Saturday, March 06, 2010

Publishing: How I Got Started

I’ve been asked often by other writers how I got started with publishing my books. Fair question. The publishing business is a complicated one, with many paths and many branches stemming from each of those paths. Now that Blogger has the option to add tabs to blogs, I thought I’d take advantage and use it to gather some of my thoughts and experiences with publishing. The main focus will be on indie publishing, since I am indie and haven’t been contracted. Maybe I can pull in some author friends who have been contracted to help fill that part of the information.

For the beginning of this series here on my blog (although I’ve been giving info to my On Our Own group for years), I’m starting with the few basics.

Back while I was working on Finishing Touches, which wasn’t my first written novel, but the first finished, I was asked what I planned to DO with all the writing I’d been working so hard on. Also a fair question. I didn’t start writing with the idea of publishing. I wrote because I’m a writer and that’s what I needed to do to be fulfilled. Did I want to publish? I wasn’t so sure about that one. It’s a scary thing, putting your work out there for readers to view and possibly tear apart. A novel is a part of a writer’s soul, at least mine are. Of course they are fiction, but not entirely. Much of who a writer is can be found better in her fiction than with normal activity. Did I want to share that much of me?

Not so much.

However, I loved my characters and my stories and yes, I decided I did want to share them. The question then was HOW?

I learned research methods in college, and I did plenty of it. That gave me a good general concept of where to start in publishing: research. So I did. In between writing and continuing to study the craft, I researched the publishing business. Now, I’m no expert. I don’t ever claim to be. But I did do my homework first and found I had three major options as to how to go about it:

1) Traditional

With traditional publishing research, which is where I started, I learned that not only would I have to do queries and synopses to mail out, that most don’t accept multiple submissions and can take weeks to months to answer before I could send it elsewhere if it was rejected, but I would also either have to search through to find the “right” publishers for what I wrote or find an agent to find the right publishers. Either one would take a good amount of time to find the match I needed. After that, it could take 2 years or so, IF my book was accepted, before it would actually come out. A good agent, as I found, is as hard to find as the right publisher. (And never, never PAY an agent! Legit agents make money when they sell your book, which is why they won’t accept you if they think they can’t sell you.)

Other than the time problem I had with this, I also had a problem with the “right” match issue. I don’t write to a commercially marketable genre, aka what’s “in” right now. I do my own blend of different genres and often they are very long. Most publishers will not accept more than 100,000 word manuscripts from new writers and many want no more than 60,000. Not a good match for me.

Also with traditional publishing, control is taken away: cover art is hired out with the author often having no say, how you market and where you sell is restricted, how long it takes to be available widely varies, and it’s always possible to get a contract only for the publisher not to bother ever putting it out. It’s happened. I didn’t want my hands tied. Not to mention the royalty rate is very low and many authors never get more than the advance. Advances are hard to come by these days. This method was not the right fit for me. So I moved along.

2) Self Publishing

Actual self publishing is when the author does all the setup herself, providing cover art (often purchased) and properly formatted text files, and then takes them to a printer (brick and morter or online), and pays all expenses to have them printed. It’s a risky way to publish, especially if your printer insists on you buying a large print run (sometimes 1,000 copies) that you then have to store. Doing this with an online printer is a safer way to go. Still, it’s an incredible amount of work and the author must BE a publisher, with publishing company name and the legalities that go with that.

3) Publishing Service

Many call them vanity publishers, but companies that will take your text files and assist you in producing and distributing your books save a lot of time for the indie author. They will also create covers for you, but I strongly suggest using your own, hiring that out to a good amateur artist if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself. Be careful doing it yourself. A good cover is very important. Also be careful about which company you choose, as there are a plethora of these places and many are more hurtful than helpful. Many, though, have good reputations, and this can be a viable way to get your feet in the publishing door.

I decided to go this way with my first books. Before I chose one, I did … more research. I compared fees with service, listened to what their authors had to say about them, skimmed message boards for good and bad of any I was interested in, and wound up choosing a small moderately priced company with all the services I wanted. It turns out that Infinity is now one of the top 2 recommended Publishing Services. Booklocker is also well recommended. Another that gets good comments from its authors is iUniverse. If you’ve gone this route with another company you’d recommend, please feel free to add it in the comments.

My latest book was done with an online printing/distribution service, using my own company and ISBNs. It meant taking the time to learn what I needed to know and do all the setup and the legal necessities, but if you have the time and ability to learn it, this is a good way to go.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each kind of publishing, and I’ll focus more on them in later posts. All of these will be gathered as links under my “Indie Publishing” heading at the top of my blog. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to address.

As I said, I’m not an expert and cannot be liable for the way anyone uses this information. Do your own research! Be prepared before jumping into this business, because publishing IS a business, although writing is an art.


Kaitlyn Jane Mauro said...

A very nice post. I indie published my first book with CreateSpace and I had a really good experience with them. I can't speak to the other companies you mentioned but I would definitely recommend people at least look into CS when they are considering their options. :) Everything in this endeavor is so 'whatever floats your boat, to each his own'. Indie publishing is the quintessence of creative freedom.
- Kaitlyn

Ps. I will definitely be following you're blog. :)

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Kaitlyn, I'm glad you had a good experience, and you're so right. Authors must do what works best for them.

Nice to have you along!

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