What to Look For in a Small Publisher

Please come visit me over at Dale Cameron Lowry’s site where I’m discussing, well, just what the title of this post says. I’ve learned a lot about contracts and red flags, and while many small publishers are good (or at the very least mean well), you really need to know what you’re getting into. The first step, of course, is to clarify what YOU want for your book. Then find the publisher who can work with you to get there!

LOVE Dale’s infographic, btw. Very handy! And I’ve never had anyone make a graphic for me before, so I’m super flattered. Hope you’ll swing by the post for a look!

Déjà Vu Blogfest

It’s my solar return today, so I’m out doing fun things like seeing Rogue One and having my annual tarot reading. While I’m out, however, please enjoy this compilation of some of my better posts from this past year, courtesy of DL Hammons’ Déjà Vu Blogfest.

From August 25, a post about the #tenqueries hashtag on Twitter:

An interesting conversation—if Twitter can be said to have conversations—has popped up around the hashtag “tenqueries.” This hashtag is used by agents to go through ten queries in their slush piles and give reasons for requesting material or passing. I used to read #tenqueries regularly, but I stopped when I realized I was getting rather facile information. “This concept has been done to death.” What concept? The one-line reasons for passing on something were not helpful to me without more information. I learn by example. Show me the bad writing so I can see why it’s bad.

Of course they can’t do that. I know they can’t. They can’t share someone’s work and then point out everything wrong with it. That would be like a teacher calling a student up to the front of the classroom and then mocking the way he’s dressed or something. Maybe not mocking. But even if the teacher only pointed out everything wrong with a student’s uniform—why it wasn’t up to the dress code—that student would certainly feel bad. Just as the writer who was made an example of would, even if an example could be made.

It’s a thin line.

In the end, I found #tenqueries to be voyeuristic and not terribly helpful. To sit and wonder if the agent is writing about your manuscript . . . What would be the point? You’ll know if and when you get the rejection (or request), and you’ll still never be sure whether that one tweet was aimed at you. And if you didn’t submit to that agent, what truly useful information are you getting from, “This needs more editing”? WHY does it need more editing? SHOW ME!

That’s my two cents anyway.

From November 4, a post about what I’d learned working with small publishers:

I’m a hybrid author in that I’ve self-published some stuff and had other works published by small publishers. Two different small publishers, to be exact. And now that I’ve had that little bit of experience, I feel I can share some of it with you.

What To Look For

Readers – You want a small publisher that has a [good!] reputation in its genre(s) and has readers who come back for more. That readership is your best chance of being discovered by new eyes.

Marketing – And I mean more than a Facebook post and a tweet. You can do that yourself. When a small publisher makes it a point to stipulate that you will be doing most of the marketing, ask what they plan to do for you. If they say, “Well, we’ll edit your book and give you a cover,” remember that YOU can get those things elsewhere. What you’re looking for is marketing and distribution. If they aren’t offering some kind of marketing, that’s one strike against them.

Distribution – Are any of their books in bookstores? Libraries? These are the next best places for readers to find you. If the publisher is digital/ebook only, will they still try to hold all your rights (print, audio, film, translation), even if they’re not planning to exercise them? I learned this the hard way, so be sure to ask. And get everything in writing.

Brand – This is similar to readership. Is the publisher a known name? Does it have an established brand? How long has it been around? You may be tempted to give a new, up-and-coming publisher a shot (and be grateful when they offer you a shot, too), but remember that many fledgling publishers fail. Which leads us to . . .

Contracts

I’m no lawyer, but based on my experience be sure that the following things are clear in any contract:

Rights – And which of them the publisher plans to exercise. As mentioned above, if they only plan to do the ebook, they shouldn’t be asking for any other rights.

Quotas – Likewise, if your sales are required to reach a certain mark before your book will go into print or audio, that should be clearly stated in the contract.

Reversion – If you and the publisher want to break up, then what? Your contract should stipulate that process by giving you a way to get your rights back. (Note that having to pay a fee to buy back your rights is generally frowned upon by author advocacy groups.)

Timeframes – The publisher shouldn’t be asking to have the book forever. The contract should expire at some point, and the contract should give information on what to do if you want to extend or renew it.

Right of Refusal – This is tricky. A lot of publishers will have a clause about having “first right of refusal” on either your next book and/or any book related to the one you plan to publish with them. There’s a distinction here, and it’s important. I turned down a contract because the publisher wanted first crack at ANYTHING else I wrote. I knew the book I was working on wouldn’t be right for them, and I didn’t want to send it to them. They were unwilling to negotiate the contract, so I declined it. However, it’s pretty standard for a publisher to ask for first shot at any sequels, prequels, etc. to the book they’re offering for. Just remember this means you can’t play with those characters or that world elsewhere until/unless the publisher gives the nod. Or until you get your rights back.

You see that the key is, really, to be sure you have a way to get your book back if the relationship between you and the publisher fails. This is your intellectual property, and it has value! Be sure you have a way to hold on to it!

Red Flags

Social Media – Does the publisher truly engage with followers on social media, or does it just put out links to its books periodically? How many comments, likes, retweets, shares, etc. are they getting? This helps determine whether they have an engaged readership or not.

Too Many Releases – This is a sign the publisher believes the more they put out there, the more money they’ll make. They aren’t giving each book and author the attention it/they deserve. “Author mill” is a term sometimes used to describe this practice. Instead of laying the groundwork for each release, the publisher just tosses a book out into the wild to fend for itself and expects the author to do the work in finding readers. If that’s the case, you might as well publish the book yourself.

Cross-Promoting Authors – When you see a bunch of authors from one publisher cross promoting each others’ books, it’s usually because the publisher encourages them to do so. Problem is, if all these authors are new and don’t have many readers or followers yet, it’s doing no one any good. The idea of authors helping each other is grand, it’s lovely, but it’s not effective at a peer level. You need established authors to help those struggling to come up in the world, and then when you’re established, you return the favor to another newbie. If the publisher doesn’t have any established authors that can help you, you’ll need to go find one. A mentor. Or else try to make it on your own, which can be done, though it’s tough. Bottom line here, however: A bunch of newbie authors trying to help one another is sweet but somewhat useless and your time is better spent elsewise. If your publisher insists you promote one another, they’re giving you bad advice and/or are too cheap and lazy to do any real marketing.

This list is by no means comprehensive. It’s just a starting point based on my experiences. Have anything to add? Any questions? Feel free to share in the comments!

And from November 15, a post about how and why it’s so difficult to reach readers and sell books:

The biggest complaint I hear these days from fellow authors (and I’ve been known to make this complaint as well) is that it’s harder than ever to find readers and sell books. I combine these two seemingly separate moans into one because in order to sell books an author must first find readers. One follows the other and so it’s all really one big problem.

For a while there ads were a big deal. Discounting your book and then running ads on Facebook and via the sites that send out daily deal newsletters would get you a fair number of sales and maybe, on the flip side, some reviews. But as soon as every author cottoned on to that route, readers became numb to all that. They were inundated and learned to block out yet another avenue of marketing.

Look at it from a reader’s perspective. (And hey, as writers many of us are also readers, so this shouldn’t be difficult.) There are a lot of books out there. So many that’s it’s nigh impossible to figure out what you’re going to read. In order to narrow down your choices, you need guidance. Where do you go for that?

  • You ask for recommendations from friends and family.
  • You read reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, whichever book blogs you frequent.
  • You look at Amazon’s “if you like this, then read that” thingy.
  • You go to a bookstore or library and browse for something that looks interesting.

The above is why it’s so important for writers to build a readership AND also have distribution in bookstores and libraries. You need people talking about your book, and you need your book to be under readers’ noses so that they can stumble upon it in places where they’re looking for something to read.

But what if you’re brand spanking new at this and don’t have readers and maybe only have e-books and don’t know how to get in stores ohmygodwe’reallgonnadie. Take a deep breath. Stay with me now. And think about this like a reader.

You see a book online. It doesn’t have many (or any) reviews. You’re not sure you would like it. I mean, it kinda sounds like something you’d enjoy, but you’ve never heard of this author, so . . . You just don’t know. What would it take to “sell” you on the book?

What if it was only 99 cents? Better yet, what if it was free? Hey, nothing to lose there! You could give a free book a try, right?

I know. I know that giving away books means not making any money. BUT. I also know that you’re not going to convince a reader in a world of cheap and free books to shell out $4.99 for someone they’ve never heard of. Maybe they like the sample chapter, but still, they’re going to hesitate.

There are a lot of books out there. Yours are just a few in an ever-growing pile, and if they’re ever going to get selected, you’ve got to make it easy and relatively low-risk to get the reader to pick your books up. That means (1) putting your book under readers’ noses, and (2) pricing it in a way that makes the reader feel they won’t be out anything if they don’t love it.

Think about authors whose books you willingly pay full retail price for. Authors whose books you pre-order and can’t wait to read. Do you even have any? (I only have two or three myself.) You want to become one of those, but to get there, you first have to snag those readers. Give them a book or two at a relatively low price, or even make one permanently free, and once they’re in love with your style, your characters, your writing—then they’ll hopefully happily be willing to pay more for subsequent books.

But you gotta get them first.

And in my experience, this is how.

Or, at least, this is what works at the moment. But the industry is changing so quickly, who knows what will work next month, next week, or tomorrow?

Authors, tell me what works for you. Readers, tell me how you find new books and authors. I want to hear from you!

______________

Honestly, though, I think one of my best posts of the year took place on another blog. Read that post on writing advice here. I also thought this q&a was pretty good.

Hope you enjoyed these, or at least found them informative. And be sure to visit the other blogfest participants!

Small Publishers

I’m a hybrid author in that I’ve self-published some stuff and had other works published by small publishers. Two different small publishers, to be exact. And now that I’ve had that little bit of experience, I feel I can share some of it with you.

What To Look For

Readers – You want a small publisher that has a [good!] reputation in its genre(s) and has readers who come back for more. That readership is your best chance of being discovered by new eyes.

Marketing – And I mean more than a Facebook post and a tweet. You can do that yourself. When a small publisher makes it a point to stipulate that you will be doing most of the marketing, ask what they plan to do for you. If they say, “Well, we’ll edit your book and give you a cover,” remember that YOU can get those things elsewhere. What you’re looking for is marketing and distribution. If they aren’t offering some kind of marketing, that’s one strike against them.

Distribution – Are any of their books in bookstores? Libraries? These are the next best places for readers to find you. If the publisher is digital/ebook only, will they still try to hold all your rights (print, audio, film, translation), even if they’re not planning to exercise them? I learned this the hard way, so be sure to ask. And get everything in writing.

Brand – This is similar to readership. Is the publisher a known name? Does it have an established brand? How long has it been around? You may be tempted to give a new, up-and-coming publisher a shot (and be grateful when they offer you a shot, too), but remember that many fledgling publishers fail. Which leads us to . . .

Contracts

I’m no lawyer, but based on my experience be sure that the following things are clear in any contract:

Rights – And which of them the publisher plans to exercise. As mentioned above, if they only plan to do the ebook, they shouldn’t be asking for any other rights.

Quotas – Likewise, if your sales are required to reach a certain mark before your book will go into print or audio, that should be clearly stated in the contract.

Reversion – If you and the publisher want to break up, then what? Your contract should stipulate that process by giving you a way to get your rights back. (Note that having to pay a fee to buy back your rights is generally frowned upon by author advocacy groups.)

Timeframes – The publisher shouldn’t be asking to have the book forever. The contract should expire at some point, and the contract should give information on what to do if you want to extend or renew it.

Right of Refusal – This is tricky. A lot of publishers will have a clause about having “first right of refusal” on either your next book and/or any book related to the one you plan to publish with them. There’s a distinction here, and it’s important. I turned down a contract because the publisher wanted first crack at ANYTHING else I wrote. I knew the book I was working on wouldn’t be right for them, and I didn’t want to send it to them. They were unwilling to negotiate the contract, so I declined it. However, it’s pretty standard for a publisher to ask for first shot at any sequels, prequels, etc. to the book they’re offering for. Just remember this means you can’t play with those characters or that world elsewhere until/unless the publisher gives the nod. Or until you get your rights back.

You see that the key is, really, to be sure you have a way to get your book back if the relationship between you and the publisher fails. This is your intellectual property, and it has value! Be sure you have a way to hold on to it!

Red Flags

Social Media – Does the publisher truly engage with followers on social media, or does it just put out links to its books periodically? How many comments, likes, retweets, shares, etc. are they getting? This helps determine whether they have an engaged readership or not.

Too Many Releases – This is a sign the publisher believes the more they put out there, the more money they’ll make. They aren’t giving each book and author the attention it/they deserve. “Author mill” is a term sometimes used to describe this practice. Instead of laying the groundwork for each release, the publisher just tosses a book out into the wild to fend for itself and expects the author to do the work in finding readers. If that’s the case, you might as well publish the book yourself.

Cross-Promoting Authors – When you see a bunch of authors from one publisher cross promoting each others’ books, it’s usually because the publisher encourages them to do so. Problem is, if all these authors are new and don’t have many readers or followers yet, it’s doing no one any good. The idea of authors helping each other is grand, it’s lovely, but it’s not effective at a peer level. You need established authors to help those struggling to come up in the world, and then when you’re established, you return the favor to another newbie. If the publisher doesn’t have any established authors that can help you, you’ll need to go find one. A mentor. Or else try to make it on your own, which can be done, though it’s tough. Bottom line here, however: A bunch of newbie authors trying to help one another is sweet but somewhat useless and your time is better spent elsewise. If your publisher insists you promote one another, they’re giving you bad advice and/or are too cheap and lazy to do any real marketing.

This list is by no means comprehensive. It’s just a starting point based on my experiences. Have anything to add? Any questions? Feel free to share in the comments!

#amediting

Editing, for me, is so much harder than writing—and writing doesn’t come easily to me either, which tells you how difficult I find editing.

Yesterday I received the first round of edits on Changers, and my stomach is in knots over it. I’m only on page 10. It’s like I have to come up for air frequently because this stage practically gives me panic attacks.

I keep reminding myself of the good things. Edits = progress = closer to publication. And of course I want my book in the hands of readers!

Still, there’s something about the editing process that I find chastising. A lot of it is subjective, and still more of it has to do with individual publishers’ styles. Compromise is required. I try to see it as a learning experience, but sometimes I can’t help but think, This is why I self-publish so much of my work.

Which is not a dig at my publishers, I promise! Every writer should learn to compromise and negotiate their words. I think most of us want to dig in our heels and be stubborn about it, but it really is important to learn to take criticism and critique.

Just having an editor and a publisher is a blessing. It means the work has value. As a writer, I need to remind myself that a little tweaking isn’t a condemnation. But I still have to tackle it in bite-size pieces. They’ve given me two weeks.

Deep breath.

I’m going back under.

Changers News

If you subscribe to my newsletter (and if you don’t, you can right there on the sidebar), you know this already. Newsletter readers get the news first! But now I can push the boat out a bit and announce that my young adult fantasy novel Changers: Manifesting Destiny will be published by Evernight Teen. Look, they sent me this awesome cover!

ET coming-soon

Okay, so there’s no actual cover yet. But I’ve already filled out the paperwork and can’t wait to see what the designer does!

Manifesting Destiny is planned as the first in a trilogy. So my writing priorities have necessarily shifted.

  1. Changers: The Great Divide
  2. Finish Brynnde
  3. More Sherlock Holmes
  4. A possible sequel to Peter

And then, too, Changers: A More Perfect Union will need to be slotted in depending on publication schedule. But I’m taking things one at a time else I’ll start hyperventilating.

For now I’m excited and grateful to be able to display the following badge:

ET Family button

I’ve also added it to my sidebar. Can’t wait for this new adventure to start, and to share Changers with all of you!

The Wheel Turns, the Scales Balance

Yesterday (or early this morning, depending on where you are) there was a New Moon in Libra, the sign of the Scales. A New Moon is the beginning of a new cycle; the Full Moon is the culmination of a cycle. That doesn’t necessarily mean things start and end in two weeks, although it might. But it really depends on what project or goal is being started. It might take a month (a whole Moon cycle), or it might take those six months until there is a Full Moon in Libra.

In any case, I definitely got a taste of things. I had both good and bad news and some in-between. Very Libra, very balanced.

The good news: a short fiction piece of mine will be featured on the February 10th episode of No Extra Words.

The bad news: an agent who’d asked to read some of Changers gave me the “just didn’t connect” line yesterday.

The in-between: the small publisher looking at Changers acknowledged receipt and said it might take a few months to get back to me. They asked that I let them know if the status of the manuscript changes.

Also, I made great progress on the Peter edits yesterday and finished them up this morning. The manuscript is back with my editor now.

So, yeah, balance. Better to get good and bad news in a day than just bad. Hopefully there will be more good ahead as well.

T-Minus 3 Months

Okay, so at the start of the year I had three goals for 2015:

1. Get an agent for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller.

2. Finish Changers.

3. Get Hunting Victor Frankenstein picked up.

And here is where I stand with those.

1. No agent, but I did get a publisher (Tirgearr) and the book is slated for a January release. Just waiting on notes from my editor, and then it can go up for pre-order.

2. Draft is done, surely needs revisions and editing, but the main goal is met. I have one agent who has told me she’s interested in seeing it, so I want to polish it up to a bright shine before I send it.

3. Alas, nothing on this front. I knew it was a long shot. Seems my screenwriting has dipped in favor of my prose just lately. I do still have a number of screenwriting projects, but . . . It’s much more difficult to get a movie or television show made. Or even a stage play. So many more moving parts than a book. Requires so many more people and a lot more money. So I suppose I can’t kick myself for not making this goal. I did at least receive great, encouraging feedback on the script. Was told it’s “worthy of network consideration.” If only I knew how to get it to a network!

In all, it’s been a pretty decent year. Goals for the coming year include finding an agent/publisher for Changers and . . . Well, that’s the main one. I’ll be marketing Peter, too, so I think between the two, that will take up a fair amount of my time. That and actual writing, of course. Though I need to look at my list of projects and figure out what to prioritize . . .

Ursula K Le Guin v Amazon

A Facebook post sent me to this essay by Ursula K Le Guin about how Amazon promotes a disposable culture.

The argument goes more or less like this: Amazon [and other publishers] are now solely interested in the next big best seller. They don’t care if the books themselves are any good; they only care whether the books will sell. It’s a lowest common denominator kind of market, really. Le Guin likens it to fast food and sweets. People love the taste, and these things are cheap besides, but are these aren’t the makings of a good diet.

She’s got a point. And I think there are a number of cultural problems in the same vein, but that’s another discussion altogether.

Really, churning out only what people “want” to read leads to a homogenous literary culture, and one that, again, is high in calories and low in mental nutrition. There’s a place for those kinds of books, of course, but we need a diversified “diet.” We need literature, a wide variety of it. Instead, what we get these days are basically different toppings but it’s all pizza underneath.

Meanwhile, as far as Le Guin’s essay goes, I’m mostly surprised at how many of the commenters (a) profess to love Ms. Le Guin then (b) go on to tell her she’s wrong.

A lot of the commenters admit to being self-published through Amazon, so one might cite bias. They argue, not entirely incorrectly, that Amazon allows more voices versus fewer because it gives everyone a voice (via self-publishing). So maybe it’s the traditional publishers that are serving up such poor menus. After all, these are the ones who want only more of the same stuff because it’s that “same stuff” that sells. (And based on my experience in trying to sell a very different kind of book, I’d say there’s merit to that argument; I’ve been told flat out my manuscript is “great” and “well written” but, the agents say, “I can’t sell it.”)

Still, Le Guin’s essay appears to largely target marketing. Yes, Amazon allows anyone and everyone to publish his or her masterpiece, but it does little to nothing to promote good literature. Because in the end it is a commercial company mostly interested in its bottom line. And this is true of all other publishers as well. In this day and age, none of them want to take risks on something new or different, on an unknown author. They swear up and down they LOVE debut authors, but really, they only love the ones they believe can be the next big hit. Not even a modest hit. Not a steady seller. No, this is: go big or go home.

But again, I think cultural issues are to blame for most of this. The root is in what is being demanded by readers. Most readers seem to want . . . Well, whatever is selling these days. The market doesn’t leave room for narrow channels, those few readers who like a very small and specific genre. While television has increasingly gone narrower and narrower as channels split so that there’s something for everyone (history buffs, people who like cars, cooking, soap operas, etc), publishing has gone the other way. We have fewer “channels” and those channels (publishers) are inclined only to choose “shows” (books) that appeal to wide audiences. Because that’s how they make money: selling books. They aren’t in it for the art. [I’ve had this same discussion re the tidal wave of blockbuster movies and the hope that eventually we’ll all be sick of them and clamor for something else. But as long as we keep going to see those movies, and as long as those movies keep making billions of dollars, that’s what studios will make.]

Ms. Le Guin can bemoan the lack of audience for better books—if more people were demanding them, maybe they would get published. She can equally bemoan that publishers and big corporations like Amazon won’t publish and promote better, smaller books—if they did, maybe those books and authors would develop bigger platforms. But no one is willing to put in the time and effort, or wait that long for results. As she points out, it’s all about get the book up the charts then toss it aside and make space for the next big thing. Books, ahem, no longer has as much of a shelf life.

And neither, it seems, do actors or musicians . . . Again, I would argue that our pop and celebrity culture chews up and spits out much faster than ever before. We are voracious but nothing sticks to our ribs. Sure, Amazon and publishers contribute to this because it’s good for their businesses—to say they should change “for the good of the people and the sake of our culture” is like asking a hungry bear not to eat a fish because “that isn’t nice to the fish”—and they will continue in this way until our demands change. But will that ever happen? Until we rally at large for lasting works of art (be it in words, music, or movie form), why should they give us any such thing?