Friday, February 27, 2009

GETTING PUBLISHED—WHAT MAGIC WAND?

I’ve been in marketing/publicity for quite a few years. I’ve sold, promoted, and publicized various products and services over the years. To be effective one has to know the product or service being offered—which in this case is selling you as an author and your book. Knowing the business end of the product you’re selling, which in this case would be publishing.

I write quite a bit about marketing, promotion, and publicity. I work with a couple of small independent publishing companies to promote their authors and increase sales. I am also a writer. So learning about the publishing field is a must. As I learn about it, I write about it. I get comments, sometimes emails from aspiring authors who want to be published and want to be a success. I’ve had questions from published authors on suggestions I might have on marketing.

One unpublished author wrote to me: “I am an aspiring writer. However, I am having a bit of a time getting published. I know it is nearly impossible to connect with a large publishing company. So I am trying to decide if I want to do self-publishing or use a print on demand service. Any suggestions?”

I hear things like this frequently. Everyone wants a shortcut. I have no magic wand. I share what I learn. This is actually a two-part question. The first part is how to get published and the best route to accomplish that. The second part is how to be successful as an author once you are published. I thought about it and answered.

As an aspiring author trying to get published, the main thing is belief in yourself and in your ability to tell a story. The second thing is polishing your craft. That means learning and applying—what works and what doesn't. If you receive critiques or suggested changes from editors, agents, or your writing group, don’t get on your high horse and think your words are sacred and descended from God. Be willing to look at the critiques and suggestions and see if they’re valid. Third, keep an eye on what’s selling out there. What do you see on the bookshelf—especially in your genre? How does your writing compare in premise, character development, and presentation? Fourth, as a published author, building a reader base by marketing yourself and your book.

POD (Print On Demand) isn’t a shortcut, although many think it is. A shortcut denotes a quicker way to get from point A to point B and going POD isn’t going to give you that, other than you have a book out there with your name on it. POD can be a good place for some to start. You can build a readership base, see what works with plots and story lines and what doesn't. An author has more control over their books and any profits generated, which is why some choose that route. Many POD publishers also make the books available as an E-book on places like Amazon. POD has changed considerably over the years and it's not at all like the old Vanity press of years gone by when a person could self-publish anything—most of it poorly written. They went the route of self-publishing because they couldn’t get a contract from a larger publishing house and part of the reason was the story was not saleable due to the way it was written. What came first? The chicken or the egg?

Unfortunately, some POD books out there are still poorly written and there is a reason for that. If you choose to go the route of Print on Demand, be careful which POD publisher you go with. If you have to pay them to publish your book, this is not the one for you. If you find a reputable POD publisher your work is still cut out for you. This is where an author discovers that POD isn’t a shortcut. There are very few POD publishers with an editing staff to filter your writing. That’s up to you as the author. They’ll print your book at no cost to you, they will also offer you a contract—be sure to look it over carefully—and they will offer a percentage of the profits on each book sold and send those royalties to you either monthly or quarterly. Once you receive the proof book back from the printer, be sure you really proof your story well before it goes to final print. Presentation is everything and in this case, it’s up to you to make sure it looks professional and error free.

The thing to keep in mind with POD is it will require an enormous amount of work on your part to promote yourself and your writing. You don't get an advance to work with and funding for publicity and promotion is very important. You don’t have the avenues available to you in promotion and publicity that a traditional publisher can offer. You are writer, agent, and business manager, all wrapped in one person. Getting your name known is daunting but necessary. This actually needs to be started before you have your book in print. Build an interest in you as an author, and create expectation for your book. Creating that interest can seem overwhelming to a debuting author, regardless of whether you are published traditionally or POD. But, it can be done through the Internet, via blogging and social networks such as Facebook, Gather, Twitter, MySpace, and a host of others. Keep in mind; you still have to allow for time to continue writing. Producing a product to sell. That isn’t an easy juggling act as most authors also have a day job and families.

If you don’t want to go POD, and there are many who don’t, make it a point to look into some of the smaller Independent publishing companies. There are a few good opportunities to get on with one if you write genres they publish. Still, even with a small publisher or even a major publishing house, you will be required to promote yourself and generate publicity for your book—unless you’re a debuting Dan Brown—there isn’t much in the way of dollars for marketing/promotion available for debuting authors.

Regardless of the route you take to being published, caution is necessary. Make it a point to check out the company or agent you’re considering with Editors and Preditors. Consider them the Better Business Bureau for writers. There are a lot of scams out there, predators with basically a storefront, whose sole purpose is to make money off your dream and give little or nothing back. The horror stories I’ve heard would curl your hair.
Agent Query has a good list of agents and their submission requirements and they also have a good list of small independent publishers as well the big boys. It’s worth looking at and then doing some research on them. Writing isn’t just a creative endeavor. It’s a business. You are the proprietor of that business.

So, as an aspiring author, you need a strong believe in your ability to tell a good story, spend time perfecting your craft as a writer, and keep abreast with what’s currently selling in your genre on the market. Be willing to invest time in building name recognition long before you’ve been published.

But what if you’ve already sold your book? What can you do to help sell your books? I will discuss this in part two, Being a Successful Author–Magic or Work?
***

Sia McKye has spent over twenty years in marketing and promotion. She's written and published various articles on writing, marketing, and promotion. She's a Marketing Rep by profession and also writes fiction.

28 comments:

netti said...

Excellent post! I have some local authors that I'll be passing this along to!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Netti. It's a great reality check.I love writing and I love telling stories. Of course I want to see them published. So many writers look for shortcuts to getting published. There ARE no shortcuts and that's a fact. There's just a lot of hard work involved--even AFTER you get published, there's a lot work involved to build a reader base. Not for quitters or faint of heart.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, great post. I've seen this question over and over and I couldn't have said it better myself. The thing to keep in mind-no matter who you publish with- is that it is a business- and you have to know why you are in the business. To earn millions? cough, cough. To change the world? To entertain readers? To be able to say you published a book? Knowing why you are doing what you do will help you focus on the who and the how.

Can't wait until part 2. Cheers!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Why thank you Nancy. :-)

As a published author you make a good point, one that not enough writer's realize,"...it is a business- and you have to know why you are in the business." Absolutely true. Emotion belongs in the books you write. Business requires a different mindset. To be successful you have to look at publishing as a business venture and apply business principles to make it work.

Sheila Deeth said...

Looking forward to part 2.

atlantis said...

This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me ! I am so happy I checked your blog ! I am currently working with Publish America , do you know anything about them ? I like them so far ….

Diana_Duncan said...

Sia, everything you've said here is so true.

I know it's hard to believe, but sometimes it's even harder after you're published. (I know, I never would have swallowed this during the 5 years of slogging and 200 rejections it took before I snagged an editor's interest).

But the expectations, your own, your editor's, your readers shoot way up, and then when the rejections still come in... wow, it stings. I'm in a real dry spell right now as far as having proposals accepted and it's hell on my creativity!

Which, I think, is sort of the point of your post. What we do as writers is a totally creative endeavor...that's then handed over to the business world as a marketing commodity. It's a real discrepency, and tough to find your balance.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you for sharing that Diana. People and writers, for the matter, have this perception that once you're published, you're in like flynn. It's not the case. Nor is it the case of once you're published, you'll never have to query again. You will and if you think querying with a MS is hard, try writing a proposal for a series. Like you say, it stings and it doesn't matter what level of writer you are...

Judi Fennell said...

I got this same question recently, from the same author I suspect.

Here's the funny thing: I gave the author pretty much the exact same answer. There is no short cut, no magic wand. Focus on craft, industry info, networking and continue writing. That it's a lightning strike to get the right story to the right editor at the right time and the only way to ensure it is to have the product to submit.

great minds and all that, Sia!

Pat Bertram said...

Actually, I'm not sure promotion does take a different mindset than writing. We're writers, why not approach the business as writers, rather than like business people? Both writers and promoters need a hook, something to get people interested. Both need to know how to keep people interested, how to woo and titillate. Both need to be creative, to find a different way to tell basically the same story.

I'm lucky in that I find promoting interesting, challenging, and absorbing. Of course, I could be doing it all wrong.

Jill said...

Sia,

Straight forward and excellent job at explaining the pros and cons of the different publishing options.

Thanks for breaking it all down for us.

Kat Sheridan said...

Interesting article, Sia, and chockful of useful information. Just what I've come to expect from a top-notch writer such as you!

And somebody: Quick! Rescue Atlantis before she gets ensnared by PA!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Atlantis,
According to Preditors and Editors ™
A guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers,
http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pebpublisham.htm, the warnings against Publish America are red lettered and strong:

"PublishAmerica (aka PA, aka AmErica House): A vanity press with a poor contract. Numerous writer complaints. Author mill and plagiarist. Strongly not recommended...More information can be found at Writers Net, Absolute Write, Mindsight (be sure to read all the June 2003 archives), The Writer's Den..."

Adina, there are 3 pages or more of well documented complaints against PA, including the Better Business Bureau. Additonally there are many links to other sites with unresolved complaints.

If you are asking for my personal opinion, I would not have ANYTHING to do with this Publisher.

~Sia McKye~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat,

I appreciate the compliment. I do work hard at presenting the best information I can. Thank you.

jrafferty said...

Sia, good article. What you say is consistent with the last 2 years I've spent on Gather, learning much about publishing and craft that I didn't know until I started hanging out with other writers. Magic wand? It's called hard work.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Amen, James! for sure it is hard work and if a writer isn't willing to work hard to make it as an author, don't quit your day job.

Thanks for stopping by James. :-)

atlantis said...

wow, thanks for the warning ! It looked kosher to me .....but what do i know ?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Adina,

PA has a great marketing platform to draw in writers. If they did everything promised they would be a good place to start, but they don't follow through.

Most aspiring writers want to get published and when we're starting out we don't know very much about the publishing field. This is why Preditors and Editors is so good to have around because they do give warnings about publishers, agents, and related attorneys. Predators whose sole purpose is to make money off your dream and give little or nothing back.

Dana Fredsti said...

Unless you're one of the authors on the Airport bookstore racks, self-promotion and relentless marketing is a must. And it takes up as much time, if not more, than the actual writing!

Excellent post, Sia!

VA said...

Another excellent article filled with serious advice. Thanks for the invaluable links for reference Sia.

Looking forward to reading Part 2

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia,

Always interesting blogs..that's why I'm giving you a Premio Daras Award! Yap, just drop by my blog anytime this week and you can get the logo to put on your site!

Hugs
Hawk

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The POD publisher business is booming now because so many see it as a shortcut - and many others simply don't know any better! They think that's how it is done. Or they don't want to take the time to learn the business and properly self-publish it themselves.
I always warn writers that if they choose that route, be prepared for a battle, as the industry will now look down upon them as 'lower than dirt.'

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

Sun Singer said...

Great post, Sia. In addition to writers looking for shortcuts, I see a lot of denial out there, too. People who say they don't care whether they make any money or not because they just love to write. This view seems to be a way of discounting oneself, for nobody in any other business would say it's okay if no customers show up.

Malcolm

~Sia McKye~ said...

Diane, while I agree there is still a stigma attached to POD authors's work, I have seen some excellent POD books on the market.

You're correct in your accessment that Print On Demand authors will have their work cut out gaining acceptance, many POD are far superior to the Vanity Press of old and as that becomes more and more apparent, Print on Demand will gain acceptance. Mainly because there are some POD publishers out there determined to prove their product is comparable in writing quality and looks.

The biggest hurdle I see for POD is still overcoming the reputation of being vanity press whereby ANYTHING is published regardless of quality and price. Most Print On Demand books are at least 2-$3 more per book. Largely because the trade paperback format. As some POD publishing companies become more successful in turning out high quality books and representing skilled writers with good stories, they will have the volume to justify a mass market format. At THAT point those books will be highly competitive with any other mass market paperback offered on the market. Especially if they have a distributor contract that allows them to place their books on the shelves of brick and mortar bookstores as well as on line booksites.

Given the financial difficulties and major reorganization taking place in the traditional publishing field, Print On Demand is cost effective. I suspect this is one of the reasons that POD are gaining popularity as a way to publish.

Interesting road ahead for publishing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Malcolm,

An excellent point. I've always thought if you just want a book with your name on it, go to Lulu. They'll print your book for a small fee and you have it for your library. This is the definition of Vanity press, wouldn't you say? Your vanity says you need a book with your name printed?

"...they don't care whether they make any money or not because they just love to write." So why bother with printing it? Is this an excuse to turn out a poorly written product? And doesn't that attitude diminish you as a writer? I think so.

If an author believes in his or her story enough to go through ALL the trouble of submitting it to a Print On Demand publisher, deal with all the edits and whatnot to get the MS and finshed book looking professional to be sold on the market, then by god, follow through and make it successful by creating a readerbase.

Creating name reconition and building a reader base, takes time and effort. Having a book with your name on it is NOT enough to *sell* it.

I have little patience for those authors in denial that they want customers. I have even less patience with lazy authors that don't want to put him or herself through the hard work to promote themselves as an author.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey Hawk, do I get feted and everything? Some cookies maybe? lolol!

I'll try to stop by later today and read your article.

Thanks for the compliment on my blog. I've worked hard to make it the best I can in content and format. did your see my nifty banners? Aren't they cool?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Judi,

How did I miss your comment? *smacks herself on the forehead.

We agree, publishing involves no magic and lots of hard work. It's called sitting your butt in the chair and work and then working equally hard to get name recognition.

I have a great deal of respect for your excellent promotion skills, Ma'am. You are phenomenal in that arena!

I like your point: "...it's a lightning strike to get the right story to the right editor at the right time..." The way to ensure it is "...Focus on craft, industry info, networking and continue writing."

Very well said, my friend!