Alternatives to Traditional Publishing

          As I read the comments to my blog last week, I realized the topic of self-publishing is bigger than I thought for our readers. I decided to spend another week on the topic, with this post being somewhat more instructional. Please know that I am by no means an expert. I am at the beginning of my journey toward self-publishing. I’m still finding my own way. I have been reading about it, considering it and discussing it for years. I have definite opinions, but very little experience. As I said before, I feel like a childless couple dispensing childcare advice. Even so, in the spirit of this blog, I offer what I know for those coming along behind me. And I encourage those further along the road to add their comments. (Please! 🙂 )

          I think the best way to get started is to define the terms used. There is a difference between POD (print on demand) and self-publishing and vanity publishing. Sometimes those differences are not immediately obvious. Often the lines get blurred, either by the publisher or the author. Other times the similarities or lack of them are obvious to insiders, while escaping the understanding of outsiders. Perhaps my perspective, and that of the few sites I’ve visited, will bring some clarity to the issue.

          Vanity publishing is the ‘black sheep’ of publishing, the option that engenders, rightly or wrongly, the upturned nose and sneer by those of “the establishment”. It’s been around as long as books have been published. With this option, the author takes all the risks, bears all the cost. Before the advent of POD (print on demand) publishing, this meant having to order hundreds or thousands of copies for each printing in order to get a decent price. That isn’t always the case now, but the author still must do all the work and bear all the cost. While this may be the best option for an author, this is an area of the publishing world that is rife with “sharks” and it takes a business-savvy person to negotiate these waters. (Although, as self-publishing becomes more and more viable, those predators have to work harder to find unsuspecting prey.)

          Self-publishing is often seen by those outside the field as the same as vanity publishing. In fact, to the casual observer, there is little difference. The author owns the copyright, handles, or pays others to handle, all the tasks necessary to see the book to print and takes on all the risks and benefits of publishing a book. (U-Publish, a self-publishing company (which I have NOT vetted, so visit at your own risk) has a good explanation of the difference between vanity and self-publishing.) The difference is often in the mind and business activity of the author. Another site, The Straight Dope says it best, “Understandably some writers think, ‘if I’m going to do all the work, I’m going to keep all the cash.’”

          Print on Demand (POD) publishing technology changed the face of publishing, made self-publishing a viable option for many entrepreneurial authors. Now it is possible to inexpensively print a small (as low as 1copy) run of paperback books of the same high quality as the traditional publishing run of thousands. Now any author or publisher, no matter how little known or under-capitalized, can make a book available to the public for a reasonable cost. (According to Booklocker, most of the major POD publishers use the same printer.) The downside to POD is that most bookstores do not stock these books, usually because they cannot get a refund if they don’t sell. (With persistence, though, an author can change this. Janet Elaine Smith has self-published multiple books, has convinced many bookstores across the country to carry them, shares her ideas and experiences with other authors and even publishes a marketing ebook.)

          Online publishing is often equated with self-publishing, but can be very different. Some ebooks are self-published, many are not. Traditional publishers are increasingly offering books in eformat in addition to or instead of the regular printing run. Producing a book in an electronic format sometimes makes the most sense, especially with the rise of eReaders. When an author is considering self-publishing, depending on the audience, offering an ebook option to the public might be a viable option, particularly for many niche markets.

          These are very basic explanations and, as I said, I might not have all the facts, not having a lot of experience in this yet. Obviously, each author must assess their book, their desires for that book and their intended audience in order to make the wisest choice. As I progress further along this road, I’ll share my experiences. And I’d love to hear your more of our reader’s thoughts on the subject.

Get Your Work Out – Correctly

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned in the last six weeks in my master degree program is that more than half of my classmates have very little writing experience and do not know how to properly format a manuscript before sending it out. Just in case you’ve been writing for a while but never thought there was anything you really needed to know, let me make some suggestions.

First, in a general sense, your manuscript should be formatted with one inch margins all around (1 1/2″ margins left and right are acceptable), double-spaced, single-sided (sorry, rainforest, but not everything will be printed every time), with your name and the manuscript title and the page number on every page. Paragraphs are indented one-half inch with no extra return between them, and with dialogue in new paragraphs for each speaker. Be sure to use quality paper with dark black ink when you print.

There are a lot of resources in the library, the bookstore and online that will help you with just about every question you might have. Here are just a few examples:

Beginning Writer’s Answer Book – This is one of the first books I bought when I started writing. I found it full of useful information for several years before I passed it on to another writer.

Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript – One of several books that will help you properly format your novel synopsis and manuscript (did you know your synopsis is generally formatted differently than your manuscript pages?), your magazine articles, non-fiction books and proposals and more.

Blogs, web sites, and author web sites with articles – We all have our favorites, don’t we?!  🙂  One of my favorite authors who shares so much information with other writers is Jennifer Crusie. Click on her name here to see a long list of articles she wrote just for you! One of my favorite agent blogs is Nathan Bransford. He has a knack for being both informative and entertaining. He also has a list of links to posts where he answered commonly asked questions.

If you want your work to have a shot at being taken seriously, prove you take it seriously yourself. I used to be a Hollywood reader and if I got a script in the wrong format, I assumed the writer didn’t know much and their work was rarely passed on to a producer. (Once the story was good enough that I passed it to my boss in spite of the unprofessional look.) You hear the same story from editors at every publishing house that gets a lot of submissions.

Where else do you go for information? How do you make sure your work is being presented in the most professional light? Share your favorite books and web sites!

Note: Here is another great article on how to give and take a good critique. I thought I’d pass it on to you.

Self-Publishing: The Wave of the Future?

          As I said in last week’s blog, I’m considering a venture into self-publishing. It makes sense. At least to me. I’ve been reading and studying the options off and on for more than a decade. Currently I feel like the childless couple dispensing childcare advice or the bachelor voicing opinions on marriage. I know what I read and observe and I can speculate what would be good choices, but I haven’t experienced any of it. It is time for some experiential learning.

          Self-publishing has a bad rep. Is it deserved? Is it an admission of failure when an author decides to self-publish? Are those authors really the ones who couldn’t make it, or didn’t even try to make it, in traditional publishing? Or are they entrepreneurs who are swimming out to catch that great oncoming technology wave that they will then ride in to a lucrative beach? Depending on who you listen to, you’ll get either side of that debate. (Guess where I fall?) If you do decide to self-publish, how do you avoid being bitten by the sharks? How do you know which “wave” to pick up and ride?

          The negatives of self-publishing are real. Most self-publishers do not edit or vet in any way the books they publish. As long as the author will pay for it, they will print it. There are atrocious self-published books out there. Books with horrendous grammar, books with no plot or cohesive theme, books with very little of value under verbal tons of muck.

          There is at least one (maybe only one) self-publisher out there with a different business model. At the moment, I am on the outside looking in. My perception may be incomplete or even erroneous, but I am seriously considering Booklocker if/when I have my cookbook, or anything else, ready to publish.

          From what I can gather after 10+ years of receiving their newsletters,Booklocker is not in business to make money selling the author anything. (At least that is what they say.) They, like their traditional publisher counterparts, are in business to sell books. They only accept books they think will sell. They work with the author to edit and polish the book into something of quality. They provide an online “store front” through which to sell the books. In these ways, they are similar to and build on the positives of traditional publishers.

          They use the positives of self-publishing by charging the costs of publication to the author. They avoid the negatives of self-publishing by keeping those costs minimal. They avoid the negatives of both traditional and self-publishing by not confiscating the copyrights from the author. I could continue to elaborate, but they explain it much better than I in an article from a few years back.

          The water looks great. The surf is up. Watch me as I ride this wave!

Getting Your Work Out – In the Wrong Place?

Note: My apologies for not joining the great discussion last week with the great readers who commented on my blog. It was my birthday and I was playing hooky all day – a movie, a delicious pub lunch with my Honey followed by the most amazing gelato I’ve ever had, then buying lots of chocolate cookies to share with my class that night. Thanks for your comments! I promise to be better about answering today!  {grin}

Last week I encouraged you to get your work out to someone, somewhere. The idea was to start small with people who could help you build your confidence. That’s what I did when I joined the Tempe Christian Writers Club when I lived in Arizona. That was the very first time I met with other writers or let other people read and critique my work. Everyone was supportive and friendly and helpful. But eventually I found a few novelists in the group and we all seemed to gravitate toward each other. The comments from the authors of magazine articles and devotional books (eventually) didn’t seem to help as much as the comments from other novelists. Before long we quietly created our own group.

Over the next year or two, my writing improved dramatically. The new group was proving to be a learning success for all of us. But it had its drawbacks as well. After a certain amount of growth, there were times when we felt we weren’t helping each other much at all. At one point, a good friend told me she couldn’t critique my work anymore. She thought I was a good writer, but she just couldn’t get past my chick lit subject matter to enjoy the work enough to feel she was giving me a good critique. I was so grateful! My friend was trying not to change my “voice” but simply didn’t like the style of writing. I thought choosing not to critique my work for those reasons was the nicest thing she could have done – and we’re still friends.

Soon I joined the Romance Writers of America and felt a little like I’d come home.  🙂  The vast majority of my new friends understood my writing and I understood theirs. We knew how to help each other. Again, my writing improved in great forward leaps! After a year or two, I felt I’d reached that good-but-scary place where the only thing that was really going to improve my writing at this point was more writing.

Fast forward several more years to present day. I still believe that (almost) the only thing that will improve my writing is more writing. But there are some things I’m trying to do, some things I’m trying to say, that I wanted some guidance on. I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Creative Writing program last month and I’m giddy with excitement and enthusiasm!

However…

I’m once again in a place where not everyone gets me. Now I have to focus on listening to my classmates’ comments through a lens of wisdom. If I can tell that they enjoy my style of writing, I listen to all of their comments and try to figure out how to make my piece tighter, better. If I can tell that they really don’t get it, I listen to all of their comments and try to figure out what is useful. For instance, last week no one understood that Joe was having a vision of sorts of something that was happening now. Most people thought it was a memory, or they were just plain confused about what was going on. I need to change that to make it more clear. A few people liked the comic book similarities – good, that’s what I was going for. A few people didn’t like the superheros idea and didn’t like the costumes. Well, I’m not going to change that, but I am going to look into how I can describe the costumes a little better to make it more interesting.

Do you see what I’m trying to do?

It’s not easy. I really have to go into these workshop sessions with a good night’s sleep, leaving any of the day’s baggage at the door. I need to focus on improving my work, not on who likes it and who doesn’t, and not ignoring those who don’t care for my style.

I hope my example has given you food for thought when you take or send your work out and then are evaluating the feedback. If you have any other thoughts on this, please share them. I really want to see all of us improving in both our ability to take a critique and in our ability to give quality feedback.

Happy Writing!!  🙂

School Notes:
Let me just say, now that the last day of the “drop” period is over – Oh. My. Gosh. I am so freakin’ exhausted. How did I ever think I could just drop a full-time master’s degree program into my life?! I just found out last night that I have another class presentation to do next week that I totally forgot about. My every-other-day runs are down to once or twice a week now. Other things I used to do more often are also down to once or twice a week – and I’m still behind in my homework.

BUT… take the grades part out of the equation, and I have to say – it is so worth it! I am learning new things, forming new opinions, trying things I never would have tried (if you’re interested, I’ve got to share the funny exercises we did last night), and reading things I never would have read. Did you know that people have written whole novels in verse?? I mean recently, not Beowulf. And the paper that is due tonight (eek!) is so interesting that I may do some revisions and see if I can get it published in some kind of writer’s periodical. I’m comparing 19th century realism to the argument in today’s romance and women’s fiction to portray life a little more realistically. I’ve gotten really interested in what I thought could be a dry topic.

Thanks to all of you who wanted to know more about all this! The very act of writing this section for you right now has reminded me that despite the stress and tremendous effort, this whole amazing journey is so worth it!

Cook a Book

          In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a by-the-book type of person. It comes as no surprise, to me or my blog-mates, that I’m considering alternative methods of publishing. I have a couple of blogs planned that will explore this option. Today’s blog is about a particular project of mine. I am considering self-publishing and need to consider what I will have to do to see that accomplished. Maybe my thoughts will encourage you in some of your non-traditional publishing ideas. 🙂

          I actually have two projects that I think lend themselves well to self-publishing and selling online. The one most near completion is a cookbook for novice cooks. When I say it is near completion, all I mean is that the recipes I’d originally planned to include are written. I still have a lot of revising and reformatting and editing work to do.

          Before I get to work doing that, however, I want to decide what exactly it is that I am creating. Am I just compiling a list of recipes with instructions? Something that looks like every other cookbook. You all probably know me well enough to know my answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” 🙂 I want something different. Not just to be different, but because there are plenty of regular cookbooks on the market and more being created every day.

          I want my cookbook to encourage and inspire a non-cook, someone afraid of cooking or unsure how to begin. I want to make what can seem like a mysterious, unknowable high-and-mighty activity into one that is simple, easily-understood and just as easily accomplished.

          My next step, as I see it, is to decide on a format that will be newbie-friendly. I think I have come up with something. I’m going to arrange each section around a meal, with entree and side dishes and even a dessert. It will be presented on a two-page spread. One page will be chatty, with suggestions and anecdotes and lots of details. The other page will be a succinct, bulleted list of steps in the order they need to be accomplished. The next few weeks will be spent doing just that with the recipes I’ve accumulated.

          Once I’ve done that, I’ll need to test it. That’s where my blog-mates and friends will help me. I plan to send out some of the recipes to my non-cooking friends to see if they are as clearly written as I think. I’ll also send them to my cooking friends to get their input. I will probably even post a few to my website and solicit comments and suggestions.

          After I’m sure my recipes are useful, easy-to-read and easy to follow, and after they are formatted and arranged in book form, it will be time to decide how to market it. I’ll have several options and over the next few weeks, I plan to explore them on this blog.

          For now, the steps I need to take for this project is:

             

  • Determine the target audience. Done
  • Determine the format. Done . . . unless in editing I find a better format.
  • Create a sample.
  • Test the target audience and any ancillary audiences.

          After these steps, I’ll start exploring ways to actually publish it.

          Do you have a project you think might be better served by self-publishing? What do you need to do in order to see it done?

Get Your Work Out – Where?

If you are writing for an audience, or ever hope to – unless you are going to keep your writing to yourself forever – at some point you have to get your work in front of people. Does that mean only the lofty goal of finishing a novel and sending it to an agent or editor?

Not necessarily.

Your stress over this should decrease when you remember you are in charge. You are the writer and you get to decide who sees your work. So where do you want to start? Arguably, the easiest place to start is with a trusted friend. This person is someone who has already shown an interest in your interests. If you’re writing fantasy, this person likes fantasy and has wanted to read your work. If you write romance, this person reads romance and has wanted to read your work. See the theme? They already like you and your genre. This is someone you think you can trust with balancing how much they love your work (every writer needs a few of those people) with ideas or thoughts on improvements.

As you get comfortable sharing with one person, you’ll want to branch out. Look for a writing class (an adult education class or something at a library will probably be the least expensive) or a critique group or writing group. The idea here is that you will be presenting your work to the group for feedback. A critique group or a workshop will often be led by someone (or a few someones) who are far enough along in the process to be helpful to you. A group that feels like the blind leading the blind may not be what you’re looking for. (On the other hand, people in that group will eventually learn to see and they can help each other learn together.)

Along the same lines, joining a larger organization (Romance Writers of America, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, etc.) and/or going to a writers conference can often be a big help. You meet more like-minded people. You have greater access to learning and to avenues for feedback. You may get to hear speakers who can help direct your writing. You can also take online classes, some of which give feedback on student work. (You generally don’t have to be a member of a group to take a writing class. Most online writing classes charge members a lower rate, but open the class to anyone.) Or, like me, you may decide to get quite formal with your educational process and enroll in a degree program in creative writing.

Most of these choices do not involve very much of the dreaded R word – rejection. Work through some or all of these options to improve your writing before you send it out. There’s a good chance that work will improve your odds of selling your work.

This year, I sent out a proposal to teach a workshop on Routines for Writers to the Romance Writers of Australia for their national conference. I received a very nice rejection email saying they had more proposals for good workshops than they were able to use. (As is usually the case with rejections, it’s hard to say if that means mine was otherwise good enough. But there were more workshops proposed that the conference committee deemed better than mine, so I am looking for ways to improve it for next time.)

I also sent a short article to Writer’s Digest magazine early this year. I haven’t heard back from them yet, but I’m determined to react maturely – a quick scream if I get a yes, a quick swiping at wet eyes if I get a no.  {grin}  In any case, I plan on sending more work out this year. No matter how difficult it is to – and this is the big one for me – decide if it’s good enough yet to be published.

I’ve reached a place in my writing where the only step forward is to get my work out there. See what happens. See what is said by whom. What sells? What doesn’t? Is it the writing, or is it less-than-perfect choices in who I’m sending the work to?

What stage are you in? Are you still trying to get up the courage to let someone read your work? Or are you sending it out to potential buyers? You certainly don’t have to send your work out. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Unless you want people to read it. Even then, perhaps you’d be happy to have a blog that your friends and family read. Or to write stories for the children in your life. I’ve done both of those things, and I got a lot of satisfaction from them. But if you’re like me, and you want to be published – for the sake of being published or because you want to influence the world for the better – you need to start thinking about your strategy.

Do you have one?