Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Can You Control the Costs of Publication?

This is the fifth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past four weeks:

Let's assume for this question that you decide to set off into the wilderness on your own, no agent, no traditional publisher, no distributor. Like intrepid explorers before you, here are a few things you are going to pay for yourself:

1. Story Editor – see question #1
2. Copy Editor - see question #1
3. Line Editor - see question #1
4. Book Designer - see question #2
5. Cover Artist - see question #2
6. Printer – Hardcover and softcover
7. Ebook Designer
8. Shipping – from printer to you to distributor, etc.
9. Distribution – Foreign and domestic
10. Promotion, Promotion, and Promotion
11. Marketing, Marketing, and Marketing
(And a bunch of others that I'm sure will hit your pocket when you least expect it)

I good guess would be somewhere between $2,500 to $10,000 to publish a book. The spread is a reflection of whether you even decide to go paper or stay with just an ebook. This can substantially reduce the costs in items 4, 6, 8, 9.

Don’t scrimp on editing. This is by far the most critical stage of the book's production. Reread question one and think about your team and how to create the best manuscript possible. At every stage there are ranges of costs, sometimes you get what you pay for, check credentials, and experience. Most writers protect their editors but realize they too have to eat, so they recommend them prudently. Saving here can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.

The same for printing and shipping savings. There are now a number of print-on-demand (POD) houses, many locally, again get recommendations or call them and ask for samples. Never prepay a printer – never. And stay away from publishing packages, they will steal your money and do almost nothing for it. But I will tell you they have some of the best copywriters and dream weavers in the business – be extremely careful. And this is not a place to save money anyway. And a local POD means you can to your own pickup.

In addition there is CreateSpace, Ingram-Spark, and others that can help you produce a finished paperbook.

Co-Publishing – an old idea brought new
Some agents, writers, and even non-traditional publishers have formed what might loosely be called a publishing collective or association. Each talent brings to the table part of the many steps above. The author pays for the editing and promotion while the publisher pays for the cover, design, and publication. The agent may help with distribution and promotion giving direction and advice. The permutations are as varied as the talent of the individuals, some authors can do cover design (with guidance) and even ebook production. The arrangements are all laid out in their respective contracts and agreements. And it is critical to have a mutually agreed to contract before beginning. Just think what would happen if you pulled it off and the book made the bestseller list, huge sums of money pouring in – how do you split it equitably with each person having taken some risk (BTW – get a good lawyer as well, this is one of those unanticipated costs that pop-up).
Do not be discouraged. The opportunities are significant and well worth the effort. The days of just handing in a messy manuscript to an agent with a book popping out the other end are over. Self-publishing, co-publishing, associations, and even traditional publishing all go through the same steps, it is you the author and writer who now holds control.

More Later . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do You Want to be Traditionally Published?

This is the forth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past three weeks:

Of course you do, we all want that publishing contract from one of the BIG publishing houses. That means that your work is outstanding, you have a fantastic literary agent, and you have the skills to keep producing a new work every six to nine months. And, by the way, you are thrilled that the manuscript you wrote will be handed over to these people and you will have very little control over the editing, the cover, and the future of the book itself.

These are some of the harsh realities of going the traditional publishing route. It is a tough road; patience and careful driving are required as well as a decent road map. But, for many writers it is an appropriate course and possibly even the best way to go to see your work in bookstores.

The traditional process is as follows (with obvious variations in every case).
  • Manuscript completed,
  • Manuscript edited,
  • Query letters written and sent to potential agents,
  • Agent likes the manuscript,
  • Agent signs you on,
  • Agent offers the manuscript to publishers,
  • You and agent agree to publisher's contract,
  • Publisher publishes the book,
  • You go to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Easy-peasy. Unfortunately this process absolutely never happens that way. At every level there are rejections, refusals, unanswered query letters, months of wait, and heart wrenching disappointments. This is the way it is. Consider that traditionally published books may make-up less than 20% of the total number of published books you understand the pressure on them to be selective and thorough.

The traditional publishing house does know what they are doing. This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of self-publishers that have to learn a whole new business in addition to their writing. The traditional house will handle the final editing, design of the inside and outside of the book, printing, distribution, and promotion. Some houses pay a royalty against the potential book earnings, some don't, but for the writer it's hands-off. I have done both traditional and self-publishing and there are strong merits for both.

The key is finding an agent who can place the right publishing house with your book. Even the big publishers tend to print certain genres and themes. That's why there are smaller imprints within the large publishing house, each imprint may focus on a particular reader and their interest, i.e. romance, thrillers, history, children's, etc. And this applies to non-fiction as well. 

This blog can't give a list of books to read and paths to follow - there's hundreds, all I'm trying to do is lay out the overall issues of self-publishing or go traditional. The Internet and the library and even your local bookstore (i.e. Barnes and Noble, etc.) have references and lists for agents and publishers. Spend a lot of time learning the process, go to writer's workshops, and talk to other writers. Every road traveled will be different.

I'm an impatient person and I also want to be involved with the final product. I don’t wish this curse on anyone, as a result for many of my books I self-published them. I took the time to learn this new and exciting industry and I have some skill in Photoshop and InDesign. But for most writers these skills are difficult to learn and master, it was hard enough getting the damn book written.

So, the decision is yours. But keep in mind that you, the writer, are like a farmer that produces the best corn in all of Iowa. But you still sell it by the bushel to a market that is inundated with millions of bushels of corn. You, the farmer, will be paid by the bushel but that bag of frozen organic corn at the local Safeway is sold by the ounce. That bushel is worth about $5.00, but sold in bags in the frozen section that bushel is now worth more than $250. There are a lot of hands out between the agent and your royalty check.

Next week: If you self-publish how do you control the costs?

More later . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Who Are Your Readers?

Readers Waiting for Harry Potter Release
This is the 3rd of 7 installments about what you, the writer, should ask yourself before publishing. The last two weeks we looked at your manuscript and what your book should look like. This next question, possibly even before you start the manuscript, is critical. Who are your readers and how do I find them?

Stands to reason in the non-fiction world that your market is pre-determined. You write about what you know: sales, marketing, yoga, cooking, road racing; the list is as endless as the shelves of bookstores. Let's say you are a lecturer on sales, your audience is at every speech you make, these are your people, you write for them, you talk to them, you sell directly to them, they are your readers. For the non-fiction author the reader is frequently one of your own colleagues.

This is why self-publishing non-fiction books is often more profitable and rewarding – the book goes hand-in-hand with a speaking tour, a workshop, or other type of gathering that pulls your reader to you. It is an affirmation of your expertise. The book comes from you and what you know. The fundamentals of the manuscript, photos, visuals, and other supporting documents are in your powerpoint – and with expansion the book forms. After acquiring some help formatting and book building, your self-help book on bee keeping has a ready market in the magazines, workshops, trade shows, and even on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

It's fiction though, with its dozens of genres from adventure novels to westerns, that cause the greatest difficulty. Let's look at one of my genres, the mystery/thriller. Here are just a few of the genres and sub-genres:
  • Techno-thriller
  • Psychological thriller
  • Political thriller
  • Spy thrillers
  • Medical thriller
  • Legal thrillers
  • Conspiracy thrillers
  • Military thrillers
  • Crime fiction
  • Detective fiction
  • Mystery fiction
  • Chic-lit thrillers
  • Cozy thrillers
  • Dystopian thrillers
  • Pulp thrillers
  • Steampunk and Science Fiction thrillers
  • And even these have sub-genres that people crave such as English, Swedish, and Japanese styles and locations.
Your job is to focus on the genre and then detail a strategy for reaching those readers. Amazon helps, as well as most ebook sites, but that's after you've written the book. Make a list of bookstores that cater to your genre, if it's children's books make a list of every store you can find. Look for clubs that meet at the bookstores, search for book clubs that focus on genres, surfing for similar authors to you also helps – their web sites sometimes list clubs and fan bases. Be organized you will need this information later.

I also suggest a blog. Look for other blogs in your genre, contribute and be nice and collaborative. Add to your own repertoire by blogging about what you know and even what you don't, make connections. And even use Facebook, LinkedIn, and all the others, I know they are a pain at times, but they can and do push readers to your book.

Finding an audience is the most difficult issue of fiction writing. It took Michael Connelly at least four or five books before he rose to the top. Cara Black has now written fourteen thrillers with Paris as the stage, with each book her sales and visibility has risen. And remember the audience, your reader, is not the same as the market or marketing. One is the Holy Grail, the other is how to find it.

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .