Author’s Choice: How to publish

Author’s Choice: How to publish

A few weeks ago I attended a self-publishing class put on by Beth Jusino. She had some great insight into all aspects of the publishing and self-publishing process.

As I (and many of you) have discovered, writing a book is often the first step in a very long journey. Depending on why you started writing in the first place, you probably want to publish your work. Some of you may write for writing’s sake, in which case, great! Sit back and have a beer. For the rest of us, there are lots more decisions to make.

Does the next step in your journey take you through traditional publishing, indie publishing, or self-publishing? Well, it depends in large part on what you hope to get from your publishing experience.

Traditional Publishing:

Good for: Authors who want to work with a team of professionals, who want help with pre-release marketing, who are looking for no up-front financial cost and hopefully some up-front royalties, a feeling of validation from getting a “book deal” and making it past the gatekeepers.

Bad for: Control over the publishing process, a quick turn-around (your book will likely be published 12-18 months from when you turn in your manuscript), post-release publicity, authors who have a unique concept that doesn’t fit in an easy marketing box.

Small-Press/Indie Publishing:

Good for: Authors who have a project in a niche market, who want to have a personal connection with their editorial and publishing team, who want to make connections with indie bookstores, who want to submit directly to a publisher without going through an agent.

Bad for: Certainty in quality of editing, publicity, and the book itself. Small or indie presses vary wildly in quality, the degree of vetting, even financial stability. Make sure to check out the quality of books, covers, interior design, etc. before committing to a small press.

Self-Publishing:

Good for: Authors who want to maximize the revenue they derive from their work,  who want complete control over their work, who want a quick turn-around on their project.

Bad for: Authors who don’t want to learn all the tech stuff or make decisions about each step of the publishing process, who can’t make an up-front investment, who don’t want to select and vet their freelance vendors.

There are a lot of trade-offs in each type of publishing, so it’s worth a serious heart-to-heart with yourself about why you are publishing and what you hope to get from your book.

Another eye-opening aspect of the various options had to do with the money!

Beth went over the differences, dollar for dollar, between traditional and self-publishing. An example for a print paperback and ebook is below. Self-publishing nets an author more money every time, so that’s certainly a factor to consider!

publishing costs

Ultimately, I decided to go the small-press route. I still have one publisher considering my manuscript and I sent our queries to four more over the weekend. I like the idea of working with professionals for my first book, since I don’t have a strong sense of what industry standards are yet. I like that I wouldn’t have to take the time or jump through the hoops to get an agent, and that I wouldn’t have to make an up-front financial investment.

Everyone is different, and so each route is a legitimate choice for certain folks. But it’s exciting to be publishing in an era where we have so many choices!

 

Featured image by GoXenuReviews, cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Book Marketing from a Traditional Publishing Perspective

Book Marketing from a Traditional Publishing Perspective

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I recently took a class at the Hugo House on book marketing. While I’ve immersed myself in the world of social media marketing and “author platform building,” I had zero idea about traditional book marketing before I took Alice Acheson‘s class.

I’ve heard that as a new author, even if you are luckily enough to get a traditional publishing deal, the publisher won’t help you with marketing. Now, maybe this is true in the sense that they are not going to be spending thousands of dollars on a cross-U.S. book tour, but they will do a few things for you. You know, the basics. If you self-publish, you have to do all of that yourself, so even if you self-publish, it’s worth understanding what the marketing basics are for traditional publishers.

Alice explained that an average print run for a new author is 5,000 books. You can expect that your publisher will budget about a “buck a book,” for marketing, publicity, and advertising. That’s not a huge budget, but if it’s used wisely, it can do some real good.

So what does a traditional publisher do to market and promote your book? The information I gained from can be best communicated in a timeline.

BOOK MARKETING TIMELINE-ONE YEAR TO LAUNCH

Let’s say you sign your book deal June 1. Yay! Celebrate, do your happy dance. And prepare to work. The publisher should send you an Author Questionnaire for you to complete and return. Fill it out completely, and return it quickly. All phases of the publishing team will use your questionnaire. It will ask you things about you personally: prior work, education, affiliations, alma mater, social media presence, anything the publisher could use to get you into niche markets or publicity outlets. It will ask about your book: the blurb, special markets, unique features, questions an interviewer could ask you that would elicit elements you want to talk about. Now, I’m sure every publisher has a bit of a different format, but the message was clear. Take time on this questionnaire. Give your publisher every tidbit and morsel about you or your book that could ever make it marketable. And give it to them in a timely fashion. Take a look at a sample questionnaire here, to get some ideas. It would be great for self-published authors to fill this out too, so you can give yourself some ideas about special markets for your book.

While you fill out your questionnaire, the publisher is going to start positioning your book. Using the information you have given them, they will evaluate where to focus publicity efforts (radio, print, tv); hometown possibilities for you; put your work in their catalog; and develop promotional items like bookmarks, posters, and those little fliers that the bookstores put on their shelf under your book so it stands out. The catalogs come out twice a year for most publishers, and you want your book to be front and center in that catalog! Don’t be afraid to ask to see the catalog copy to make sure that there are no errors. Check out an online catalogue for Tor here, to see what type of info goes in these.

By October, the publisher will send the materials on your book to book clubs, and be exploring subsidiary rights options. Subsidiary rights are all the other rights that come along with your book that aren’t hardback print. It could be movie rights, digital, audiobook, running a relevant chapter in a magazine, foreign language versions…there are lots of options. If you sell any of these additional bundles of rights, you get more money. Yay!

In December (for our example–this also happens in May), the publisher goes to the twice a year publisher sales conference. Check out a great explanation of what happens at the sales conference here. By this time, the sales representatives for your publisher will have jackets, flap copy, catalogue description, promotional plans, etc. Ask to see these things, to make sure they are accurate. Your editor will likely be the person to present about your work at the sales conference, because sadly, they might be the only person who has actually read your book yet. If there are elements of your work you want them to focus on, tell them! Give them the talking points to ensure they don’t miss them.

Also by this time, the publicity department has begun preparing lists of appropriate reviewers, special mailing lists, or pitch letters for interviewers. If you have ideas for these that you haven’t included in your Author Questionnaire, share them with the publisher’s publicity department. If you know someone who you think would endorse your book, send them your manuscript pages to him or her well in advance, so you can get the endorsement in time to add it to your galley copies.

By February (or four months prior to publication), your publisher will send galley copies to Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, etc., i.e. everywhere that will review your book. Galley copies (also known as Advanced Review Copies (ARCs)) are semi-final copies of your book—the contents should be relatively set, but the cover is usually in a draft format. Your galley copy should have a paragraph about the book and a paragraph about the author on the back. You definitely want to know how many galley copies your publisher is planning on printing, and where they will be going. Make sure as many copies go out to relevant reviewers as possible. Alice recommended at least 50 galley copies go out, and if your publisher doesn’t want to pay for that many, it might be worth returning a portion of your advance to pay for the extras.

Approximately six weeks before “publication date,” (in our scenario, late April) we come to Bound Book date. This is the date when the book physically arrives in the publisher’s warehouse. The books will ship out and be available for sale in another two to three weeks.

June 1 is  considered the official publication date. Congrats! Now is when you’ll do your author appearances, phone interviews, etc.  Plus, all your great social media marketing that you’ve been planning on the side. The books will already be in the stores and available online by this date, but the publishers like to give a little cushion to make sure that the book is actually for sale when any publicity events occur.


Certainly, some publishers are going to do more than others, and each author’s experience will be different. But the greatest takeaway I gained from the class was that the author, even if publishing through a traditional publisher, can help move the process along. Educate yourself on what “should” be happening at each stage, and then advocate for yourself at critical stages in the process and make sure your book is getting the attention it deserves. The squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Also, help your publisher through marketing and advertising efforts you undertake yourself, whether social media campaigns, applying for awards, seeking endorsements, or searching for the right groups and publications to review your book. You can have a real positive impact over the process.

If you self-publish, the reality is that you’ll be doing these things yourself. But by knowing what efforts traditional publishers take, and how far in advance, you’ll have a better chance of getting some of the same exposure.

Photo by CraigFinley, cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Mind your P’s and Q’s: Query etiquette

Photo credit Kevin Steinhard, cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Photo credit Kevin Steinhard, cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I submitted to my first round of publishers last week and prepared myself for the long silence. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when one publisher responded, saying he would try to get to it this week, and another already asked for the full manuscript! Happy dance!

jimmy-fallon-elmo-happy-dance-saturday-night-live

available at giphy.com

Ok, obviously I know not to read too much into these communications, but it was still encouraging! It did raise some questions in my mind about query etiquette though. Should I tell the other publishers that I am querying that I had gotten a request for a full manuscript? Is that just good manners or will it be taken as too braggy or nudgy?

Off to the interwebs I went, which happily provided some answers to me. Here are some basics I learned.

Simultaneous submissions are ok

Simultaneous submissions are pretty normal, and if anyone sticks up their nose at you because you are querying multiple places, you are probably better off without them. In today’s world, writers just can’t afford to submit to one publisher or agent and then wait around for months at a time before they submit elsewhere. Obviously, if a publisher or agent says they only accept exclusive submissions, don’t send simultaneous submissions. And if they ask you to disclose that it’s a simultaneous submission, do so. But otherwise, you don’t necessarily have to disclose up front.

Query either publishers or agents

General consensus seems to be that you should query either publishers or agents, but not both simultaneously. See this interesting post by the Daily Dahlia for a great discussion of the subject. Editors make decisions that factor in whether a manuscript is agented or not, and it would be bad form to change the game on them halfway through by saying, “surprise, I have an agent now!”

Pick your tiers

Don’t query a whole bunch of publishers or agents at a time. I have read that groups of five are a good rule of thumb. Group those agents or publishers you are interested in into tiers based on how excited you are about working/publishing with them, or how well suited your manuscript is to their style. The last thing you want to do is get an offer from someone you are lukewarm on, and then have to figure out whether to take it or risk turning it down because you still haven’t queried your dream publisher.

Keep them apprised

The resources I have found indicate that you don’t necessarily need to tell other publishers/agents if you have received a request for a full manuscript. See this article on Kidlit, for example. But if you get an offer of representation or publication, you should tell the others you have queried, and give them a week to two weeks to consider and give you an offer, as well. Longer than that is probably unrealistic to ask an agent or publisher to wait around for you to make your decision.

If you decide to go with a particular offer, certainly do the other agents/publishers the courtesy of letting them know you are withdrawing your query.

Well, here’s to hoping I will have to use this last piece of advice! I will keep you all posted.

At the crossroads

Umberto Nicolleti, cc https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Umberto Nicolleti, cc https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I am doing some soul searching. I have come to a crossroads with my book. I am just finishing up my last bit of editing after a round of beta reading. I think it is ready for the next step. But deciding what the next step is…that is tougher.

I was planning on querying some literary agents and indie publishers, with the full expectation that I would hear nothing but crickets for a few months, and then decide to self-publish. But I have discovered some other next steps, and now I am torn.

A lawyer colleague of mine put me in touch with a woman at a company here in Seattle that helps authors. It’s called Girl Friday Productions. The folks at Girl Friday are editors, publishing consultants, publicity gurus…basically they provide whatever you need at whatever stage you are at. We had a great coffee session and she told me that what I most likely needed at this stage was a developmental edit. She said their editors have a lot of experience in the biz and know what sells to agents, publishers, and readers. She said they would then be able to help me with the query process to try to maximize my success with traditional publishers.

I have shied away from the thought of doing a professional developmental edit because of the cost. But I do see that there could be tremendous value there. It could put me in a better position to get the attention of traditional publishers, and even if it didn’t, I feel fairly confident that I would end up with a manuscript that would sell better, even if I ultimately self-published. And yes, I understand that this company could be pulling the wool over my eyes to part me from my hard-earned cash (though I didn’t get that vibe). But that is factoring into the calculus.

There are some other options out there that are attracting my attention, as well. One is another Seattle-based company, called Booktrope. Has anyone heard of this company, or published with it? According to their website, there is some sort of vetting process, and if you pass, you get added to their author pool. Once in their pool, publishing professionals like editors, cover designers, and publicity folks can sign onto your project. You then form a “team” that works together to publish your book through Booktrope. Rather than pay them upfront, Booktrope and your team get a cut of the proceeds from your book. This, in theory. keeps your team invested in the long-term success of your book in a way that other publishing models would not. This is a fascinating idea!

I have also been hearing about other “hybrid publishers” like SheWrites and Christopher Matthews Publishing. These companies (I’m sure there are others out there as well) also have a vetting process before you go into their publishing lineup. Once you are given the green light, you pay a pretty little fee for a copyedit, proofread, cover design and interior layout. But these companies help you with all the publishing and distribution, and the books look very professional. Yes, this seems like “vanity publishing” on the one hand, but on the other hand, a self-published author would have to pay a number of freelancers for similar services if they want their book to look professional, anyway. So what is the harm in getting it in one package?

There are so many options out there, it is overwhelming. I would love to talk to others of you who have been through the process or worked with any of these companies. How did you decide what your next steps would be?

Conquering the query letter

Conquering the query letter

Lask week I tackled writing a synopsis for my WIP. Not exactly easy!

This week, I am working on query letters, a similarly despised but unavoidable aspect of writing (unless you self-publish…which is sounding very tempting…). Somehow, I feel like querying agents (and being rejected) is an important part of my writer’s education. So here I go…


What makes a good query letter?

Jane Friedman had some excellent tips last week on writing a good synopsis, so I went back to the source for ideas on query letters.

She explains that there are five basic sections to a query letter:

  • Personalization: where you customize the letter for the recipient
  • What you’re selling: genre/category, word count, title/subtitle
  • Hook: the meat of the query; 100-200 words is sufficient for a novel
  • Bio: sometimes optional for uncredited fiction writers
  • Thank you & closing

Most of those sections are somewhat self-explanatory. I want to focus on the hook, because that’s where I will actually convince the agent that they want to read more of my novel. The hook should convey the following:

  1. Protagonist + his conflict
  2. The choices the protagonist has to make (or the stakes)
  3. The sizzle

The sizzle is what makes your novel stand out. How is your novel unique from the hundreds of other query letters or books in your genre? That is your chance to explain why your novel stands out from the crowd.

Friedman points out a few red flags when it comes to the “hook” section of your query letter:

  • If your hook has several paragraphs or runs longer than 200 words, you probably have too much detail.
  • Your hook shouldn’t reveal the end of the book. Only the synopsis should do that.
  • Your hook should probably only mention the protagonist(s), a romantic interest or sidekick, and the antagonist. Any more characters, and it’s too in depth.

Friedman has a lot of other great tips about what your query letter should and should not contain. Now I’m off to conquer the beast…

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