and had worked with many small publishers. I’d run my own retail business for thirty-five years and I knew about marketing. Between the two of us we had the skill and expertise to do it.
So, in the summer of 2013, we registered Davis Bay Press with the state of Washington. A few days later I hired a copy-editor and a book designer, and signed Lightning Source on to print 1500 books. By late September my book, The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border, was published in e-book form and shortly afterwards in paperback. (I probably could have done it even more quickly if I hadn’t also been working full-time at my day job.)
We officially launched the book in November. More than two hundred people packed the hall at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle that night and we threw a festive Mexican-style fiesta with Mexican fare from the local taco truck and lots of tequila afterwards. We sold lots of books that night. As a matter of fact, in less than six months we’ve sold more than half the books we ordered (in only seven stores) and many more on Kindle.
Despite the long lines at that Pitch Slam at the Writer’s Digest 2012 conference, and lots of authors going way beyond their allotted three minutes, I did manage to successfully pitch seven agents. All of them asked to see the manuscript. Several actually got back to me. Three of them referred to the book as “the next Under the Tuscan Sun.” Unfortunately, none of them offered to represent me. But I’m okay with that.
I’m okay with it because I produced a beautiful, award-winning memoir that is selling well for an independently published book. It’s second only to Tony Cohan’s On Mexican Time for the number positive reviews on Amazon in the Mexican travel category. I’ve already recouped my initial investment, and not a day goes by that I don’t get an email, a note on Facebook or a card in the mail from someone who read it and wants to tell me how much they loved it.
Maybe I could have gotten a small advance and I might have sold more books if a traditional publisher had picked it up. But I doubt if the Mexican family I write about would be benefiting from the book’s success like they are today if one had. Because all of the proceeds from the book sales in Mexico go to them.
The “windfall” enables Lupe to buy shoes for her kids and hire tutors for her daughter who is struggling in school. It helped the entire Cordova-Rodriguez clan take their first-ever vacation—to the beaches of Zihuatanejo in December. Seeing photos of my Mexican godchildren romping in the surf and my friend Gracia and her husband (neither of whom had ever seen the ocean before) dancing in the sand brought me more happiness than a $2,000 advance from a big publishing house ever could have.
I'm thrilled to have a guest post from Natalie Whipple, one of my former clients, who is now a "hybrid" author with experience with both traditional and self-publishing. She is the author of Transparent and House of Ivy & Sorrow, which comes out today, and Relax, I'm a Ninja, which will come out in June! Here's Natalie's post:
There is a lot of talk online about legacy versus indie publishing and which is better. People seem to spend so much time focused on defending one side or the other, that the details of what each path actually entails get skewed or lost entirely.
To me, arguing which is “better” is a lot like fighting over whether basketball, baseball, or football is the superior sport. They are all sports, they all have a fan base, and they all bring enjoyment to the people who choose to participate in them. Is there really a “better”? Well, no. They’re just different. Same with legacy and indie publishing.
Maybe I see it this way because I’ve chosen to venture into both legacy and indie publishing. I’m what people are now calling a “hybrid” author. So since I’ve been on both sides, today I want to give out neutral, practical information on the difference between Legacy and Indie. I’ll leave it up to you guys to decide what you think is more advantageous or preferable or whatever.
Most people think of authors selling their books, but really it’s more about selling your creative rights in legacy publishing. A publisher wants to buy your rights to reproduce your words in a certain form—usually a book form. There are also other rights you can sell, like electronic (ebook), cinematic, audio, and translation. In the legacy model, a writer usually obtains an agent who specializes in selling and drawing up fair contracts for these various rights. You get a percentage of profit, your agent gets a cut, and of course so does the publisher.
In indie publishing, a writer keeps all their rights and uses them as they see fit. You could say an indie sells their books because of that. That means they get almost all the profit to themselves, but also have to do all the work themselves as well. Indies effectively become a small publisher of their own work. If they want to sell in audio book format, they have to hire the voice actor and make it happen (yes, you can do that). If they want to translate their novel into Spanish, they can hire someone to do that. Their rights are in their hands, for better or worse.
Control As alluded to in the previous section, indie publishing is all about control. The writer is in charge. While most authors hire out editors and designers, it’s still the writer who chooses who to work with and what the final product looks like. The writer controls price, marketing, design, everything.
In legacy, a writer gives up a lot of control when they sell rights. Your publisher will decide your cover, the price of the novel, the marketing scope. They will decide when your book releases and when they want to put it out of print. You can argue, but they don’t have to listen.
Payment Legacy authors receive payment in two ways—advance against royalties, and then royalties if the novel “earns out its advance.” Your contract will contain royalty rates for each book format they purchased rights for. Advances are usually paid in segments upon contract signing, D&A, and publication. If you earn royalties, you may see a check every 6 months, sometimes once quarterly.
Indie writers do not receive advances, but begin to immediately make “royalty” on their work. The royalty received is much higher—usually 60-70% (as opposed to 6-25% legacy depending on format). Online distributers usually pay monthly if a threshold of income is achieved (from $10-100 depending on the place), otherwise it will be held to the next month.
Cost To Author
Legacy publishing has very little upfront cost to an aspiring writer (unless you consider time a cost, which is something to consider). Agents don’t take payments, but receive commission upon selling rights to your work. One you sell a novel, you may be paying for your own travel or marketing materials, but overall the cost can be almost zero if you don’t choose to do those things.
Indie publishing does have an upfront cost. The average for a quality product is around $1500 for a first novel, most of which goes to a freelance editor. Other costs can include interior and cover design, ebook formatting, ISBN purchasing, business license, marketing, purchasing hard copy inventory, etc.
Indie publishing can reach many markets it couldn’t previously, thanks to online marketplaces and reduced cost of production in the digital age. An indie writer can make their book available globally without having to own a lot of costly inventory. Legacy publishing still has a leg up in the bookstore and library area, having deep connections and filters that are easy for store/library buyers to use. Though the stigma on indie is slowly lifting, there is still a trust built between established publishers and store/library buyers.
Legacy publishing, in theory, gives an author a marketing plan they wouldn’t be able to accomplish on their own. At minimum, they submit their novels to trade reviewers, make them available in the publisher’s seasonal catalog, and make them more visible to store/library buyers who then champion those books to customers. At best (if you are very lucky), legacy publishers send authors on tour, get them big ad spaces in movie theaters, have features in well-known magazines, get radio and TV spots, etc.
Indie writers are responsible for their own marketing, and it’s really a matter of how much money and hustling they want to put into it. An indie can get ad space—it’s just very pricey. They can get trade reviews and other visibility. They can plan their own tours. They just have to foot the bill for everything. So it’s about maximizing visibility at a reasonable cost.
I hope this clears up some of the differences with legacy and indie publishing. But more than that, I hope it helps people see that both avenues have their pros and cons and aren’t necessarily against each other. Publishing is a hard business, no matter how you decide to tackle it. But I personally have found things to love in both methods, and I hope more writers begin to see that they have options and they don’t need to be afraid to explore them.
The first time I heard the term “publishing agnostic” was in November of 2011 at the Park Plaza hotel in Boston. Barry Eisler used it during a talk he gave to the GrubStreet community as part of our NEA-funded Publish it Forward series. He had shocked the publishing world by turning down a very lucrative book contract from St. Martins arguing that he could do better on his own. But by November he had decided to publish with Amazon instead.
Some fellow writers and pundits criticized this move to Amazon. “What gives? “ They asked. “We thought you had defected to the self-publishing club.” It was by way of explaining his move from St. Martins to self-publishing to Amazon that Barry described himself as agnostic.
As one definition goes, an agnostic is someone who holds neither of two opposing positions. I think that’s how Barry was using the term. He was making the point that his decision to self-publish in the first place wasn’t about his endorsement or love of self-publishing, but rather about choosing the best way to reach his goals. When a new pathway emerged which better served those goals, he felt no conflict about changing tactics.
But Barry, whether he realized it or not, in using a term with deeply religious connotations, was also asking us – a room full of believers – to be doubters. He was asking us to question our blind faith in what almost every serious writer we’d worked with up until that point had ever wanted: a book deal with a traditional publisher. The bigger the publishing house, the better.
And it wasn’t just our writers. It was us, the teachers at and leaders of a major independent writing center. Having existed in the margins in our early years, we were understandably hungry for a track record, for evidence that our work mattered. And so we celebrated hugely when one of our flock got a story in the Atlantic Monthly or a book deal with Simon and Schuster. In 2003, we launched our first Muse and Marketplace Conference and soon began inviting literary agents and publishers to Boston to meet our writers. Many book deals followed.
After Barry’s talk, I started to wonder what being publishing agnostic might mean to us as an organization, and to writers everywhere. When the world is changing fast under your feet, you need to find your footing before you can decide where to go. We therefore started articulating our values and principles.
Here’s where we landed:
Writing excellence is paramount because it is “good” writing that transforms lives and the world and entertains at the highest level. We can debate what “good” means, but for us it’s about the search for truth, hard work, and dedication to the craft no matter the genre.
We are grown-ups. It’s up to each of us as writers and as the professionals supporting writers to understand and own the entire publishing process. It’s incumbent on each of us to engage in honest self-assessment to determine goals and objectives, strengths and weaknesses.
Community is the glue. Writing is a lonely, difficult pursuit. Finding your people and being as generous as possible with them is key.
Success in this space isn’t just measured monetarily. Money is nice of course when it means book sales for authors and the ability of a place like GrubStreet to provide more jobs, scholarships and free programming, but it’s not the only or most important measure.
Choice is good, especially choice which respects the central role of writers and places control and financial equity in their hands.
These are the things we think about now when evaluating what kinds of programs to offer or who to invite to our Muse and Marketplace conference. This year, we’ll be welcoming A-list literary agents, editors from Random House and Penguin, along side e-publishers like Vook and Amazon. We’ll have an editor from Ploughshares and another from Electric Literature. As we always do, we’ll have a bookseller on hand selling the books of our visiting authors, but we’ll also be running an independent author shop for any participant or small press attending the conference. In short, we’ll be hosting a hybrid conference, inclusive of the many choices and pathways available to authors today.
Most of our writers seem to want the traditional path and that’s great, but it’s our responsibility as a professional development organization for writers to educate them about all pathways, especially since the industry is changing before our eyes. In our own work and what we bring to writers we now preach agnosticism and save our blind faith for the power and necessity of words.
Eve Bridburg is the founder and Executive Director of GrubStreet, one the country’s leading creative writing centers. A former literary agent, Eve developed, edited and sold a wide variety of books to major publishers before returning four years ago to GrubStreet to oversee an expansion in programming designed to better equip writers to thrive in the digital age. She has presented widely about publishing at conferences and writes a monthly blog post called Publish it Forward which can be found at Grubdaily.org
28.Mystery Spring Fling, by Gemma Halliday, Sibel Hodge, Kathleen Bacus, Christina A. Burke, Leslie Langtry, Aimee Gilchrist, Jennifer Fischetto, T. Sue VerSteeg, Maria Grazia Swan, Traci Andrighetti (BNID: 2940045768450)
29.Ultimate SEAL Collection, by Sharon Hamilton (BNID: 2940149309016)
30.Love and Danger, by Amy Gamet (ISBN: 9780988218253)
31.Dare to Desire, by Carly Phillips (BNID: 2940149343454)
32.The Virtuous Life of a Christ-Centered Wife, by Darlene Schacht (ASIN: B00HZFSVLI)
33.Knox: Volume 1, by Cassia Leo (BNID: 2940149395767)
34.Hardwired, by Meredith Wild (ISBN: 9780989768429)
35.Alphas After Dark, by Vivian Arend, Deanna Chase, Marie Hall, Crista McHugh, M. Malone, SM Reine, Roxie Rivera, Kit Rocha, Mimi Strong (Bayou Moon; ISBN: 9781940299136)
Writer’s Digest wants to recognize the hard work that you have been putting into your book. That’s why, every year, we look for the best from authors in their self-publishing ventures. Whether you’re a professional writer, a part-time freelancer, or a self-starter, WD is looking for self-published books for the 22nd Annual Self-Published Book Awards, exclusively for self-published work.
No matter what your book is geared towards, we have a category for you. Enter today in Genre Fiction, Mainstream/Literary Fiction, Nonfiction, Inspirational (Spiritual, New Age), Life Stories (Autobiographies, Biographies, Family Histories, Memoirs), Children’s Picture Books, Middle Grade/Young Adult Fiction, Reference Books (Directories, Encyclopedias, Guide Books), and Poetry. The entry fee is just $110, and $85 for any additional entries. But hurry, the deadline is May 1!
A first-place winner will be chosen for each one of these categories (9 total). Each first-place winner will receive $1,000 in cash and promotion in Writer’s Digest (the March/April 2015 issue), along with numerous other prizes, including, a one-year membership to Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN) and a guaranteed review in Midwest Book Review.
One Grand Prize winner will receive $3,000 in cash, plus a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference. The winner will also receive promotion in Writer’s Digest (the March/April 2015 issue), plus a one-year membership to Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), a Marketplace Readiness Assessment Consult ($450) value by Amy Collins, and much more.
Honorable mentions receive $50 worth of WD Books and promotion on www.writersdigest.com. All entrants receive a brief commentary from one of our judges, who are all current industry professionals.
A year ago, I asked a simple question: how do you plan to publish your work-in-progress?
And now, inspired my long-running poll about buying e-books, I'm asking agin. Do you think the times have changed? Are more people willing to go straight to self-publishing? Are people reconsidering the benefits of traditional publication?
We shall see. Poll below. If you're reading this on a feed reader or via e-mail, please click through to see it.