SFWC 2018: Synopses

One of the most onerous parts of being a writer is having to boil down the entirety of your book into 1-2 pages. I’ve often said, “If I could tell it in a page, I wouldn’t have written a book!” Still, many agents still require a synopsis. So here is some info on how to write them.

Some agents ask for a 1-page synopsis. If so, you should write it single spaced with a break between each paragraph. If you’re asked for a 2-page synopsis, you should double space with no extra break between paragraphs.

A synopsis is always written in third person present tense, regardless of the POV of the book itself. Also, a synopsis is the one place where you’ll be asked to tell instead of show. For example, if your character is old and miserly, you might literally write in your synopsis: “SCROOGE is a crotchety old miser who hates Christmas.”

Notice that I also capitalized Scrooge’s name. The woman running this session said to do that the first time you introduce a character in a synopsis. I’ll admit I’d never heard that one before. It’s something we do in screenwriting, but I have never heard of anyone doing it when writing prose. I suppose it can’t hurt.

Although a synopsis tells the story of the novel—and yes, you should give away the ending—do not simply list the events that occur by saying, “And then . . .” Vary your transitions and keep it interesting. Give character motivations, too: “Seeing the vial of poison beside Romeo’s body, Juliet kisses him in the hopes that she might also be poisoned. When that doesn’t work, she takes Romeo’s dagger . . .” You get the picture.

In fact, reading a sample synopsis for a book you’re familiar with can help you figure out how to write your own.

Final rule: omit backstory and secondary plot lines unless these things tie in with the main plot. The example that was used in this session was that of Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Could he be included in the synopsis? Sure. Is he entirely necessary? Probably not.

The goal of a synopsis is to give the skull of the book. I say that because, you know how forensic pathologists can recreate a face from a skull? The agent will construct a sense of your book from the synopsis. That’s probably a really weird analogy, but there you go.

SFWC 2018: Getting Book Reviews

Here’s a topic every indie author—and probably traditionally published author, unless they’re already a big name—wants the scoop on: how to get more book reviews. This panel consisted of Stephanie Chandler and Isabella Michon and was moderated by marketing guru Penny Sansevieri.

Isabella stated up front that book marketing is “all about exposure and getting media attention.” She pointed to the Midwest Book Review as a good place to submit for that exposure. Also BookTalk. Giveaways are a good way to get your books under people’s noses, too (though now Goodreads charges for that). And if you do a blog tour, or if a blog posts a review of your book, you should always thank them and ask if they’ll also please publish on Amazon or Goodreads.

Stephanie agreed that you shouldn’t be afraid of giving your book away. She quoted Seth Godin: “Your problem is not piracy, your problem is obscurity.”

She mentioned software called Book Review Targeter that helps authors find Amazon reviewers for their books. She said to get in the habit of asking, even from big-name authors. “Find bloggers who speak to your audience.” Joining online groups and enlisting beta readers who will spread the word about your book is also helpful.

Penny gave a startling statistic: approximately 4500 books are published each day now. That’s a huge amount of content, and it’s difficult to be heard over all that noise. She said to put a letter in the back of each book that asks for a review. Turn those beta readers into superfans by giving them early access to material, or even exclusive material. Do the same for newsletter subscribers. Give them reasons to be fans rather than just readers.

95% of books are sold via word-of-mouth.
Fewer than 3% of readers leave reviews.

Isabella then mentioned the paid reviews you can get from elite outlets like Kirkus, or the paid Facebook ads. Those are fine so long as you’re only paying for honest reviews from known channels. Never pay someone to post a review on Amazon. You have to make sure your reviews are legitimate. (In most cases, people advise authors never to pay for a review regardless of the outlet.)

Someone then asked about Amazon pulling reviews if the book was, say, gifted rather than a verified purchase. Penny said that you can post a review, even if the book was not purchased on Amazon, and that pulled reviews usually have more to do with the reviewer than the book or author. Usually, if a review is pulled, many reviews by that particular reviewer are being pulled rather than the book or author being somehow punished.

So how to find fans? Well, social media is a good start, or maybe creating a private Facebook group where that elite content can be posted. People like to feel like they’re part of a club. Penny points out that the level of engagement is more important that the number of total fans. If you have 10,000 fans who don’t do anything, well . . . How much more valuable are 10 fans who are eager to spread the word about you and your book?

Timing is a final consideration. Major outlets will want your book well ahead of publication. But Amazon reviewers don’t care when the book was published. And readers seldom stop to look at whether the review is recent or not.

As for pre-orders, they’re great, but better to keep the time short. One to two weeks works best. And make sure you have fans and readers ready to post their reviews right away.

What do you think of these tips? Have you tried any? What has worked for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Building a Bestselling Author Platform

I mentioned in a previous post that I had the opportunity for a brief one-on-one with Rusty Shelton. (He’s a former Longhorn like me.) After that meeting, I also attended his talk on building an author platform.

Many fiction authors will say they don’t need a platform, that platform is for nonfiction. It’s true that nonfiction authors must prove themselves differently than fiction authors, but everyone needs some kind of platform. In short, we all need an audience/readership.

According to Rusty, there are three chief pieces of real estate in the media world: rented, earned, and owned.

Rented Media includes anything you buy an audience for. That is, when you pay for an ad, you’re paying for access to someone else’s audience. You control the content—what people see and hear about you and your book—but someone else holds the audience. Even if you aren’t paying outright, Twitter followers and Facebook page Likes aren’t actually yours. That real estate—those sites—belong to someone else. Those readers aren’t yours, but you’re hoping that you can sell to them and make them yours.

Earned Media is the world of PR. This is where you get book reviews and do interviews. You’re not paying for it (usually), but you’re exploiting that opportunity. In this case, however, you don’t control the content. You don’t get to say how the interview or review is written up. And the real estate still isn’t yours; it belongs to the newspaper or blog or reviews site where it’s posted.

Owned Media is the goal. This is your site, your home turf. You control the content, and the audience is yours. They’re coming to you, not through some other outlet.

So what you want is for the rented and earned media to drive the audience to your site and mailing list. You want to convert them.

Rusty explained it by using a stadium as an example. (Texas Memorial Stadium, in fact.) Imagine a stadium divided in half. One one side sits the VIPs. On the other side are people just here to see the game. Maybe they’re not big sports fans yet. And then there are people milling around outside the stadium not even sure they want to go in.

VIPs = your established customers
Spectators = those who are checking you out but haven’t committed yet
Loiterers = people who don’t even know you exist

The big problem with many authors is that they want to take people from outside the stadium and immediately stick them in the VIP section. And that’s a hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t be trying to sell these people anything. Instead, give them a free ticket and encourage them to just step inside and check things out.

That’s right, give them something—a reason to stay, and a reason to come back.

You need to make readers aware of you and your product. And then you need to convert that awareness not immediately to a sale but simply to attention. Get their attention and hold it. Else they’ll wander into the stadium, look around and think there’s nothing for them there, and wander back out again.

Think about your website. If someone were to stumble across it, or even deliberately click the link from somewhere, what first impression does it give? Do you immediately get a sense of the brand? You are a brand. And in the absence of meeting you personally, your site stands for YOU.

If you’ve won awards, showcase that on your site. You have mere seconds to capture and keep someone’s attention, so be sure your site does that. Differentiate yourself from everything else out there. And update consistently. But don’t make your content all about you and what you think. Deliver other content, maybe from daily headlines that pertain to your work. Rusty called this “newsjacking.” However, don’t be unprofessional or too controversial because that will turn your readers off.

Another idea is to interview others. Not just writers but, again, experts that are tangential to your work. Maybe a local undertaker if you’re writing a book that features a mortician. Yes, you’re a writer and you want to stay in your hole. But you’re also a brand, and that means you’ll have to go out there and show your face once in a while.

If you don’t want to do interviews, offer others guest post spots. Again, not just other writers, but professionals in various fields that relate to what you’re writing about.

And as so many others pointed out over the course of the conference: if at all possible, own your name as your website.

I hope this gave you a new way of thinking about how to reach readers and build a fan base. I definitely got a lot out of it! If you have anything to add, feel free to speak up in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Exploring Your Publishing Options

There are three basic types of publishing:

  • traditional
  • independent (or self-publishing)
  • hybrid

Traditional publishing takes the form of writing a book, finding an agent, and then sending the book out to publishers. Some publishing houses—particularly small ones—will accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from the author (meaning no agent is required). However, it’s recommended that you not sign a contract without input from an agent or appropriate counsel. In traditional publishing, the author is not required to contribute any money to the process. If a publisher or agent ever tries to charge you money, RUN.

Indie publishing is when the author takes full responsibility for producing the book. That doesn’t mean the author doesn’t need help, however. Indie authors should always have their books edited by a professional, and they should hire good cover artists and formatters/designers (though in some cases having good software may make the need for an outside formatter obsolete). There are “author services” companies that will provide all this, but authors must be careful not to be trapped by scam artists. The big difference between indie and traditional is that an author must invest money in their book before making any back from sales. Not everyone can afford to do that.

Hybrid publishing also requires the author to pay, so again, it’s not for everyone. The thing that distinguishes a hybrid publisher from a vanity press is that a hybrid publisher will have a submissions process. They won’t take just anyone. They will also provide distribution for your book, something that’s difficult to arrange as an indie author. She Writes Press is an example of a hybrid publisher, and co-founder of SWP Brooke Warner was on this panel to discuss the options authors have when publishing.

Now, “hybrid publisher” should not be confused with “hybrid author.” A hybrid author is an author who has some works traditionally published and some indie published.

Stephanie Chandler noted that traditional publishing doesn’t allow the author much control of the process or his/her work. She had a couple of books traditionally published and realized she wanted more say. Brooke Warner said that her reason for starting SWP was that while working for a traditional publisher she was forced to pass up great manuscripts because the authors didn’t have a platform. She wanted to create a way for those books to be brought to the public.

Hybrid publishing is still new enough that there are no established criteria, but the IBPA is working to change that. It’s anticipated that in the next few months they will be coming out with a list of standards for publishers to qualify as “hybrid.”

No matter which option you choose—and these days, you can choose something different for each book if you want—you need to know the market and your audience. Even if you’re published traditionally, you need to be prepared to do much of your own marketing. Know your genre and keep up with whatever is going on in the industry.

Nina Amir pointed out, “Having your book stand beside traditional books on the shelf means it needs to go through the same rigorous process. If you’re not going the traditional route, you need to put your own money where the publisher would normally put theirs.”

Speed is also a factor. The traditional publishing process takes years, and that’s not counting the amount of time it takes to write the book and find an agent. Hybrid publishing can take less time, and indie publishing takes the least amount of time. In short, the more people involved in publishing a book, the longer it takes.

Hopefully this gives you a sense of your publishing options. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

SFWC 2018: Reach Readers All Over the World without Leaving Your Desk

Some of these are pretty basic, but we can all use a refresher from time to time.

Claim your about.me page. Even if you don’t have a blog or other sites to link to it, it’s a place to start an online presence.

Use email signatures—but keep them short! Don’t list every link or form of contact. Use a picture of you rather than your book.

Post videos. Google gives preference to videos in searches. 80% more people will watch a video over reading an article. A good editing software for videos is Camtasia.

Buy your domain name. It should be your name, not the title of your book. If you do buy the domain name of your book title, have it redirect to your author domain. Remember that you are the brand; you’re selling YOU. If you have a common name, or your domain is already taken, try adding “-author” or “-writer” to your domain name.

Title your posts clearly so that they can be found in a Google search. That is, think about what people might search for and title your article accordingly so that it will come up in that search. Also, give names to your images so they turn up in image searches.

Join LinkedIn writing groups.

Blog consistently. Check your stats so you can see which articles get the most hits. That way you can write more of what people want. For fiction authors, some possibilities are: cut scenes that didn’t make it into the final book; cool research tidbits or facts you discovered while writing; info on your writing process itself.

If you’re targeting a teen audience, you have to go where they are: Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr. One suggestion is to have an online scavenger hunt.

Short and sweet, but I hope these tips help! I, for one, hope to try putting videos up sometime . . . maybe not “soon,” but soonish? Stay tuned!

SFWC 2018: Meet the Fiction Agents

I wasn’t pitching this year, but I was still curious to hear what the agents might have to say. The participating agents were: Lisa Abellera, Amy Cloughley, Taylor Martindale Kean, Laurie McLean, Mary C. Moore, Patricia Nelson, Monica Odom, Nicki Richesin, Ken Sherman, Gordon Warnock, and Carlisle Webber. I’m not too proud to point out many of these have already passed on Hamlette. Also, many are from the same literary agencies, which I felt limited the scope of the discussion. [Abellera, Cloughley and Moore are with Kimberley Cameron; McLean, Warnock and Webber are from FUSE Literary.]

After introductions, it went straight to questions.

Q: What do you look for in a writer?

Nicki Richesin: Professionalism, no ego, an understanding that a project may not sell. I want a long-term writer, not someone with just one book.

Monica Odom: Someone with business savvy and connections they can leverage. A platform.

Patricia Nelson: Willingness to revise.

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes writers make in pitching?

Carlisle Webber: They pitch or query too soon, before the book is ready.

Gordon Warnock: A good book is worth waiting for, so take the extra time to make it right.

Laurie McLean: Querying every agent they can find instead of doing their research to see if the agent even reps their genre. Stalk agents on social media to get a feel for them. Look at AgentQuery.com or join PublishersMarketplace.com for information. And don’t send to 100 agents at once. Do batches of about 10 at a time.

Q: Can you clarify some of the genre definitions, like “literary” versus “commercial” or “upmarket”?

Patricia Nelson: Literary tends to be about a character’s journey. Commercial is more plot focused. Upmarket is a blend of the two.

[I’ll step in here and say that upmarket usually has elevated language but a genre plot. My novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller was billed as “upmarket espionage.”]

Q: An author asked that, since she’d produced a book trailer and had a Facebook following, was it worthwhile to pursue traditional publishing?

Laurie McLean: I used to think people had to pick a path. If they self-published, then that was it, that was all they could do from then on. I’ve since changed my mind. Publishing is a ladder; there are many rungs. Each book is a new choice. I’d suggest setting a goal: “I’m going to query X number of agents, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll self-publish,” or, “I’ll query for X months, and if that doesn’t work I’ll self-publish.” That said, each agent feels differently. Not all will want to consider a self-published author.

Patricia Nelson: Self-publishing is like a sailboat. You have a small crew, or maybe you’re even sailing alone. You can’t go as far, but you can move faster and turn on a dime. Everything is up to you. Traditional publishing is like being on an ocean liner. Lots of people to help you, and you can go farther, but it’s much slower and hard to turn around. You don’t have much say in where it’s headed.

Q: If I’ve published with a small publisher, what are my chances of getting an agent and a traditional deal?

Amy Cloughley: You’ll need a brand new project if you want to change houses, but at least you have some experience in publishing now.

Q: I’m not sure if my book is fiction or creative nonfiction.

Monica Odom: Whenever I hear “creative nonfiction” I can’t help but think, “So you’re lying…?”

Nicki Richesin: You need to be reading more if you don’t know where in the bookstore your book belongs.

Gordon Warnock: And we want authors who can write more than one book [in one genre]. So ask yourself where you want to “live” in the bookstore.

[Guilty as charged. I’ve written several books now, but as I hop genres, I know I’m difficult to market.]

Q: Since several of you are from the same agencies, is it okay to pitch more than one of you?

Nicki Richesin: If only to practice your pitch, sure.

Taylor Martindale Kean: You can pitch and decide who to submit to. And you can check guidelines; some agencies allow you to pitch another agent if the first one passes, but some don’t.

Q: What if I want to pitch myself to an agent rather than just a book? Like, I want an agent to help with my overall career.

Carlisle Webber: I wouldn’t talk to you if you didn’t have a fresh project. You need to have a product to sell, not just yourself.

Taylor Martindale Kean: Maybe in nonfiction? You’d just need a proposal and you’d be pitching your experience.

Patricia Nelson: An agent only gets paid when he or she sells something, so you need something to sell.

Laurie McLean: That said, some agents will sell just the sub-rights to a project. Meaning, if the book is already published, the agent might just sell the audio or film rights.

Q: How many clients do you have and how did you find them?

Gordon Warnock: We work with as many as we can. If you want to increase your odds, aim for newer agents at established houses.

Amy Cloughley: Not all our clients have works coming out at the same time, there’s an ebb and flow, so we can sometimes add new clients when we’re not too busy.

Lisa Abellera: I have only 8 clients. Two of them I found in the slush pile as an intern and chased them down again once I was an agent.

Wow. Wouldn’t it be nice to be chased by an agent? That was effectively the end of the session. I hope some of these questions and answers provided insight into what agents look for and how they work. (And if noticing Ken Sherman didn’t answer any questions, you’re right!)

SFWC 2018: Some Insight

The great thing—well, one of the great things—about this conference was the number of opportunities to talk to industry professionals and gain some insight. In particular, I was trying to figure out what to do with my YA novel Hamlette. I’ve sent it out to some agents, and there have been nibbles, but so far (barring one incident I’d rather not rehash) no real feedback that I could use. Here’s the little bit I have received:

  • One agent was “afraid to fall in love with it” because it was too close to something else on his wish list, and so if he took mine on he wouldn’t be able to take on that dream manuscript if it were to ever cross his desk.
  • One agent said she didn’t have time to read this manuscript but was intrigued by my description of planned follow-up manuscripts and said she’d like to read those if I didn’t find representation.
  • One said she thought it was “a crazy fun concept” but the way the narrator directly addresses the reader didn’t work for her.

That last one gave me pause, of course. She didn’t say, “If you change it, I’d love to see it again,” so I guess it wasn’t a revise and resubmit.

Okay, so I while at the conference I met with Rusty Shelton and asked him whether I should just scrap this blog and my existing author identity and start over. He said no. (I was honestly surprised by this!) He said, “You have a half-built house. Why start over and have to lay a whole new foundation?” When you put it that way . . . He and I brainstormed some ideas that I look forward to putting into practice soon.

Then I met with independent editor Amelia Beamer and poured out my story of woe. She was so kind to listen, and so sympathetic. I told her I just didn’t know whether to keep trying to find an agent for my manuscript, or if I should self-publish it, or maybe just trunk it entirely. I told her about the agent that didn’t like the one aspect of the manuscript. “I’ve received a number of rejections,” I told her, “but none have specified why. Maybe they all hate the direct address and just didn’t bother to tell me?” Amelia pointed out that that could be true. Or not. I could try to change the manuscript for this one agent, but as she didn’t ask for revisions, I should be sure I’d be changing it because I honestly thought it was good advice. (I’m still not sure about that.) Then she told me, “The publishing industry will take your little piglet that you’ve nurtured and turn it into sausage. So be sure you’re okay with that. Else, write something you’d be okay with seeing turned into sausage.” Which I thought was a very good and vivid metaphor.

Next I had a chance to speak with an agent who shall remain nameless. Sufficient to say she’s an agent who only handles children’s and YA. I laid out my dilemma, told her the feedback I’d had from other agents. I wasn’t trying to pitch her so much as understand what wasn’t being said, or what the market might be for my book. She pulled up her email and showed me that she had 11 queries in her inbox referencing Hamlet. In short, Hamlet is overdone. I mentioned that one of the agents (the one with the wish list) had suggested Merry Wives of Windsor, which I have in fact outlined as a potential project. This agent told me that might be a good way to go because it’s a much fresher, lesser-known play. “Sit on the one you have, and maybe it can be published later.” I asked if it would hurt my chances if I self-published this one. She said no, since the books I’m considering writing—these Shakespeare updates—aren’t really a series with the same characters throughout.

So now I’m really trying to decide what to do here. But I least I have a clearer view of my options.

This morning I went to a session about children’s book marketing and was flattered when Penny Warner remembered me. (She’s delightful btw.) She asked me what I was working on and I told her, then also told her what the agent had said about there being too many Hamlets. Naheed Senzai was sitting next to Penny and said, “Find another agent.” Penny pointed out that everyone in the room could write a version of Hamlet and they’d all be different. “Figure out what sets yours apart.” But I don’t know what sets mine apart since I don’t know what those other 11 manuscripts look like! Still, the encouragement was much appreciated.

Other takeaways included the idea that my paperback books should be made by IngramSpark while my ebooks should probably be Kindle exclusive. Many thanks to Penny Sansevieri for that.

I realize much of this relates specifically to me and my project, but it goes to show how key these conferences can be, how important. Here is information I would otherwise not have had. Here is fresh support. Here is new perspective. I still have many decisions to make, but it’s so nice to learn and connect and get a bigger picture. If you are an author and have an opportunity to attend a conference, I highly recommend you do so.

SFWC 2018: Making Your Work Rejection Proof

Well, the short answer is: you can’t.

This panel consisted of a number of independent editors: Amelia Beamer, Mary E. Knippel, C.S. Lakin, David Landau, Heather Lazare, Mary Rakow, Suzanne Sherman, Meghan Stevenson, Annie Tucker, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Monica Wesolowska, and Hannah Wood.

When asked what advice they’d give authors, Wendy said, “To go to conferences like this one and learn. And to embrace rewriting.”

Monica added, “Be able to deal with rejection. Sometimes it opens you to new perspectives and ways to improve.”

Annie said, “Rejection is less about talent and more about marketing yourself as an author. You need to know your goal going in. What do you want from this? You also need to go all in on a good editor, copy editor, and designer.”

According to Mary Rakow, “You should work with a great critique group and have high standards for your work. If the revisions aren’t making you feel better about the work, you’re making the wrong revisions.”

David Landau: “Writing is now a performing art. Authors are also public speakers. In order to be effective, you must (1) develop a passion for your subject matter, and (2) extend an unspoken invitation to the audience to share that passion.”

C.S. Lakin: “This is about maximizing your chances. What separates a good author from a great one is an attitude of professionalism. Invest time and money in your work. Commit to it.”

Otherwise, your writing is really just a hobby. You’ve got to look at it like a career.

Amelia: “You can’t just put up a site and be a writer. A real writer has self-doubt and continues learning, even after being successful.”

Suzanne: “Be resilient. A rejection of your manuscript is not a rejection of you.”

(Though sometimes it can feel that way. Most times, actually.)

Meghan: “Get a mug that says ‘author’ on it to make you feel validated. And always remember that your readers are your customers.”

Heather: “Invest in Publisher’s Marketplace. Stalk agents on Twitter.”

Question from the audience: “How do I determine my genre?”

Meghan: “Look at the bookstore or on Amazon for books like yours.”

Q: How long does editing take?

Annie: “It’s subjective, depending on the condition of the manuscript, whether it’s a deep edit. Many editors book in advance, so plan for that.”

Q: What are some good questions to ask potential editors?

Heather: “Ask for sample pages. Most editors will offer a free sample.”

Meghan: “It’s like a relationship, like dating—you need to find a good fit.”

San Francisco Writers Conference 2018: Self-Publishing Summit

So, as promised, I will now begin blogging about the various sessions I attend while at SFWC. The first one I went to was the self-publishing summit. (This was yesterday; sorry for delays in posting, but things move fast a furious during these conferences, and getting away is not always easy.)

This “summit” was a large panel that consisted of: Mark Coker of Smashwords; Robin Cutler of IngramSpark; Helen Sedwick; Andrew Burelson of BetaBooks; Brooke Warner of She Writes Press; Karla Olson of Book Studio; and Angela Bole of IBPA.

Karla Olson pointed out relatively early in the session that she dislikes the term “self-publishing.” She said, “We don’t call it ‘self-rock’ or ‘self-film,’ so why don’t we use ‘indie’ for writing, too?”

From there the session mainly opened to questions. One author who had published with Author House asked why he’d heard they were such a bad company, especially since he was very happy with the results? Helen Sedwick, with her legal savvy, pointed out that the contracts from Author House and Author Solutions and their subsidiaries are simply not very author friendly. Authors have difficulty getting their rights back and don’t own their ISBNs. Mark Coker said the Author House and its ilk overcharge for services and pressure authors to buy more and more expensive marketing packages.

So then the question naturally became: What sets a hybrid publisher apart from a vanity publisher?

Angela Bole noted that IBPA is working to standardize a criteria for hybrid publishers, but the key difference is that a hybrid publisher will still have a submission process and standards for what it published. Vanity presses accept any and all content regardless of how good it is. So long as the author is willing to pay, they’ll print it.

Moderator Carla King pointed out that authors should always own their own ISBNs. Buy them from Bowker, or IngramSpark will also sell you an ISBN that you will own. DON’T take the free ISBN from Amazon/CreateSpace.

If a vendor refuses to use your ISBN, that’s a red flag. Always look at the vendor and its motivations.

Mark Coker said, “Anyone can publish a book, but do they help you sell it?” In other words, their money should come from selling books, not selling services to authors.

The next question that cropped up: What is hybrid publishing?

As co-founder of hybrid press She Writes Press, Brooke Warner responded that hybrid presses usually have a mission of some kind, that they vet the content (that is, there is a submission process), and they offer distribution of some kind that sells to the market.

Not to be confused with the term “hybrid author,” which is an author who has published some books traditionally and some independently. (I’m a hybrid author.)

An author asked which path was best for those who want to control their content.

Mark Coker replied, “The most successful authors on Smashwords are control freaks.”

In truth, if you want control over your work, you probably want to self-publish. But remember that having control means also having full responsibility for marketing and every other aspect of publishing. The wonderful thing about being an author in this day and age is that you can write a book and 100% be sure that it can be published. Maybe not by the publisher you’re hoping for, but there is a path to publishing no matter what—if you want to take that path.

There came a question about BetaBooks. This is a new site that allows authors to see the progress their beta readers are making on their manuscripts, which can help pinpoint engagement. It also helps the authors compile the feedback and act on it. This ultimately allows authors to find fans and build “street teams” for their books.

How to find a publisher or know whether the publisher is any good?

Helen Sedwick said to:

  • look at the books themselves
  • ask authors that have worked with the publisher
  • look at Amazon rankings
  • do your homework and research

Then it was time to address the elephant in the room: What about Amazon?

Mark Coker noted that Amazon is the largest retailer in the world, and authors do need to be on there. However, authors shouldn’t be dependent on Amazon; it shouldn’t be their only revenue stream.

Brook Warner said not to use CreateSpace for your print books because then many bookstores won’t stock your book. (I can second this since I’ve run into this problem myself.)

“Know your endgame,” said Karla Olson. “Know what your goal is and plan accordingly. If all you want is a book on Amazon, that’s fine. But if you want your book in stores, then you have to plan differently.”

Is there still a stigma attached to self- (or indie) publishing?

Brook Warner admitted to how infuriating those notions can be. Though the overall feeling toward indie and hybrid publishing is changing, there are still many associations that will bar self-published authors from membership, many prizes that only consider traditionally published books. Karla Olson said, “Books should be evaluated on their content, not their production method.”

How does an author find readers?

Angela Bole pointed out that marketing is publishing. You can’t just make content available and hope for the best. (Well, you can, but don’t expect to sell any books that way.)

A good publisher will create a plan with you. Distribution is also something you want to look for in a publisher. With 1.5 million books being published every year, discoverability is incredibly difficult.

So there it is, you’re first correspondence course in this year’s writing conference. Questions? Comments? Let’s hear ’em!

Coming Soon: SFWC Coverage

I’ll be attending the San Francisco Writers Conference this coming weekend, and you know what that means: I’ll be posting summaries of the various sessions I attend so that YOU can do a kind of vicarious “correspondence course” of the conference. Tune in and get the latest on the writing and publishing world!

The conference starts on Thursday, and I’ll update whenever I can grab the time. Keep checking back!