Advice from Random House – The Hard Truth from Editors that Every Author Needs to Hear

I am no stranger to the indie scene, nor the trade publishing scene. In recent months, however, I have noticed a growing trend among authors who are constantly losing their cool and ranting all over FaceBook, blogs, Twitter, and writing groups about the bad reviews they are getting from reviewers. It’s something that I can no longer sit idly by and watch as countless authors step up onto a soapbox that they have no business being on in the first place.

For now, I’m going to play devil’s advocate. As I said, I am no stranger to the publishing game, neither indie nor trade. I began my decent into this dog-eat-dog world some twenty-three odd years ago, when I was but sixteen, when I first started sending out query letters to every publishing house in the country. I was met by nothing but rejection letters and a lot of well-meaning editors who were more than willing to give me advice on what all I was doing wrong, and what I needed to work on to become a better writer.

A lot of what I heard from editors was cut-to-the-bone insulting. It hurt, a LOT. I cried an ocean of tears the first few years I spent trying to get published.  I, like so many other aspiring authors, thought I had written an absolute masterpiece beyond compare.  I could not understand why they were not jumping all over themselves to publish me. Their advice couldn’t possibly hold any type of truth to it. After all, all of my family and friends all raved about how well I had done. These editors had to be doing this out of spite because their own writing careers had failed.  They just wanted to take out their own inadequacies on good writers, ruining their chances of ever becoming published. Because, let’s face it, if there was a single shred of truth to anything they were saying, it would mean I was no where near as good a writer as I thought. Worse, it would mean that maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be the one thing on this planet I really wanted to be good at, and that was weaving a tantalizing tale.

I will admit that it took me YEARS of writing and editing other people’s work before I realized that 99% of what those editors told me over the years had been 100% truth. It took me even longer to admit that I actually NEEDED to hear the earth-shattering truth as to just how gawd-awful my first attempts at writing truly were. They were not secretly out to destroy me or my career; they were trying to get it through my thick skull that NO ONE writes well the first time around, and that EVERYONE needs to practice, practice, practice in order to hone their writing skills. It took me a while, but I finally stopped whining about how they were all plotting against me and actually looked at my writing through their eyes. Only then, once I stopped being so full of myself and to actually look at the work without any emotional attachment, that I realized they were all RIGHT. Most of my first few attempts at writing novels truly sucked eggs.

The self-publishing industry has done authors a great injustice because there is no longer editors standing in the way telling authors exactly what improvements they need to make to their manuscript before it can be published. Today’s fly-by-night, work-at-home editors are out to make a few quick bucks, and the scene has been flooded with phony basement-built publishing houses filled with ‘editors’ who will take anyone’s manuscript, tell them how greatly written it is, and be more than happy to publish it on Amazon for a cut of the royalties.

It’s a business built out of scores of poor, unsuspecting writers who are so eager to become published that they will do, and believe, anything, so long as they get to see that book in print. These people never stop to think that, out of hundreds of thousands of submissions sent in to the several hundred publishing houses in the country each year, only about 1/3 of them ever get any type of contract. So why on earth would some no-name publishing house suddenly take their first attempts at writing and be willing to publish them? It never occurs to these writers that these companies are not about quality literature and making your manuscripts the best it can be; they are only out to piggy-back off of the little bit of royalties you might can make them if you have a strong enough social media presence. These writers have never had a professional editor tell them the honest truth about their manuscripts. And since none of them have ever had any type of rejection letters or had anyone to tell them the cold, hard truth of just how badly written their work really is, it has left them unable to adequately deal with reviewers who not only know what makes up a good book, but also may be editors and authors themselves.

I can honestly say that, as a freelance editor with nearly two decades’ experience, a good 95% of what I have seen come across my FaceBook feed would NEVER be allowed to see the light of day by any self-respecting, professional editor. At least, not as-is.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in a rejection letter came to me when I was about twenty years old , and it came from an editor from Random House. The rejection letter I received (and ripped to shreds in a fit of rage) called my work ‘amateurish’ and my writing style ‘bland.’ The editor went on to say that it was ‘painfully obvious’ (one of my favorite things to say now) that this was my first attempt at writing a novel (it was) and as such he had this advice to give to all aspiring writers: Never try to publish your first book, your second book, or even your third book, because it takes a writer approximately four novels before they settle into their ‘writing voice’ and really get a feel for what they are doing.

I cannot possibly stress how right this editor was. I have seen it happen time and time again, not just in the indie community, but in the trade publishing industry as well. Those who like to read series have no doubt noticed the change in an author’s style as the series progressed, the storyline becoming richer, the characters more tangible, and the overall flow of the writing much more palatable. Whether you like to admit it or not, the first thing that you write is going to be utter crap, pure and simple. The second thing is not going to be much better.

Now that I have adequately pissed off all the authors reading this, let me say that there is hope for every single writer out there, and it comes in the form of criticism and practice. A lot of authors are cutting their noses off to spite their face by NOT listening to all those negative reviews. Sure, it’s easy to chalk it all up to haters, jealousy, people just trying to pull you down. And while there ARE legitimate cases of weird people out there who make it their sole mission in life to ruin an author, most reviewers’ only intent is to warn people away from a book they deemed truly heinous.

We have all seen the mountains of astro-turfed reviews sitting on independently published “Amazon Best Sellers,” reviews  that are all the work of family, friends, fellow authors, ass-kissing bloggers and hundreds of street team members all singing the praises of an author. So you buy the book, get a chapter or two into it and wonder how on earth anyone could think it was actually a good book. So you start looking at the one-star reviews and realize that it’s not just you, there actually ARE people out there who thought the book stunk as much as you did.

But now here’s the question: how many of those authors blew a gasket on FaceBook and proclaimed to the social media world that they were being ‘picked-on,’ ‘bullied,’ or otherwise had jealous people ‘hating’ on them because of a few bad reviews? If you see any of them doing this, what is your first reaction? Chances are you feel like telling them to grow up, and take some notes, because you actually thought the book was terribly written as well.

You’ve heard the old saying, “The proof is in the pudding.” Well, in the publishing business, editors like to say, “The proof is in the one-star reviews.” It doesn’t matter how many perfect reviews you have if people are also complaining that your manuscript sounds childish and is an editing disaster. It’s one thing when someone just doesn’t like a story for no reason other than they just couldn’t get into the storyline. There’s not a whole lot you can do when they hate romantic comedies but read it anyway and still hated it. However, when you have people complaining about actual, tangible problems within your manuscript that an editor would have warned you about, such as typographical errors, bland writing style, formatting issues, etc., then it’s time to stand up and take notice.

I have often told writers, “If you want someone to stroke your ego and tell you how great your writing is, go talk to your mother. If you want to actually learn how to become a better writer, come talk to me.” What separates a mediocre writer with great potential from a mediocre writer without any potential is ability. Not the ability to get better, but the ability to WANT to get better. A mediocre writer who thinks they don’t need to practice or listen to criticism or to improve on their craft will never be anything BUT a mediocre writer. They will turn their noses up at the fountain of help that reviewers are offering, think none of it applies to them, and will continue to float around in their self-absorbed bubble until one day their rose-tinted glasses come off and they see their writing for not only what it IS, but what it COULD HAVE BEEN this whole time, if they had only listened and taken heed to what others had been trying to tell them.

This is not meant to discourage. Writers who are willing to listen to the criticism and try to get better WILL get better. It is those writers who want to throw pity-parties about how everyone is against them that will not improve their craft. Writers need to be encouraged, yes, but they need the RIGHT kind of encouragement. So if you want to get better, to really, truly become a better writer and have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it in the writing world, you are going to have to put on your big-girl panties, listen when others are trying to help you better your writing, and DEAL with the criticism. Otherwise, you are just another lonely, bitter author raving on FaceBook about how the whole world is out to ruin you. No, they’re not. But they may be trying to tell you to take that manuscript to a decent editor who isn’t afraid to tell you that you suck.

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……

From Rags to Riches: Is the Traditional Publishing Model Broken, and is Self Pubbing Making it Worse?

If the traditional publishing industry is broken, has the self pub wave helped to alleviate some of the heartbreak that comes with trying to get published through traditional routes, or has it only made it that much harder for talented writers to finally have their voices heard?

For some authors, just seeing their works in print and available for sale on such platforms as Amazon and Barns & Noble has been enough to recognize their life-long dream when it comes to writing. For others, they are not just looking for the self-satisfaction of seeing their works up for sale online, but long for all the fame and fortune that landing a big book deal could mean for them. Enter onto the scene the self pub industry and many, many indie publishing houses, agents, editors, cover artists, and scam artists who are offering desperate and inexperienced authors the chance to “break into” and “make it big” in the self pubbing industry. It’s a problem compounded by the fact that with so many new “writers” entering into the industry, the chances of making a name for yourself, much less being able to make enough money off of sales to write full-time, has went from astronomical to nearly impossible. That’s not to say that there are not any famous indies/self-published authors out there, any more than you could say that there are not any famous and well to do traditionally published authors out there. But those success stories are the exception, not the norm, and it is this little, and often unknown fact that has the entire self pubbing industry in a tizzy.

Let’s get real for a moment. Being a writer is not easy. Even when you go the traditional route, writing is only part of the job you will have to undertake as a writer.  First there is the taxing duty of finding an agent who is willing to take you on as a client. This means a never-ending stream of query letters and chapter submissions. If you are lucky enough to finally find an agent, there will then be the endless rounds of submitting the work to an editor and rewrites upon rewrites. Then there are the submissions to publishing houses and even more trips to the editor and rewrites. And if luck is on your side and one day you get the call from your agent that a publisher is interested, the waiting game begins again as final edits are made, cover art is decided upon (not by the author, mind you), and a release date of upwards to eighteen months is set. And if you are not an “A-list” author, your job still is not over as you spend the next year of your life trying to market and publicize the upcoming release.

Vanity presses sought to change all that by making it easier for a writer to just buy their way into instant publication. But writers have day jobs and drive beat up cars for a reason – writing gigs simply do not pay. So while people who had the financial means to accommodate their vanity and pay to have their books published, it was not an option for your standard, run-of-the-mill starving artist. So you had instant self-publication services such as LuLu and Createspace pop up to fill the gap, allowing authors to instantly publish print and ebook copies of their work as a print-on-demand service, allowing authors to pay a percentage of each work sold as payment for the companies printing and distributing their work. It was a great idea, and with the boom of the eReader, it looked like authors might have a cheap alternative to buying their way into the publication business and a quicker way to get their works into the hands of readers by side-stepping the publishing houses and agents altogether. Gone were the days of having to wait a year or longer after your book was finished before it finally hit readers.

It did not take long for Amazon to realize they could do this very same thing for their popular Kindle reader, adding fuel to the already exploding self-publishing industry. So now everyone who has ever thought about being a writer has all the convenient tools at their disposal to become an instantly published author, usually in a matter of minutes. And therein lies one of the many problems with the publishing industry as a whole.

Anyone who does much reading knows that they have come across more than their fair share of really bad books. There have been so many cringe-worthy books published by traditional publishing houses that it’s laughable. How many times have you read a book and wondered how on earth the author ever managed to get such a badly written piece of crap into publication? Being traditionally published did not automatically mean that you were a good writer. Even being on any Best Seller list doesn’t mean much in this day and age as anyone with enough money and pull can buy their way onto those lists. But it did make readers feel better about their choices in authors, at least giving them the “appearance” of being good because, after all, publishers had to sift through thousands of writers and tens of thousands of manuscripts to pick the ones that eventually became published pieces. If this was the scum that rose to the top of the pile, what must all the rejects be like, right? Well, not exactly, but it did at least give the façade that the publishing houses were only after the best of the best, or the best of what they thought they could make a buck off of.

Now imagine that all those boundaries have come crashing down. You no longer have anyone looking through manuscripts trying to find the next big thing. There are no longer gate keepers to the publishing world keeping out the no talent hacks. These days, anyone who has ever had the thought of writing a novel or short story pop into their minds can now be a published author. And all of those wannabes are coming out of the woodworks by the thousands. Whereas the industry used to see a few new books added to the shelves each month, thanks to DIY publishing, the market is being positively flooded with novels and stories each and every hour. The argument was that making self-publishing an easy-access tool would make it easier for great writers who had only known rejection from traditional publishers to now be able to quickly publish their works without any upfront costs (unless they opted for add-on packages such as editors, cover artists, promotional packages, etc). Only that is not what has happened. It is not easier for great writers to get their works in the hands of eager readers, but has made it harder for those authors to get their names out there because it has become easier for no talent hacks to publish their junk on Amazon and then force unsuspecting readers to swim through all that crap just to find a decent book. The ease of self-publishing has been counter-productive by flooding the market with far too many books and authors. It’s a simple economic fact of supply and demand. When you have way more supply than demand, it makes it even harder for an author to make any type of sales when they now have to compete with not only the traditionally published authors, but the thousands upon thousands of ghetto writers who have slapped their works up for sale on DIY pubbing sites. In simple terms, Amazon has now become the dumping ground for any all writers to toss out their creations, be they good or bad. And according to the hundreds of unsatisfied readers who are taking their voices to the internet, it would appear that the bad writers are outweighing the good ones ten to one.

Compounding the problem is all the writers who are coercing their family and friends to write dozens upon dozens of 5 star reviews and all the bloggers wanting to ride the self pubbing authors’ coattails in an attempt to cash in on their “fame” by writing glowing reviews on their blogs. It makes it twice as hard for readers to be able to tell if a book is legitimately well written and appealing because the reviews are no longer unbiased helpers in their quest for the next great story. So then the question arises, has the self-pubbing wave really helped the dire situation of really great authors sinking to the bottom of the pile while publicity stunts, false reviews, and paid ratings from hack writers are rising to the top of the Amazon best-selling list?

As if the overwhelming task of trying to be your own PR person, publishing house, literary agent, and marketing manager was not enough, seeing the overwhelming odds of making it even in the self-pubbing industry is enough to make any writer want to toss in the towel before they even get started. And where do you start on this journey anyway? Sure, writers can write, but for those inexperienced in formatting, graphic artwork, and editing, trying to do all of that work themselves just seems like it might be a bit more difficult than trying to get published the traditional way. Many of them are turning to the hundreds of agents, indie publishing houses, cover artists, and editing service providers that have sprung up since the whole self-pubbing movement began. This, of course, leads to many authors being taken for hundreds and even thousands of dollars for services they have either not received, services that were less than satisfactory, broken promises of publicity and recognition, and instances of their copyrighted works being stolen and sold. It’s a breeding ground for corruption and scams since there is no one holding the ‘companies’ accountable. It is fanning the flames of an already out of control problem that is causing many writers countless dollars and sleepless nights.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are those writers who are hitting the best-selling list on such self-pubbing sites as Amazon and Barns & Noble. And while thousands of great writers can only dream of being a best seller on any list, it would appear that hitting this list is not all it is cracked up to be. With these sites taking as much as 70% of the royalties off of each sale, just being on the best sellers list does not translate into cash in the pockets of writers. Many writers are reporting that while they are selling thousands of copies, the take home pay is pennies on the dollar. When subtracting all the overhead that comes with paying for professional editing services, cover artists, paid advertising, cost of website upkeep and all the time invested, the actual profit on these sales are down right minuscule. And again the sheer number of writers hitting the market and the volume of new material available is causing writers to have to mark their creations at ridiculously low costs. Some are even being forced to go so far as to give copies of their ebooks away in a desperate attempt to drum up readers and interest. And that, of course, presents a whole new set of problems on its own that goes back to there being too many writers and novels and not nearly enough interest, readers, and buying customers to economically support everyone. Then you have to take into consideration the return policy of Kindle books. With Amazon allowing returns, many authors are seeing their already drastically under-priced works being returned by readers by the dozens.

Let’s take into consideration how much profit an author can actually make from a single copy of an ebook. While self-publishing companies like Amazon allow a writer to control how much their product is sold for, they are taking as much as 70% of the profits. Breaking down the math, a $.99 book only garnishes a writer $.29. A writer would have to sell 4 copies to make $1 profit. That means that a writer would need to sell 100,000 copies every year just to make the medial income of $25K per year. And if the writer had overhead costs of graphic artists for covers and book trailers, editors, and paid advertising, it is possible for nearly every penny of that profit to go back into the process of getting the book out to the masses. And while some authors are reporting such sales, again, those are the exceptions to the rule. 99% of writers are not going to see more than a few thousand copies sold each year.

So this leaves authors with the question of whether or not it is worth it to their careers to try the self-pubbing route or to just stick with traditional publishing routes. As with any decision, it ultimately comes down to each individual author having to decide if they have the creativity and/or financial means to handle self-pubbing. It is simply not a yes or no question. There are pros and cons for each route, and what may be a pro for one author will most certainly be a con for another. Making the decision should be based off of well researched data and what each author is willing to invest, both financially and time, and not make a decision based off of what other authors are claiming or reporting. If you are willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort into any publishing route, then make sure you are choosing correctly for yourself, and never be afraid to change your mind.

Business & Creativity – It’s All About Marketing

 

As an indie author, I have had to learn a lot of things through trial and error.  I have done more than my fair share of research online into the whole “self-publishing” gig and read all the “How-To” articles that are strewn all over the net.  The problem is, unless you have actually handled your own independently published project from start to finish, all the “How-To” articles in the world will not adequately help nor prepare you for the adventure that will sweep you up in its wake. 

Unfortunately, all the freelance projects and years of “on-the-job” experience that I have accumulated since going indie author cannot really be included on a resume.  These days employers want to be able to go to an ex-employer and ask them all about your work ethics and abilities.  To add insult to injury,  a lot of them won’t even consider your years of actual on-the-job experience if you do not have a college degree to back it up.  For whatever reason, they seem to think that someone coming fresh out of college knows more about a topic than someone who has spent decades or longer learning the trade from the ground up.  It is this mind-set that often have employers passing up some very uniquely qualified, and oftentimes extremely creative, employees that could have knocked them out of their chairs with all the knowledge they have accumulated over the years.  It is also this mind-set that keep a lot of businesses from realizing their full potential simply because more often than not, the best person for the job, the ones with creativity to spare, are left to languish in a mindless job while those less-qualified individuals are left in charge.

They say that success is 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration.  What most business managers fail to recognize is that, until they implement that 2% of inspiration, that creativity, it does not matter how hard they push on that other 98%, they simply will never hit on the 100% that they are capable of.

Most managers run a business straight-forward, when, in reality, business is about as non-straight-forward as anything gets.  It’s not about business at all, it’s not about numbers or pushing harder or trying to work more efficiently.  What business is ultimately about is marketing, and in order to give any marketing campaign its due, you are going to have to be creative.  This is where 99.99% of your average business managers fail.  They are like men standing before a great brick wall with hammer in hand.  They think that if they keep hitting away at that wall, if they hit it long enough and hard enough, it will eventually come crashing down.  What they like is the creativity, the ingenuity to look around to see if there is a door or window into the building.  They lack any type of creativity, any type of ingenuity, and fail to see the big picture, they fail to see that there are other options.  They are like horses with blinders, they keep plodding along, doing the same old tired plan that has failed them for years.  But as I said, they are so single-minded that they think if they just keep going, it will all eventually work out.  That simply is not the way business, or the real world for that matter, works.

Being a successful author works in much the same way.  It’s not always about how good of a writer you are, but how well you market yourself.  Doing this on a shoe-string budget will prove to be even more challenging.  And again, reading all the “How-To” articles and books you can get your hands on will not always do the trick.  You have to ultimately remember that what works for one person will not always work for you.  Just because Amanda Hocking made it big doesn’t mean that following her plan to the letter will result in you being just as successful.  Chances are, you simply will fall far short of your goals and expectations.  As with any business, you must be flexible, and, above all, you must be creative.  And never be afraid to change your plan of attack if something simply isn’t working.  If networking on Facebook isn’t getting you the hordes of readers that you want, then toss it out the window and go back to square one.  Try something else, or try lots of something else.  Don’t be afraid to walk on your own path, and, above all, don’t be afraid to deviate from that path if it’s not taking you to your ultimate destination.

 

How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys

The number one reason why authors get burned when it comes to self-publication is the fact that they are usually woefully undereducated on the subject.   Just like buying a good used car, insurance, or a house, the lack of education and knowledge on the subject attracts all sorts of shady characters to the playing field.  Like anything else that you are thinking about doing for the first time, a good knowledge of the field will help you make the best decision for you.  The self-publishing business is no different.

Many companies will often try to sell you products or services that are ineffective, are drastically overpriced, or maybe even be something that you really don’t need.  Often they will charge you hundreds of dollars for services that you could have easily done yourself, have contracted out for a much smaller fee, or even gotten for free through creative marketing.

Here are a few things that you need to ask yourself when shopping for a self-publishing company.  By answering these questions honestly and doing some research, you will be better prepared to help weed out The Good Guys from The Bad Guys.

1:  Is this company charging me for something that I could easily get for free?  One thing that you have to keep in mind is that with today’s technology, the amount of free advertisement and ways to get your name out there are about as limited as your imagination.  That’s not to say that you should never spend a dime on advertisement.  Just keep in mind that if you can do the same thing on your own, for free, then your money is better spent on the type of advertisement that you cannot get for free.

2:  Is this company charging me for something that I can do for myself?  If you have extensive knowledge of document formatting and can format your own manuscript, then paying someone else to do it for you is a waste of money.

3:  Is this company charging me for something that I know I can get done for a much cheaper price elsewhere?  If you have your own tried-and-true editor that you know you can afford, spending money on one that you have never used before can spell disaster. 

4:  Is this company rushing me to make a decision?  Forcing an author to make a rash and uneducated decision is a ploy that some companies use to bully an author into spending a lot more money than they had planned on services and products that they may not have wanted or needed.  If their offer is good today, then it should still be there tomorrow or next week.  Sure, that 15% off offer might expire, but if the entire offer expires, then there is something fishy in the mist.  If they give you an unrealistic time frame to make a decision (Act now!  This offer good only for the next 4 hours!), then your best bet is to let the ‘offer’ get on by.  But keep in mind that companies cannot be expected to sit around and wait on you forever.  They should, however, be willing to give you a few days to think about it.  If not, you might want to try a different company.

5:  What, exactly, am I getting for my money?  If you are going to spend a lot of money, you need to know beforehand exactly what you are getting for that price.  How many books will I receive?  Exactly where are you going to submit my work?  Who all will be receiving the news release?  What type of guarantee is the company making in regards to the amount of success of their services?  How long will it take for them to deliver on their promises? 

6:  Read the fine print!  You will definitely want to read their disclaimer.  Most companies will allude to the idea that you will have instant success with their company.  Usually the disclaimer tells another story entirely.  Make sure you understand the difference between what they can guarantee, what they hope to achieve for you, and what you can realistically expect with their services. 

7:  GET SAMPLES!  What is my finished book going to look like?  The best way to gage the company’s quality of work is to order a few random books from the company’s site.  If you are going to use their editors or designers, make sure you request samples of their work first.  If they don’t have samples, then they are most likely a scam.

Finding a good quality self-publishing or POD company is easy when you keep these things in mind:

                *don’t pay for something you can easily get for free

                *don’t purchase a service if you can hire someone else to do the work for a lesser price

                *don’t pay for something you can do yourself or get done yourself for free

                *don’t get rushed into making a quick decision

                *don’t pay for ‘promises’ that they cannot deliver on

                *read the fine print

                *make sure you know what you are getting for your money

                *make sure you know what type of quality your work will have before purchasing anything

Another Type of Criticism

For me, there is a little known third category of criticism that exists somewhere between constructive criticism and deconstructive criticism.

I have already said that constructive criticism is basically designed as an honest opinion to help the writer clear up things that the reader did not understand or thought would make the story better in their eyes.  Deconstructive criticism, on the other hand, is designed to make the writer feel bad about their ability to write, to openly bash a piece of work, and seldom has any value or bearing on what the story is actually about.  I consider people who give negative feedback based solely on their dislike of the theme to be giving deconstructive criticism because it does not help the author in any way.  Not everyone is going to like a particular theme or storyline, so feedback based solely on such opinions is useless.

The third type of criticism is criticism at first glance.  It can be constructive criticism that, at first glance, sounds like deconstructive criticism.  It can even be criticism that you are not sure if it was meant to be helpful or if it is a sarcastic comment that is meant to make the author look like a fool for not getting facts straight.  It is often the result of a reader not really reading the story, not paying close attention to what is being written, or not fully understanding what is going on in the story.  I had this happen to me recently with the latest published installment of The Red Fang. 

Here is the excerpt in question:

…..” It is common vampiric knowledge that a human who ingests enough human blood over a long enough period would eventually die. There is a legend among our kind. A vampire named Tao came across a young girl named Addalynne. When he found her, she was mortally wounded. The legend has changed as time has changed. She was attacked; she was raped and left for dead; she was discovered in a car wreck on the side of the road. But the names have remained unchanged over the centuries.”…..Copyright 2010 Nicola Matthews.  All Rights Reserved.

I received this comment regarding this portion of the story:

“You are writing about an old legend where some girl is found raped in a CAR WRECK. Cars (that you can get into) were first made in the late 19th century.  Kind of a short time for a tale to turn into a legend… Unless your world is set like 8 centuries in the future.  I would really leave out the car wreck part or change it a bit.”

At first glance, you may not know if this is meant to be constructive criticism or a sarcastic comment meant to make me look like a fool.  In one aspect, it IS trying to be helpful by letting me know that having a ‘legend’ that has a girl found in a car wreck is a bit far-fetched and tends to make me look foolish.  On the other hand, the first lines of the comment almost sound sarcastic and could be interpreted as a stab at making me look foolish for not having facts straight as opposed to trying to keep me from  looking foolish by pointing out an discrepancy.  Either way, it doesn’t matter because it is the READER who is in the wrong.  The person making this comment misunderstood what the story actually said.  That passage does not state that the girl of legend was found raped in a car wreck.  What it DOES state is that the legend has changed over the years.  Her being found on the side of the road is one version of the legend, her being found attacked was another version, her being found raped and left for dead a third version, and her being found on the side of the road yet another version.  

At first glance I was not really sure what the reader was talking about, if they were sincere or trying to be sarcastic, and or if the comment had any bearing on the storyline at all.  I kept running the story over and over in my mind, wondering if I had really made such a blaring oversight in my story.  Had I made the legend specifically stating that she was found in a car wreck, and this legend had been passed down for centuries, then there would have definitely been egg on my face.  I had to go back and read the excerpt in question to fully understand what the reader was talking about and realized that, thankfully, it was the reader who had misunderstood what I had written.

It is up to the author to try to decipher if the criticism is worth investing any time in.  Is it helpful to the storyline?  Would taking the advice change the storyline to the point that you feel it would not work?  Do you just like the way you wrote the story regardless of what others think?  In the end, it is left up to the author and the individual story in question to determine whether or not to listen to the criticism at hand.

A Good Story is in the Mind’s Eye of the Reader

It has always been my opinion that a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. Just as beauty is subject to the person who is doing the viewing, a good story, or movie, or art, or piece of music is subject to the person who is partaking of the piece of art. I have always believed in ‘live and let write.’

Needless to say that for every book written, piece of music composed, piece of art produced, or movie directed, there is going to be at least one person, and in some instances quite a few people, out there who hates the work. What’s more, these people insist upon sharing their criticism of said work with anybody and everybody who will listen to them. I use to wonder what made these people such experts on the created art form. Had they ever written a book, composed a piece of music, produced a piece of art, or directed a film? Chances are, no, they haven’t. So why criticize? For the most part, critics get paid to share their opinion. For those who go against the general public’s feelings on said work, the critic can get quite famous, or infamous, for having their apparent distaste published on some type of public medium. This, of course, translates in to more papers/magazines/air time sold. So for some, it literally pays to publicly bash a work of art.

Other ‘critics’ are those who do not get paid to share their personal thoughts regarding a piece of art. Some people do it because a piece of work hits them so strongly that they just have to share their feelings, whether they be positive or negative. Others will publicly bash a piece of art because they like the attention that it brings them, even if that attention is negative, much like their paid counterparts who bash a movie that the general public loves. And still others will attempt to openly humiliate the creator of the work of art simply because he/she is jealous of the creativity that the creator possesses.

I’ve made it clear that I have always thought that I was a pretty good writer.  Not great, mind you, but fairly decent.  I spend an absurd amount of time researching, making notes, creating characters, outlining events and deciding on what plot twists I want to integrate into a story. And then there were the endless months, and sometimes years, spent writing the story, proofreading it, editing it, re-reading and re-doing and sometimes throwing out whole chapters and story endings only to replace them with something I thought would be even more bizarre or fun or just plain silly. All in all, I pour my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into the work that I produce. I was praised by English instructors, won writing contests, received awards, been told by family and friends that I was a very talented author.

Loving the written word, I joined many role playing forums and games over the years as an outlet for my very active imagination. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being around so many talented writers. What was more, those talented writers thought that I was a very talented writer as well.

With encouragement from a growing fan base, I decided to go more ‘mainstream’ and began posting a few of my stories out on the web. Now I know you can’t please all the people all the time, but I was completely unprepared for the outright rudeness of some people. It was quite the eye-opener. I was amazed at the number of people who had never written anything in their life who seemed to think that they were experts on what made a story good or bad. But, as I’ve said, a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. So to each his own.

Another thing that I was unprepared for, and something that still boggles my mind, is the whole popularity thing that goes on with some sites. Readers apparently don’t know that a good idea and good writing do not go hand in hand. I have seen readers fall all over themselves to praise a writer who sounds like they barely made it out of the first grade.  

I’ve always said that I do not think on an elementary level, therefore I do not write on an elementary level. Since I have a tendency to write above a lot of people’s heads, I assumed that I would get a lot of backlash on my use of compound and complex sentences. I also like to write without any regards to formal English composition rules, so my work often sounds more like someone is giving an oral recount of the story rather than it reading like a story that was written down for public consumption. It’s just my style, and I have gotten many, many compliments on how this style makes the reader feel like they are right in the thick of the story. Of course, with the good comes the bad, as in plenty of bad reviews on my lack of attention to the proper English writing rules. Well, rules be damned. I’m not turning this in for an assignment.

On the flipside of the elementary coin were the writers who would write with the same complexity that I so enjoy using in my own work. I have gotten complaint after complaint regarding my work being too hard to comprehend because of my complex writing style. It made me wonder if these other writers, who so many readers were fawning all over, had the same problem. The more complaints and insults that I received, the more I began to doubt my ability as a writer. Could I possibly be as bad as some people wanted me to believe? Writing was not, and is not, a hobby of mine. I have been cranking out literary works for over twenty-eight years, a fine feat for someone who has not yet hit her thirty-sixth birthday. Surely someone with that kind of experience could not be all that bad. So what did all those other writers possibly possess that brought in tens of thousands of readers to their work? What was I lacking?

In a word, confidence. I was doing what everyone else was not doing. I was letting assholes bring me down and second-guess myself and my talent. I found that I was always having to defend my work. But so were the other writers. The only difference was that I was apologizing for my work.

Well, I refuse to apologize any more for producing the fruits of my imagination. They may not be the best in the world, and I certainly never claimed to be the best writer. But I am a good writer. A damn good writer. I have the tens of thousands of readers to back up this statement. What’s more important, perhaps the most important thing, is that I like the way I write. I like my ideas and my writing style and my overall pieces of literary work. At the end of the day, I feel that I have produced something worth reading. I don’t care if other people think I use too many adjectives or adverbs or complex sentences. I wrote it a certain way for a reason.

So the bottom line is, if you can’t appreciate the fruits of my labor, then I wholeheartedly say ‘Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on!’

As a writer, you have to be prepared to get all kinds of criticism:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some of it you might can use, but most of it you will probably be able to toss out with the trash.  Whatever you do, don’t let the occasional asshole persuade you to think that you can’t write.  That’s not to say that there will never be room for improvement.  But knowing the difference between criticism that can help make your work better and words slung by someone who was obviously out to ruffle your feathers can go a long way in soothing your hurt feelings…and possibly even give you a good laugh.

I Will Make No Apologies

You know what really erks me as a writer?  People who think they can write my stories and ideas better than I can. I’m not saying that I’m perfect or that I’m the best writer that the literary world has ever read. In all honesty, most of the time I really suck. But I have been writing for the better part of twenty-eight years. I have written several novels and tons of short stories and even a few pieces of award-winning poetry. I may not be the best writer, but I’m pretty damn good. But perhaps the most important thing is that I like the way that I write. I know my writing style is kind of all over the place, but that’s me. It’s what sets my style apart from all the other cookie-cutter writers out there. If I spend all my time getting caught up in the English rules of writing, then I not only stop writing anything worth reading, but I also get so caught up in trying to make certain the rules are being followed that I cease to be myself when I create. It kills the whole creative process. I’m not saying that you can’t write anything worth a damn if you follow the rules of proper English. What I am saying is that for me, writing proper English and following proper English writing rules just simply does not work. It squashes all my creativity. What’s more, I really like the end product. So does a shit load of my fans. I’ve actually had tons of people (including editors and agents) tell me that I write like I am telling a story orally rather than it being written down. Surprisingly, my improptu and improper way of writing has made a lot of people tell me that they feel more involved in the story because of the informality of my writing style. For whatever reason, it works for me.

Unfortunately, there are those English majors, teachers, and those who are grammar nazis or just plain assholes about my writing style. They seem to think that unless it is written in perfect, proper English that it is poorly written. I do not like for my stories to read like they were being submitted for an English composition class. However it pops into my head is how I write it. Just like I have written this. Kinda sounds like I’ve been talking to you this whole time. And that’s the way I like for my stories to feel. It’s my way of saying, “SCREW YOU!” to all my English teachers. After all, you know what they say: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. My style works for me.  Therefore, it is not broken.  So I’m not about to fix it.

Pitfalls of Self-Publishing

As I have already written in a previous blog, self-publishing is a lot of work. Some people will opt to do all or most of the hard work themselves. Others will decide to opt for the ‘publishing’ and ‘marketing’ packages offered by POD services, self-publishing services, and vanity presses. As with anything, the most important thing that you can do before making a decision is to ‘do your homework.’ Self-publishing and picking the best POD company for yourself is no different. Below I outline a few things to take into consideration before making your final pick.

**Disclaimer** The following is just my opinion and information that I have gathered for myself over the years of researching POD services, self-publishing, and working with self-publishing companies. I currently use LuLu Press which is a self-publishing on-line company that I have used for many years. I am in NO WAY affiliated with or endorsing this company and strongly recommend that you do your own research to pick the company that is right for YOU. However, LuLu is the one that I use so I know a lot about it and have had much success from working with the company. I know that there ARE other self-publishing companies out there that are just as good as LuLu. I continue to stay with LuLu Press because I know how the website works and am quite happy with the way my work has turned out.

vanity presses – a printing company that makes its money by charging authors to bind their manuscripts into book form and then manufacture those books. They charge self-publishing authors fees to proofread/edit the work, to market the work, and often rope the author into purchasing numerous copies of their work that they then must sell in order to recoup the money spent on having the work published.

Fees, Fees, and More Fees:

Even if the economy was not in the shape that it is in, money would still play a huge role in the decision making of picking a self-publishing service. People choose self-publishing for many reasons: complete artistic freedom of their work, the satisfaction that comes from having done the whole project on their own, a work that is of a genre that mainstream publishing companies are not interested in…the list is as varied as the authors themselves. For those who do begin to consider self-publishing as an option, usually one of the very first questions they have is “How much is this going to cost me?”

1. Sure, we’ll publish that for you…for a price: Some companies will allow you create your book from beginning to end without charging you a single cent. (I personally use LuLu.com for all of my needs because there is absolutely NO cost to me if I choose to do all the work myself. Like most companies, however, LuLu does offer publishing, editing, and marketing packages that can be purchased.) Others will charge you to upload your book even if you do not purchase anything else from them. Almost all POD and publishing services will allow you to purchase marketing, publishing, and editing packages from them. These packages can run into several thousands of dollars.

2. Make changes? No problem, but it’s going to cost you: You have to keep in mind that self-publishing is a business just like anything else. One of the ways that vanity presses make money is by charging the author to change their book once it has been edited.

3. Would you like fries with that? Something that I cannot stand is when I am being force fed something that I really do not want and do not need. Unfortunately, some publishing companies are going to force you into purchasing services that you neither want nor need. These could be those companies who will not publish you until you have paid them to proofread or edit your manuscript. Having your work edited is always a good idea, but vanity presses make their money from the authors’ pocketbooks, not the actual selling of the books, so their editors and proofreaders are not usually the best in the world and are sometimes outrageously overpriced.

If you do decide on an editor, be sure to do your research and pick one that has lots of experience and comes highly recommended by other authors who have tried their services. Be careful though. Editors and proofreaders are suppose to be nothing more than spell checks with fingers. If you have one that rips your manuscript apart to the point where your writing style has disappeared, then you may want to consider finding another editor. One of the many problems with today’s editors is that many were aspiring authors who could not get published and end up “living out” their dreams through the authors that they edit by imposing their own writing styles and preferences into the manuscript. If you are concerned about your work no longer resembling the original submitted, make your concerns known up front. Ask other authors how much their manuscript changed after the editing process. If it is at all possible, ask for sample edited pages that shows the original work and the edited version so that you can compare the two. Finally, if your gut tells you that something just isn’t feeling right, move on.

4. How many copies would you like? One of the worst things you can do is invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in purchasing copies of your book. Your money is best spent trying to market yourself. This is why most authors choose POD services, or Print-on-Demand presses. Some companies (such as LuLu) do not require you to purchase advance copies of your book. They print them out as each copy is ordered by the readers. By doing this, the company takes their cut for producing the work out of each copy rather than forcing the author to pony-up money in the beginning and being saddled with a garage full of books that they can’t sell. Another good thing about printing out each copy as it is ordered rather than mass production is that if you decide to change something in the book you won’t have all that money wasted on copies of books that you will have to replace with the new edition.

5. Distribution Packages: everyone knows that marketing your new book is a huge chunk of work. Many people will not know where to begin and will put their faith, and their money, in the hands of a vanity press who will promise to market their book to the “appropriate channels.” What they fail to tell the authors is that just because they make the book available to distributors doesn’t mean those distributors will actually want to purchase and sell the book. The retailers are looking to make a buck just like the vanity presses and will only purchase titles that they see a demand for. So if the distributors aren’t purchasing your book, then the distribution package is essentially worthless.

Marketing yourself may seem like a daunting task. But with the internet, the avenues of free advertising and marketing tools are endless. Create your own free website with samples of your work. Join writing forums and showcase excerpts of your book. Create your own Twitter account and rack up on followers. Create your own blog if you had rather not create a whole website. The ideas for marketing for free or on a budget are endless. All you need is a little creativity and the time to put together your own empire.

6. Promotion, Promotion, Promotion! For a price: as with #5, vanity presses may pressure you (or even require you) into purchasing promotional packages that will not really do you any good. An example of this service would be to display your book at the annual Book Expo America. This expedition exhibits millions of books every year, so having a single copy of your work amongst them is about as likely to get your work noticed as a needle in haystack. Another promotional service that is offered is sending out press releases to national newspapers announcing the release of your book. While this may sound like a good idea, you need to look at it from a reader’s point of view.

Let’s say you opened a national newspaper to see a small 1″ X 1″ announcement that John Thornton just released a new book. Your first reaction is going to be, “Who’s John Thornton?” If you are not a big name author, then no one is going to want to purchase a book based on a small announcement in a national newspaper. However, many local newspapers would happily accept a press release from a LOCAL author who is announcing the release of their book. And if you happen to live in a smaller town, they just love supporting their local talent.

Another great marketing tool is to request that your local library or bookstore allow you time to make a public speech about your new work. And if you have insisted upon purchasing copies of your book, now would be a great time to try to sell them. Even better, what person could resist a FREE autographed copy of a book from a local author? When it comes to promoting yourself and your work, creativity is the key to success.

7. I just spent thousands of dollars to get my book into print…..um, where are all those books I just bought? As with any contract, you must READ THE FINE PRINT. Often lost in the sea of promotional materials that the vanity press offers is the little known fact that you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on their services and not have a single copy of your book to show for it. If you decide to purchase any type of package from a self-publishing company, make sure you know how many, if any, books you will actually have at the end of the process.

8. Yippee! I just spent my entire life savings on getting my novel published. I even have ten thousands books to show for it! Except that when you open up the book it falls apart….or the cover is as thin as the paper the book is printed on….or the ink on the pages smudge every time I touch them….or the cover art is so distorted that I honestly can’t tell WHAT is on the cover…..

We’ve all heard the saying that you get what you pay for. In the publishing world, that is not always the truth. The last thing you want is to offer your readers a very low-quality printed book. Whether you choose a free-to-publish company like LuLu or opt to spend money on a vanity press, the very first thing you will want to do is purchase a book that the company has printed. After all, even if you are only being charged $0.005 cents/page, those pages aren’t worth ink if they are so thin that they tear when you try to turn the page. What’s even worse is paying $0.50/page for the same shoddy work.

9. Production Price vs Cover Price vs Percentage Sales….wait, I’m confused!? I prefer to work with POD companies that take their cut of the profits out of each book that I sell. But keep in mind that just because the production price appears to be lower doesn’t mean that the difference between the production price and the cover price belongs to you. In reality, some other systems charge a hefty percentage of any increase in book price above the production cost. While some companies will charge a flat percentage rate of the amount of markup, others will have an inflating percentage rate that means the more you go above production cost, the bigger the cut for the vanity press. You will want to make sure you find out exactly how much profit you will make off of each book before deciding on which company to use. You also need to compare production prices. The last thing you want is to have a severely over-priced book that no one is willing to buy because you had to ramp up the final purchase price in order to make any type of profit.

10. LOSS OF RIGHTS: perhaps one of the most important things to remember to find out is if you are signing away your copyrights to the vanity press! So BEWARE and once again, read the fine print. The same goes for signing up with writing forums. I have come across a few who will allow you to post your work on their sites but by doing so you are giving up your rights to the work and giving them the right to repost your work on the internet or even in print. Bottom line, you do not EVER want to give up your copyrights to your work. When you give up your copyrights, you are giving up any right to reprint, repost, republish, and sell the work to others.

In summary, the technology available today will allow you to get the word out about your new novel. How much money you decide to spend is entirely up to you. There ARE ways to get your name known, for free, if you are willing to put forth the time and effort required. Remember that marketing yourself takes place BEFORE you actually get ready to sell your book. By networking on the internet and giving samples of your work to people, you will get them hooked on your style. Given enough time and energy, it is possible to build up a substantial reader base long before you ever release your book.  If you do decide to self-publish, do your homework.  Ask questions, contact other authors who have used the company, and order at least one copy of your own work as well as at least one copy of another author’s work so you will get an idea of the quality of the printing.  Above all, follow your instincts.

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

First off, let me make it clear that when I say “self-publishing” I do NOT mean using a “vanity” publisher. When you use a “vanity” publisher, it basically means that you pay a company that looks like a traditional publisher to edit/proofread your work and bind it into book form. The price for this service is usually several thousand dollars and can run into the tens of thousands depending on what type of ‘package’ you purchase. These companies and their ‘service’ are basically a rip off. The proofreading/editing is shoddy at best. If you do not like the end result, chances are you are going to be stuck with several hundred to several thousand copies of a book that you cannot give away. And even if you buy some type of ‘promotion’ package (where they supposedly advertise your work to the masses), chances of you selling a single copy of your book based on THEIR work is little to none. I would NEVER suggest that anyone go the route of the vanity press.

When I say “self-publish” I mean using a POD or Print-on-Demand company. (POD means that the book is not printed out until someone orders a copy of it. By doing this, it keeps the author from having to spend thousands of dollars on copies of a book that they then have to turn around and attempt to sell) It is a lot more work on the author’s part, but you won’t be out thousands of dollars on a project that you do not whole-heartedly love.

With the technology of today, getting published has become relatively easy for anyone who wishes to get their written word out to the masses. But is it really such a ‘quick fix?’ Here is just a small take on my personal trials and tribulations about the ins and outs of do-it-yourself publishing.

I chose to self-publish my last novel for several reasons (i.e. the novel Temptation which is a collection of 8 short erotic stories). First, the genre I write. There is a huge market for erotica but unfortunately the traditional publishers do not like getting their hands dirty with it. In today’s world just about everyone has a website. Before I decided to go the self-publishing route I looked up a few dozen traditional publishers to see what type of genre they would accept. Not surprisingly, none of them would touch the erotic fantasy genre. So I started looking into other options, namely self-publishing. The second reason why I chose to self-publish is because traditional publishers do not take unsolicited manuscripts. That is to say, you can’t just send in a query letter and part of your manuscript and expect them to do anything besides toss them in the trash. They all want literary agents to represent the author. This means that there is just one more person who gets a cut of the profits. And of course agents, as well as publishers, will not even look at it until it goes to a professional editor. I personally think that editors should be nothing more than a spell check with fingers. Unfortunately, they want to rip it apart and impose their own styles into the manuscript so it soon ceases to be the author’s work. I do my own editing since I have been doing freelance editing jobs for more than twenty years now. Once I’ve finished finding every error I can on my own, I send out copies to family and friends and ask them to mark any typos they come across. I guess you can say I cheat when it comes to editing.

You might be wondering what all is involved in self-publishing. What, exactly, does an author have to do in order to self-publish.

Everything. And I do mean everything. Most POD publishers (Print-on-Demand) will editor your work for you, for a fee. But it can cost several thousand dollars, and that’s money I just don’t have. My editing process is pretty much on-going. I am never really satisfied with what I come up with. The last novel I wrote I spent eight hours a day seven days a week for over two months editing it on my computer. Once I could no longer find any errors I ordered a printed copy and edited the hard copy. Once I made those changes I ordered copies for my family and friends and had them go through it. Then I had to change those mistakes, and that in itself is a job and a half.

The POD company that I use does not accept MS Word documents. When I upload the word document, the company changes it to a read-only PDF document. Unfortunately, the way the PDF document prints out is not the same as it does when it’s in Word format. So I spent countless hours adding in pages and spaces and reformatting the entire manuscript trying to get the PDF document to print out the way I want it to. Before you can even upload your completed files you have to decide what size the book will be, what type of paper you want it printed on, what type of binding, if it’s hard cover or paperback or if you want it in black and white or full color. I also design my own cover for my books. The little synopsis that appears on the back is written by me. I have my own storefront through Lulu  but again, I have to design the whole thing and keep it up and running.

Keep in mind that anyone can slap any dribble on paper and have it self-published. But that doesn’t mean that people will find it. Once you get the book designed and printed and perfect, then you have to get the word out. All advertising, book signings, getting interviews….it all falls on the author to handle all of this. Unless, of course, you are willing to pay the POD company to handle all of this for you. Most self-published authors are living paycheck t o paycheck so most of us have to resort to advertising that is little to no cost. And trust me, free advertising doesn’t exactly get your name out there. As a self-published author you will soon find yourself in a sea of self-published authors. Trying to make a name for yourself can be even harder than if you go the traditional publishing route.

So, is it a “quick-fix?”

No, I just think it’s an option. Those of us who choose to go this route have our reasons. Yes, many of us choose to self-publish because we cannot get published with a traditional company. Others want to retain complete control over their work, others do it just because they want to. If you think that self-publishing is something that you can do real quick to get your work out there, then I am afraid that you are going to be very unpleasantly surprised. Going the self-publishing route takes months and months of hard work after you’ve written the manuscript. The more work that you choose to do yourself then the longer it will take and the more work there will be for you to do. You have to not only be creative in your writing, but also have to come up with some pretty creative ways to get your name out there and promote yourself. Is it worth it? Oh yes, to hold a copy of your book in your hand is always worth the time and effort put in to it. I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone, especially if you do not have the time and energy it takes to devote to marketing yourself. But for many, it has definitely helped to get them that much closer to becoming a household name.