13 July 2011

Publishing Options: Be Informed

I recently looked into the discussions under 'writers' at LinkedIn, a site I've been a member of for a long time, but mostly just because there was a little 'why not' to it... I set my profile up, then accepted invitations as they came—I didn't use it. I do this a lot—there is a learning curve, so if the functionality of it isn't immediately apparent, I don't take the time to learn.

Handtiegelpresse source
I forget what tempted me to look. I'd actually heard sort of negative things, but I got curious and checked out a few discussions. I felt like I had an informative angle on a few, so I joined...

You know... there is definitely a dichotomy over there, but it seems to me there is a reverse snobbism going on about self-publishing. It used to be the traditionally published folks looked down their noses at self publishing... Now it is the self-publishing looking down their noses at the people going traditional (particularly the agent piece: "why share your profits?!"). I have been a little dumbfounded. I think I've lost much of my original bias about self publishing, but I think there are very rational reasons for each direction (and a number of small publishing options opening up that have some of the good and some of the bad from each side) and that our job as authors is to weigh it all and decide what works FOR US, and for pete's sake, don't judge somebody else for the choice they make!

So I thought maybe I'd post some of the strengths, weaknesses and considerations of each, and if any of you have points to add, jump on in...

Traditional Publishing

☻This is still the surest route into a brick and mortar bookstore, the ONLY route into the chains.
☻They have a machine... a system... people whose sole job it is to do each piece—they are pros.
☻They have brand recognition even if you don't yet have name recognition.
☻This is probably the only way you will get an advance. There are SOME small pub exceptions, but not many.
☻There is prestige here. Your book has a veritable stamp of 'good enough to publish'.
☻In terms of getting a book into the hands of readers, this is the most likely route to reach A LOT of people. (it is probably the only way into most libraries; yes, there are exceptions, and it is the mostly likely way to get BIG reviews)

☻This industry runs the speed of maple syrup in January in Michigan, which is to say SLOW. It is often more than a year from contract to publication, and just getting to the contract has multiple tiers of hoops.
☻Working with pros means yielding to them on artwork, title... there may or may not even be author input. You have to let go of a fair bit of control.
☻Traditional publishers have gotten skittish about new authors in these uncertain times for the industry. It really takes a GREAT book to break through. And even then, there is a ton of work finding the PLACE to break through.
☻This branch of the industry is slowest to adapt and change, and the industry broadly is adapting and changing FAST—there is some worry this piece won't keep up.
☻As a percentage of sales, this is where the author keeps the least. In fact it is paltry. Trade paperback can be as low as 6%.

Other Considerations
☻Theoretically, the increased units should balance the decreased percentage, so money has historically been a little better for all but a few; however, this seems to be changing fast as the stigma comes off self pub--in fact I'd venture to say MORE books make more self-pubbing than traditional pubbing--it really is a weighing for the author--no wrong answer--do you want more readers or more money?
☻Working with a professional editor is a give and take. Some people can do this, others struggle. I'd argue it is good for all of us because we learn and grow, but you may disagree.


☻Author retains full control for the quality of the work.
☻Speed is largely author-controlled. The publishing systems add on a matter of weeks, no more, to when the author has the work ready.
☻Author retains rights (usually, read the fine print)
☻Author controls price (within limits, but those limits are pretty darned generous—Amazon, for instance, has a $.99 low point)
☻Percentage author keeps is highest possible~around 70%--though check by domain.
☻This is a great option for books that don't fall tidily onto a specific shelf—genre rule breakers, length breakers.
☻It is ALSO a great option if something is SUPER timely, because things are so much faster to get out—this is more applicable to non-fiction, but I think Rita Skeeter used it to print The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore (printed only 4 weeks after he died)

☻Author retains full responsibility for the quality of the work. [this means the author alone ensures it is adequately cleaned, GOOD, edited, perfected+arranges all art, arranges formatting, deals with which ever publishing system they believe is best (which requires a ton of research)
☻Work will NOT be in bookstores, libraries, reviewed in national or international media (unless by fluke it hits phenomenal sales, and usually then, author needs to do it many times—like Amanda Whatserface)
☻There can be costs involved—do your research. And some services offer varied costs (CreateSpace is one)--be sure to shop whether you want THEM to do pieces or whether you want to hire professionals to do them, but it is highly likely you need to pay (or trade, or make a deal) someone for both editing and artwork. (and possibly formatting)

Other Considerations
☻You decide when you are ready. This can be good, but it can also be VERY VERY bad. Who among us hasn't fallen in love with our work, deeply and truly, only to have moments of angst a month later that we can't believe we missed this or that... is there an author out there who has NOT thought 'what the hell was I thinking?' but besides that, I think writers are prone to an arrogance of 'well I know'. There is NOT a substitute for the rounds and rounds of feedback that force us to improve. And self-publishing makes it very easy to jump off that horse when really we haven't completed our laps. A hired editor will give suggestions, but ultimately they work for YOU, and will tell you what you want to hear when they feel they've done all THEY can to help (which is frankly not always enough). A publishing editor works for the publisher and will SAY if it's not done yet.

Small Publishing: note—these are making a huge surge in the rise in eBooks and feasibility of Print on Demand (PoD). Publishing used to have fixed costs that made tiny publishers near impossible, and small publishers not terribly cost effective. Ebooks and PoD systems have made this a more viable cog in the system. I'd like to thank Ciara Knight and her post on Black Opal Books yesterday for her list of questions: what you want to know about these small publishers (and Black Opal's answers) if you think you might be in the market for a small publisher.

☻You get the reality check of a gatekeeper, but without the microscope 'must be a breakout bestseller to consider' meter against which you're measured.
☻You get to collaborate with a professional editor (team of editors, even) to make sure your book is the best it can be.
☻You get a great deal of say on your artwork and title, but professional advice if you want it.
☻If your book is close to ready when the match is made, the time to publication can be a few months instead of closer to a year.
☻Many will produce print as well as eBooks (though not all) and will work with you to get into Indy bookstores.
☻They are often more flexible about genre lines, I believe it was Karen Gowen who said WiDo actively seeks books where this is the reason for trouble with traditional publishing--when books cross genres or come up with a brand new one, they are hard to traditionally market; this is a great niche for these publishers to hit--fabulous stories traditional publishers don't know what to do with.
☻The percentage to the author is higher—Black Pearl for instance said 45% to 70% depending on units sold (I am guessing that lower at first is to recoup their costs of getting it edited and produced, which honestly, seems fair)
☻You often (usually, even) don't need an agent--you can send directly.

☻There are a lot of them (small publishers, not weaknesses), and MANY are new. Buyer beware, as while most are probably great, there are many that really only want a cut of what amounts to your self-publishing profits, or to scam you into purchasing their editing or art services. Make sure the details in the contract MAKE SENSE. In fact you'd be well advised to have a lawyer look (or an agent--that is one of the things they do best). Look up Predators and Editors, but this is not sufficient, as brand new companies won't be there regardless. Read the fine print. Where possible, work with companies where you know and trust someone or have a referral from someone you really trust.
☻Some charge for services such as artwork or editing. These are probably not the options you want to work with, though some of these, in return, give you a bigger cut, so if you sold really well, it might be worth it. Take the time to calculate the break-even—how many units do you need to sell to pay back that editing charge? Because this is one disguise Vanity Publishing seems to be wearing these days.
☻You still are not going to make a chain bookshelf.
☻More work is left to the author for alerting libraries and such.
☻You're unlikely to get an advance. If you do get one, it will be small.

Other Considerations
☻This might be a brilliant stepping stone. I believe BOTH people who are intent on traditional AND people headed to self publishing have things they can do here. The former can get publishing credits, get their name out, learn the ropes, prove they can SELL BOOKS... the latter can learn the logistics of publishing, what a DONE book really looks like... I honestly think for brand new authors, this might be the smartest starting place. But I won't judge you if you disagree.

So there we have it... a basic primer on publishing options. There are obviously a lot more options (several steps between small publisher and the big traditional (specialized genre presses, regional presses), and even among the self-publishing options, there is huge variation... but these are the basics as I understand them...


Matthew MacNish said...

Excellent summary here, Hart. Some of this may seem obvious, but it's great to have it all in one place.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Well summed up! I'm planning to have an e-pub release of a Myrtle Clover novel in a month. I think it's something that has to be explored. Think I'll just continue publishing books both ways and see what happens.

erica and christy said...

On the topic of self-publishing, I see people who have really researched their options, worked diligently on their books, and did what they could to make them their best before going ahead. I've seen other people who said "finished first draft, editing tomorrow, buy yours on Monday!" or some variation of that and I just can't believe it's a product I want to invest in. Not to mention it could ruin their reputation.

And even though all authors need to market themselves, it isn't an option NOT to with self-publishing. Other than a couple local bookstores and libraries, you won't get your book on shelves. I know if left to my own devices, I'd sell about 4 books. ;)

Thanks for the viewpoints!

Hart Johnson said...

Thanks, Matt!

Elizabeth--Is Ellen part of the Myrtle Clover stuff, or are you doing that on your own? I think it's ESPECIALLY a great option for your formerly published, out of print stuff. And yeah... I suspect I may walk both lines, too.

Erica-I totally agree with you. I've seen the self-pubbed both ways, and it makes it really daunting to think about weeding. I'd love a review system for that, but haven't seen one yet. And I think you could sell more than that--you do well with the blogging. With YA romance though, I think you are better off publishin... in fact I suspect you could find a parallel system to what I have going with the cozies (research publishers and find CALLS for certain kinds of stories... write them, and submit.)

VR Barkowski said...

Wow, what an amazing pro/con list - thank you! It's a great time to be a writer because there *are* so many options open to us.

Personally, I don't want to control every aspect of the process, all I want to do is write, so traditional publishing appeals to me. That's not to say I won't change my mind in a few years when I have five or six manuscripts stuck under my bed. But publishing continues to be in constant flux. Who's to say where things will be even a year from now?

Julie Musil said...

What an excellent, well thought out post. I'm bookmarking this page!

Laura Pauling said...

I agree. I don't like the reverse snobbery at all. I think there is room for both traditional and self publishing. But I do think it takes just as much research to get a book traditionally published - researching agents, how to write query letters, synopsis...etc. With self publishing the research is put into the how, when and why. And I do believe that it takes just as much marketing on the author's part with a traditionally published book - esp. if your book isn't the lead title.

I love how you laid it all out!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm using the first book,a backlist title, of the Myrtle series and a second book that I wrote for the Myrtle series that Midnight Ink didn't pick up. We'll see how it goes! But I had to write the publisher and make sure I had my rights to the characters back (I did.) :)

Hart Johnson said...

VR-Thank you! I have more of my path focused traditionally, too, honestly--partially because I think for mystery, it is still the best option. I DO have a pile of manuscripts, but I know they mostly aren't ready for ANY form of publishing, so I will keep plugging away.

Julie-thank you!

Laura-it's true--there is a ton of research on traditional, too, and a ton of promo. I feel though, that the consequences of failed research on traditional are less devastating (spun wheels and rejection letters compared to lost rights and scams) Thank you!

Hart Johnson said...

Elizabeth-that's great! Very glad you got all your rights back, and I think having two titles right from the start should definitely help for a jump start--maybe have one cheap and the other cost more.

Ciara said...

I didn't know about this blog. This is great.

I'll have a tab on my blog with all of the interviews listed. This should make it easy for everyone to compare the small presses.

Everyone needs to remember that it is a personal choice. I've been offered several contracts from various press/e-pub/mid-size pub houses. I made the decision best for me. Don't let anyone put you down for your decision no matter what. It's ultimately your career.
This was a fantastic post, Hart. Thanks.

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent post. I'm exploring all these options with two separate manuscripts. It will be interesting for me to see how it all shakes out. However it does, I'm so glad publishing is finally moving and changing. It's time for all of us to grow.

Anne R. Allen said...

Very nicely done summary. I was going to do a post like this, but now I don't have to.

As Elizabeth/Riley says above, there is also the option of doing a combination approach. I'm going to have a guest blogpost this week from Kim Wright, who has a literary novel with Hachette, but is using a small press for a nonfic book and is planning to self-pub a new series in Big Six-banned, but wildly popular genre (chick lit.) I think the "one from column A; one from column B" approach may be the best of all.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

To be or not to be...that is the question...

Hart Johnson said...

Ciara-AH! Excellent resource then! Fabulous!

Carol-I hear there are new mystery imprints at a couple of the biggies, just so you knwo! But good luck!

Anne-thank you! And I'm not sure I've met you before, so welcome! I also am going to maybe do a mix, so I strongly support that route.

Unknown said...

Well put. GREAT article. I love how you detail the pros and cons associated with each avenue. There's so much to consider in this rapidly changing market. Sometimes, I think authors feel like their heads are spinning - mine included.

Jenny Milchman said...

Excellent, balanced view, Hart! I wonder how much really has changed from this now that it is spring 2012? Maybe not much...

Hart Johnson said...

HA! Just read as of 2013 and it STILL rings fairly true to me. So I'm patting my back. Or my bum. Or something.