SFWC 2018: Exploring Your Print Options

Let’s assume you’re going to self-publish your book. You’ll do an e-book, certainly, but then you have to decide whether or not to also do a print version. Some indie authors don’t. They say the print books don’t sell enough to make it worthwhile, especially since print-on-demand (POD) books aren’t stocked in stores. Especially not books printed by Amazon’s CreateSpace, which many bookstores view as the enemy. (I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve run into this problem myself. One of my publishers used CreateSpace for the paperback version of my book, and none of my local stores will carry it because of that.)

Still, there are people who don’t read e-books, and many industry professionals say it’s best to offer some kind of print version to maximize your chances of being read. Also, I’ve noticed many indie book awards require you to have your book in print.

So you want to print your book, and you don’t want to use Amazon. What are your other options? Well, it’s possible to do offset (traditional) printing, even if you’re an indie author. Let’s look at the differences between POD and offset.

Pros: environmentally friendly since books are only printed when ordered; costs little to nothing for the author; the author doesn’t have to warehouse any stock
Cons: costs more per copy; there is no discount for a bulk order; choices of paper and trim sizes, etc. are limited; quality control issues; general stigma; bookstores won’t stock and libraries seldom order them

Pros: the more you print, the more money you save; more printing options overall; greater quality control; bookstores and libraries are more willing to stock them
Cons: costs more money up front; authors must warehouse the books or pay to have them warehoused by a distributor

How to decide? Sometimes it comes down to whether you have the money and the room in your garage to do your own print run. But really you need to know a couple things:

1. Who are you selling to? If bookstores and libraries, then you want to do offset. If directly to readers, POD might be fine so long as you’re relatively sure the books will print at good enough quality.

2. How many books can you realistically sell? Offset only makes sense if you print 250+ copies. Do you have space to keep those somewhere? Do you think you can sell that many at events, etc.? You also need to be prepared to fulfill orders from home.

Can you do both? Sure. You can have POD and a print run.

Why do bookstores balk at stocking POD titles? Because bookstores are used to receiving a discount (of about 55%) from distributors. They can’t get that discount with POD. Also, bookstores can return unsold books to distributors, but not POD books. And, again, many POD titles come from Amazon, which bookstores see as a competitor.

A viable alternative is IngramSpark, which does have a POD option but also lets you set a discount for bookstores. And Ingram is a known distributor that bookstores and libraries are comfortable working with. You’ll still need to market your titles to bookstores and libraries, but you’ll be able to say, “It’s available from Ingram” and they’ll know what that means.

Be sure, when doing a print version, that you have a good formatter and designer. The skills to create a good print book are somewhat different from those needed for an e-book. Many book designers can do both, but do your homework and find a good one.

Clear as mud? Great! Indie authors have to make a lot of decisions, and how (or whether) to print the book is just one of a long list. I hope this post helps you choose the best way to bring your book into the world.

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!

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!


This is not by any means meant to be a comprehensive list of how to self-publish. But someone sent me a message on Facebook asking for self-publishing guidance, and I wrote, well, a lot. Like, a really long answer. And it occurred to me that others might like this information, too.

The important thing to remember is that there is no “one size fits all” in self-publishing. It’s a living, organic system that changes regularly. But some of the core steps remain the same. The goal is to produce a really good book, and that’s not something you can rush.

So here is my long-winded response to the person who asked for advice:

Okay, for starters you need to know *why* you’re self-publishing. Is it because you already tried agents and publishers and didn’t get anywhere? Or because you prefer to do it yourself? I was telling my writing group that you either invest time—queries—or money—self-publishing.

But what are you hoping to get in return? Is it about making money or are you really just looking to get your story out there? (They don’t have to be mutually exclusive, of course, but will you feel “successful” if you only sell a few copies? What will make you happy? It’s important to know.) I highly recommend the FB group For Love or Money. Lots of self-published authors there with lots of great advice.

Assuming you’ve answered these questions for yourself, you have to (a) write the book, (b) get feedback from critique partners and beta readers, (c) rewrite, (d) get more feedback, (e) repeat the revision-feedback cycle until the book is polished and shiny, (f) get it professionally edited, (g) get a cover made, (h) format the book, or hire someone to format it, (i) decide if you’re going to be exclusive with Amazon or “go wide” with other publishers—well, you’ll need to know this when formatting, actually, (j) build buzz, (k) set up a pre-order, (l) build more buzz, (m) finally release the book and continue to market it while writing the next one.

It’s a lot of work.

And I’d say definitely go ahead and start a blog, Twitter, FB author page—whatever social media you’re comfortable using and think you will use consistently. DON’T start a blog if you don’t think you’ll use it because a blank blog is worse than no blog. But you want to start sending out little tidbits, reaching out to other authors in your genre, maybe ask them for guest posts on your blog or ask if anyone is willing to host a post by you. It’s a trade economy. “I’ll post about your book if you post about mine.” Start getting your name out there, catch people’s interest so they begin to anticipate your book.

That’s for starters, anyway. If you have more questions, I’m happy to answer. And I can point you to more resources, too, like the 20booksto50k FB group as well. The boards on the Absolute Write forum can be helpful, too, but overwhelming.

All of it can be overwhelming, actually. Which is why I broke it into steps. Don’t be scared! (But it’s okay if you are; even after years of this, I’m scared every time I write a new book.) Deep breaths, and tackle it one item at a time. Or two if you want to multi-task. And remember there is a very supportive community out here. We love helping—and go on and on as per this message. Sorry about that.

On the flip side: don’t take anyone’s advice too seriously. You’ll only freeze up. Go with what feels right and natural to you and your process. It’s different for everyone, can be different for every book even. Try stuff and decide what works for you.

Hope this helps. ~MPL

I’ve had my best success as an author through self-publishing. Which isn’t to say I don’t love my publishers, too. I’m so grateful to them for taking chances on me and my work. But it’s a simple fact that my self-published books have done better for whatever reasons. So I’ll continue to self-publish at least some of the time. I judge whether to query or self-pub on a book-by-book basis.

Anyway, as I state, I’m always happy to answer questions if and when I know the answers. And there are many wonderful resources out there. You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—do it alone! Writing may be a solo endeavor, but publishing is not.

Read Self-Published!

April is Read Self-Published Month, meant to encourage readers to try indie authors and self-published books. It can be so difficult to break into this business, which is an odd thing to say since it’s easier than ever to publish a book. The hard part comes in getting anyone to read those books!

That is where you, the reader, come in. We authors know you have a lot of options and there is a lot to sift through. How do you decide what to read? Do you browse a bookstore or library? Do you get recommendations from friends? Are you willing to try something you haven’t heard about yet, or an author you’ve never heard of? Do you base the decision on price or star ratings, or some combination of these things, or something else entirely? It’s so very helpful to us authors to know! So we appreciate you telling us! (Leave an answer in the comments.)

As for me, I was first published in magazines and literary journals, then ventured into self-publishing, then had a couple books picked up by small publishers. You can see my full writing history here. My latest book is again self-published, mostly because I’ve had greater success self-publishing than elsewise. Brynnde is a Regency romance and it’s getting great reviews, so I hope you’ll consider giving it a try (you can read it for FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited). If that’s not your thing, I also write mystery and fantasy. See all my books on my Amazon page.

And if you’re visiting this site as a self-published author yourself, go ahead and read my post on “winning” at publishing.

Thank you for stopping by as part of Read Self-Published Month! Be sure to keep checking the Facebook page for more books, authors, giveaways, etc.

IWSG: Too Much = Not Enough

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Read and support writers by clicking here, and if you’re a writer you can also join!

I currently have three different writing projects in the works. Meanwhile, I’m also being slammed by one son’s baseball schedule and the other son’s physical therapy appointments as he learns to walk again after breaking his leg. I can hardly find two minutes to rub together, and when I do, I barely get warmed up before I have to get up and do something else. These days I’m lucky if I even get a paragraph written on any given day. I don’t know how I’ll ever finish writing any of my books!

Sorry for venting, but this is what I’m insecure about this month. Getting my writing done. Prioritizing my projects.

This month’s question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

I’ve participated in A to Z twice. Once as an addendum to my Peter Stoller novellas (this was before The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller was published by Tirgearr), and once as the start of a sequel to The K-Pro. I don’t know that I’d call these “marketing” though the goal was to create greater awareness for the source materials. It’s not clear to me whether it worked in terms of getting people to buy and/or read either St. Peter in Chains or The K-Pro, though I did get a lot of site traffic and a few people have asked whether that K-Pro sequel will ever get written. The answer is: maybe? It’s still on my list of potential projects.

By the way, did you know this is also Read Self-Published Month? Visit the Facebook group to find out more and find some great new reads! And don’t forget you can read Brynnde for FREE via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited!


I’ve told this story before, but I like to do it again periodically for new readers.

My first publishing credits came from small magazines and literary journals. But after that I ran up against the wall of agents and publishers, and I eventually self-published. My goal wasn’t money or fame. I just wanted my work to be out there for people to read.

We’re told as writers that what we should want—that “winning” as an author—is an agent and big publisher. And if that doesn’t happen, as we teeter on the brink of depression and despair, a small publisher will do. Because the important thing, or so we’re taught, is that someone thinks we’re good enough to publish.

When I made the jump from self-published to being published by a couple small publishers, I thought I’d finally “won.” If not the jackpot (i.e., an agent and big publisher), then at least a scratch-off lotto ticket.

But here’s the thing, “winning” as an author is NOT about finding an agent or publisher. As it turns out, my initial instincts were right all along. The jackpot is having your book out there and finding readers. Readers are the jackpot. Not agents, not publishers.

This is nothing against my publishers. I’m so grateful to them for taking a chance on me, and nothing beats experience. I’m only saying that it doesn’t matter as much as we’re prompted to believe it does. What matters is whether readers will pick up your book and, well, read it.

Does having a publisher maximize this possibility? Maybe, maybe not. It might depend on the publisher. It definitely depends on the book.

All I’m really saying is that self-publish does not equal failure. You haven’t “lost” if you self-publish. How you get there matters less than actually getting there.

By the way, thank you SO MUCH for helping me reach my destination! Brynnde is now my most successful book since my Sherlock Holmes stories! If you haven’t read it already, I hope you’ll give it a try. You can read it for FREE via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

Late to the Party

I’m hopelessly late to the party about the piece in HuffPo condemning self-publishing. I almost wonder if it was written just to go viral because Gough knew there would be many biting responses (and possibly also many who agree). Well, FWIW, here’s another one.

Let me start by acknowledging that I’m a hybrid author. I use that term to mean that I’m both self-published and published by, well, publishers. (I think some others use “hybrid” to mean other things, and the truth is the terminology in publishing has become muddied overall and can be problematic, but that’s another blog post entirely.) While I’m pleased that some publishers have seen fit to take on my work, I’ve done better with my self-published material. By “better” I mean I’ve sold more. That’s one of the only concrete metrics we have when it comes to writing since it’s so subjective. We fixate on numbers—sales, units printed/sold, how many reviews/stars—because those are tangible. We take them as an indication of “good” or “not good” via a kind of sliding scale. But in reality, “good” isn’t quantifiable. It’s entirely based on personal preference.

Now let’s just look at some of Gough’s claims:

To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.

1. This assumes that readers only respect and want to read traditionally published books. That’s clearly not true since some self-published authors sell plenty of books and make plenty of money. (“Plenty” also being subjective.) Someone is buying self-published books.

2. This also assumes that agents, publishers, editors, and reviewers hold the corner on what is “good” or not. As we’ve already discussed, that’s a highly personal matter. Even agents, publishers, editors, and reviewers don’t agree on what’s good. And what about all the self-published books that get rave reviews? Or are we going to begin arguing about which reviewers “count”? Are we going to say that some readers have “no taste”? That’s not possible. Everyone has taste, just not the same taste. And no one’s taste is more valid than any other’s. This is one time when it really is a matter of opinion.*

3. Another assumption: readers expecting books to be vetted before they buy. Well, yes, if I’m buying a book published by [insert Big 5 Publisher here] I have that expectation. If I’m buying a self-published book I certainly hope it’s been edited and all that, but I admit my expectations are not as high. Maybe they should be, but . . . I’m just being honest here.

4. “It’s the best system we have.” Really? It’s a system that is primarily worried about making money, not about promoting “good” art. So, in truth, something half-assed that will sell still makes it through over something really well written that has a smaller audience. Does that mean the well-written book doesn’t deserve to be published? Because that’s the system that’s being touted here.

The article goes on to talk about how a good writer must put in thousands of hours, years of work in order to hone his or her craft. Okay, with this I agree. You should not immediately go self-publish that book after the first draft. You need to get feedback, possibly hire a freelance editor, etc. But in the context of this article, Gough just sounds bitter that she took the time to “do it right” and others are doing it faster and still seeing some success.

Or perhaps, as she mentions being an editor, she’s sour that some self-published authors don’t use editors or an editing service of some kind. I agree that can be a problem. (I also used to be an editor.) But to condemn all self-published work because some isn’t well edited is a terrible generalization.

In fact, the entire article is a generalization. It makes a sweeping assumption that all self-published work is crap that couldn’t hack it in the “real” publishing world. As if there is such thing as “real” and “fake” publishing.

The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.

Sure, some of these writers haven’t learned the craft and should probably do a bit more work before pushing that “publish” button on Amazon. But to say every single self-published book tells me she either hasn’t tried to read very many or has chosen the worst ones, probably just to prove her point.

She then quotes Brad Thor as saying, “If you’re a good writer and have a great book you should be able to get a publishing contract.” Well, that’s nice, but it’s not realistic. As mentioned previously, publishers are looking for something that sells, which isn’t always something “good.” And as the big publishers merge and shrink and smaller publishers fold under financial stress, there are fewer shots at a publishing contract even for “good writers and great books.”

I understand the general frustration of seeing poorly written work for sale online. But let’s look at this in terms of movies. Is an independently produced film—one funded by the writer and/or director using actors trying to make names for themselves—any less of a film than one produced by a major studio? Sometimes they’re bad, yeah. The quality can be lacking. But sometimes they’re wonderful and unique and couldn’t get a break with the majors because the majors all want blockbuster superhero films. And sometimes the majors make really terrible films, too. So it is with books. There are great little self-published books and dreadful ones. There are splashy traditionally published books with big names on them and atrocious ones where you wonder what they were thinking when they made it. And you can argue that you’ve seen more bad indie movies than bad studio films, and maybe that’s true. But you can’t honestly say there are no good indie movies ever. Nor can you say that of self-published books.

*Excepting grammar. Spelling and grammar are not a matter of taste or opinion.

Indie versus Self

There are a couple publishing terms that some people use interchangeably and that can be a tad confusing. “Self-published” is pretty clear. It means you published something yourself without the aid of a publisher of any kind. But what does “indie” mean?

For a lot of people, “indie” is the same as “self.” In other words, they use the term “independently published” to mean they published their book independent of a publisher. Maybe they use “indie” because it sounds less like vanity publishing. Maybe they use it because the film industry uses it, too, to good effect.

But then some people use “indie” to mean “small press.” In the same way some indie films are still produced by small production companies rather than a solo crew going out to make a movie whether anyone will want to see it or not.

An independent press would be one that doesn’t rely on a huge corporate machine. Just like an independent production company would have no studio ties. It goes to distribution, too—an indie publisher may not have wide distribution for its books, nor does an indie production company usually have wide distribution outlets for its films. Which is why you have to go to that one weird cinema to see them. (Or, in the case of the publisher, that one INDIE book store to find their titles.)

I don’t think there’s any right or wrong label here. I’m not going to say, “You’re using it wrong.” I do prefer clarity and specificity when writing or speaking, so I generally will use “self-published” and “indie published” separately rather than lumping them into one ball. But the truth is, we’re all trying to get our words out there. We have a common goal. We’re not stepping on each others’ toes; we’re marching forward together.

So if you’re self-published but prefer to use “indie” for whatever reason . . . I’m not going to tell you not to. I can now call myself a “hybrid” author, which is kind of fun. (That’s the term for people who have been both self-published and then also published by a publisher—of any stripe.) Bottom line, though, is that we’re all writers. Authors. Wordsmiths. Nothing in the world is made better or stronger by dividing it. Let’s not use labels to weaken ourselves. Let’s be one powerful force in the world, a force in which everyone counts, no matter how they distribute their words to the world.