Archive | July 2009

If you self-publish, will a conventional publisher want you?

Jeff Herman's Guide cover 2009“Can self-publishers sell their books to conventional publishers? Should they want to?” Jeff Herman poses this question in his Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, which has an excellent chapter on self publishing. Yes they can, he says – but they may not want to.

 

Herman’s book is perhaps the most highly recommended guide of its type, and I’ve been buying the new edition every couple of years, although I’ve never seen it for sale in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Rather, I learned about it online, through various writers’ groups, and ordered it from Amazon. That makes me part of a clientele that’s very different from traditional bookstore customers. Herman makes some fascinating points in the 2008 edition:

Too many books are published, compared to the quantity and quality of shelf space to accommodate them. You can have a big-name publisher and an invisible book (p. 801).

A self-published book may have sold as many as one million copies . . . but (conventional) publishers may still deem the book as virtually unpublished. Why? Because publishers essentially focus on retail sales, and within retail sales, most of their focus is on bookstores . . . It follows that self-published books that have not penetrated bookstore shelves in any meaningful way, can still be seen as virgin meat by publishers . . .

At a minimum, publishers evaluate self-published books as if they are untested raw manuscripts, and all consideration will be based upon the publisher’s sense of the work’s salability in bookstores. At a maximum, the publisher will take into consideration the self-published book’s sales history and the author’s ability to manifest those results. If it’s believed that the author can duplicate her proven capacity to sell books once the product makes it into the stores, then that will add leverage to the kind of deal the author can make with a publisher. Even if a self-published book did not sell very many copies, a publisher may be very happy to pick it up if they can see that it has unfulfilled potential once it has distribution behind it. Publishers do not have any expectations that self-publishers can or should be able to succeed by themselves. (pp. 802-803).

I especially like the last two sentences. One of my goals in building my online presence is to build an impressive track record that will interest agents and publishers, but maybe I don’t need to wait until I have astronomical numbers. Numbers, though, are a major reason Herman’s become a strong proponent of self publishing. Self-publishers can make as much as a 90% profit on each copy they sell, he says, whereas the traditionally published author makes only a small fraction of that amount.

Granted, he’s discussing self-publishing in terms of hands-on involvement from start to finish. The profit for authors who contract with a POD printing firm like XLibris, Lulu or Virtualbookworm doesn’t approach 90%, but the arrangement can still be far more lucrative than working with a conventional publisher.

Jeff Herman is walking his talk. His 2008 Guide is the 18th edition of this work, but after many years with traditional publishers, he’s gone the self-publishing route by founding his own firm, Three Dog Press. Since I haven’t been actively agent hunting, I passed on the 2009 edition (pictured above), but I’ll be looking forward to the 2010 version, where I hope he’ll have more to say about self-publishing and print-on-demand. If you’re not familiar with this book, I heartily recommend it.

Thanks for all the great comments on POD and self-publishing over the past week. Let’s keep the discussion going. As for me, my head is spinning, and I plan to lighten up a bit for August. I’ll start the month on Monday by posting my poem about a library book sale – a fitting follow-up to your comments on printing costs, paper waste and green consciousness.

Authors weigh in on POD and self-publishing

Printing press 16th C engravingMy posts about print-on-demand and self-publishing have inspired many thought-provoking comments. Today I’m going to feature a few of the responses. First, the question I promised to answer in today’s post: 

With so little quality control in the POD field, how do you convince people your work is worth reading, let alone buying?

The answer, in a word: marketing. Bob Sanchez makes some excellent points:  

How do you convince people to buy your POD book? Some entities, such as the big chain bookstores, may be unconvinceable. But if you are asking about convincing individuals, it’s been my experience that no one cares whether your book is POD, and most people don’t even know or care what POD is. At a book signing you talk to the potential customer about your work, and either she is interested or she isn’t. I have never, ever heard someone say she wouldn’t buy my book because it’s POD. Never. In fact, many people are impressed and delighted to meet an author in person.

Specifically, I suggest that you collect reviews and reprint snippets from the best ones. It can even be an Amazon review. The biggest reviewing outfit, Kirkus, won’t review POD except for a fee, but you know what? The average reader neither knows nor cares who Kirkus is. So forget them and go for free reviews on Midwest Book Review, Rebecca’s Reads, Amazon, Kaye Trout’s Book Reviews, or any of a number of book-reviewing blogs. All your potential buyer wants is a little third-party reassurance that your book is worth the money.

On CrimeSpace, an excellent social networking site for mystery writers and readers, I asked how much stigma is attached to publishing with a print-on-demand press. Debbi Mack replied:

My book was originally with a small press that used POD to print its books. Now I’ve reissued it through Lulu, which will publish whatever you give it. Technically, I’m not self-published (bear with me here) because Lulu obtained the ISBN and has non-exclusive rights to publish the work, with Lulu listed in the bibliographic info as publisher. I just reissued my only published novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, through Lulu and I almost feel duty-bound to explain to people that it was once published by a small press, just so they know someone actually chose to publish it and it was edited before its release. 

While some people and certain entities which I won’t name continue to turn up their noses at people who go this route, I think a lot of former disbelievers are warming up to it more. It takes determination and relentless promotion and I just released my book through Lulu this month. I found the publishing process a bit less than transparent at times, but maybe it was just me blundering through the process. Anyway, the book’s in their system, so now I’m just promoting and marketing like crazy.

I heard about Lulu because my SinC chapter reissued its anthology CHESAPEAKE CRIMES (in which I have a story) through Lulu after the publisher went under (the publisher who originally released my book). . . if you write a great story and manage to build a following, it is entirely possible to land a traditional publishing contract. If nothing else, the experience will make you better prepared for doing even more of the same once you land that contract. Because, in reality, most authors don’t get the big promo $$ from their publishers.

Check out Debbi’s web site http://www.debbimack.com and her blog http://midlistlife.wordpress.com.

Kris Neri says:

. . . two of my three publishers use POD technology. All are advance/royalty paying traditional publishers. And yet when I recently updated my Sisters in Crime Books in Print page, I had to beg the SinC board to include those PODs in the printed BinP version because one of their criteria of professionalism is that that the publisher print at least 1000 books. A POD from a traditional publisher is still being treated, in some quarters at least, like a self-pub.

There are pluses and minuses to PODs. . . . The publisher of my Tracy Eaton mysteries is putting the first chapter of the next book at the end of each of the titles. When he reprinted DEM BONES’ REVENGE, my forthcoming title, REVENGE FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE, hadn’t yet been edited. The editor then suggested a new first chapter before the existing one. Since I liked the idea, I asked the publisher how that could work, since he’d already included the old first chapter in his publication of DBR. He said he’d simply change it after I revised it, and some copies of DBR would be printed out with the old first chapter, while some would have the new first chapter. That provides great flexibility.

 I answered that I hadn’t realized Sisters in Crime had this particular requirement for 1,000 copies in print, but they did hassle me about being included in their printed Books in Print. I used to be there, but now I’m only on their web site. That requirement is really antiquated, not to mention environmentally heedless! When both my mysteries came out on Virtualbookworm, I ordered 100 copies for myself, and I’ve ordered more as needed. People have ordered them directly from Amazon and from Virtualbookworm, and nobody’s complained about the time lag. There’s no longer a need for warehousing thousands of books (except for the top sellers).

Granted a time lag might be problematic in some circumstances, but that can happen with “traditional” publishers too, or with small presses masquerading as traditional. I have a friend who published with a small press who promised books in time for Malice Domestic, where she was on a panel. They didn’t come through, and lately they haven’t been paying royalties or returning phone calls. Now she’s struggling to get her rights back. So in these changing times, it’s “buyer beware.” I heard someone on a panel somewhere say that with the ease of the new technology, small presses spring up like mushrooms in the lawn after a rainy spell, and disappear just as quickly.

There’s much more to say on this topic, and I welcome your comments. On Friday, I’ll address Jeff Herman’s questions:

Can self-publishers sell their books to conventional publishers? Should they want to?

 

Eldercide excerpt – I’m my own toughest editor

Eldercide (2008)I’ve been getting lots of good responses to my posts about POD and self-publishing, and I plan to quote from several of your comments tomorrow. Much of the talk has focused on editing. Can everyone benefit from good editing? Does everybody need it?

I’ve never hired a paid professional editor. My work has been read and edited by many fellow writers, and I’ve incorporated many of their suggestions, but ultimately, I’m my own most rigorous editor. Below are the beginning pages of Eldercide. Yes, I know the paragraph indents are inconsistent, but that’s a product of copying the document into my blog, and I’m too lazy to change it here. In the book, the indents are perfect.

If this grabs you, you can read the rest of the first chapter as a page on this blog. And if you want more, I encourage you to buy the book! I welcome your comments, but I’m not planning another revision until the book gets picked up by a bigger publisher. If they pay me enough, I’ll be glad to work with an editor! 

Eldercide, Chapter 1

At first the pinprick sensation in the skin of her neck was so delicate that Harriet Gardener wove it flawlessly into the fabric of her dream. She was lying on a blanket next to Arthur, beneath an enormous maple at the edge of a meadow like the one on the farm where she had grown up, yet much larger, with wheat fields sweeping away to the horizon as far as she could see. As she watched the sun sinking in the west, she realized she had no idea where they were or how to find their way back home.

“Arthur, we’d better leave now,” she said. “We must have fallen asleep. It’s getting dark, and the mosquitoes are starting to bite.”

The pinprick grew sharper, more insistent. As she felt it penetrate her skin, she cried out in pain. A yellow jacket! Why now, so late in the day?

His hand clapped down hard on her mouth, with a brute force so utterly unlike Arthur that her eyes flew open in shock. The brilliance of the light made her blink. She’d been wrong. It was already night, and the meadow was nowhere to be seen. Now she was on a road, caught like a deer, paralyzed in the glare of a single headlight bearing down on her.

The dream had become a nightmare. She jerked frantically, willing herself awake, staring into the glaring light, a shimmering circle surrounded by inky blackness. A full moon, dazzlingly brilliant. No, a flashlight. As her eyes adapted with agonizing slowness, the familiar outlines of the furniture in her darkened bedroom brought her back to the barren reality of her present-day world, her world without Arthur. Now she could make out the black barrel of the flashlight, the ghostly white of the gloved hand gripping it. And in the shadows beyond, the looming contours of a strange man.

Continue reading

Print on Demand and Self-Publishing: Frequently Asked Questions

Printing press 16th C engravingIn my last post I came out as a POD person – a print-on-demand author. Strictly speaking, I may not have used the term correctly. As several writers have reminded me, print-on-demand refers to the technology, not the business model. Perhaps I should have called myself a self-published author, but the new technology is changing the publishing field so rapidly that definitions are in flux. So I’m not going to back down – I still like the term POD for the publication method I chose. In today’s Q&A, I’m addressing some basic questions.

What is Print on Demand, anyway?

Print on Demand is a printing technology that came into being with the advent of digital printing. In POD, copies of a book or other document are not printed until an order has been received. It’s now possible to produce single copies or very small print runs at a fixed cost per copy. This wasn’t possible with traditional technologies such as letterpress and offset printing, which involve much higher setup costs.

Who uses Print on Demand technology?

Although the term’s commonly used to refer to online publishers who help authors self-publish their books, more and more traditional small presses have switched to POD technology, often contracting their printing out to POD service providers. According to Wikipedia, many academic and university presses are using POD. Large publishers may also use it to reprint older titles or for test marketing.

What’s the difference between Print on Demand and Self-Publishing?

Many companies have sprung up that offer POD services to authors who want to self-publish. Their services include design and layout, printing, shipping, handling copyright and ISBN numbers, and listing the books with online services like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders. Self-publishing, on the other hand, can refer to any technology. I know many poets who produce small chap books using the machines at Staples or Kinko’s, and some authors who have self-published by shepherding their own books through the design, printing and distribution process from beginning to end. To me, that would be like slogging through hell, and I’d much rather pay someone else to handle the technical and business aspects.

Will a POD company edit my work?

Edward Munch

Edward Munch

Probably not, unless you pay extra. Most companies offer editing packages for an additional fee. Patricia Stoltey posed the question well: “I’ve read some great books from POD publishers (mostly nonfiction), and also some not so good. The big difference is usually in the editing (or lack thereof). My questions: Do the POD sites make an effort to tell beginning authors that they must not only self-edit, but should often hire a professional editor as well? Or do they offer editing services as part of their contract?”

My publisher, Virtualbookworm, is selective in choosing which manuscripts to accept for publication, and they refuse to publish anything pornographic or excessively violent. Other publishers will accept just about anything that comes their way. The owner of a local independent bookstore established a print-on-demand company several years ago. She’s candidly admitted that she started the new business because she doesn’t expect the bookstore to survive more than another decade. She refers to the POD firm as a printer rather than a publisher, and makes no judgments as to the quality of the books she prints, at least when communicating with the aspiring authors who comprise her customer base. Privately, she’s told me that 90% of what she publishes is crap.

Morgan Mandel, who published two previous books with a small press, posted an interesting comment on Friday’s blog. She said in part, “This time, I went the self-publishing route for Killer Career. It’s very liberating to call the shots myself, but it’s a lot more work than having a publisher do it for you. . . . I received a thorough edit three times from Helen Ginger and I’m confident my book is the best it can be.”

People often ask me who edited my books, and I reply, “I did.” However, I have professional experience in copyediting and journalism, and both my mysteries went through exhaustive critiques in three writing groups, so I’m confident of their quality. Feedback from readers has validated my judgment.

With so little quality control in the POD field, how do you convince people your work is worth reading, let alone buying?

Good question, but I’m going to save it for Wednesday’s post. In the meantime, keep sending me your comments and questions. What’s your experience with POD publishing?

True confession time: I’m a POD person, I’m out and I’m proud!

Mood Swing front coverEarly in this blog’s brief history, I posted about my bipolar diagnosis, saying I’m out and I’m proud. Today’s post is about an aspect of my identity with perhaps even more stigma attached – I’ve published my two mysteries POD, or print-on-demand, rather than with a traditional publisher. A discussion on Murder Must Advertise got me riled up this morning, and I realized I hadn’t come clean how my books made it into print. It’s high time to change that.

My history in a nutshell: I began writing fiction in the 1980’s, inspired by my work as an art therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. After years as a free-spirited painter in New York’s SoHo, I found the institutional atmosphere overwhelming, but I was fascinated by the patients I worked with. The experience inspired my first mystery novel, and I produced a second as well. I managed to land a New York City agent, Kay Kidde of Kidde, Hoyt & Picard, but she didn’t sell my books. I stashed them in a drawer and forgot about fiction.

In the 1990’s I left the mental hospital and founded ElderSource, Inc., a Licensed Home Care Services Agency. The business did well, but it pushed me over the edge – it was while running ElderSource that I was first diagnosed bipolar. My husband and I sold the agency and moved further upstate to the Capital Region, where I did a year’s stint as Assistant Director at a psychiatric social club. They fired me the morning after I disclosed to one of the club’s consumers that like her, I had a bipolar diagnosis. Once again I turned to fiction as therapy: the experience inspired Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders.

Eldercide (2008)While attempting unsuccessfully to find an agent for Mood Swing, I wrote Eldercide. Perhaps mental illness was too specialized a topic, I thought, and I hoped for more success with the novel that drew on my home care experience. No such luck: the rejections continued. Approximately 18 rejections for each book – not many at all, but enough to throw me into a profound clinical depression. Once again I nearly gave up, until some writer friends convinced me to try print-on-demand publishing. I did due-diligence online research on POD companies and settled on Virtual Bookworm, a company in Texas that received consistently good reviews. Within two months of my decision, I had a published book in my hands. I had a major say in the design and layout, and I did my own cover illustration. Lo and behold, my depression lifted, and it hasn’t come back since.

Do I still want a big-time agent and publisher? Yes, that would be great, but my life no longer depends on it. And I plan to acquire them on my terms, when and if I choose. In the meantime, the people buying my books don’t care who the publisher is. Bookstores and libraries carry them when I do the necessary outreach, and they’re available worldwide through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. At my high school reunion last month in Milwaukee, I learned the school had purchased both books for their collection of alumni writers. And a fellow alumna from Norway, an exchange student back in the day, had bought them both as well.

Do I recommend POD publishing to other aspiring authors? Absolutely. I’ve got a lot more to say about it, so check back on Monday, when I’ll post a Q&A dialogue with myself about print-on-demand. If you have questions you’d like answered, leave them as comments, and perhaps I’ll answer them in my post. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

You can read the first chapters of both my mysteries by clicking on the tabs above or the pages on the right. If you like what you read, I encourage you to buy them! This fall I’ll be reissuing Eldercide with a new cover and a new title, Evening Falls Early. When I do, I plan to add a couple of pages with brief blurbs from other authors. These will include the authors’ own titles and/or websites, so it’s an ideal place to draw attention to your own work. Space is limited, though. I’ve already got some good quotes, and I can’t promise to include everybody, so act fast if you’re interested!

Digging Colin Powell up close and personal at the Times Union Center

Colin Powell

Colin Powell

I’ve reached another blogging milestone – 3,000 hits since I started this site on May lst.* When I saw that nice round number under the Site Visits on my sidebar, I experienced an adrenaline rush – talk about motivation! 

Not so coincidentally, today’s post is about motivation – particularly the GET MOTIVATED! seminar I attended yesterday in Albany. Yes, the very same seminar that dominated the news by causing the most massive traffic jam seen around these parts in many a year. I signed up over a month ago, suckered in by the barrage of ads hyping an A List of speakers including Colin Powell and Rudy Giuliani. I’ve loathed Giuliani ever since he was responsible for tearing down my daughter’s squat on the Lower East Side in the last years of the old Millennium. But despite my leftist political proclivities, I’ve always kind of dug Colin, so I looked forward to hearing him live at the Times Union Center. 

My daughter and I sat through hours of motivational speakers before Colin came on at 2:40 p.m. At 72 years of age, he’s still a really cool guy – he ran up the steps to the stage like someone half his age. What did he have to say? Like the compulsive student I’ve always been, I took diligent notes. Here’s some of what he said about “Take-Charge Leadership”:

 Know your purpose and be passionate and intense about inspiring it in others.

Take care of your followers and give them the tools they need. (For example, when he became Secretary of State, he was appalled at all the old computers, so he ordered  thousands of new ones immediately).

Reward your troops with promotions and money but more importantly, with praise and acknowledgment (he used to send hundreds of hand-written notes of praise). Be empathetic.

Discipline your followers when needed – don’t always try to be the nice guy. Fire them as needed.

 

He was a warm, witty and entertaining speaker. What he misses most about being Secretary of State is having his own 757 jet, the one Hillary has now. As a private citizen, he’s been wanded and searched, even sniffed by a huge dog, at Reagan International Airport. They knew who he was, addressed him as General, but felt they had to do their duty. “I didn’t mind,” he said. “I knew why they did it, because I helped put those procedures in place after 9-11.”

Giuliani, on the other hand, was weirdly robotic, and his attempts at warmth and wit lacked authenticity, at least to me. When he said “Communication is mostly about loving and caring about people,” I thought of the wife he’d left in the lurch for a younger woman, and I had trouble buying it. But it had been a long day by then – he was the final headliner, and many folks were wandering out in hopes of avoiding another two-hour traffic fiasco.

 Still, it was fun seeing him and Colin up close and personal. I’d sprung for the $29 VIP seats for myself and my daughter, and we were in the sixth row. Much closer – and cheaper – than any seats I’ve had at the TU Center in the past. I’ve seen lots of shows there** – the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel and Elton John, the Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn and on and on – and this show had some of the same pizzazz. There were even fireworks and confetti floating down from the ceiling.

 Want to hear more about the Get Motivated! seminar? Let me know – I may post more about it on Friday. Then again, something else may catch my fancy in the meantime.

 *Technically, I started this blog site in January of this year, but I only posted twice, briefly, and got six visits, so that hardly counts.

** The place was called the Pepsi Arena then. I prefer the new name,  and Coke.

***My friend Marilyn Rothstein (writing as M.E. Kemp) is posting all this week on Linda Suzane’s site, On Wings of Murder. Marilyn writes wonderfully bawdy historical novels about the Dutch settlers in New York State. This is her first venture into blogging, so I encourage you to visit the site and leave comments. I’ll be welcoming her as a guest blogger here in the near future.

And the winner is – Nancy Sharpe, for guessing Alexis Grant

Chihuly florabunda rose

Chihuly florabunda rose

Congratulations to Nancy Sharpe for guessing that Alexis Grant was the writer who signed a multimillion-dollar contract in my dream. Nancy wrote as follows:

Sorry, so late weighing in on this – crazy week with several projects – definitely not complaining Hmmmm…..so many great choices and I see there have been a lot of excellent suggestions. How about Alexis Grant with her travel memoir?

As Nancy notes, she had the advantage of coming in late. Thus her clever sleuthing revealed which writers were already out of the running. Nonetheless, she deserves my heartfelt congratulations, and I’ll be mailing her a copy of Eldercide this week. As I wrote her privately on Facebook, I’m delighted she won, because I admire her blog and her own networking abilities. I’m definitely going to check out her fiction as well. Although I don’t usually read fantasy, I’m sure my granddaughter will love her work.

This morning, Nancy made my day when I read the following comment:

Hi Julie,
Just wanted to let you know I passed the Humane Award on to you in my blog today. Have a great day!

Thanks to the other BBT folks who followed up with additional guesses: Elizabeth Spann Craig guessed Karen Walker. Karen guessed Patricia Stoltey. Patricia guessed Marvin Wilson. Then Patricia weighed in with another idea: “On second thought, were you the star in your dream? If so, we’ll just all hope it comes true. That would be literally living the dream.”

I replied, “Great guess, Patricia. I believe that in dreams, we really are our own stars, in that there’s a part of the self in each character that shows up. So technically, I suppose you could be considered a winner, but I’m going to say no – that’s not who I dreamed about.”

About my choice: Alexis Grant is the only writer from Blog Book Tours I’ve met in person. Soon after BBT began in May, we discovered we both lived in the Capital Region. On May 12th, we met for lunch at Panera, where she gave me an invaluable lesson in blogging. She helped me set up my sidebar, including the link to Twitter, and perhaps most importantly, she encouraged me to stick with WordPress as a more sophisticated and varied blogging program, even though more people are using BlogSpot.

So why did she figure in my dream as the author with the multimillion-dollar book deal? Although she hasn’t yet published a book, I admire the energy with which she’s pursuing her goal and the excellence of her social networking skills, and I believe these may well bring her the success she’s pursuing. Because of the help she’s already given me, and the help she’s offered to give in the future, I hereby pass the Humane Award created by Helen Ginger on to Alexis Grant.