Open Call to All Publishers – Have I been Wrong All This Time?

I began writing when I was only eight years old. By the time I was thirteen, I had already written my first full length novel. Less than a year after its completion, after everyone and their brother at my middle school had read the book, I took their words of encouragement to heart and began researching on how to get my book into publication through traditional publishing houses. The next ten plus years saw three more novels written and several hundred query letters, novel summaries, chapter submissions, and more rejection letters than I can count at this point. I’ve been turned down by everyone from Random House to Aardvark Press. I never took it as a sign that I should stop writing, because, after all, there are some really, really crappy books in publication. I just took it that I was young and needed to keep writing. Practice makes perfect, or so the old saying goes.

I took a reprieve from trying to get published for a while, allowing ideas to begin to form inside of my head before I once again took up the call of the pen in 2002. I wrote for fun off and on for about a year, posting short stories to social media sites. I wrote under the Avatar name of “PoisonRunner” and soon had tens of thousands of readers crashing my Yahoo! 360 page on a daily basis. I was bombarded with messages and posts of encouragement, everyone wanting to know why I wasn’t trying to get published. I decided, “Why not?” After all, I had spent more than ten years learning the business inside and out. I was older, wiser, my writing style had greatly improved over the years, and despite all the rejection letters (some of them incredibly harsh, by the way) I had received over the years, my passion for cultivating a well-told story could not be dashed by mere words from some of the top publishers.

Soon I was scouring the internet trying to get the scoop on some of the well established but lesser known publishers. What I discovered was much more of the same that I had encountered all those years ago when I was just starting out. More rejection letters, but now the rules had changed a bit. Most publishers were no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts, forcing me to add yet another person to the mix in the form of a literary agent who would ultimately take a chunk out of the royalty pie.

The contracts that I got shown were atrocious to say the least. Most of them either had me signing away my copyrights altogether or had me giving the publisher an exclusive prints right to my work that never expired, meaning that if the book flopped with one publisher I could never take it to another publisher down the road in hopes of getting it spruced up and re-released with a new publisher. Most of them were doing little more than allowing me to use their name as the publishing house on the inside cover.

There were no advancements offered and none of them were going to put forth a single penny towards marketing and promoting the book, two things that determine if a book lives or dies in the literary market. The publishers kept 100% complete control over all aspects of the final product, including cover art and the final draft that went to print. For those who do not understand the full weight of this statement, it meant that the publisher withheld the right to rewrite the story and change it any way they saw fit, without my approval and oftentimes without my knowledge. Ultimately the publisher was turning me, the creator and writer of the work, into little more than a ghost writer, being just the person who came up with the initial idea, leaving the publisher to hammer out the details and rewrite it into whatever they thought they could make a quick buck off of.

I hoped that this was not the norm, so I continued to look into larger houses, smaller houses, indie houses, anyone and everyone that I could think of, find on the internet, and even some odd-ball houses that other authors suggested or that I found on blogs and other websites. The end product? The exact same thing: contracts that took away any future printing rights for anyone other than said house, no advancements, the publisher kept 100% control over final product, 0% upfront money being spent on marketing and promotion until I had cleared several hundred thousand copies or money earned off the book, whichever came first, and absolutely no marketing plan for me to follow in the meantime to help get the ball rolling. Ultimately, the publishers were telling me that they would lend me their house name for the inside cover, but all marketing and promoting would not only have to be handled by me, but the cost of those endeavors would have to come out of my own pocket.

Needless to say, my first reaction to all of this over the years has been, “If you are not going to help market and promote the book, then why would I bother signing a contract with you?” My next questions were subsequently, “If I have to do all the work that you should be doing, why am I having to share my royalties with you?” and finally “If you are not helping to get the word out on my book, then exactly what is in this deal for me?”

It is these questions that go unanswered that has driven so many authors to just self-publish their work. With traditional publishers, it is all about compromise. You write the initial draft and the editors and publishers turn it into whatever they think will make them money. It isn’t the author’s story, it is the publisher’s version of their story. You don’t have that in self-publication. It is the author’s story told how the author intended. About the only compromise you have is how much money and time you can invest to get the best cover art work and editors and which platform you want to publish to. You keep complete control, you keep your copyrights, you keep the print rights, and best of all, you keep all the royalties. Of course there is always the cost of editors, graphic artists, swag, etc. if you decide to purchase all that, but those costs are factored into royalties received from a traditional publisher, so you have to pay for all this regardless of whether you go traditional or self-published. The only difference is that if you are one of the lucky authors who is savvy enough to create your own cover art work and do all the PR work yourself, then you cut out a huge chunk of costs that you can’t cut out if you go the traditional route.

I know, this has little to do with the title of the article. But I’m getting there. As I have outlined above, I have more than 3 DECADES of experience with traditional publishers and nearly ten years experience as an independently published author who owns her own publishing house. I shouldn’t have to constantly repeat to everyone that I KNOW what I’m doing and I KNOW how the traditional publishing model works. Yet, I find myself constantly having to repeat this to fledgling authors on FB all the time. They keep asking for advice, and when I give them the straight-up dirty truth on how it all works, they immediately turn on me, screaming that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I didn’t give them the rose-colored happy ‘now-I’m-famous-and-rich’ ending that they keep dreaming about. Those authors who don’t know any better are bad enough, but when I’m also constantly being told that I am not a ‘true’ writer because I no longer seek out traditional publishers and also told that I would suddenly become a well known author if I would just try to get a mainstream publishing deal by authors who claim to actually BE in the mainstream publishing business, then that just pisses me off. I may not can account for what someone else knows, but when I have already been through the process more times than I can count and I know FIRST HAND how it all works and they still want to sit there and tell me I’m wrong, then sorry, no, I will no longer put up with your delusions of grandeur.

Which brings me back to the whole point behind this article. After all, I did say it was an open call to all publishers, and it is. I am sending out a major SOS call to ANY publisher, be it small, indie, large, whatever, who is willing to prove me wrong. You read that right. I want to sign a publishing deal with any house that is willing to put up with me. I want a publisher to prove to me that I’ve been wrong about them. I want a publisher to prove to me that everything I just posted above is wrong, that I am delusional, that what I wrote is not the way the publishing world works. I want a publisher who is not going to just take my work, slap it up on Amazon, and walk away with half my royalties. In other words, I want a publisher who is actually going to help me get my work out to the masses, support me, and not just have me do all the work.

So here is the deal. I’m willing to come off my most popular erotic romance, Vindictus, The Dark Lord to whichever publishing company can do the following:

1. Advancements are up for negotiation. Whether you offer them or not is up to the rest of the contract and are not a deal breaker.

2. Marketing and promotion plans are a must. Even if you do not plan to put any financial backings into the endeavor, you must at least provide a detailed marketing plan that you plan to use to market and promote the book. There also must be a separate or joint marketing plan that I can follow as well as I do not expect the publisher to do all the work. HOWEVER, if you are not putting up any financial backing into either the marketing of the work or advancements, I expect you to take on the majority of the marketing. This must be provided prior to any contracts are signed so I know how much work is expected from me and how much work the publisher is goingto put into the marketing. Again, if you are not actively marketing the product then what are you doing for me as a publisher?

3. Limited exclusive printing rights. Unless you are willing to offer me a half-million dollar advancement or are Random House, I will not sign any exclusive printing rights contracts. I know this is not the norm for most contracts, but if you are a small indie house then I am not about to sign away my printing rights in hopes the book doesn’t bomb and then never be able to take it to another publisher. I am, however, willing to sign a limited printing rights contract. Basically, depending on any advancements and your overall marketing plans, I will sign a limited time exclusive printing rights contract. I will give the publisher up to 3 years of exclusive print rights on the book dependent upon how well the book is doing. In other words, if the book is doing well then I am willing to extend the print rights to the publisher indefinitely, but if the book is not doing well we are both going to cut our losses and allow me the chance to take the book to another publisher if I so wish.

And that’s it. I don’t ask for much. Advancements are not needed and honestly not expected, but I expect a marketing plan to be in place prior to any contracts being signed, and if the book is not doing well I reserve my right to terminate the print rights agreement and take the book to another publisher.

So traditional publishers, prove to me that I have been wrong about you all this time. Prove to me that you are not out there just taking authors’ works, slapping it up on Amazon, taking royalties, and not providing any type of marketing and promotions. Prove to me that you are an actual asset to authors, that you are needed, and that you can do for authors what they can’t do for themselves self-publishing. Or have I been preaching the gospel this whole time?

I’m interested in finding out……

Bad Literary Marketing Ideas – “Astroturfing” And Why You Should Never Use It

As a writer, I spend a ton of time researching marketing ideas. Before I decide to embark on any given marketing idea, I first research to see if the idea is working for others, the pros and cons of pursuing the idea, and most importantly, what my audience thinks about the use of such ideas. I must say that the best teachers I have come across have not necessarily been other writers, but my readers. I hang out where my customers are, and I take to heart all the things that other writers are doing that readers either can’t stand, or that cause them to avoid authors who use such marketing ideas.

A few days ago I posed this question to my FB page of over 3K authors: “Who else is familiar with the term ‘astroturfing’?” To my surprise, not ONE single author claimed to know what the term meant. It is for this reason, and learning from my customers what they hate to see authors doing, that has caused me to completely revamp my entire marketing plan from the ground up. One of the most important things I have learned from my readers so far is that they absolutely despise authors who engage in the practice of ‘astroturfing.’ But before we get into the article, we must first have an urban vocabulary lesson.

Solicited/”paid” review – ANY review that is the result of an author requesting that the reviewer write and submit a review on any given book/story to any publication including, but not limited to, blogs, magazines, Amazon, Good Reads, websites, etc., regardless of whether or not the reviewer received a free copy in exchange for the review or purchased the book/story on their own

Astroturfing – the practice/act of using solicited reviews in any media publication to make a book/author seem more popular than it is, or to create a false “buzz” about the work on the internet using social media. The act of “astroturfing” also includes using “puffery” or false claims about a work or author, such as claiming it to be a “best seller” or winning literary awards that it has either never won or that do not exist.

These days being a self-published author, an indie author, or pretty much an author in general means you are spending more time promoting your works than you do actually creating them. With POD companies, vanity presses, small indie houses, and insta-publisher sites like Amazon allowing everyone and anyone to be an instantly published author in under five minutes, It’s a sad reality that has authors doing anything and everything they can think of to try to have their voices heard over the drone of the masses. How you are being heard, however, can mean the difference between having positive feedback from readers and the literary world in general, and getting a bad reputation as an author who is willing to stoop to unparamouned levels to bring readers to their books and make a sale.

With so many authors following each other’s marketing plans, it would stand to reason that if everybody else is doing it, then it has to be a good business model to follow, right? Wrong. You remember what your parents used to ask you when you told them that EVERYbody was doing it? The same goes for business. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it is a good idea or that is works, it just means that it is a trending practice at the moment, and next week it could very well be something entirely different and even less useful. And while writing a genre that is trending could be a good idea, following everyone else’s business model is not something you want to do. It’s why one of the first things that any respectable literary agent is going to ask you is, “What is your long-term goals and marketing plan?”

So what are some of the marketing trends that you are better off avoiding? Number one on the list is astroturfing. In this instance, we are talking about any solicited review that the author requested, whether the reviewer was paid a monetary value or traded a free copy of the work in question or purchased the product on their own in exchange for a favorable review. The reason why authors should never really do this are many. Below, we outline a few of the more prominent reasons why authors should not solicit reviews from family members, friends, street team members, random bloggers, or pretty much anyone who is willing to write whatever the author wants them to, etc.

Paid/traded reviews are fake, they sound fake, and it makes an author look fake. Readers are not dumb. They have learned to spot such reviews and have been known to boycott authors who consistently use astroturfing to try to bolster their sales or make readers think the book is selling better than it actually is. It’s distasteful, dishonest, unprofessional, and in all honesty it makes an author look bad to not just readers, but to potential literary agents and publishers alike.

Readers want unbiased reviews by other readers. It’s how they make their decisions on whether or not to purchase a book. Paid reviews, however, are not unbiased reader reviews, they are just another paid endorsement. Dozens of endorsement reviews by street team members, family members, coworkers, etc. are ultimately going to be counterproductive for the author in the long run. Readers have learned to spot such popular catch phrases, and quickly move on to another book that does not have such reviews. Endorsements, also known as testimonials, are better off being posted on your author website or your personal blog, not as reviews on your books on Amazon and Good Reads. As one reader put it, “When I see a relatively unknown author with a book that has fifty or sixty reviews and all of them are 4 and 5 star reviews by people who have not actually purchased the book, then I know I’m not going to get an unbiased review of the book. I’m just getting another self-published train wreck that got handed out to anyone willing to slap up a ‘copy and paste’ ready review.”

In addition, having book review bloggers do paid reviews are not going to help you in the eyes of readers either. Again, they want unbiased reviews, and bloggers are traded copies of books with the expressed request that they ONLY post a 4 or 5 star review. So unless your work is being reviewed by a blogger whose blog is seeing tens of thousands of unique hits and followers each day, allowing dozens of book review bloggers that are only being frequented by the same few hundred readers and writers is actually hurting your sales, not helping. Readers don’t trust promoters, and if your book is sporting dozens of cookie cutter reviews that sound more like endorsements than an unbiased, unsolicited review, then sooner or later readers are going to take notice and start bypassing your work, not snatching it up to read it.

You are better off spending your time and energy trying to get one or two high-profile bloggers or well-established critics to give your book an honest critique than wasting that time by sending out dozens of advanced copies and begging for reviews from anyone who can copy and paste. Getting your work reviewed and in front of the right people can skyrocket your sales and your promotability, as well as solidify your position as a well respected, professional author in the eyes of readers as well as other writing professionals. Likewise, getting a reputation for astroturfing your reviews on Amazon can turn readers against you, and you can hardly blame them. If you are going to spend money on something, do you want to know what all the family and friends of the creator thinks about it, or what other money-paying customers think about it? So you have to ask yourself, would you rather be viewed as just another self-published author hocking their bad novels on Amazon, or as a respected author who not only took the time and energy to put forth their very best work, but who went the extra step and got it in front of the right people who could help their career instead of doing what everyone else is doing? It all comes down to how you are viewed, your reputation as an author. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, then prove to readers that your book really is as good as your family and friends tell you it is. It’s not easy, and it’s oftentimes not pretty, but in the long run, your work, and your reputation, will be better for it.