“The Truth About Publishing”

The title has been borrowed from Ian Irvine’s website, which all of you should thoroughly read.

So a lot of writers go into publishing believing they have realistic expectations (I am not talking about the ones who go in and think they’ll be bestsellers or millionaires because they’re with a major publisher). I, too, thought I went into publishing with realistic standards, until I realized my standards weren’t realistic at all, which did depress me for a few days–but I was also depressed about something major that happened in my ballet life; however, rest assured, I haven’t quit ballet, and it didn’t have anything to do with my questioning whether or not I was good enough to continue on doing ballet. So two depressing things thrown at me made me feel depressed again–and heartbroken, mainly a bunch of pointe shoes stabbing my heart. Monday and Tuesday, I didn’t even get out of bed until 10:30, and I just could not bring myself to write. I’ll tell you that ballet was the biggest part of it, though. Publishing was only a small factor. But this post is not about ballet. (I know I deviate a lot, don’t I?)

This post is about having to almost severely lower our standards for what we should expect in terms of book sales and publishing itself: with both small and large presses. I know I have had to lower mine, and I have found myself being able to accept selling X number of books per month; however, I do expect that as I go on, I should be selling more. I have high expectations for a reason, so that way I can strive toward where I want to be. Thus, I am going to use Mr. Irvine’s article to highlight some major points about the truth in the publishing world, a truth that even veteran authors seem to have become jaded to. So you can read the article, but I’ll just make it easier for you by highlighting the major stuff.

  1. You’re not considered published until you’re in print. Sadly, a lot of authors get their hopes up that when an editor falls in love with their manuscript, that they are considered published authors. I think I considered myself a pre-published author upon inception to AEC because I knew any number of things could happen, like, for whatever reason, they could drop the project. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But, in short, and this is for both small and large presses, if your editor gets fired or leaves the job, and your manuscript is passed on to another who hates it, don’t expect publication. Having an agent or a publisher doesn’t guarantee anything. I know one person whose agent never found a house for her book. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from this person in a while, so I’m not sure what happened, but her book seemed awesome. In any case, I want you to be downright realistic upon landing an agent or a publisher because ANYTHING can happen that could lead to heartbreak, for whatever reason. Sometimes an editor puts too much hope in a manuscript and the sales department thinks it’ll be a liability, and, just like that, your chance at publication is gone. Read Lesson 10A for more detail.
  2. Print runs. I can’t say too much on this because I have no idea how much Lightning Source prints for my book, but even with a major publisher, you’re an unknown author with no platform, so don’t expect a large print run. A great author could get a 200,000 run, and you’ll receive an astonishingly low number. Read Lesson 11 for more detail.
  3. You might hate your book. This often isn’t so with a small press, because author, cover artist, and publisher work hand-in-hand to create a cover that satisfies all parties. My former contract manager had her own ideas, my publisher had his own ideas, and I had my own ideas, and all of our ideas copulated and made something wonderful and awesome. Unfortunately, for those at a large press, you generally have no such input on the cover art process, unless you’re a big-time person, like John Green, who is a RARE commodity in publishing. So there is a chance you might hate your cover, and essentially you’ll be embarrassed by it and absolutely terrified to have it on the shelves–or anywhere, for that matter. Read Lesson 12.
  4. Uh…promotion. For big presses, your book might only end up in a book catalogue as far as promotions go: for a newbie author with no established sales record. If a publisher can’t stock your book in a bookstore, chances of sales are low. Remember, there is limited shelf space, and it costs money for your book to be in stores. If you are stocked, book quantities may be low, and your book might be facing spine out. At my B&N, bestsellers make up the brunt of the YA shelf space–or bestselling authors, at least. For a small press, the only person who is probably going to make it in a bookstore is someone who is a bestseller, often with a big publisher previously, because that bestseller alone bolsters that small presses’ brand. But don’t be impressed. Until a small press can get a non-bestseller book into bookstores, then, in my opinion, you can be impressed. Read Lesson 13.
  5. Read Lesson 14. I can’t explain this point that well.
  6. Book reviews. Veteran authors like to tout that books with big presses are going to get reviewed by something big and awesome. Unfortunately, a good amount NEVER get reviewed. Even a great review usually doesn’t bolster sales. Newbie writers simply don’t have the audience to warrant a review by some big newspaper or other review source. One review in a big-city paper could bolster sales, but that’s no guarantee. Really, it’s an ego boost. Read Lesson 15.
  7. Sales. Drop your expectations. Now. Especially drop them with a small press. 15,000-40,000 of mass paperbacks are good with a big press, but most books aren’t going to sell that much. With a small press, selling 1,000 in a year is basically an invitation to a ritzy party. There is also some myth out there that says if you write a trilogy, by the third book, you should be doing well. Not true, at least for some. Your second book will probably not sell as good as the first, at least until you can get a lot of people to love your first book who will then read the second, love the second, and will buy the third. Otherwise, your series will be in trouble. I mean, you can make more sales combined, as well as money, but you ultimately want a successful trilogy. Believe me. I have this fear. I have 51 reviews so far for When Stars Die, and most love it, but there are a tiny few who will not stick around for the sequel. Read Lesson 16.
  8. Literary awards. If your book is literary in nature, really, don’t expect great sales from this because it doesn’t fit with popular tastes. In fact, and I can’t remember where I read this, bookstores were reluctant to stock John Green’s TFiOS because of its pure literary nature. So having a literary award is great and all, but, again, it’s simply an ego booster, not really bought by the public but those in academia. Read Lesson 21.
  9. Years. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not one of the lucky 5% whose book ran out the gate as a bestseller. It’s especially harder with a small press. Even so, you can still find success. It just takes years. Stephen King took years. Look how big he is now. The authors that persist and sweat despite the initial lousy sales are the ones who make it. I had to remind myself that yesterday because I was frustrated with my own sales. And years can pass by much faster than you think. I mean, I don’t want them to because I don’t want my days to speed by, especially because every moment in life is precious, but, again, years go by us at light speed. Before you know it, your persistence could make you as big as Stephen King. Read Lesson 22.
  10. Success. When you do become successful, that’s probably more stressful than being not successful, because now you have to work even harder to stay successful, to make your fans happy, to make your publisher happy, and so on and so forth. Read Lessons 22, 23, and 24.
  11. Royalties. Holy monkey riding a banana. This is my first time reading this, and I am now BLASTED happy about my royalties. Granted, this takes into account possible agents in other countries. Also, I’ll admit that I wished the chart showed more, such as how many books sold to earn said royalty amount. In any case, read lesson 30. Net profits are a good thing with a small press. Trust me on this one.
  12. Just read lesson 30A.
  13. Changing publishers. After reading this, I realized sending ASO off to another publisher isn’t exactly as great of an idea as I thought, especially because I don’t have a good reason, other than AEC having their hands full with The Stars Trilogy (and they probably won’t get the book until 2015–or 2016–anyway!). My PA wasn’t going to talk me out of it, but she thought it strange, too. Now, however, I understand. The explanation presented in Ian’s lesson isn’t why I think it’s a bad idea. It’s just my own reasoning, and why I think it is a bad idea for newbie authors or those with small presses. My publisher is a brand. My book is under that brand. People who subscribe to AEC and are supporters of AEC and buy my book under that brand will expect more from me under that brand, especially if they become my fans. If I publish my book under another brand, there is a high possibility that it could do worse because it is not under my publisher’s brand, nor will it be in their newsletter. For example, if I got accepted by Spencer Hill Press, they’ll include my book in their newsletter; however, my fans will not know I have this new book under a new brand unless they’re actively seeking new books from me that are not in my trilogy. Readers can be fans of a trilogy, so they might expect something similar from an author for another book, as each publishing company caters to a certain taste. For example, I loved Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty Trilogy, but I haven’t bought another book from her since that trilogy, because her other books are not in my range of taste–although I will buy The Diviners eventually because it’s closest to her first trilogy. It explains why there are authors who have books with different publishers, but one book is doing a lot better than some other book. It also explains why a certain press has a bestselling author whose book isn’t even selling in the midlist range. Those fans probably just don’t know about it because that brand isn’t in a bookstore! Anyway…for the other reason, read lesson 31.

After reading all of this, especially Ian’s entire article, if you’re discouraged and want to give up, you probably weren’t meant to be a writer. In fact, this article encouraged me because it made me realize that I AM NOT ALONE. And that is always heartening, isn’t it?

I have no idea what my next post will be, but consider me The Dancing Writer, Undercover Agent for All That is Publishing.

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

11 thoughts on ““The Truth About Publishing”

  1. Amber – this is a tough business we’re in. It helps to discover you’re not alone. None of us are. I think those of us with AEC have a good thing going – an Author Extension Community! What we’re all doing together is for the long haul, not for the trickle of book sales after a debut release. My first has been out for two years – now on a self sustaining path of 5-8 international sales/month. I call that success, because for each new one I publish, I’ll have all those others out there (so far my readers have been faithful and ask for more).

    You’re young enough to be my daughter, so keep working that courage of yours and all will be well by the time you arrive at this place in life where most authors begin. I wish I’d have started where you are, even though wouldn’t want to go back and live my 20s again – those years were rough!

    1. And we are a great community, as any small press should be! Plus, how I look at it is that we AEC authors are doing much better than some presses that have been around for a few years whose business models refuse to evolve.

      I had to really remind myself that it’s going to be long-term success, not short-term. But disappointment doesn’t happen often for me, so when it does, it feels a bit earth shattering for me, but I am also a sensitive person, so I probably handle disappointment more heavily than most.

      However, I am comfortable with the idea of selling about 10-15 books per month, and I’m hoping all of us will eventually have the sudden spikes in sales that Shannon periodically mentions, because those do greatly help. I mean the good thing is that more than just friends and family bought my book! I mean, I can’t even think of what family members bought it, other than my mom, my grandma, and my fiancé. And I think that’s it.

      Plus, I have been reminded that reviews do pay off, and that my dip in sales may be 99% due to the reviews being given out (which is a great event, btw, because you can essentially “guilt” people into giving you those reviews you need). It’s a sacrifice, but as is mentioned in my article, the second book tends to do less well than the first book, so the more people I can rally for the first book, the more it’s possible that the second book can do just as well. So the more supportive people, the more others will look and hopefully buy both the first AND second book. Of course, in this economy, everyone is holding tight to their dollars, including me. Book buying is unfortunately not a priority for me right now, considering the new ballet studio I’m going to has a summer intensive that is much more expensive than my old one.

      And, hey, at least you’re published at all. Most people who write a book never finish. Most people who finish don’t get published. I mean, that bit is probably changing due to the self-publishing landscape, but in the end, it’s the readers who will choose who the real writers are.

  2. Reading these articles over and over again and absorbing their points, I can agree that I am most definitely not a writer, nor I think I will ever be. It’s not discouragement, it’s realism 😀
    I think both the original article and your additions speak a very nice and realistic idea of how it goes. I have seen far too many people tell other people to “simply not bother”, instead of telling them how it is then letting those people decide for themselves.
    I spotted your book somewhere first time, I cannot exactly remember where (then saw it again at Charles the weaver of Windemere ;s blog!) and don’t know, I just had a feeling – I want to read this. No blurbs or chapters hunted and read, just like that. What I am trying to say is that it is really nice to see someone just talk. Talk of how it is without a news article or an elitist boasting book, just sit down and write down to people how it is and make the big beast of publishing look like something you can work on and achieve. Thank you!

    1. That’s an awesome thing that you randomly saw my book somewhere, lol. Well, it’s in e-book, just to throw that out there.

      And, yeah, I have seen writers tell others to simply not bother, but I can say for a fact that if you’re not marketing savvy at all, or barely have an inkling of how to use social media, if you self-publish, it’s likely not going to sell anything at all. Having a publisher, even a small one, can make a difference in all that. And, really, it just takes patience at the end of the day.

  3. Managing author expectations, even for those we consider as “beating the trends of competition,” is always a challenge for publishers. This is a good reminder to do homework before creating expectations and to put out the best possible products to really build up a brand of your own.

    Perhaps one other relevant comment is regarding our submission process. It’s more than just a bunch of good books that make a community, and we really look hard at the authors themselves to determine how they might fit into our community. It’s guesswork (albeit educated guesswork), but it’s also proving itself to be a valuable step.

    Nice post, Amber. Thanks!

  4. In short, the publishing world takes no prisoners. If you are someone with a sensitive nature, go and do something else rather than write. Why, because you will be chewed up then spat out. To enjoy any degree of literary success, you have to have a hide thicker than a Rhino. Plus you need to be equally as hard hearted as the ‘professionals’ in whose hands you have placed that labour of love – your manuscript…

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