Tag Archive | self-publishing

ANNOUNCING AUTHORS AVANT GARDE!

I’ve just registered two new domain names for my latest blogging brainchild, Authors Avant Garde. One is a dot-com and one is a dot-org. I’m not posting the links, because there’s nothing there yet, but Go Daddy assures me that courtesy of my Visa Gold card, I now own the domains for two years. I’m amazed the name hasn’t been taken already. So what am I going to do with it? You’ll just have to wait and see.

For over three months now, I’ve been planning to start a new blog titled Authors Avant Garde. I even registered the name with WordPress back in December, but till now, that’s all I’ve done. The idea came to me after an ill-fated trip to New York City wherein I missed the Mystery Writers of America’s holiday party due to acute intestinal distress, followed by a memo from MWA banishing Harlequin from their list of approved publishers because they’ve started a POD and self-publishing division, and that’s strictly verboten.

This confluence of MWA events ratcheted up my rage over the many snippy comments I’d been reading online about self-publishing and quality concerns. I was growing increasingly angry about industry snobbism and old-fashioned gate-keepers. Rather than conjure up the winter’s foul mood by writing more on this issue, I invite you to read my post from December 4th, titled “Was Jane Austen a professional writer? Not according to the Mystery Writers of America.”

I’m hoping the new blog will be a communal effort. Back in December, I even toyed with the notion of forming a not-for-profit corporation, an association of nontraditionally published writers, but I quickly realized that was a terrible idea, at least for me – I don’t always play well with others, and at this stage of my life, I have no need to subject myself to daunting bureaucratic games. So I’ll keep the ultimate control, thank you very much.

So what will I (or we) blog about? I envision Authors Avant Garde (AAG for short) as addressing aspects of writing, publishing and marketing especially from the perspective of self-published writers. I may sell memberships or (gasp!) paid ads, and I’ll offer others the chance to sell their books as well. Traditionally published writers will be welcome too, but they’ll be considered affiliate members.

AAG is very much a work in progress. Till now, it’s existed primarily in my head, but now my brainchild has survived the first trimester of the long dark winter, and I’m going public with the announcement of its impending birth. I don’t have a launch date yet, but if I commit to periodic progress reports on this blog, perhaps that will kick my motivation up a few notches. Never fear, though – it won’t take a full nine months.

I’d love your reactions and ideas. And no matter how this new venture evolves, those of you who’ve helped inspire me with your ongoing comments and support, especially the folks from Blog Book Tours, will always have pride of place.

I’m self-published, I’m out and I’m proud

Here’s another post that’s new to this blog. I wrote it for Morgan Mandel’s site as part of my blog book tour last November. I’ve talked about self-publishing here, but not for ages, so some of my newer readers may be unaware of what I’m about to confess.

IN PRAISE OF SELF-PUBLISHING

True confession time: I’m a self-published author, I’m out and I’m proud! There’s still a certain stigma associated with self-publishing, but the publishing industry is undergoing seismic changes, and I believe those of us who’ve bypassed the traditional system are taking back our power and gaining greater credibility with every passing day.

When I began blogging seriously back in May, I posted about my bipolar diagnosis, saying I’m out and I’m proud. At that time I wrote that self-publishing with a print-on-demand publisher rather a traditional publisher had even more stigma attached than revealing that I’m bipolar. But in the six months since then, I’ve changed my mind. Here are some reasons why.

I was recently honored as 2009 Author of the Year by the Friends of the Albany Public Library for my suspense novel Eldercide. They had a wonderful luncheon in my honor, and when their President Gene Damm introduced me, he pointed out that although they’ve been giving the award for decades, this is the first time they’ve ever chosen a self-published author. The fact that I was self-published didn’t weigh into their decision either positively or negatively; they simply thought my book was the best of the many they considered, and they liked the way I dealt with important social issues regarding aging and death.

In October, I moderated two panels for the Poisoned Pen Web Con, sponsored by Poisoned Pen Press and billed as the first-ever virtual worldwide mystery conference. When I volunteered to serve as moderator, the organizers didn’t ask who had published my books. Rather, they gave me free rein in organizing my panels on social issues and point-of-view. Most of the authors on the panels, which I put together by e-mailing back and forth, had far more impressive publishing track records than mine, but it didn’t matter. (By the way, you can visit the Web Con at the link above to read my panels and access the rest of the conference proceedings free of charge.)

Putting together those two panels made me even more grateful that I took the self-publishing route. Especially in the social issues panel, authors related stories of agents and editors who dictated what they should and shouldn’t write. Child abuse was taboo, for example. Appealing to the broadest possible audience without offending anyone seemed to be the dominant concern, and for the most part, the authors acceded to the restrictions. Those of us who self-publish have no such limitations – we’re free to write about whatever we want, however we want, and to build our own readership without having to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

I tried the traditional route to publication for both my mystery novels. While attempting unsuccessfully to find an agent for Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, which deals with mysterious deaths at a social club for the mentally ill on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, 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 experience running a home health care agency. No such luck: the rejections continued. Approximately 15 rejections for each book – not many at all, but enough to throw me into a profound clinical depression. 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 June 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 online as well.

Do I recommend POD self-publishing to other aspiring authors? Absolutely, and even more so since I’ve met Morgan Mandel and so many other successfully self-published writers on line. I firmly believe we’re just beginning to come into our power.  

Are you a self-published author? If so, what sort of stigma have you experienced? If you had it all to do over, would you take a different route? Or are you out and proud like me?

Want to order one or both of my books direct from the source and personally inscribed to you? E-mail me at jlomoe@nycap.rr.com and I’ll tell you how it can be arranged. One of these days I’ll have PayPal up and running on this site, but why wait? I’d love to hear from you.

Was Jane Austen a professional author? Not according to the Mystery Writers of America!

Jane Austen

This past Wednesday, December 2nd, both literally and figuratively, I suffered through my crappiest visit ever to New York City. I’d been looking forward to a day in Manhattan, culminating in the gala holiday party held by the Mystery Writers of America at the National Arts Club. I caught Amtrak’s 8:05 Empire Express from the Rensselaer station, but as I exited Penn Station, I experienced an acute attack of what might politely be called gastrointestinal distress.

I barely made it to the women’s restroom on Macy’s second floor – having lived in Manhattan for 18 years, I still knew my way around, even managed to find the secret old-fashioned escalator with the wide wooden treads – and found blessed relief in the nick of time. Next, I found a Duane-Reade drugstore, popped some Immodium, and headed for the Morgan Library to see the exhibit of William Blake watercolors and engravings. Happily, I also stumbled upon an exhibition titled “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy.”

I’m shamefully ill-acquainted with Austen’s work, but the exhibit was fascinating. I was especially intrigued by the display featuring the first edition of Sense and Sensibility, written between 1795 and 1797. The description read in part:

It was published on commission by Thomas Egerton in 1811, an arrangement in which Austen paid all the publication expenses but retained the copyright and increased her potential profit.

Wow! That sounds exactly like my arrangement with my publisher, Virtualbookworm. So Jane Austen started out as a self-published author. Would she have been eligible for active membership in Mystery Writers of America? Absolutely not.

Today I received an e-mail from MWA, which begins as follows:

Dear MWA Member:

The Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly. We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.

What does this mean for current and future MWA members?

Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration.

When they address me as “Dear MWA Member,” they don’t mean I’m a full-fledged Active Status member. Rather, I’m an Affiliate Member, meaning I’m not a legitimate author, and I don’t get any of the major perks, but they’re willing to take my money. In fact, reading the criteria on their website, I may not even qualify for this level of membership. They mention agents, attorneys, editors and other professionals, but nowhere do they mention authors who are self-published, pre-published, or published with a press that doesn’t meet their lofty criteria. In their eyes, apparently we don’t exist.

National Arts Club

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I was too sick to attend that fancy MWA party. I’m a firm believer in gut reactions and synchronicity. Normally, though I go through a fair number of Tums, my own gut is pretty sturdy, so I didn’t know what was happening to me. The Morgan Library is equipped with a beautiful new ladies’ room with lovely tiling and a large handicapped stall with which I became intimately acquainted over the course of several hours. During my fourth stay in that stall, fearing I might be coming down with the flu, I realized I was never going to make it to the Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim, much less the MWA party, so I trudged back to Penn Station and caught the 4:40 train back home.

The party would have been great; I had a wonderful time last year. But in addition to the lavish hors d’oeuvres, there was an open bar, and I might have said things I’d regret in the cold light of morning. Instead I spent the evening in bed – no food, no booze. I was fine in the morning, so fortunately, it wasn’t the flu  – just something I couldn’t stomach.

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?