Friday, June 29, 2012

Want to Get Published? It’s as Easy as 1, 2, 3



OK, no, it’s not. Publishing is hard. Really hard. But the 1, 2, 3 thing is true in one sense. You see, there are now three distinct paths to getting your work to readers.


That’s a pretty revolutionary change, though by now we often pass over the
Photo credit: Rob Fillion
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/robfillion)
fact of it, unremarked. But until recently, if you weren’t given a contract by a major house or one of a handful of smaller ones, your only publishing option was a vanity press that would take your money and usually your dignity and pride as an author as well.


Many bits and bytes have been devoted to how indie publishing has changed the reading and writing landscape, if not the world. Indie publishing has resurrected the midlist. Expanded the number of authors who are able to make a living off their work. Offered published authors another way to pursue their careers, and emerging writers a way to break in.


The issue has become polarized, which is unfortunate, since it isn’t even an accurate representation of what’s happening. Some authors pursue both indie and traditional publishing at the same time, if, say, they write more books than can be published in a year, or if their books straddle different genres.


But for whatever reason sometimes this is more of a debate than a conversation. There are moderate voices, of course, but also zealotry—the ardor of the convert—on the part of some indie authors. And from traditionally published authors? Well, I hear less. Their voices seem to be quieter, which has allowed myths to be perpetrated (editors don’t edit anymore) and arguable predictions to be put forth as fait accompli (traditional publishing is on its way out).



I don’t have an answer for why the discussion breaks down in this way, beyond noting the similarity to other, hotter conflicts, political and religious ones, which also seem to become polarized instead of explored with nuance.


So, in the interest of promoting nuance, I would like to list the pros and cons of each of the three main paths.



1.     Traditional publishing with a major house or established independent (e.g., Algonquin)

·       Pros: Up-front money; a whole team working to make your book the best it can be; close, personal relationships with team are possible; anywhere from a lot to some support with marketing; broad distribution; review attention from mainstream media; strong print presence; potential for sales to foreign publishers and other subsidiary rights

·       Cons: Takes a long time to find a publisher, if one is ever found; long delay between acquisition and release; need to make a big splash right away or possibility of future deals is diminished; desire to brand the author or have author publish in one niche



2.     Traditional publishing with a smaller independent or niche press (e.g., Oak Tree, Echelon, Entangled, Wild Rose, Belle Bridge)


·       Pros: Close, personal relationships with editor and publisher; press might be focused on and expert in a smaller slice of the fiction market corresponding to author’s work; less pressure to take off right away

·       Cons: Usually no upfront money; bookstore presence and review attention can be harder to come by; risk of newer presses dissolving


3.     Indie- or self-publishing


·       Pros: Control over entire process; independence from constraints of publishers; potential to proceed very quickly

·       Cons: Control over entire process; independence from constraints of publishers; potential to proceed very quickly


OK, that last is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem that the advantages of indie publishing are its potential disadvantages as well. The wise indie author is able to turn them to his or her benefit and suffer none of the drawbacks.

In the above list, there’s a lot of room for nuance, no? There is much in the way of information and issues to consider if you choose to do so. What’s important is to open up a conversation. Because if someone tells you only one path is right, they’re probably wrong.

There’s just the one that’s right for you.

 All my best in finding it. 

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey whose debut novel, Cover of Snow, will be published in January by Ballantine.

31 comments:

  1. Thanks for laying this out so clearly, Jenny. The world of publishing is something writers should understand. It's the business part of writing that can't be ignored.

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  2. So complicated because it literally seems to be changing every day! I agree with you, Kathleen.

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  3. Excellent summary, but I think in practice the nuances are finer still. I have not (yet) self-published, but have been published by large, medium, and small traditional publishers. While we hope for competent editing and promotion, and often benefit from the work of very competentent people, not everyone fits that description, and I've experienced serious publisher errors on everything from text to photos to covers to blurbs and bios. Fortunately most can be fixed (sometimes after some serious hissy fits!), but not always, and readers mostly assume that errors are the author's. I figure I can make enough of my own without additional help! In the end, we just can't assume anything and must be our own advocates.

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    1. Interesting perspective, Sheila. It definitely is dependent on the degree of talent, commitment, and passion you find--on whichever path you take. Thanks for sharing some of your background.

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  4. Well stated, Jenny. I wish you had a crystal ball and could tell us what publishing will be like in the future. As it is, we sit here with a coin in one hand and hope in the other. Here's how it shakes out for me. At my age, the traditional route would take too long. By the time I'd land an agent, then a publisher, then wait for the book to come out, I could be too old to remember my name when it came time to sign them. That leaves small press and indie with their pros and cons. Might as well flip that coin and hope for the best.

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    1. In the end, Earl, I wonder if the coin flip--and other elements of luck and chance--don't have more to do with everything than some would like to think. One thing I know...with your writing talent and voice, your work will do well however it comes to the fore.

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  5. Yeah, I think there are a whole bunch of details that can be pros or cons depending on your personality. I would perhaps add some of the following:

    Traditional pro: much larger chance of large readership.
    Traditional both pro and con: a team makes many art decisions and often details like title.

    And then the Indie pro: easier to make some money faster--while there are fewer units moved, much more is kept by the author.

    I definitely think this decision is one of genre and personality. Some people might love the idea of choosing artists, editor, and such--being the one who formats and uploads. I am NOT a good person to have those things in my hands... not careful enough. Far better to leave that to professionals. Likewise, I'd rather have more readers than money, at least in the short term. So traditional is a better match. (then again, it fits my genres, too)

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    1. This is an excellent point, Hart--thank you for adding it. Which path you choose is as much a reflection of what fits you, the pros you deeply desire and the cons you just can't stomach, as which opportunities present themselves.

      (Yes, I realize I'm contradicting what I just said in response to Earl. I think both are true.)

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  6. I agree with Hart in every way. It's a matter of personality. I could not publish my books with a traditional publisher any more than Jenny could self-publish. :)

    But I have the utmost respect for any author with the drive to finish a story and get it published for the world to see, no matter what path they choose.

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    1. Excellent analysis, Jenny, and, since so many among us are still wobbling around, wondering how to proceed toward seeing our work in print, (and the publishing industry itself is in another wobbly flux), I think it's about as complete an analysis as is possible in June/July, 2012. Guess each of us can do best by simply following our own researched thoughts and decisions on the subject. (Following our own star?) As for me -- after much research, thinking and, yes, praying, I am more than happy with my decision to go with Oak Tree Press! Wonderful support for authors in editing, publishing, and promotion. Good friends, too!

      Thank you for thinking through such a difficult topic and giving us your clear thoughts.

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    2. Ah, but I might very well have, Thomas (self-published). I split my skull for eleven years trying for the path I hoped for--but self-pubbing wasn't really an option when I began. By the time one door at last opened, I was considering alternate routes. I think these are *good* alternate routes. It happens I went down another of the tracks--but I do think that being flexible is a key attribute of anyone who makes it.

      Radine, I am so happy you are part of the Oak Tree family if only because I enjoy the work of so many in that talented pool! Plus, Sunny is a publishing genius.

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  7. Jenny,
    You said it all, simply and succinctly. I've tried them all. At this point in my life, I like some help and input in the publishing process.

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    1. I really enjoyed your post on Kathleen's small press series, Marilyn...

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  8. Your 1,2,3 is right on target, Jenny, but how about a #4? E-publishing (also a possible #5, audio books). My Murders by Design cozy mystery series is currently being pubbed by Carina Press, the electronic division of Harlequin. The first, Designed for Death, was released in January, the second, The Monet Murders, two weeks ago. A third is due outin early 2013. E-books are the wave of the future, and a great way to have your voice heard.

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    1. Interesting, Jean--I guess I think of e-books as one medium that might be published with a major, a small press, or on one's own. I think you're right that for a writer just starting out, publishing a digital version whether with a small press or independently can be a great way to build an audience.

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  9. Thanks for the post, Jenny.

    I'd love for my YA novel to be traditionally published. But just like the music business several years ago, publishing's an industry in turmoil. The disruption shakes out good as well as bad. Provides opportunities for many while at the same time shutting doors and windows for others.

    I know you love your bookstores. I do too. I'm published by a tiny press, and now am going the self-pubbed route as well.

    I've been trying to get my local bookstore to carry my books for YEARS now. Finally they had a book signing and invited me. I was so happy! Blasted the word about the event. Contacted the book section of our newspaper. Told my friends who showed up, bought books, making the bookstore money.

    Sold out of The Messenger's Handbook. Had more books in the car. Offered to bring them in so I wouldn't have to make a special trip back down to the store to re-stock.

    Oh, no no. I was told to collect the rest of my books and remove them from the store. This is how you treat a local author who has supported your store for years? This is how Indie bookstores are going to survive?

    I do believe there is room for just about everybody. And respect goes in both directions.

    Thanks as always.

    On a lighter note - love your new author photo!

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    1. I'm gasping, Pam. That is awful. I'm so glad you had such a successful author event--but why that reaction? It must leave you feeling at real odds. It's good you have access to readers in other ways--but I continue to see an even wider audience in your future, however you reach them.

      Thanks about the pic. I'm very meh on it.

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    2. Thanks Jenny.

      It does feel completely strange. And sad.

      From your lips to God's ears about a wider audience!

      Seriously your new photo is the bomb. (In the good sense of the word.)

      xo

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    3. Maybe we'll go in there together next time, Pam, talk about TYCBD, and do a panel discussion or something together?? (Don't know if that would help. They could just be overtaxed booksellers...)

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  10. You left out that it is most difficult for self-published authors to get well-known and broadly circulated reviews for their books.

    I wonder if the polarization arises from the issue of perceived quality between traditional and indie publishing? Historically, indie publishing was, as you said, vanity publishing and looked down on. While good and poor quality writing exists in both traditional and indie publishing, writers are understandably very touchy about judgments of merit. Could this be the sore point that invites argument over discussion? And why the traditionally published are quieter: they don't have to defend the outdated "vanity" charge?

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    1. Hmm, interesting idea, Sara. I wonder. The old vanity publishing has a very different feel from the indie authors I know today--almost like two different epochs.

      In terms of the first point, I guess I think getting known and broadly circulated is hard on all 3 paths. Will probably be some broad dissemination for all of six weeks with a major, but after that...

      There's where I think the one constant appears, though I think you and I disagree on this. If you have a book that speaks widely to people--I'm not going to call it a great book, could be great, could not be--it almost doesn't matter which track it appears on. That train is gonna roar.

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    2. The vanity charge is definitely outdated, as I wrote. That's still where anger in the discussion seems to be triggered, though.

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  11. Great piece, Jenny.

    As someone who's currently published both traditionally and as a one-man indie, I'd add a couple of negatives to traditional publishing and a couple to indie pubbing as well.

    Negatives to traditional publishing: Small royalty rate, probable loss of control of your intellectual property for such add-ons as audio books, non-English translations, foreign rights, and (in some cases) motion picture/film adaptation. and TOTAL lack of transparency regarding sales figures and royalties.

    Negatives to indie publishing: no one to tell you your book isn't ready, an overwheming signal-to-noise ratio, and the possibility of being totally at the mercy of a single corporate entity that pretty much owns the ebook market.

    And I'd add one more advantage of indie epubbing, at least on Amazon: the ability to check your sales hourly if you wish, to adjust marketing and see the results (or lack of results) and project your monthly income.

    One last issue, something writers considering a trad house have to think about, is rights reversion. Until ebooks, a writer could apply for (and receive) a reversion of rights to the book when it had been allowed to go "out of print." But now the definition of "out of print" is in question--if a book is available as an ebook, is it still in print? Since it costs pulblishers literally nothing to let ebooks remain on virtual shelves, does that mean they own the book forever? The Author's Guild is working on this right now.

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    1. These are excellent subtleties, Tim, which I wouldn't have thought of. Everyone...Tim's voice, which reflects success on all three paths, is one to just stop and listen to.

      Tim, Imy publisher has started an author's portal, where sales figures and other things can be checked--this seems an acknowledgment of the benefit of transparency. Do you think that the publishers, whose sales reflect many revenue streams (bookstores, libraries, Amazon, others) can or should strive for as much transparency as Amazon on its own can?

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  12. Timothy, I agree with everything you've said except the total lack of transparency re. sales figures of traditional publishing. As I see it, the problem is that, in ancient paternalistic style, the publisher sends the sales figures/royalties info directly to agents and never to authors--even if they ask. The agent chooses whether to forward the thick stack of numbers or only the 1-2 page summary to the authors. And the 6+ month delay of getting these numbers for the prior 6-month sales period is--in this day and age--inexcusable.

    I appreciate your pointing out the increasing possibility of being at the mercy of a single corporate entity that dominates the ebook market. They can change the rules any time.

    As for rights reversion, my publisher chose to reissue my novel that had literally gone out of print, but because it remained "in print" as an ebook, they did not renegotiate a contract with me as they otherwise would have to. A bit of a sting, that, though, of course, one is always happy to have a reissue.

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  13. I think some traditionally published authors are hesitant to speak up too loudly about negative experiences, because they don't want to burn bridges by bad mouthing people or companies in the industry. What's said in private, though...

    Still, no path is right for everyone, in this or any area of life. I expect more professional writers (those who treat it as a business) to find a hybrid path, especially as new publishing methods the rise. But the "best" opportunities vary by genre and author personality. I'm traditionally published in children's books and still submitting some of my work traditionally, because of the specifics for reaching that audience (e.g. libraries and schools). However, I'm self-publishing my adult Romance/suspense without ever submitting it traditionally, because I decided that's the best option for me given the state of the industry right now.

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    1. That's interesting, Chris. Different from my experience. I've heard the negatives discussed fairly openly, but listening to those who have positive experiences requires more of an intimate conversation. I'm not sure why that is.

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  14. Loved this concise wrap-up of the various considerations. Later this summer I'm giving a presentation to help writers figure out if self-publishing is right for them, and my outline says exactly the same thing about self-publishing: the biggest pro AND con is that you're in control. Sometimes control is great, and sometimes it's a headache ;)

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    1. I wish I could be there for your talk, Gigi!

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  15. Concise and to the point! Good post.

    Madeline

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  16. I have done all three ways (well, my traditional publisher is the small indipendant). And before him, I paid for a POD publisher. And now I've begun working on self-publishing (got a short story on Amazon just a week ago), hope to reintroduce the POD book as an ebook.

    You summed it up well. I'm more of a quiet person, and glad that I do have a publisher to push my book more than I could. There's just so much to know, I wouldn't be able to handle the business side of it well enough. Plus, I'm not the type who wants to push my book in a hundred places in a day. Gadz I don't have time for all that! I'd rather write!

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