I remember when I was a child and the only available avenue for legitimate publishing was the traditional route via securing an agent beforehand. I knew of self-publishing, but a lot of it was considered vanity publishing and even brushed off as a scam. And it was like this for quite some time until Amazon released an e-reader that rocketed into popularity. A lot of people didn’t think it was going to make it, arguing they preferred print instead, but it’s popular and the fact that it’s still around inspired writers to self-publish under their own names/companies. And other writers launched their own publishing companies that became known as independent presses (or indie). Of course, there are large publishers out there that you can argue are the traditional route that don’t require an agent (some would consider these independent), but the point I’m getting at is there are options now. No one has to worry about never being able to make their dreams come true.
With options now, I know there are writers out there struggling to figure out which route to take. So I’m going to outline the various paths along with the pros and cons to hopefully help you out with your publishing journey.
Traditional Route. A lot of people take the traditional route because they want to see their books in bookstores (although you can get this with certain indie presses). You’re also more likely to net a movie deal this way. The marketing is also usually done 100% for you because traditional publishers tend to have much larger budgets for it. If you know your book has commercial appeal, this route is something to consider. Now a book without commercial appeal can still stand a chance, but when we talk about commercial appeal, the book can usually draw in a wide audience from many different backgrounds. For most of these publishers, you will have to secure an agent. Royalties are considerably smaller, and it’s anyone’s guess what your advance will be. You also most likely will not have control over your book cover–really, you’ll be giving up a lot of control in general. I think only big name authors are granted that privilege of having a say in what goes on. So if you want all or some control of your book, this route probably isn’t for you.
Independent Press (Indie or Small Press). This route usually does not require an agent, although some indie publishers are open for them. This is the route I have taken with The Stars Trilogy. I chose this route for those books because to me they are more niche and don’t have commercial appeal. I have also loved being able to have some control in the process. I had a say in what the covers looked like (though these will be changing under my new publisher). Indie presses pretty much encourage you to fully take part in the process, even though if you’re like me, I don’t want 100% control because I do trust the experts and all writers have innate bias with their own works. You also get to see your book published sooner than you would for a larger press. Royalties are also at least 50%, which makes up for the lack of advance in a lot of indie presses–but mostly if you sell well. The downside, of course, is that the marketing budget is limited and you have to do some yourself, you usually won’t end up in bookstores (unless you’re lucky or approach independent bookstores), and some indie presses do e-book only. Your book may also struggle to sell depending on who you go with, which is why I recommend finding indie presses that have bestsellers.
Self-publishing. This obviously allows you full, 100% control over everything, from editing to cover design. Some people use this as a last resort when other options have failed. Others use this as their only route because they want control and don’t want someone else dictating the direction of their manuscript. Self-publishing is great because it means your hard work still has a chance. Not only that, but you can still bring it to print and even get it into local bookstores with a little legwork. E-books are also, as far as we know, forever. Unlike with being with a publisher where your book is only signed on for a certain number of years unless you sell really well, you don’t have to worry about that with self-publishing. So if your book starts out slow, there’s always a chance it can gain traction. Of course, this option does involve needing to spend money. It is up to you how much you want to spend, like whether you’re going to create the cover yourself or have someone else do it. However, you absolutely need to hire an editor/copy editor/proofreader. Writers are too close to their work to be able to properly judge it. Marketing is also entirely on you, and that is its own skillset you have to learn if you want your book to be successful. But despite this, all profits are yours.
Whatever path you choose, make sure you are well-informed about these options before deciding. I’m likely going to keep my paranormal books with my current publisher and try to find a literary agent for any contemporary books I write.
First off, I’d like to share my Wattpad, something I recently decided to resurrect. I only ever had one story on there for a few years, until yesterday when I decided to put more short stories on there. “I Am the Bell Jar” and “Dead Poet’s Pendulum” were published at one point, but all rights are mine again, so I’m sharing them for free on Wattpad. To me, “Dead Poet’s Pendulum” reads a bit more amateurish, but I was 18 at the time of it being published. Despite that, I only did some proofreading before publishing on Wattpad because I want to preserve my voice as it was at the time.
I think I had “Sister Evelyn” published on a weebly website I used to have, but it’s part of my Stars universe, as well as another story that isn’t included in the covers above simply because that is a cover I purchased from a designer, not one I made myself.
I plan to add more Stars shorts and then may bundle them in an anthology on Wattpad.
Since I am considering myself absolutely broke for the time being, purchasing pre-made covers has not been feasible. There are people offering services on Wattpad, but most charge in some form or another, and, again, I’m not spending more than a dollar in these uncertain times.
So what is a writer to do? Well, I decided to turn to Canva, this brilliant, amazing website I have been using for my blog posts’ cover photos as of late. It is a database of thousands of photographs along with a myriad of elements and what not you can use to customize whatever it is you want to work on.
Doing book covers on here is the easiest thing imaginable. You don’t need any editing or photo shopping skills. All you need to do is go to ‘create a design’ in the upper left hand corner.
Then you choose the option for a book cover, and it will bring up a template that is the perfect size. While I’m unwilling to spend several dollars on having others create book covers for me, I don’t mind spending just one single dollar for the perfect photograph to use as my book cover. And that’s what I do. I browse for a photograph I think will fit my short story, drag it into the template, purchase it, and start working on the text.
Creating book covers on your own really makes you realize that the text is what makes a cover truly bookish. Now I don’t know what the Pro option is like for Canva, so you can’t create brilliantly fancy text–multi-colored, for example–but there are plenty of options for the type of text you can choose from. If you look at my cover for ‘A Treacherous Flame’ on Wattpad, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I mean fancy text. You just can’t do that on Canva, probably not without upgrading to the Pro option. But like I said, I don’t know.
The other amazing thing about Canva is that it will let you know if your text or image is centered or not, or even if it’s extending beyond the borders. Basically, as you move the text or image around, it’ll bring up a grid that serves as a guide to tell you where it makes sense to place whatever it is you’re working on.
But that’s what I use and it’s what you can use if you’re strapped for cash. You can make some pretty amazing covers for self-publishing on Canva.
I don’t know if there are many authors out there who have written what they hate about being an author. Don’t get the wrong idea. I love being an author. I truly do. Yet, there are parts about it that I hate.
Reviews. Yeah, you’ve got a book published, it’s selling, and that’s probably all that matters to you. At the same time, readers’ opinions are probably more important than anything else. If your book flops as far as ratings/reviews are concerned, readers might not be as inclined to buy the next book, especially if this book is in a trilogy. Luckily for me, When Stars Die has 91 ratings with a 4.31 star rating. That’s pretty darn good.
Publication. Just because you’ve got one book published doesn’t mean you’ll easily get another one published. Take my book, for example. Since being orphaned due to the closing of my publisher, it hasn’t found a home yet since I started searching in January. Granted, it did land a contract I’m still sitting on, and the full is with another house whose owner said they’ll get to my manuscript this month–and hopefully a contract. Thus, published authors are in the same boat as those not published. The only difference is people are actually reading their sweat-blood-and-tears books and making some money from it, but that’s it, really.
Publishers Folding. This sucks badly. When AEC folded, I saw it as an opportunity for my novel to start anew. I have to think this way so I don’t succumb to despair. It is true that it’s a fresh start, but what’s also true is that it sucks that AEC folded. AEC didn’t fold due to monetary reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less sucky. After all, the sequel to my novel was almost ready to be made into an ARC that I could send out to readers for ratings/reviews. It had the cover and everything. I was just a few chapters shy of completing final proofreads. But this is the risk authors take when they decide to not get published by a Big 5 house. Even then, those published by the Big 5 are in danger of losing their jobs, too, especially if their agent decides to quit and can’t hand you over to another one. Or their editor decides to quit and the others don’t want your book.
Not Finding a Publisher. Okay, so this doesn’t have anything to do with me, as I don’t have a literary agent, but I do know a few authors who once had literary agents. Those agents could not find a single publisher to take on their book. In the end, one decided to self-publish the rejected novel, and the other few dropped their agents altogether to start self-publishing their titles–with some success, of course.
Sales. This is probably the aspect I hate the most. My novel did somewhat okay in regards to sales, but it’s still nail-biting torture when you receive your monthly statements. Some authors, even with good small presses, may not sell any books at all during a single month. This is incredibly disheartening, as we authors want people to read what we’ve written. We didn’t get published so we could finally call ourselves authors. We wanted our books to be published so we could share our stories to those interested in the types of stories we’ve written. So it’s no fun when you’ve had a bad month of sales–and you WILL have at least one bad month, which is subjective depending on previous sales’ records.
Cover Art. Okay, so both of my novels have gorgeous, gorgeous covers. It was exciting to know what my cover artist could come up with. Even so, it’s a process I both loved and hated. What if I hated the cover? What if the publisher and I couldn’t come to a compromise on the cover? What if readers don’t buy your book because the cover is so obviously crap? What if it doesn’t even have anything to do with your book? Authors with smaller presses tend to have more say, but that doesn’t mean your options aren’t limited. But feel bad for the authors with the big guys. They don’t have a say at all. Some don’t want a say. But there are horrendous book covers out there because the authors didn’t have a say.
Blurbs. Once your book has been accepted for publication, you still have to write the back cover blurb. This is a process I hate, as I’m not great with them. You think it’d be easy after writing a query letter and synopsis, but the blurb is something completely different. Query letters and synopses entice agents and editors to take on your book. Blurbs entice readers to buy your book; thus, the blurb has to be different because it’s about reeling in readers.
Being Stranded. When the house folds, you’re stranded again. There aren’t many publishers out there willing to take on a previously published book. Thankfully, there are some presses out there that will. Nonetheless, having that book previously published will not give you a leg up. Having great sales and even reviews doesn’t give you a leg up. If the editor doesn’t like what they’re reading, no amount of sales or great reviews are going to change that editor’s mind.
These are a few things I hate about being an author. It doesn’t get any easier when you’re published. In fact, it only gets harder. Regardless, I love it. I can share my story with the world. I can show off my baby through platforming, like reviews, interviews, maintaining social media, ect. I can proudly say I’m an author, and people will think that’s awesome. I can have book signings. I get to have physical copies of my book to give away. My book could potentially be in bookstores. Librarians will buy my book with interest from just one person. Local bookstores will definitely stock my book. I get to have cover reveals, interviews with blogs and online radio shows, create picture quotes, tug on the excitement of readers with teasers, have a book trailer, and sit back and realize how remarkable it is that all the months or years it took me to write that book finally paid off.
There are more things about being an author that I love than hate. Right now, I’m simply an author on pause.
This is a very sensitive topic that I am going to try to handle with care, as I know some or many authors may disagree with me. However, this is a conversation I had with my personal assistant and the publisher of Writers AMuse Me Publishing. All of us came to the same conclusion: giving away e-books for free (outside of review copies, which are only given to select individuals) devalues both the author and his/her work. Now I’m not writing this article based on a conclusion among three people. However, I will use author Melissa Foster’s article to support my points, along with adding a few of my experiences as a YA author trying to compete with books being given away for free. Let me present this graph to your from Smashwords before I begin. Okay, so free books aren’t on here, but notice even books at $0.99 cents are selling way below books even priced at $9.00. This graph isn’t just talking about earnings monetarily, but also sales. Unfortunately I cannot find the article this graph was connected to, but the article did say that people are more likely to buy a book when there is a value attached to that book. In spite of what is shown on Amazon Bestseller lists, very few authors can get away with giving away a book for free and do well numbers-wise, then switch over to charging for their books and continue doing well. I have seen author friends do this, and their rankings didn’t improve greatly, for whatever reason. After all, in order for anyone to purchase a book, free or otherwise, those people have to know that book exists. Not to mention readers have to read your free book in order to trust you as an author. And a lot of readers have downloaded hundreds of free books.
Fortunately for self-published authors doing this, there are a myriad of services to help them out, compared to self-published authors who refuse to give their books away for free. There are very, very few free services to help out self-published authors who attach a price to their books. (I could be wrong. There might be enough for $2.99 and below). But I have done the research for my own book, and the only service I could find was The Fussy Librarian. But even TFL is charging now; the price luckily is very, very low. However, I don’t know how effective those free services are for self-published authors giving away their books for free. In fact, I had one author friend doing relatively okay with giving her book away for free, but then as soon as she attached a price to that book–just $2.99–sales plummeted–severely. It’s as though her readers began to expect that she would keep giving away her hard work for free. Or her readers hadn’t read her book at all, because it was for free, so there was no word of mouth going around. If readers pay for something, they want to make use of what they spent their money on. In fact, readers are more likely to read review copies, as a stipulation to reading a copy is leaving a rating or review. This is almost a guilt factor. This is not so for free books.
Now on to my points using Melissa Foster’s article to back me up. I encourage you to read it before reading further.
Giving away a book for free devalues books overall. Melissa Foster says that “self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word” (ALLi). This is a generalization, she admits. Many do not. My publisher has been helping AEC authors build their platforms, and one facet of this platform building encouraged me to do some interesting research, with the help of my PA. My PA and I noticed that the bestselling books for the YA paranormal romance genre were all being given away for free. These books don’t have their own separate bestseller’s list. They are part of the same list for all paranormal romance books–and there are over 1,000. How can anyone who has a price attached to his or her book compete with pages and pages of books being given away for free? To be noticed on Amazon, you have to have a great ranking; the number of reviews can help, too. Price is not factored into this. This completely contradicts the graph above, but I suspect that once a price is attached to these free books, the downloads plummet. If a price was attached to the book from the beginning, sales my be slow, but over time the payoff will probably be worth it more than if that book had been given away for free from the start. I want an audience AND money from my own book, both at the same time. Even if it means my career starts out slow, the payoff will probably be worth it in the long run. It’s my belief that if an author gives away a book for free from the get-go, readers will probably continually expect free material.
“Mismanaged expectations.” Melissa Foster states that “many self-published authors hear about the outliers who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’ll do anything to try and reach that pinnacle” (ALLi). Therefore, authors will throw their work up for free in the hopes of building a wide audience that will pay for their next work. In most cases, this doesn’t help, which is why Foster calls it “mismanaged expectations.” As with publishing in general, only a small percentage of authors exit the gate as bestsellers.
Interesting points that Foster mentions on why some authors give their books away for free–or post at 99 cents, which is a price point I’d rather have than a free one, because there is at least a value attached to it:
“99-cent price point for ebooks
KDP Select program (free ebooks)
Gimmicks for sales and reviews (Kindle giveaways, etc.)
Nasty reviews from other authors with the sole purpose of driving down ratings”
Now I am going to take some points from Melissa Foster and develop them on what we can do to bring value back to books. Overall, I think the problem with giving away books for free is that readers will download a bunch of these and never get to that book. Granted, you will see fantatastic reviews for a lot of the free books on these bestsellers list, but it’s likely rare, as any bestselling author is. But I do not download free books. I refuse to. I want that author to attach a value to his or her work.
“Work together, not against each other.” I do not like the idea that another author is my competition. Our books are stories, not pens or toilet paper or cereal trying to use their prices to get people to buy more. Books are too complex for that. So while I may be saying how are priced books supposed to compete against free books, we authors need to ultimately uplift each other and not devalue our work by giving away our work for free. After all, if readers have no choice but to pay for a work, especially if free books are nonexistent, that will do so much more for all of us in the long run. I am not about competing with Twilight. I want to make it big, but I also realize lovers of Twilight may not love my book, just because it offers something different. Books are about catering to all different tastes. I don’t want books to be thought of in the same light as things that aren’t considered art. Books are art. Writers have passion. I highly doubt makers of cereal have the passion we have.
“Publish only professionally edited work.” There are a lot of free books that shirk this altogether because they arrogantly think people are going to download their book and forgive a lot of errors–and many unfortunately do. This devalues hard work.
“Get rid of the gimmicks.” Okay, I’ll admit I did this to gain adds on Goodreads by offering books similar to my own. But I’m not doing that anymore, because it was very gimmicky, and I wasn’t earning them by my own right. However, as reviews are concerned, I work for all my reviews. I worked for all 71 reviews on my book. It does take time to earn reviews like that, but they get rid of “freebie trollers,” as Foster calls them, so you can avoid bad reviews from people who haven’t even read the book.
“Work smarter, not cheaper.” Gaining an audience takes time. I am with a small press, and it is taking me time, but I’m not going at it alone, which is a plus with being with a press. Don’t think about getting sales as fast as possible or growing a readership as fast as possible. Just produce the best book you can so you don’t shortchange your readers. It takes time, but it’s time well worth it. I have found my platform niche on Tumblr, and I have fallen in love with this platform and see it as a great launching point to build my audience.
“If you drive price and quality down, it’s easy for readers to lump us into a group and ignore us all. Each of us, has the power to succeed and if quality and value is what we want to see in the indie world, then we, as a collective group, must work together to achieve it.”
I agree with Foster’s entire article. If indie authors want to establish a solid reputation amongst themselves, they must ban together, so to speak, and imbue quality in their work by not giving it away for free. Yes, there are books given away for free that have great ratings, but then it drowns out the rest of those who want to attach a value to their work. Authors, do not undervalue your efforts. If every single author never gives away a book for free again, readers will have no choice but to pay, will not expect free books (save review copies), and you will be making money that is well-deserved.
I am going to end this article with a crushingly honest statement: I am not impressed when an author boasts a high ranking for a free book in a genre category (especially since genre categories are so erratic on Amazon, like sword and sorcery???), even if that book has great ratings. I’ll be more impressed if your book has a value attached to it AND you can get readers to see the value in your book by purchasing it with their picky dollars. Then I’ll be impressed with a great ranking–even if it is just a 99 cent book.
So I seem to be doing a lot of these ‘truth’ posts. I generally type something into Google, like ‘what can a small press do for me,’ to bring up articles that are sort of similar to it. Then I browse the blurbs of these articles and usually find a strong one on the first page. So I found this article from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, better known as SFWA. It’s an intriguing article to me because it presents something that not a lot of people who are with small presses know. For example, a lot of people go with a small press thinking this will lead right into a contract with the big guys, which is not only unrealistic but insulting as to the reason why small presses exist. In any case, let me begin the wonderful list. Hopefully I can get away from doing the list thing in future posts, but, right now, you’ll just have to put up with it.
If you don’t know what a small press is, it is an independent press not part of giant conglomerates. Sometimes these presses may be bought out by those conglomerates, but, otherwise, they are independent. Some small presses may also create other imprints that cater toward other genres. For example, AEC is pretty interested in thrillers, paranormal, and fantasy (from what I have seen). However, if they wanted to branch out into romance, they could create an imprint for that. Now, let’s go to NUMBER ONE!
Limited exposure. This is an obvious one. Small presses exist to fill in the gaps of publishers who would otherwise refuse work that a small press could take on. This is just the reality. Larger presses take on books not only because of the wonderfulness, but because they think they can sale and turn a great profit for the house. So as a newbie submitter, so to speak, you are going to have a very difficult time trying to find an agent or publisher, especially if the book falls outside of the range of what they consider “mainstream.” Do not be upset by this limited exposure. Small presses are small and have a limited budget, so they have to be smart with their dollars. Take every sale as something precious, because IT WILL LEAD YOU SOMEWHERE as long as you are with a competent house that is growing every day–or month, at least. There are many people who self-publish who can’t even make beyond five sales, so they turn to small presses, finding that they can turn more of a profit with one. And that’s okay. Not everyone is meant for every route. But keep in mind your exposure will be vastly limited compared to a larger press.
Lack of stability. If your publisher has been around for a year, don’t fall into complacency, even if that publisher is making more money the more said publisher brings on more books. That publisher could still fold. In fact, the majority of small presses fold before they’ve even published a single book. And sometimes those rights will not revert back to you. It’s often best to wait until that publisher has proven its stability, but I took a chance with AEC, and they’ve proven themselves to be stable. Still…anything can happen, but smart publishers have barriers in place.
Lack of competence. ANYONE can become a publisher because it’s cheap. I started a lit magazine because it was cheap (now it’s being run by a competent staff with me as the figurehead, a perfect platform for me). Even if a publisher has survived for a few years, that press may still be incompetent. That can be shown in the website, published books, and the contract itself. Many are well-meaning, but, put simply, they have no idea what they are doing. The editing could be shoddy, the marketing could be all over the place, and money-wise, they don’t know what is feasible for the business. If it’s an e-book only press and they’re only on Amazon, that is limited distribution. So if a press has been around for a while, check for the competency of the press through the website, the books published, and even its reputation. Does it have a good one, or a bad one? Sometimes you can find this out online. If you are accepted by them, see if the contract is author-friendly. If not, the press lacks competency.
Author mills. Basically, these are publishers who take on a bunch of authors and crank out book, after book, after book, without spending too much time on the book itself. The editing is often crappy, the covers poor, and these books may not sell at all (so I really don’t understand the point of having a publisher like this, unless that publisher really just LOVES publishing). They weren’t given their own spotlight, so to speak, because another book came out after it in a few days. Small presses in the beginning often have a few people on staff, so they should not be cranking out so many books because they cannot devote any time to one book to ensure sales of that book. If the staff is small, one book a month is feasible. Look at the publisher to see how many people are on the staff. If there are five people on the staff, check out their recently published books and see when those books were published. If several were published in December, I’d say stay away from it until the staff grows. Oftentimes, the staff never grows.
Lack of professional credit. This is the hard-hitting one. If you’re with a small press, don’t expect that press to launch you into a bigger press. In fact, small presses do not exist to do that. They can be great starting points if they are competent, but, really, agents and publishers aren’t exactly going to see them as a legitimate credit. But, honestly, who cares? Your fans see your book as something awesome and legitimate, and even if you go toward a bigger house, you don’t have to mention the book; however, I’d mention it out of a sense of pride. After all, you’ll have a platform established by then. BUT DO NOT SEE A SMALL PRESS AS A STEPPING STONE TO A BIGGER ONE. THAT IS INSULTING.
I recommend reading the rest of the article, as I just wanted to touch on the big points.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read Lesson 14. I can’t explain this point that well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just read lesson 30A.
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.
Lately there has been a myth among the self-publishing community that publishers do not market books, and because of this many feel they might as well self-publish. Now let me say that self-publishing, in my opinion, shouldn’t be used as a last resort, because that is insulting to self-publishing itself nowadays. But it should also not be used because you think having a publisher isn’t going to add any value you to. (In reality, we should just ditch the term self-publishing and just go with the indie label, which I think many are doing anyway.)
Rachelle Gardner is an excellent voice among the publishing community. I do not like to read articles from self-published authors that tout self-publishing as the way to go, and I do not like to read articles from experts in the publishing business who say self-published authors are doomed to fail and are only adding to the crap storm of books burying all the gems.
But she is an excellent voice because she is both in favor of self-publishing and traditionally publishing. So you can read her article here. This is also an argument for small presses, because they do marketing, although they may not be able to do it in the way legacy publishers can.
My PA, Mariah Wilson, has been sending me various links to publishers I could submit All Shattered Ones to while AEC has its hands full with The Stars Trilogy. I have not looked at these links, but I have found publishers outside of the ones she recommended to me. Now while AbsoluteWrite isn’t the most welcoming of places for writers, it is your go-to guide for any start-up publishing houses, publishing houses that have been around for a few years, literary agents writers have not heard of, and contracts that writers aren’t sure of signing. There is also Preditors and Editors. There are probably millions of blog posts written about what I’m going to talk about, but, time and time again, newbie writers fall prey to houses that shortchange their books, never send out royalties, never answer e-mails of their clients, and charge fees to break a contract. The contract seems all nice and pretty at first, but then the publisher will do things not in the contract, and if you try to get out of said contract, fees are thrown at you, and the owner will threaten to sue you. So, in order to be as sensitive as possible about this topic, I am going to make up a publishing house for you, and I will be the owner of it. Let’s call it Banana Moon Press,because I am a ridiculous human being.
Let’s first start with behaviors to look out for in the staff of this fantastic publishing company that can do no wrong. I have just opened up Banana Moon Press to submissions. I have put it on Duotrope, Poets and Writers, and Publisher’s Weekly. I am the publisher and editor, Mariah is another editor, Sally is the PR, and Julie is the social media PR. We all have backgrounds in publishing of some sort. Our website looks great, and pretend that the logo actually looks good, because I am really trying to set up something strong here. I don’t know how a banana and a moon can look good together, but make do with it. Continuing on. Bearded Salami, which is his username, goes on to AbsoluteWrite and inquires about this new press. Users say it looks legitimate but tells him to wait to see how it does.
Another person, Freezing Doormat, comes in to say she’s been accepted, but wants to get the green light on the contract. The green light is given, but the AW people still warn her to wait, but she wants to go with BMP anyway. This is where things start to take a turn for the worst, and I am going to try to write this in the best way I possibly can based on a combination of ACTUAL stories that have happened, but using my made-up press. Freezing Doormat’s manuscript has been published and is out in the world. However, the e-book is 99 cents, and the print book is 25 dollars. These are net royalties, which many small presses do, because if they were to go with gross royalties, neither party would be making that much money. So let’s say the split is 50/50, and these books are up on all book-distributing sites.
The print book is selling nothing because of its Publish America high price. Freezing Doormat e-mails her publisher about changing the prices, as a clause in her contract stated both publisher and writer would agree on a set price. She never hears back about the price change. The publisher suddenly folds in the month it opened, and Freezing Doormat’s book goes out of print. She asks for the copyright back, but BMP is charging her an exorbitant amount of money for her to get it back since BMP is non-profit, and they want the money back they spent to make the book. She tries to sue, but nothing gets done, because BMP has more power than her, and she can’t afford a lawyer.
BMP press then opens up under a new name called Bite My Apple Press. Freezing Doormat looks up her book and suddenly discovers it has been published under Bite My Apple Press, and when she looks up BMA, she realizes that BMP has opened up another name, but it is essentially the same press. However, the new owner is Brenda, who is secretly me. Instead of my pic, there is a photo stock pic of another woman. The rest of the staff’s names have been changed as well, and they also have photo stock images, unbeknownst to Freezing Doormat. Freezing Doormat looks at the books published, and they are new ones with new authors with complete profiles and everything. However, when Freezing Doormat looks at the books, she finds the books are still 99 cents, but the print books are now 6 dollars. Freezing Doormat has no idea what’s going on, so she retreats to AW to report her experience, creating a new thread called Bite My Apple, formerly Banana Moon Press.
Freezing Doormat reports everything that has gone on, and all the authors, Eat My Chair, Slap My Cat, and Ditch That Dress, begin to delve into Bite My Apple. The e-books are in fact short stories (about 40 pages), and the books are anthologies, so no one is really making any money. They also discover that they can’t look inside the books to discover whether or not any editing has been done (the covers are awful, by the way). Ever more suspicious, the authors delve even deeper, CIA style, and find out that the author images are stock images, but the bios are ridiculously legitimate; however, there are typos on the website and the site’s blog, and even in the contract.
The authors continuously talk about Bite My Apple, and as I am looking up my press to see what people are saying about it, I discover this thread. As I’m reading through, I become extremely irate and tell everyone that Freezing Doormat is lying, that she did get her copyright back, and that she wanted to re-publish under BMA. Freezing Doormat is denying all accusations, so the thread is shut down, because I start throwing cuss words in all directions, trying to convince everyone that Freezing Doormat is lying, all my authors are legitimate, and all their books are real.
Freezing Doormat finds this wonderful little site called Whitman’s Stories, a blog dedicated to unearthing lies amongst the publishing world, and reports her story to the owner of this blog. So the owner simply writes a blog post on what Freezing Doormat has said. I find the story, and I start commenting that Freezing Doormat is a liar. All of my authors come in and back me up, saying that Freezing Doormat is an idiot, that they have had nothing but wonderful experiences with me. Then my staff comes in and starts backing me up. The entire thread turns into a crap storm of BMA supporters, drowning out the voice of Freezing Doormat and the owner, who is simply saying she reported what Freezing Doormat said. The owner eventually shuts the comments off.
Whitman then writes another blog post, exposing Bite My Apple for what it really is. She delved into the comments and discovered that all the supporters and staff of BMA had the same IP addresses, leading to the conclusion that I, Brenda, was taking on many guises to support my company. Freezing Doormat reports this back to AW, and I start slinging cuss words again, crying that I’m going to sue everyone and sick my lawyers on people who slander me because all of what they report is not true. I then say my staff and authors are VERY close, so anyone within a certain area can have the same IP address. No one’s buying it, of course. However, I still continue on with the press and still bring on “authors” (and I can’t even tell if the press’s authors that I’m basing my press off are real).
Unfortunately, everything can look legitimate in a house, but then stuff outside of the contract begins to happen, and authors become very helpless in situations like this. Unless they have dollars and can afford lawyers, there is almost nothing they can do about situations like the one I created above. So my only advice to you is that even if the contract looks legitimate, seek out transparency. Talk with the publisher about the contract, even if it’s nice and pretty. Meet all staff members. Get to know the authors, look up their books, and read sample pages to see if the editing is solid (and covers, too). Look up the publisher on AbsoluteWrite and see how the publisher is responding to the feedback being given about the house. If the publisher is being polite and respectful and considering all criticism, then you know this will be a publisher who has no qualms about transparency, and will not screw you over in terms of copyright, royalties, and everything that was stated in the contract.
WHATEVER IS STATED IN THE CONTRACT, THE PUBLISHER HAS AN OBLIGATION TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN. IF THE PUBLISHER DOESN’T, GET OUT IMMEDIATELY, EVEN IF THAT MEANS YOUR BOOK HAS BEEN SCREWED OVER. IF YOU HAVE A LAWYER OR ATTORNEY, JUMP ON THAT BANDWAGON IMMEDIATELY.
Now, let’s assume BMA’s contract has changed. Here’s just a quick list of what to look out for in contract clauses. I’ve written about this before, but it begs repeating in the hopes that newbie writers find a post like this, and will not fall prey to presses like Bite My Apple or Banana Moon Press.
No-compete clauses. This means you can’t self-publish another book. This also means you can’t publish with any other house with a book that is similar to the book that house is publishing. This is very vague in itself, because that publisher doesn’t want your book competing with another of your books some other house is publishing.
If there is a print book, make sure the contract offers a certain amount of free copies as giveaway items to receive good exposure, especially on Goodreads. If not, either back away from the contract, or try to negotiate. Also make sure you get a discount should you decide to get more books for whatever. The distributor usually offers a discount, and sometimes the publisher will split the cost, 50/50, to give you an even better deal.
Marketing. The publisher should be doing this, along with your efforts. If you are okay that they are not able to fully market your book due to cost, you need to be prepared on how you’re going to do it yourself. Some people are okay with this because they’re market savvy, but can’t afford to self-publish.
Royalties. Make sure these are good, especially on net profit. I wouldn’t go with anything less than 50%. There is actually a good article here on net profits for those skeptical about them. Apparently net profits raise red flags, but I can tell you from my experience, I WANT net profits from a small press.
The promise of editing on a partnership basis. Sometimes presses will take on authors and contract their self-published books. They don’t even bother to read the books, because they have good reviews, and publish those books immediately, and the author gets less for their books than what they would have gotten self-published. The press takes a slice, even though the press did no work whatsoever on that book. If a press published it immediately, then there was no editing on their part done, and no marketing done to ensure your book does better than it did self-published. Usually, the book does worse. Look for the money you’re making from the sales, not necessarily the number of sales themselves. Even if you self-published the book, even if you had it professionally edited and decide to send that book off to a small press, that small press has an obligation to read your work to make sure whether or not it needs to be edited–in many cases, it does, because all editors have different tastes.
Also, this is not a contract thing, but beware of indie houses that publish too many books in a month. This means they are spending little time editing the book, little time marketing it, and little time interacting with you. This also means that if you are accepted by that company, your book could be published within a month. You don’t want that.
I can’t think of any other clauses to look out for, but you can look these up yourself. Don’t fully trust AW, because they’ll tell you net profits raise red flags, among a few other things that raise red flags that really don’t. Again, in my last post, you can’t compare a traditional contract with an indie contract. Still, AW is a useful resource, and as long as the owner of the small press is behaving respectfully, don’t fear signing on with that press. There are going to be blips and bumps in the inception of a new press, but hopefully your first books published with them will become a strong backlist.
Overall, I hope you will never submit to Bite My Apple, formally known as Banana Moon Press. Hopefully I’ve touched on a lot of things, especially behaviors to look out for in the staff of a publishing company, big or small. Make sure you do your research, know your rights, and make sure your press is treating you and your book with the respect it deserves.
Next article, I’m going to finally talk about why it’ll probably take longer for the third book to come out than the second book in The Stars Trilogy.
I have come to accept that I’m probably going to be a one-book-a-year writer, when originally I wanted to do more. I didn’t have the entire Stars Trilogy written out when AEC Stellar snatched up When Stars Die. I’ve finished The Stars Are Infinite and have sent it off (but I spent years on this book and half a year revising when I got back to it), but it likely won’t come out until late next year. Originally, I did want to write more than one book a year because of everything I’ve read among the self-publishing community that the best way to get noticed is to crank out book after book after book. I have one self-published friend who has done 4 since publishing her first book in February. Granted, I am not a self-published author. I am a small-press author. However, here is an interesting tidbit: there is a bestselling author, traditionally, with a small press, and her book is not selling best. At all. Not even Midlist level. I can’t figure out why this is. Is it because her fanbase doesn’t know about it? Is it because her fanbase is finicky about her books? Has her book not been marketed properly? I don’t know, but I suppose this proves that having a lot of books behind you doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to succeed. I mean, why crank out book after book after book, when you can focus on just getting the one book out there and building your base using that one book alone? Perhaps some of you authors can weigh in on this.
Now that I’ve accepted I will probably be a one-book-a-year author, I’ve come to realize that in spite of having one book beneath my belt, I still have a lot of doubts when writing a new book, doubts that can be sometimes outright terrifying. Back in the summer, I started a book about a suicidal teen rescued by a puppeteer and taken to this place where he can recover from his trauma, and then he’s eventually kidnapped by a crazed psychopath, essentially. The premise seemed promising, at first, but I couldn’t execute it, IN SPITE of having outlined the book twice. I couldn’t convey what I wanted to, so I shelved it and decided to get back to work on The Stars Are Infinite, knowing it’d be an easier task to tackle because I already had things I could work with from having the first book. Now that TSAI is off, I’m back to the book about the suicidal teen. However, I have made an enormous overhaul with the book. I mean, HUGE, and I’ll speak about those changes in another post to coincide with this one. This is why I can’t be a one-book-per-year author, because I make massive changes to my books so that they are virtually unrecognizable from the first draft, and that, in my opinion, is how it should be, because it’s that way for traditional authors and successful small presses who don’t function as author mills. Author mills don’t spend as much time on editing as successful small presses do. But, I dunno. Maybe I just need more hours in a day or something.
I don’t know what self-published writers who crank out a crap ton of books a year do–and I mean publish, not just write a lot of books in a year, and then spend the next year or whatever revising the heck out of each book. Do they write the draft and just basically spend time doing line edits and copy edits and then proofreads? Or do they spend all day writing so they can finish that book in a week or two and then spend the next month completely overhauling the book? I mean, what do they do? I know one self-published author who had published two of his books, but he already had them written before deciding to jump into the publishing waters, and even then he was doing revisions on them. He told me he had been working on both books for six years. Now his next book is going to be published by a small press. The author with 4 books did not have those books written when jumping into the waters. Her first one she did spend a long time on, but it kept getting rejected by agents, who loved it, but thought it too niche. So she self-published it from their validation alone. With the other 3 books, she wrote as she went. At the same time, she now has an agent, and this author will likely be spending far more time on this one book than on her self-published books.
I’m about to dive into some opinion waters here, but just to let you know, I will adjust my perspective if someone can explain something to me.So please do not feel insulted by what I’m about to say. My opinion may be coming from pure ignorance, as I am not among the self-publishing community. I know authors who are self-published, but, frankly, I am interested in those in the small press community since I relate to them more. I feel like those in the big press group are untouchable. Sure, they’ll talk to you on Twitter, but will they ever accept your request? Probably not. So, please inform me. I do want to understand. Lack of knowledge is not stupidity. Lack of knowledge is ignorance, and they are two entirely different things. Am I saying self-published authors don’t work hard? No. Of course they do, but I often wonder about those who crank out so many books a year. Could they have created better products had they spent more time on working on a single book than worrying about cranking out more than one or two books a year? I feel like it should be about the readers, even if they are few.
I don’t think it should take a month to revise a book, which is a complete overhaul of a book. I think it should take more than a month, and then perhaps another month to do line edits/copyediting along the way, then proofreads, then sending off to a beta reader, then to an editor if you’re going to self-publish. I really don’t think it should take such a short amount of time to create a book. I feel like even if that book does sell well, you’re shortchanging your readers by not giving them the best book possible, even if it does get rave reviews. After all, they don’t know they could get better. Sells and rave reviews matter to me, but so does getting the best book out there possible, and I can’t do that by revising a book in a month. In fact, I’d argue, for me, it should take half a year to write the book at my fullest before sending it off to a beta reader, and then probably another month working on their critique, then a few weeks proofreading. Maybe some authors are just more talented than me. I really don’t know. I have no clue.
So why do I feel like you’re shortchanging readers? Let’s look at it this way through the perspective of ballet: The average person who attends a ballet performance knows little about how ballet functions, yet, companies only accept the most polished dancers. So if the average person knows little about ballet, why accept polished dancers when the average person would probably be satisfied with dancers who are less-than-polished? I believe this is because the companies don’t want to shortchange their viewers when they know they can deliver the most stellar performance possible. Ballet is not like watching a movie, where a crap ton of new movies come out each year. Companies already have a repertoire of ballets they can perform, like Swan Lake and the like. Sure, new ballets are created, but they will always dance the classics. And a lot of these dancers have already performed many of the ballets done.
I know about ballet. I am among the ballet community. I have become more critical of the ballets my own studio puts on. They’re still fun, but I have noticed they’ve been casting dancers in difficult roles, roles they can manage, but the technique is sloppy because they haven’t been dancing long enough: toes not pointed, bent knees, lack of core, ect. On stage they can wow us, but in class, they struggle with technique. I wasn’t as impressed with The Nutcracker this year as I was the last time I saw it, not because of The Nutcracker itself, but because of a few dancers whose technique could not compare to the last dancers who performed those roles. I was not at all impressed by the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier (and we all watch The Nutcracker for those two characters). In fact, with the first performance, it was difficult for me to pick who danced best among the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. This time, it was easy to pick: the Sugar Plum Fairy, but she has danced for years and has beautiful technique, as do the rest of the experienced dancers at my school. Could many of them go on to become professionals? Probably not, because professional companies expect a lot more than one pirouette, even if it’s perfect. But they have strong technique, even if they can’t always nail it, which professional dancers can do. However, my fiancé didn’t seem to care about the Cavalier’s performance. He still thought it was impressive, but it’s because he doesn’t know ballet like I do. He doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to do pirouettes on a bent knee, and the Cavalier did four on a bent knee, so I wasn’t impressed. He also did the male version of foutte turns, but his foot was not pointed, and he was improperly aligned. In any case, I would have rather have seen one pirouette on a straight knee than four on a bent knee.
However, ballets are not catered toward dancers. They are catered to your average viewer, who, even if they watch professional ballet after professional ballet, may still not understand ballet unless they are actually among the ballet community. If they see pirouettes on bent knees, they may think that is actually part of the performance. They don’t know you can never have a pirouette on a bent knee, unless they care to research how ballet is supposed to actually work. Then they’ll probably become more critical. Or maybe they can discern a mediocre performance from a professional one, but there is some leeway given between studios that are professional and studios that are not. I give leeway to the younger dancers because the purpose of those performances is to give them performance experience, but I am still impressed by the younger ones because I have seen them grow and become better. But would I pay the price of a professional show for my studio? No, as they are not a pro company. So among professional performances, if a dancer does a pirouette on a bent knee, again, viewers will probably think that it’s part of the performance because, well, those are professionals. And they, the average viewers, simply want to be entertained; however, companies want straight knees in a pro company and won’t allow anything less. This is why professional companies only want the best dancers possible, so that way they know the average viewer is receiving the best possible performance, and that they’re not insulting their viewers by allowing less-than-polished dancers into their companies. This isn’t to say book-after-book-after-book-self-published authors are insulting their readers. Not at all. Some of them may be talented enough that they can create the best book possible and publish a few more titles in a single year.
Even so, I feel like cranking out a lot of books are like those pirouettes. The best authors that I’ve read crank out one or two books a year, and this is among self-published and traditional. I would rather see one book on a straight knee than four on a bent knee, so to speak. And since I am a writer among the writing community, I can tell. Sure, even books trad publishers spend months on can still be mediocre in the market, because for them, it’s about sales, and if a mediocre book can bring in sales, then they’ll keep at it with that author. Even so, they’re still working hard on trying to create the best product possible, even if it turns out to be a flop, even if they end up editing it so much that they accidentally make it worse. But readers won’t know. Non-writing readers forgive a lot of grammatical errors that writers do not. Most readers who think books are mediocre anyway think those books should have been worked on more without knowing they’ve been worked on to death. I got to the point where I was so tired of editing When Stars Die that I wanted to scream, so I knew my book was getting there. So I want to create the best possible book for my readers, and I don’t think that can be accomplished in two months. In fact, the one who self-published 4 books spent only one month on a book before self-publishing it. What if this author could have created a better, stronger product by spending more time?
Simply put, I want my readers to have the best product possible, even if some may disagree, and I cannot accomplish this within three months. I don’t simply want to write lots of books to fast build a fanbase. And cranking out a lot of books doesn’t guarantee that. Certainly that could help greatly with sales, thus earning more money, but, again, I want them to be holding the best product possible, a work they know took more than one year to polish–including publishing people’s input.
So, for those who do aspire to crank out a lot of books a year, what is your process and just how do you do it?
As a disclaimer, I will not talk about any of my editorial clients in the future. I simply wanted to use this one as an example of what you should expect from an editor and how you should react.
Before diving into the nitty gritty of this post, click on this article to learn some more about we freelance editors, and what some will not tell you because we assume it’s the obvious. However, I have learned that it is not, which is why I’m going to create a contract future clients will sign, as well as putting a disclaimer on my website.
Continuing on, I want to first preface this by saying that I know not all of my clients are going to be wonderful, pretty snowflakes that I want to catch in my hand and hope they don’t melt. However, the last experience I had with a client was horrible. It was made even worse because I met him in public, which I am no longer going to do with local clients. Overall, this client could not handle criticism, but I am going to use examples from what happened to show you what to expect when hiring a freelance editor–and overall how you should actually be treating freelance editors, who are treating you and your manuscript with respect, not the ones who aren’t.
Be clear and specific about what you want. I will take some responsibility, as I do not have specific prices for each type of editing I do. In the future, if a client asks for a proofread, that is all I will do, even if it needs so much more because the manuscript is a train wreck–but more on that later. But it’s your responsibility to be sure that you are ready for that. However, my client told me he wanted me to clean up the manuscript for grammar, but he also asked me to tell me if it was publishable, which basically gave me permission to tear the manuscript apart to unearth that publishable potential. When I sent the editorial letter and we talked on the phone that same day, he seemed like he appreciated my feedback. However, he was an angry bear in public, claiming he only wanted me to check on grammar, that he already knew that he needed to re-write the novel before handing it off to me, which brings me to my next point.
Re-write the manuscript until you cannot see what more you can fix before sending it off to a freelance editor.My client should not have sent his manuscript off to me if he knew it needed to be re-written. What is the point of me fixing grammar and then asking if it’s publishable if he already knew he wanted to re-write it? Grammar would then have to be fixed again. I didn’t understand this logic. Wanting me to check for grammar when you know it needs a lot more is wasting not only your time but my time as well. Sure, I’ll get paid either way, but I want to HELP you. I want you to succeed, not out of vanity, but because I want you to fall in love with your own book and keep going at it. I always try to unearth the potential in every manuscript, no matter what state it is in. I am not perfect, but I will try to be.
Freelance editors are human, and we will make mistakes and miss things. My client literally yelled at me in a public space, which was in a respectable bookstore called The Book Tavern. He kept shouting, “Attention to detail! Attention to detail!” because I accidentally called his agent character a scouter. Whoops. But it was so minor that I didn’t even bother standing up for myself. I just let him vent while apologizing that he didn’t like my work, even though I know I am a competent editor because I was trained by the very best, Georgia McBride, who has been hired by the Big 5 as a freelance editor when they were swamped with client submissions. She was impressed with my ability to help someone unearth the potential in their work, though she had to really train me on how to approach giving criticism to someone without sounding vicious–which I never intentionally do, but everyone reacts differently to everything, so I really try to find that delicate balance that won’t offend MOST of my clients. All of her apprentices, so to speak, have gone on to become competent freelance editors, as well as published authors. Without her, When Stars Die would have been difficult to edit on my own to make it submission ready. Am I the best editor out there? No, because I am still learning, but am I competent? Yes.
Sample edits. I will now be doing sample edits not only to give you a taste of my editing style, but to also let you decide what type of editing you want me to tackle in your book. However, a sample edit is not always representative of the rest of the book, so you need to decide carefully what you want. For example, if you simply want a proofread, make sure you are not shortchanging yourself (you need to get plenty of feedback first before sending it off to me), because if you send your manuscript off to a bunch of in-house editors who reject it because it is not structurally sound, I can guarantee you the blame will fall back on me, even though you were the one who told me what type of editing you wanted me to do. What you do with my feedback is your responsibility from there, and having a book professionally edited in no way guarantees publication. I did a sample edit for my client, which basically showed him that I did a structural edit, so he knew what he was getting himself into when hiring me. Yet, at the bookstore, he yelled at me for deconstructing his book, even though he had approved my sample edit. He acted like I had destroyed it, that he needed to undo my destruction, even though, hopefully, he had the original, unedited version on his computer.
Our job is to make it the best book it can be. Since my client should have known I was going to make structural changes, he shouldn’t have blown up on me and told me that I didn’t get the story. Frankly, there was nothing to get. He spent little time in the perspective of his protagonist and had ten different perspectives, right down to peripheral characters, you know the ones that need to be there, because, well, people exist, but they’re not important to the overall story. You just need to say, ‘There were a lot of soldiers in this group, from the bright to the dull,” but I do not want a POV of any of those soldiers, not when they aren’t major or at least secondary characters, ESPECIALLY NOT NEAR THE END OF THE BOOK. So throughout the manuscript, I pointed out things, and then told him the story basically ended a quarter of the way through the book because he in no way at least hinted at where the book was truly going. However, I took all elements of his book since I knew what story he wanted, and tried to piece them together in the letter I sent him so that he could have this one thing, as well as the war part, which he felt was the most important aspect of his book that I did not think he weaved well into the story. But, as I said, I wanted to make it the best book it could be in a way that kept all of the elements that he wanted. But he still blew up on me in spite of the fact that I told him I wasn’t telling him what to do, but merely advising what he could do to make it the story he wanted, so that all elements fit together nicely to create a strong story. I did see potential in that book, and I am only sorry that he didn’t think that, even though I repeatedly told him that I did see potential. This isn’t to say I was perfect with his book. Maybe I wasn’t compatible with this book. I will never know, but I have had satisfied clients in the past, so I do know I’m doing something right.
You don’t have to agree with the editor. It’s going to sting me, yeah, because I genuinely want to help you find the potential in your book. If I haven’t, please let me know in a polite manner and at least thank me for taking the time out of my day to do so. Also, if you don’t agree with my edits, I will be happy to have a lengthy discussion with you so I can justify why I did what I did in order to help you better understand with the idea that you will at least consider my feedback, even if you disagree with it. I didn’t agree with all of my publisher’s feedback, but I did consider why he felt that way, and guess what, I made the changes because he is an outside perspective and I am not, and I am glad I did because I’m confident they made the book better. Also, not every editor can bring out the true potential in every book we edit. Some editors at publishing houses reject books because they know they will not be able to make the best it can be, not because the book is bad and has no potential. The difference with freelance editors is that we are not editing to publish your book. We are editing to see what we can find in your book, hoping that you will look at our feedback and try to strengthen what we found with your own ideas. Ultimately, we freelance editors want to make you a better writer. I think freelance editors exist to be teachers, not editors preparing your book for publication, unless you’re actively getting multiple editors on board to prep your book for self-publication. My client, on the other hand, at the bookstore, refused to listen to me when I told him his plot had de-railed–and it had. He kept positing I didn’t understand the story, and he was extremely rude when doing so. He would not even consider why I did what I did, and I never even got to justify anything. The hilarious thing is that the day before, when I talked to him over the phone, there was this implication that he had read my feedback and basically told me that the feedback suggested the book would need a lot of work, so he thanked me. But in the bookstore, he didn’t thank me and turned away after giving me my money, which he felt was wasted on me, even going so far as to telling me he will never use my services again. If your freelance editor is treating you with respect, do the same in return, even if you are not happy with the work, even if you don’t want to work with that person again, or think that person will work better with another book of yours, especially if you were pleased with the sample edit. Not all of my clients are going to be compatible with me, and I am okay with that. There are multiple editors in publishing houses for a reason, not just so they can keep up with clients’ manuscripts, but so those manuscripts can find editors they’d be compatible with.
Don’t tell an editor one thing and then say something different after the fact. My client specifically told me the novel I was editing was for young readers, so I treated it as such, much of my feedback pointing out that this is how he should do it to make it enjoyable for young readers. However, when we met in the bookstore, he turned on me and asked me where I got the idea that it was a book for young readers (I have the e-mail as proof that he told me it was for young readers). He told me it was a book he was trying to write for adults, and that he didn’t want to dumb down his writing. I didn’t say anything about this at all. I was speechless, not only because he was oblivious to what he had told me, but because he implied the writing in books for young readers is “dumbed down.” It is not. The best children’s books are those that can be read and enjoyed by many. The writing in these books is sharp and intelligent. The stories themselves are what categorize the book as being middle grade or young adult or whatever, not the writing, usually, unless you’re talking about a book for a first-time reader where the writing has to be simple.
Don’t attack your editor. What I mean by this is that my client attacked me as a person, not just as an editor. This is what made me angry. Before I was hurt, but his attack on me as a human being is what did me in, but I stood there and took it because I knew fighting back would do no good and would offend the establishment we were in. Not only was I at The Book Tavern to represent myself as a freelance editor, but I was also there representing AEC Stellar because I gave that bookstore my publisher’s info to see about getting the book stocked there. In any case, he used my age against me. I am 23 years old. I have a lot of editorial experience behind me through internships, and have been writing seriously since I was 14, not just writing, but also actively seeking criticism and revising, revising, revising, which I think is the stage where you learn the most from. I received the best education from Georgia McBride, and I consider her a teacher that taught me a creative writing degree’s worth of education. I have a book published with pretty good reviews so far. I didn’t shove this in his face when he told me he had been writing since he was 20-years-old. He has never sought out publication for any of his works, which is why I didn’t feel like having a book under my belt mattered. There are people out there who are probably better writers than me who have never sought out publication. But it seemed like I was the first person he ever sought feedback from, because he certainly didn’t act like he was used to it. He looks to be about my dad’s age, and my dad is in his 50s. So I will let you draw your conclusions from there about his experience with writing.
If you are meeting your editor face-to-face in a public space, do not blow up. As you’ve read so far, my client did. I had to personally call The Book Tavern and apologize on both of our behalves because I wanted to show the bookstore that I respected their establishment and that I did not intend for our meeting to go down as it did. I was really excited to meet my client, because I love meeting new people. Even so, the manager even had to tell us to take it outside–it got that bad between my client and I, though I was pretty much a bunny facing a bear. I was just flabbergasted, unable to stand up for myself because I had no experience in dealing with this, but I can tell you I wasn’t rude at all, though I did find a point in our conversation where I was about to be, but I shut myself up. Because of this, I am never meeting local clients anywhere again. If I do, I am bringing a third party, plus the contract said client signed, to hopefully keep the peace between us and establish some rational ground. All in all, I was sorry my client didn’t like his experience with me, but he told me not to apologize in a way that said I called him a bad name, then apologized after the fact, and if I were really sorry, I would not have called him that bad name in the first place.
The editor has the right to drop your book if the sample edit is not representative of the rest of the book. Now hopefully there is a contract with a clause stating this so no legal action can be taken, because many editors do ask for half the payment upfront for labor, and if they decide to drop the project, the client shouldn’t have to pay the other half. For example, if I do a sample edit of a section that only needs proofreading, then my assumption is that this is all the book will need. However, if I go through the book and discover that proofreading is impossible because of the large amount of errors present that don’t align with what proofreading actually is, I can feel free to drop that book until the client is willing to clean the book up so I can do proofreading, which is simply looking for little errors that the author was unable to see, not re-writing sentences due to grammatical errors, like misplaced modifiers. I will drop the book so that I don’t have to change the total price I gave you in the beginning, which can understandably upset clients who were told one price, then that price suddenly had to be changed because the editor had to put more labor into the work than what was originally expected. Now my client had a right to be upset about this, because I did change the price after the fact, but I am still trying to get the business side of things together, and I think my experience with him has finalized how I want to do things, so I suppose a bad experience with him wasn’t a total waste. Of course, my client didn’t sound upset over the phone that I had to raise the price, but he sure raised Cane in the bookstore.
Overall, this was a learning experience for me, and the one good thing it did was finalize the business side of things for me, so I will be updating my website, adding a disclaimer, and creating a contract that I will post on the website so you know what you’re getting into before you request my services. The one promise I can make is that I will do everything in my power to help you see the potential in your book. I want you to learn to be a better writer so that way you can go on to be published to inspire and entertain people with the beauty that came from your heart, that beauty being your story.