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
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.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pumping Up

Jeff asked me to share my experience of working with a paid publicist to promote  A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH, book 2 in my Monastery Murders, so here goes.

My friend, noir writer Vincent Zandri ( told me about his great experience with Pump Up Your Book back in 2010 when we both returned to publishing after a 10-year hiatus, working for the same publisher and with the same agent. Vince rose to almost instant super stardom and credits a lot of his early success to the job pump up Your Book did helping him get the word out. He signed up for continuing tours with them. The fact that he writes amazing books, of course, has kept his meteor aloft.

I determined that when I could manage it I would do a Pump Up Your Books tour. It took me two years to get there, but in May I finally got to do so. Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book ( offers 4 levels of tours:

Bronze, 10 - 12 stops over a one month period for $299

Silver, 15 - 20 stops over a one month period for $399

Gold, 30+ stops over a two month period for $599

Platinum, 45+ stops over a 3 month period which includes professional book trailer, reader and blogger incentives, AuthorVid, Goodreads Chat, banner advertisement in sidebar, personalized press releases, pre-buzz on minimum of 10 blogs and websites before your tour even starts and much much more for $1399. (

I chose the Silver.  It took Dorothy about a month to set up my tour which included guest spots on 25 blogs— more than she had guaranteed and many of them syndicated (interviews, book reviews and articles from me evenly balanced) an article in an online newspaper, a podcast radio interview and an author video.  You can see the schedule on my homepage: (scroll down a bit)
Dorothy is an absolute delight to work with and her bloggers were enthusiastic about my book, although the review copies (which I mailed out) are sent with the understanding that they will receive an honest review. And many of those bloggers have hundreds of followers.

I received what may be my all-time favorite review from one of these bloggers. You can see it here as a good example of the exposure my book received.
Each day of the tour I went to my tour stop, left a comment, got the permalink for that post and added it to the schedule on my website, then tweeted, facebooked, etc. To help get the word out. I tried to resist driving my friends crazy, so I didn’t promote everything to every contact list every day. Near the end we were in California visiting family and I failed to get a couple of the permalinks added, although I did visit the blogs those days.

Bottom line: Rankings for print book were two times better, sales rank for ebook was 4 times better. (A month on the ranks have returned to their earlier positions.)Did this pay for the tour? I won’t know until I see my royalty statement— and then I may not be sure.
Would I do it again? Yes. I am. My Arthurian epic GLASTONBURY, A Novel of The Holy Grail has just come out in ebook and I’ve signed on for a tour in September. (Dorothy offers returning tourees $100 off.)

Whether or not the experience paid off in sales I was very satisfied with it in terms of exposure and career-building. It was fun.

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.  She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave  and A Darkly Hidden Truth, as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the romantic suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener. To read more about all of Donna’s books  and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Love Affair with Book Marketing

By Karen Dionne (

I’ll admit it: I enjoy marketing my books. For me, thinking up fresh ways to get the word out about my novels is almost as much fun as creating the story and the characters.

For my first novel, Freezing Point, I held an online book launch party that simulated a real-world book launch as much as possible.

The party lasted three days, and included video clips from the authors who endorsed my novel welcoming people to my party -- clips that in themselves ended up being a fantastic marketing tool. (Imagine seeing and hearing a #1 New York Times bestselling author wishing me well and saying how much he loved my book!)  Other video clips are just for fun -- a montage of authors (including another #1 New York Times bestseller) offering their opinions on what their characters would think of my novel.

I started planning the party a year in advance, lining up Penguin swag from my publisher, Penguin (the book is set in Antarctica, so items featuring the Penguin logo were particularly appropriate), and traveling to conferences, where I filmed most of the author video clips.

2,700 people visited the website during the party, and 400 posted comments in the guest book for a chance to win prizes.  The online party was a terrific way to launch my first novel, and allowed me to reach a far larger audience than if the party had taken place in the real world. (Just think of the catering costs!)

I began marketing plans for my second novel, Boiling Point, even earlier, before I wrote the book. The story takes place at an active volcano in Northern Patagonia, Chile. Because my publisher bought the novel before it was written, I was able to travel to the volcano for onsite research.

As I was planning the trip, I thought about how I could use my research adventure to publicize the novel. I bought a bright red raincoat, knowing that in photos, the red color would stand out.

 During the trip, I loaded up on authentic Chilean handicrafts to give as promotions and gifts. I also brought back 20 pounds of Chaiten obsidian that I collected from a stream bed less than a mile from the volcano, some of which I had made into jewelry to give away as prizes.

When the editors of RT Magazine heard about my trip, they offered to publish what turned out to be a fantastic two-page spread with photos timed to when my novel released. And my local newspaper, The Detroit News, ran a page-2 feature article about my research adventure. "Local woman writes novel" isn't newsworthy, but "Local woman visits active volcano to research novel" certainly is!

Of course these marketing ideas won't work for every author, because every book and author is unique. But it's that same uniqueness that makes marketing a novel so much fun. The key is to find the things that make your book special, and capitalize on those to get the word out. 

I'm currently writing an original novel based on a popular Fox/AMC detective series.  Unlike my first two books, this novel won't need a big marketing push from me, since the show already has millions of fans. That said, I do have a few ideas . . .


Photo by Robert Bruce

Detroit native Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Boiling Point, an environmental thriller about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming. Karen's first science thriller, Freezing Point, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. Freezing Point has been published in Germany and the Czech Republic, and both novels are available in audio from Her short story, "Calling the Shots," appears in the anthology First Thrills edited by Lee Child.

Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology.

 Karen blogs at The Huffington Post and has written about the publishing industry from an author's perspective for DailyFinance. She also reviews for The New York Journal of Books.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Life from both sides now

 I've seen life from both sides now, to paraphrase the Joni Mitchell song. Actually, I'm about to see it (the writing life) from all three sides. The writing life is an amorphous thing lately. Confusing and exciting, causing fear and hope in writers. The changes happening in the publishing community are so rapid, this article might be out of date by the time you read it.

 The three methods:

The old route for a successful writer was this, of course: you write a few things, you get an agent, that agent sells to a publisher, and you are a published author. The hard part is getting an agent. I've queried hundreds of them over a ten year period.

 That route got harder and harder for everyone who was still unpublished, and small press publication became a viable, respectable alternative. The small presses could get you published without the agent, but they couldn't get you into bookstores across the country. Still, you were a publisher author. This field is getting more and more crowded as it gets harder for experienced writers to get a New York contract. Those writers are migrating to small presses and taking up the precious few slots each of them have available. That caused the next wave.

 Suddenly, it became possible to self-publish, to bypass both the agent AND the editor. Many writers did this, so many that it's hard now to tell what's out there.

 And writers who are published all three ways are now feeling the burden of promotion. Very, very few authors get publicity help from anywhere.

 My history, just so you know where I'm coming from.

My first short stories were sold to magazines who edited them and paid me. Many, many more of my stories were "placed" in magazines for no pay, but still with skillful editing, when needed. My first novel was published by a small press, which made it eligible for the nomination it won (Agatha, Best First Novel of 2011). I am now self-publishing the second and third in the series (and republishing the first one). Until now, I've experienced everything but the agent.

That changed, however, a few days ago. I'm probably jumping the gun, but a contract with a literary agency is in the mail, on its way to me. When everything is signed and in place, I'll officially announce it with names!

What are the pros and cons of the three methods of publishing? Here's what I've found.

Self-publishing. Being able to freely publish anything you want, any way you want if freeing, but with freedom comes responsibility. I'm having my novels professionally edited, even though I'm self-publishing them. As a publisher, you have access to all the sales figures. It's a thrill to watch the numbers climb, and agony to watch them sink. But it's all in your own control.

Small Press. This carries the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing AND self-publishing. You don't have direct access to the numbers, but you're still responsible for every single sale you make. Because your royalty statements are for sales six months in the past (at least that's how mine worked), it's hard to tell what works and what doesn't. A small press bestows a widely-recognized legitimacy, and eligibility for certain prizes and memberships, that self-publishing doesn't, but less money for your sales.

 Traditional agented publishing. This is the only way to get into the "big" New York publishing houses. Membership in that club gives you access to sales outlets that the other two methods don't, and books on shelves across the country. Promotion is still expected, but I'm expecting the results of that to pay off in a bigger way because of distribution (if I DO land a "big" contract) because the print books will be more widely available. This is a camp I don't really have both feet into yet, so I can't speak in an informed way, to be honest. But I'm holding high hopes.

 Ebook.  This is the other game changer. Most of the above was written with physical, paper books in mind. The ebook market has exploded beyond anyone's expectations. They're are easy to publish and, after initial outlay for covers and editing and possibly formatting, cost nothing to produce in quantity. The possibilities for profit to the author are better than they've ever been, especially with self-published books and stories. You can hire distributers too, I've hired Untreed Reads for distribution of a couple of my works (and I've had a couple others published there) because that outfit has amazing distribution capabilities and marketing savvy.

The future. Wide open and completely unknown!

Kaye has been a janitor in a tractor factory, a mental health center secretary, a bookkeeper and a short order cook. She's been a mainframe computer programmer and a nurse's aide along the way.
Kaye at Boston  harborKaye is also a violinist, an online mystery reviewer, an award-winning short story writer, and the author of several unpublished (so far) mystery series besides the one being published by Mainly Murder Press.
Kaye George photo 1Kaye is serving a two-year term as president of Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime devoted to assisting and supporting unpublished and newly published mystery writers.