Continuing on with our discussion of the paths to publishing your novel, this week we are going to look at self-publishing, sometimes called independent publishing (but not to be confused with an independent publisher which is a small press). People use different terms and so it can be confusing. There are some who look down upon self-published authors as if self-published authors are not good enough to go the traditional route, but self-publishing can be the best decision for some authors. Self-publishing is a valid publishing path. Don’t let anyone tell you something different.
What you MUST know about self-publishing if you are considering taking this path:
Self-publishing is a lot of work. You, the author, are responsible for every aspect of your project. You will wear many hats:
- Production Manager / Project Manager
- Marketing Manager
- Budget Manager / Accountant
- Developmental Editor
- Line Editor ***
- Cover Designer ***
- Interior Layout Designer for print
- Digital Layout Designer – knowledge of HTML and CSS
- Public Relations Manager (crisis management, social media management, publicity management, event management)
- Distribution Manager – where is your book available for sale?
- Personnel Manager (manage outsourced talent?)
- Public Speaker (book signings, appearances)
- Quality Control Manager
***Note that each of these tasks requires specialized skills and no matter how amazing and fabulous you are, it’s probable that you are not a master of all of them and you will have to hire some of these tasks out. At a minimum, I recommend that you budget for, and hire an editor and a cover designer. Minimum, mind you. Minimum. You may need to hire out more than these positions.
There are many reasons to self-publish your book:
- You want a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your sales
- You want to explore pricing models, new vendors and book marketing opportunities
- You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish it fast (traditional publishing can take up to two years)
- You want full control of your book inside and out, from your hands to your readers
- You’ve written a book that falls outside the bounds of typical publishing—either because of its niche audience, it is specific to a particular region, you are using an experimentation of language, category, theme, etc.
- You are a go-to person with a lot of time to do all the tasks
There are also reasons not to Self-Publish
- It’s not as easy to be as successful as the few successful self-publishers make it seem
- You will have much less time to write since you are doing all the work (or following up with others you’ve hired)
- All of the promo/marketing efforts are solely yours
- You have full creative control which means you, you alone, are responsible for bad decisions
Remember that publishing is a business and each and every decision you make will affect your writing career for good or bad. Make sure you are well-versed in the paths to publishing and then make a business decision on which is the best path for you. Remember that your path is your path, not your writer friend’s path. Choose wisely based upon a realistic inventory of what you can and can’t do, and what you will or won’t do.
Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 9
We continue on with our discussion of the three paths to publishing your novel. This week we will examine Independent Presses.
The first thing you should note when considering indie presses is that each and every one of them is different, operates differently, has a different contract, produces products of differing quality, and has different ethics. Indie presses are called small presses but they can be tiny one-person operations or huge organizations. What makes a publisher a small press/indie press is that they are not affiliated with the Big 5 Publishers, and they generate revenue of less than $50 million dollars a year.
Is any of this important to you?
It should be.
Are there bad indie presses you should be wary of?
There are indie presses who will contract your book without reading it, do not edit or proof it, throw on a shitty cover, only do ebook, and call it published. This is not good for you, the author. If readers buy your book and put it down because it hasn’t been edited or proofed, and write bad reviews on Amazon or Goodreads this is bad for your writing career.
Don’t get me wrong. There are indie presses that ONLY do ebook and do a great job of it. But make sure this is what you want.
The point is you have to do your research. All indie presses are different. Each has their own process, and you need to know what those are.
Independent Press Information
- The publisher contracts with you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time. There should be an end date on your contract. Make sure there is.
- The publisher assumes all costs of production of the book. You should not be charged for production, or marketing or anything else except author copies if you want additional copies of the book to give away or sell. If they want you to pay for your cover or production costs, they are a vanity press, not an indie press. Don’t do vanity press, unless you have a specific business reason for doing so.
- There may or may not be an advance.
- They may or may not accept unsolicited manuscripts, or they may only accept unsolicited manuscripts. You will need to research what the particular press’ policy is.
Not all Indie Presses are the same. Questions you need to ask:
- Do they publish in print and digital? Digital only?
- Where do they distribute? Amazon only? Ingram? Baker Taylor?
- Do they do print runs or only Print on Demand (POD)?
- What is their submission process? Each house will have a unique process and you will need to submit according to their rules. Some will want ten pages of your manuscript. Some will want three chapters and a synopsis. Give them what they require.
- Contracts will be different at each house. If you are offered a contract, I highly recommend that you use a literary attorney to review your contract. There are contracts out there that are bad for authors. Really.
- What are their royalty rates? They (probably) offer higher royalty rates and more flexible contract terms than the Big Five. But this is not always so. Do your homework.
What are the benefits of publishing with an indie press?
- Small presses can kickstart your marketing efforts and aren’t afraid to think outside the box. The profit margins for indie presses are small in general, so they do tend to find ways to market on the cheap. But, there are indie presses who do no marketing at all. Ask.
- Small presses may give you more editorial control. They may allow you to discuss requested edits to your manuscript. But they may not. This will be outlined in your contract, which you should read in detail.
- You may have more accessible interactions with your editor. These interactions can translate into a more rewarding writer-editor relationship. You also may have the option of changing editors if you are unhappy with the editor you have. But, some presses only have one editor, so you should do your homework before you sign a contract with them.
- Small presses offer unknown and emerging authors a place to get a foothold in their pursuit of success by publishing those early works upon which a career is built. You may never get a Big 5 contract, or you may get one later in your career. Either way, you will have time to grow your readership over time, and that is good for everyone.
- Most indie presses have limited resources, so don’t expect the diva treatment. By the way, if you do the diva routine, you also could get your contract canceled for being a pain in the ass. Yes, this is possible. Remember that publishing is a business and you should be as professional as possible at all times.
- The packaging of your book may not look as professional as a Big 5 package, but it might. Take a look at their website, ask to see a media kit. Do their covers look good? Do they even create media kits?
- Ask if they have a marketing plan for their authors. Do they assist authors by sending out review copies? Do they advertise? Do they offer suggestions to their authors on what marketing they should be doing? Remember that every author markets regardless of the publishing path, but it’s always good to get help if it is available.
Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 8
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Continuing our discussion of the three potential paths to publishing your novel, today we will talk about the difference between those paths, specifically focusing on contracting with one of the Big 5 publishers. See earlier posts for the similarities. Later posts will focus on contracting with independent presses, and self-publishing.
When you sign a contract with one of the Big 5 publishers:
- The publisher contracts with you for the right to publish your work for a specific period of time.
- You may or may not get an advance
- The publisher assumes all costs of production of the book.
- The Big 5 typically offers Lower royalty rates.
- Better distribution than some independent presses.
- Higher potential for bookstore placement.
- Slow—can take up to two years to release.
- They may have sales expectations. Keep in mind that there are many mid-list authors who make a good living by selling an expected number of books, and so you may be expected to meet a sales quota. This means it is possible that an author could get dropped if sales expectations are not met.
There are advantages to publishing with a major, traditional book publisher.
- You’ll get multiple rounds —and different types —of book editing
- You’ll get expert packaging and production
- You probably will get a baseline amount of book marketing and book publicity
- Your book has a better chance of getting bookstore shelf space
- You will have a better chance of being reviewed.
But how do you submit your book to the Big 5 so you can get a contract?
Here is an example submission text at Hachette (website)
Publishers in the Hachette Book Group are not able to consider unsolicited manuscript submissions and unsolicited queries. Many major publishers have a similar policy. Unsolicited manuscripts, submissions, and queries will not be answered and the publisher will have the right to destroy any unsolicited material or mail without returning to the sender.
If you are interested in having a manuscript considered for publication, we recommend that you first enlist the services of an established literary agent.
What all this means is that you must have an agent. This means that you must submit to, and contract with an agent before you contract with one of the Big 5.
What makes a good agent?
- Good communicators who are well-informed and organized
- Assertive but not aggressive and advocate for the author, or the publisher
- Maintain professional relationships with editors and publishers to get their projects read (by only shopping high-quality projects that are polished)
- Are good negotiators who get higher royalties and advances
Realize that there are bad agents, just like there are bad independent publishers. Do your research and make sure the agent offering to represent you is who you want to represent you. You will ideally have a very long relationship with them over the entirety of your publishing career, so think about that before you sign.
Next time: Self-Pub, Indie-Pub, or Big 5? Part 7