Welcome, word wranglers! If you’re here, odds are that you’ve written a story, or are thinking about writing one, or you really like to read published stories.
Even if you are not writing a book, knowing how it all works will give you a deeper understanding of what your favorite authors have gone through to bring their stories to life. No matter how books get published, they are nothing without their readers.
The process of getting your book into the hands of your readers can be confusing, I know. The purpose of my talk today is to try to remove as much of the confusion as possible and leave you with practical facts you can use as you make a publishing decision that’s right for you.
There’s various roads leading to towards publication. Once upon a time, your choices were limited. Happily, we now live in interesting times where the lack of an agent or baskets of money are no longer a hurdle. The traditional methods of publishing still exist, and rumor has it they may even be thriving, but more than ever, your writing career can remain within your control.
And remember, your path can change – you might start off self publishing and later find an opportunity to go the traditional agent/publisher route… or you might leave tradition behind and embrace self-publishing. Or mix and match, if you write in multiple genres.
So, with a tip of our hat to those early writers who pressed sticks into clay tablets and laid reed pens against papyrus—and Johannes Gutenberg and his little invention—let’s demystify the publishing process so you can make intelligent decisions about the road you and your book will travel.
In a nutshell, if a publisher requires your money up-front in order to publish your book, you’re dealing with a Vanity Press.
I’ll admit I’m biased here. Years ago, I made inquiries of a publisher who I did not know was a vanity press at the time. I learned the hard way that these places specialize in catering to your ego as your ‘personal representative’ excitedly promises you the moon and the stars… for a hefty price. If your book is not yet complete, you’ll be pressured to commit to a deadline for production, since clearly your premise is the most astonishing one they’ve heard in years and they are very anxious to get it printed. The talk will quickly turn to how fast you’ll be able to raise the funds needed to print your book. You’ll have to work hard to get loose from their clutches if you decide to back out. I backed out pretty quickly, and not a dime was lost, but the fact that these presses still exist means a lot of money is being handed over. Who says you can’t buy a dream?
In the interest of balance, though, I will cite a couple of examples of authors who found success after starting off with a vanity publication.
In 1811, Jane Austen paid a publisher to publish Sense and Sensibility, which qualifies the book to be a vanity press publication. While her books were (and still are) insanely popular, she never received accolades as a writer, since she originally penned her stories under the anonymous name of “By A Lady”.
(Note on the slide, at the bottom, it says “Printed For The Author”)
“Perhaps I am as thick as two short planks, but I cannot understand how a man can take thirty pages to describe how he turns round in his bed before he finally falls asleep.” This publisher’s rejection letter probably gave Marcel Proust some sleepless nights, but he shook it off and in 1913 paid a French publisher to print Du Côté de Chez Swann (Swann’s Way), which eventually became the first volume in his ‘novel in seven books’, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past).
A side note – beware of literary agents who charge ‘reading fees’ in order to consider taking you on. Just as in other areas of life, if something seems too good to be true (and asks for cash up front), it probably is.
A press that makes less annually than $50 million net (this is the United States threshold, other countries may vary) is classified as a Small Press. Most of these produce just a few books a year, about ten or so. They’re often called Indie Presses too, not to be confused with an Indie Author.
Virginia Woolf and husband Leonard Woolf, started Hogarth Press in 1917, for the purpose of publishing her own books and those of other selected authors. This is a very early, and possibly the first example of a small press. Many others have come and gone through the years since then. Author Dave Eggers founded McSweeney’s. Authors Kelly Link and Gavin Grant founded Small Beer Press.
Jimmy Branagh: Arkham House was small press. Look what they did for Lovecraft and others.
Not far from Ceejay’s typist, Sleeping Bear Press published its first book in 1998, called… wait for it… The Legend of Sleeping Bear. It’s a beautifully illustrated book that a local Michigan legend and turns it into a children’s story. The book is now the Official Children’s Book of Michigan. Yes, that’s a real thing. Sleeping Bear Press, based in Ann Arbor Michigan, continues to publish illustrated children’s picture books.
If your passion and genre happens to be a perfect match for a small press, you could find yourself in luck, just as Jeannine Hall Gailey did with her book of poetry inspired by her childhood in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, growing up in the shadow of the Manhattan Project. Her surreal poetry is set in a world overwhelmed by radioactivity, science, and the atomic bomb. While powerful stuff, her 80 pages of mindwarping poetry are not what the large publishers are looking for.
However, Mayapple Press, founded in 1978 by poet and editor Judith Kerman, proved to be Jeannine’s perfect match. Mayapple seeks out “…literature that is both challenging and accessible: poetry that transcends the categories of “mainstream” and “avant-garde”; women’s writing; the Great Lakes/Northeastern culture; the recent immigrant experience; poetry in translation; science fiction poetry.”
If your niche doesn’t seem to be the big publishers cuppa tea, consider seeking out small presses more in tune with your style.
Traditional publishing is a threesome. An author hooks up with an agent who works to get a contract with a publisher. Once this happens, all sorts of good things can happen to an author and their book.
Your book will be professionally edited, cover art will be designed to suit your story, and your book will be marketed out to bookstores. Your agent will have negotiated the best possible contract for you, and will be keeping an eye on the various legalities during the production and promotion process. For a percentage, of course. Ah, and by the way, your own earned royalties will probably amount to 8% to 10% of the sale price of the book.
On the down side, you’ll not have much say in the process. What your book looks like, where it’s sold, and how it’s advertised are out of your hands. What started out as ‘your baby’ is now a project in the hands of a team that’s been formed for the sole purpose of making some money off your book.
Sheryl Skytower: Physical book. Usually much higher royalty for the ebooks. 🙂
And last but not least, there’s self-publishing. I’ll talk a lot more about this option because it’s the one that requires the most from you, and I want you to fully grasp the scope of work you’ll be taking on yourself as an Independent Writer.
Remember, the ‘self’ in Self Publishing is You. You’re the author. You’re in charge of getting the manuscript edited and proofed. You need to either make or hire an artist for cover art. Advertising, accounting and promoting? Tag, you’re it!
If you think self-publishing began with the arrival of the internet, think again. In the mid 1700s, Benjamin Franklin wrote and self-published Poor Richard’s Almanack. A quote from that publication, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”
If you look at the image being displayed of Ben’s almanack, you can see at the very bottom, “Printed and fold by B FRANKLIN, at the New Printing-Office near the Market.”
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the English poet William Blake not only wrote and self-published his own works, but created all the illustrations and etched them onto copper plates. After printing his works, he hand-colored the etchings.
Walt Whitman self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. He had 795 copies printed, and worked on binding them whenever he had the funds to pay for supplies.
Now we will run further up the self-publishing timeline. Lightning Source was formed in 1997. They are still one of the leading print on demand publishers. Print On Demand (POD) is insanely practical. There’s no excess stock to deal with, no storage issues, no out of date books leftover if a second edition is printed, and the cost is reasonable. The print on demand concept caught on quickly, and soon iUniverse, CreateSpace (Amazon’s print division) and Lulu were offering their services to Indie authors.
There’s a learning curve with POD, just as there is with every aspect of Indie publishing, but once you’ve got it figure out, I think you’ll love it. The image showing now is my own book cover, showing the front, spine and back, all of which was converted to a PDF file before uploading to CreateSpace.
After the first upload, I ordered a copy of the book to be sent to me. I checked it over and realized the spine was too narrow – parts of the front and back cover were folding over to the spine. Adjustments were made, a new PDF was uploaded, and I was much happier with the tweaks. Now, whenever a paperback copy is ordered, it’s printed and sent out, so quickly that readers usually have no clue that the book they hold in their hand didn’t exist until they placed their order.
Some of you may already be published writers and not even realize it. Journaling and Blogging are Indie Writing! They can be satisfying on their own merit, or start a writer on a path to publication.
Around 1999, we started hearing a weird word being bandied about. ‘Bloggers’ were using various easy-to-set-up websites to share serial novels, fanfiction, and promote their own works. LiveJournal was cutting-edge back then, and helped give rise to writers like Cassie Claire, who wrote Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings fanfic in her younger days. (I admit I LOVED her Very Secret Diaries, and still occasionally mutter, ‘Cannot cope, off to Mordor’.) She’s since gone on to publish YA books through Simon & Schuster and Scholastic, and reportedly makes absurd bushel baskets of money these days.
In 2002, Julie Powell’s The Julie/Julia Project blog, which was a chronicle of her attempt to prepare every dish in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, eventually led to the the publishing of the book Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen AND the 2009 movie Julie & Julia. Which was great. Find it and watch it.
By 2008, IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, and RocketHub appeared on the web, giving authors another resource to help with the expenses of self-publishing a book. A heads-up for you—on February 29, 2016, Publaunch.com will start offering crowdfunding events specifically for books and publishing services.
So, all that being said… what exactly are the tasks you’ll need to take care of as an Independent Author? Let’s find out.
SELF-PUBLISHED WRITER’S CHECKLIST
Toss your pride aside and get a critique of your final draft. Round up a few Beta Readers and take their comments to heart.
After you’ve tweaked the needfuls recommended by the Beta Readers… secure an editor to give your work that final polish before publishing. Don’t be so presumptuous as to think ‘I’ve read it a dozen times, I am positive it is perfect.’ Trust me, it’s not. You are too close to the work, and that makes you blind to the flaws. If you cannot afford an editor, who will point out plot flaws, rearrange your badly worded sentences and fix all your punctuation as well as letting you know where your book bogs down and where it’s awesome, at the very least, hire a proofreader to kill all the punctuation mistakes, synonym misfires, and shrapnel.
What is shrapnel? Shrapnel happens when you re-write a sentence over and over, and in the end forget to remove some of the leftover words. I edited Pip Ballantine’s Weather Child. It’s a magnificent book, and I highly recommend it! Especially after I carted out at least three trailer loads of shrapnel. 🙂 We are all prone to producing it, and you would be amazed at how much if it you can go blind to as the author.
Start building your platforms. Make a website. Create Facebook and Twitter pages. Set up a GoodReads account. And that’s the bare minimum. Don’t wait till you’re published to get this all settled. Do it in advance so when your head is spinning at LEAST you have these things in place.
Back to Beta Reading. Give copies of your manuscript to some readers who will give you feedback, and if you are very lucky and the gods of the quills are smiling upon you, they will respond with some quotable phrases you can use in promotion, or even on your back cover!
Choose your publishing service. Are you going to go paperback or digital or both? Every service has its own formatting and cover art requirements. It’s good to know what they are so you can get the info to your artist, if you’ve hired one.
Or… choose your publishing services, plural. You CAN publish at Amazon and elsewhere too, but you’ll need to carefully choose the right answers when you set up your agreement with Amazon. If you are willing to take 35% in royalties, you are free to publish anywhere else you like. If you want Amazon’s tempting 70% royalties, you will give up your rights to publish elsewhere.
Ceejay Writer: (Sheryl, it’s 35% at Amazon now, right? )
Sheryl Skytower: I believe so….
Maxwell Grantly: Royalities at Amazon depend on what price you sell your ebook for.
Ceejay Writer: Those percentages are for Kindle eBooks.
Choose wisely, and take all the time you need to read everyone’s contracts and rules. Don’t rush this step. Learn everything you need to know.
Hire an artist or dig in yourself to create your cover art. Browse bookstores with an eye to everyone else’s cover art. See what works for you and what doesn’t. This will help you finalize your vision for your cover art. Read the requirements your chosen publisher has provided to be sure about the requirements for the final art upload.
Daniel Rothchen: Many suggest spending most of your money on getting a good editor before publishing on Amazon and its ilk .. would you agree?
Ceejay Writer: My opinion – put the money into editing and cover art.
Upload your manuscript. Then proof the output. Every page. If you have chosen to use multiple distribution points, you’ll need to do this step for each version; Kindle, Nook, Paperback, PDF… one might be perfect, but another format might need help.
BLURBIE TIME. This may be the toughest step yet, other than actually writing the book. For marketing purposes, you will need some promotional wording. Craft some short tagline sentences, two long synopsis (one with spoilers and one without), a short synopsis, something that fits Twitter’s limitations, and any other snappy bits you can think of to help keep interest high in social media. Save these all in one document for on the fly cutting and pasting.
Steadman Kondor: big publishers are starting to skimp on their cover art now, unfortunately. comfirmed by mates in the industry…
Ceejay Writer: Indie authors should take note of that! There’s an area to outdo the big guys.
Satu Moreau: A bad cover too can repel instead of attract a reader.
Steadman Kondor: yes!
Ceejay Writer: I admit to buying some books based on cover art.
Maxwell Grantly: never judge a book based on its cover – but we do!
Have a high res author photo and a written bio ready for the world to see. Scary. I set up a Media Kit page at my website and shoved these things in there for easy access.
Start thinking about advertising. Will you have book giveaway contests? Will you pay for ads on Facebook and other sites? Will you find blogs to be a guest writer on, will you try to get interviewed, will you haul boxes of your book to signings, will you sign up as an author at conventions?
Reviews: You’re probably going to have to beg for them, dangle free review copies in front of people’s faces, beg some more, and never stop groveling. Amazon’s cracked down hard on who can post reviews, and will slap your hand if they think you book has been loaded up with reviews from family and friends. It’s frustrating. And you NEED reviews. Within the online eBook seller websites, those reviews are what push your book up from the basement to where readers can actually find it on their own. When the reviews taper off, your book sinks again.
Those of you who read (I hope that’s everyone!): When an author encourages you to review their book, they are really hoping you will. Post an honest review. It doesn’t have to be long. A sentence or two will do. And repost it at GoodReads, even if you don’t like the place much. 🙂 It’s got some clout. You will have done something very important for that book, and it’s writer.
As an Indie Writer, you are responsible for all aspects of your book. You’ll find allies and help along the way, but not if you don’t seek them out, and pay them when appropriate. At the end of the day, it’s all on you. But on the flip side anything fantastic that comes of this publishing adventure is all yours, too. 🙂 It can be incredibly satisfying.
And finally, the last step. Sit back, relax, try not to yell at the inevitable crappy reviews, and get used to the notion that you are a published author. And then get started on your next book.
Darlingmonster Ember: !think a book ahead if you can!
Sheryl Skytower: Think three!
Ceejay Writer: And that’s my advice! I know we have other authors in this room and I value their experiences and opinions too. Feel free to make yourself known if you wish to let others ask you questions later, too.
Daniel Rothchen: On DeviantArt, I understand there are alot fine graphic artists that can be hired for your cover art. They are not big time but yet professional freelancers.
Ceejay Writer: DeviantArt has WONDERFUL artists. Just get one with a decent attention span!
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Fraulein Ceejay, if your fellow authors here – Nika, Fraulein Skytower and anyone else – could list their books’ titles and where to find them, they will be in the transcript.
Sheryl Skytower: If anyone wants info on the romance writing industry, please feel free to drop me a pm and I’ll help if I can.
Sheryl Skytower: I have… 13 books presently out with four this year. I am agented and can be found at www.sherylnantus.com. 🙂
Sheryl Skytower: I’ve had experience with small publishers (Samhain, Carina Press) and right now have contracts with St. Martin’s Press and Entangled for romance. 🙂 http://www.amazon.com/Sheryl-Nantus/e/B002BM60WW
Fauve Aeon: I have articles in here http://www.amazon.com/Horror-Addicts-Guide-Life-Emerian/dp/1508772525
Ceejay Writer: Here, include this page in the salon transcript. https://www.brassbrightcity.com/2015/06/10/the-literary-world-of-new-babbage/
Nika Thought-werk: Sure … presently, my first book may be found here … and I am working on the second and the third …https://amzn.to/3nBxkxe
Mosseveno Tenk: if you’re more a short story person, check this out: http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/
Magda Kamenev: Hmm. There is also a submissions tracker and announcement board for short stories and poetry – Duotrope – but it is a subscription service.
Magda Kamenev: https://duotrope.com/
Mosseveno Tenk: The Grinder was inspired by Duotrope’s subscription prices. It’s the free version.
Sheryl Skytower: If you’re looking for a good writing forum for all genres and self-pubbing, may I suggest Absolute Write? www.absolutewrite.com
Sheryl Skytower: Absolute Write can also help you avoid the scammers and shady publishers – highly recommend going there, you can lurk and relax as you read.
Nathan Adored: hmmmmm…. did workshop groups get mentioned today, too? If so, I blinked and missed it. That is, the idea of joining a group of fellow struggling writers to help each other get better at it.
Steadman Kondor: for writing groups you need a strong and kind convenor.
Darlingmonster Ember: There are some good workshop groups online, but be choosy.
Steadman Kondor: …or you get ripped to shreds … or the opposite – you only get claps and praises:)
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: I seem to remember there’s a professional fellow who has writing resources here on the grid.
Ceejay Writer: Michael Stackpole.
Ceejay Writer: If anyone has questions later, I’m an open book. *laughs* firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheryl Skytower: I’m open for emails as well at email@example.com – I only know about romance writing, so… 🙂