Monday, November 19, 2012

Traditional or Self Publishing? That Is the Question...

I have found myself asking this question recently, perhaps it's because I have been talking to illustrators, cover artists, and editors, people who routinely are hired by the Traditional Publisher to do these tasks for you. And as I ponder the expenses and the process of becoming published, I have to wonder what is going to be the best route? Traditional or Self?
Image courtesy of Master isolated images at

First, let's just assume we will get published- regardless of the route, becoming a published author is within our grasp.

Second, let's define traditional v. self publishing. When I'm talking about traditional publishing, I'm talking about the route of having a publishing company offer to produce your book. I won't get into the nitty gritty, but in the most basic sense this involves submitting queries, possibly getting an agent, negotiating a contract,  and earning between 5-15% royalties on each book sold. Boom. This process can take literally years to accomplish (something that is hard to stomach in a world of instant gratification), but is the route that nearly all authors took up to recent history.

Self publishing, however, is where you glean the control and therefore all of the accountability of your books production. There are many "self-publishing companies" (here's one that make an arm and a leg producing your book. These companies can cost the author anywhere from $1500 to $10,000 and though your book will indeed be printed, most stores will never see them because they get lost in the sea-of-books-that-never-make-it-to-the-surface. These companies will edit, illustrate, and print your book.

Then there is what I consider self-publishing in the context of this article, having our own hands in the pot with every step of the way. WE write the best manuscript we can, WE have a test audience read it, WE hire a editor to professionally critique and proofread it, WE hire our cover artist and/or illustrator, WE format it for eBooks and print, WE set the price, WE are in complete control over every step in the process, and we earn a lot more for each sale- up to 70%! Plus, our out of pocket costs are generally less because we can shop around for the services we hire out, something that is important for those that are just starting out.

But is it worth going through a traditional publisher when we can do much of what they do without waiting for them to come around? Great question.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

I think, and not to totally wimp out of offering any real advice here, but it really depends. It depends on how patient we are. It does take a lot of effort and time to query publishers or to win an agent. It takes thick skin to persevere in the face of rejection letters, and there's sacrifice, less control over editing, design- even the title can be changed. Plus we earn less money from every book sold. When the downsides are spelled out, it's no wonder that more and more authors are leaving the traditional publishing world with many others going straight to self-publishing.

But, if you do have what it takes to live through the process of getting a traditional publisher to notice your manuscript, then it has a better chance of ending up on the shelf at your local Barnes and Noble. Though, a self-published eBook can easily be sold for the Nook, it takes more to get a space in a brick and mortar shop.  Some people may also argue that marketing is easier or better from a traditional publisher. However, I have heard that this is not necessarily the case. Most successful authors will report that they didn't wait for the publisher to market them, they stepped in and did it themselves.

But being published traditionally doesn't mean that you're going to be a success, that takes an indeterminable combination of things such as a good book, great word-of-mouth marketing, and a whole lotta' luck. There's no shortage of advice out there, but what works for one author may not work for another. Some of it is being a well informed entrepreneur who makes good choices along the way, some of it is just timing, being at the right place with the right story. The right answer isn't always the first one we pick. Through experience we will learn what works for us.

If you have a burning desire to be traditionally published, then do it right. Do your homework and find out how the process works, and don't give up easily. If you know that you want to give self-publishing a try, then again- do it the right way. Get your manuscript edited professionally, be choosy about your cover art (we do judge a book by its cover by the way), pay attention even after your book is available- like how pricing affects your sales.

Some people will advise that it's better to start with self-publishing to have real sales to show a traditional publisher that you're a good investment. Others will say the exact opposite, to start with a traditional publisher then, if you want to self-publish, you have a fan base ready to buy your books. Yet others stay consistently either traditionally or self-published. People have been successful in all these ways, and not. 

If we accept that we will not be successful overnight, and that even with a lot of research, we understand we still have a lot to learn, we just may find the right niche for what we have to offer the world. In the end, it is a personal preference and something that we are allowed to decide for ourselves. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Win or Lose, NaNoWriMo is Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul

This month has been a fog of 4:30 a.m. writing sessions and coffee induced hallucinations. I've been neglecting my blog, getting up before the rooster (I assume anyway, I don't have one), staying up late, avoiding wine, keeping my "thinking pad" with me at all times, and all for what you ask? For NaNoWriMo, duh!

In case you are not already aware, NaNoWriMo is something that I am doing for the first time this November, which is National November Writing Month (hence the catchy acronym, which I often shorten to NaNo, which often makes me think of Mork of Mork and Mindy, but I digress...)  In this month, it is my goal to write 50,000 words (that's like a paperback novel of at least 140 pages, people!) before midnight on November 30, which is truly hard to accomplish because this month my stomach also has very important plans involving turkey, pie, and family coming in town.

But what does NaNo really do? What do I win? Well, oh ye writer-who-feels-the-need-to-get-paid-before-producing-a-final-product, here is my answer to you. (I know this answer because I am just now finding out myself) You get lots.

For starters, it's fun. We writers, well, we like to write. Whether we win or not, we get to write the beginning, middle, end, or some variation thereof of a story that began as gray matter, no matter how great or awful it is. Like musicians live to play, writers live to write. Having a reason to write just makes it all the better and joining in a worldwide writing challenge is a GREAT reason.

Secondly, our book could be the next big thing! Perhaps in that part of us that believes that we are the awesomest writers ever and we just need our chance to shine, we hold out that hope that ours can become one of the wonderful books started during NaNo. It could end up on the shelf of Barnes and Noble, get a movie deal, or have actual merchandise like bookmarks, popcorn tins, and scrunchies (my hair is too short for them, but I still remember) that become ads in SkyMall. How sweet would that be?
I personally believe that the best reason is that it makes us better writers. The more you write, the more your skills develop, and by writing 50,000 words in a single month (or at least trying to), you create some hardcore writing habits that may pave your way to success. Statistically, if you keep trying, it has to happen eventually, right? That's my thought anyway. 

Before NaNo, I was lucky to write 500 words a day, if anything at all. But now, if I write less than 1500 words, the day is a wash. Seriously, 1500 words?! That's a lot- but I raised the bar for myself because now I have achieved over 4,000 words in a day (while raising kids and cooking dinner- though arguably, not doing dishes). Whew!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

So far, I have pressed myself farther than ever this month- and it's barely half way through! Even if there's no movie and no scrunchies, I feel that the benefit that it has brought me will last forever.

For anyone that is doing NaNo with me this year or has done it in the past, let us know what you think, how does it benefit you, if not just for bragging rights, what makes you strive to be a part of the winner's circle?

"NaNo NaNo" everyone!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Self Publishing, No Respect By: Jen Leigh

I came across this blog post today in between chasing after kids and hearing the plumbers saw into our pipes. Sort of serendipitously (I'm just making up adverbs now), I have read a few blog posts about self-publishing v. traditional publishing, specifically about what challenges each side of the industry faces. Jen Leigh, who I just learned about, has some great observations and the idea that writers of the indie movement would all benefit from working from a more "community" based perspective, helping one another- rather than having each author operating as an island in a sea of self-reliance.

Click HERE  to her post called "Self Publishing, No Respect". Here is the article as you will find it on her site. It's a long read but it's worth the time as it does outline comparisons of various heavy-hitting issues that face all Authors including editing, cover-art, formatting, and of course, marketing.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at

"However, I was chatting with a friend over the weekend and considering the self publishing game. Face it, traditional publishers and agents handle a great deal of work for an author. Now I don't think that justifies taking 90-96% of book profits or taking 1-3 years to actually produce a marketable book. The industry is a slow moving machine that eats up the profits the author is due (since the author does the most difficult and time consuming portion of the work).

So let's look at some issues for the self-publishing author:

     1 - Editing. So many sites put down self published authors because of inferior work that isn't always apparent until after a purchase is made. A legitimate gripe, because traditional books are heavily edited before release (and sometimes the end product looks nothing like the authors original work). The best solution to this is to have a network of beta readers and freelance editors to review the final product before publication. Editors cost money, up front (something traditionals handle for you for 'free'). I really enjoy beta reading and editing as I read, however, I can't do it 8-16 hours a day and not make money. I don't have time. And you, the author, can't afford to put up inferior work, reviews will crush what little reputation you've been gaining and no one will buy your future books either. So it's best to finish revisions, submit to a beta reader, make corrections, then submit it to a freelance editor before publication. Searching the net, freelance editors and writer services are a dime a dozen, but all charge about two dollars a page, some less, some more, and it depends on what you want them to look for. Question: If you've hired an editor you like, please email me (bottom of the page, Editor in subject) and I'll try to get a list of reputable editors together for another post. Things I'd like to consider with editors, time they take, price, and how thorough they are.

     2 - Cover Art. Something else publishers take care of. Now with traditional publishing the author has little say in the art work for their cover. The publisher handles it and you get what you get. What irks me is that the artists don't read the book, so how can they draw something that suits? Or does the publisher have a stack of photos with various people in various situations that they sift through until they find one they like? As far as cover art goes, it makes or breaks the book and I can't see that traditional publishing holds any ground here over self-publishing. Again, cover art takes money and artists are expensive if you want to have something unique drawn up. You can do it yourself (but often, not always, it looks like you did it yourself and that isn't a good thing) or you can hire it out. Artists aren't like editors, they have nothing to do with stories, story telling, or working with words in general. They draw and they are talented at what they do, but it's going to cost you, before you even begin selling a book. In an effort to help new authors, I'd like to see college age artists, working on their degree or getting established, join with self-publishers to help each other launch careers. The artist would get publicity for their work, maybe a fee to be paid later based on the success of the book or a percentage of profits from the book for a certain amount of time? Details! The author would get an artist with some vested interest in their book, who would put forth the effort to help sales, and in return make money on their art. Question: Know an artist starting out that would be interested in helping authors get established? What are their fees, are they interested in reading the book first, and how quickly do they work? Email with Cover Art in the subject.

     3 - Formatting. Seems like every day there's a new ereader or some type of contraption that can display a book for a reader. How do you format for each one? There are programs out there that allow you to save a file in various types, but then you'll have to read each version to make sure the format is right. The last thing an author wants is to have a reviewer/reader post that the story was good but the format was odd or worse,  they couldn't get through the book because the formatting was all messed up. You lose sales on the current work as well as future sales if you have a stigma placed on your work. You have to format correctly, or hire someone with experience to do it for you. Formatting can be time consuming if you have an error and have to learn how to fix it on the fly. You'll learn more in the process, but at what cost? Another few chapters you didn't get written? A delay on the publishing of your book? Question: Know of someone who's experienced at formatting ebooks? How much do they charge? How quickly can they get it done? Do they guarantee a perfect a format? Email with Formatting in the subject.

     4 - Marketing. Now you have your book edited, the cover art, and format complete, time to sell the thing. Marketing isn't something publishers do for new authors, they expect you to market your book. They do get you on distributor lists, but other than putting your title and blurb in their listing, don't expect much from publishers. An agent might come in handy here, if they can set up appearances and help you find venues to promote your book, but again, the cost is going to fall to you for food, hotels, travel etc. Some libraries will pay you through grants, but I'm not so sure that they pay enough to cover expenses. Social Media helps, but a lot of people complain about constant posts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ promoting a book (generally a buy my book! or if you like authors x, y, and z, you'll love my book) and I can heartily agree. I do, personally, like the excerpts of books, with the title and author following. I think I'd be more apt to purchase something promoted by excerpt than a comparison blurb. I mean, really, if I like author x, y, and z, why not buy their new book? I know I'm going to like it, it'll be well written, and offer me an enjoyable afternoon. Stop promoting famous authors and find something special about your own writing please! Anyhow, marketing tips can be found everywhere, and some can be purchased. Problem is, there are no real marketing statistics for books. It's trial and error, again, time consuming. From what I understand, Amazon has a clause that forbids authors to talk about sales numbers or they'll be removed from Amazon for life. For self publishing that's a death sentence, hence no numbers are posted on sales by week or month or year. Me personally? I plan to finish at least two books, if not up to five before publishing. Then I plan to take a few months hiatus from writing to promote said books, releasing them six months apart and building an audience. During the first six months I might pay to have hard copies printed, probably paperback and I'll be willing to speak at any library or book store that will give me at least thirty minutes and advertising that I'll be speaking. So at my own expense I'll be travelling and posting online where I am and how it went. Now will this work to get my name on the map? I have no earthly idea, but it's the best I've come up with so far. Question: Have any marketing tips that have worked? Know of any marketing company that is reasonable that can really help launch an author? Please note that any specific statistics emailed to me will stay with me. I don't want authors getting in trouble with any epublishing market. Email with Marketing in the subject.

     5 - Audio Books. I think this is another way to promote your book and get it to more markets while working to make sales. I could only find one company online that would translate your book into audio, but for 100k words it cost over five thousand dollars to do. I understand with equipment, man power etc audio books are probably time and cost consuming. Again, if self published authors banded together they could probably find a few among them that can read well and others willing to help edit the thing until you have a finished product. So far, Audible dot com offers best selling books for audio download. Amazon does have a section for audio cd, but there are no real outlets for downloadable audio books by self published authors. I'm not sure how well audio books really sell, but there are apps for phones etc that allow people to listen to books. With lack of downloadable audio choices out there, it'd be difficult to find any statistics on sales and marketability. is a website I've found helpful with information on how to create your own pod cast and get it on a website or blog. This I could definitely see as being a useful tool, i.e. if someone purchases your ebook you could send them a link to a password site to download the same book in podcast form for their use. I haven't researched this too much yet, but I'd love to hear suggestions and experiences concerning audio books and pod casts.Question: Anyone with any experience here? email with Audio in the subject.

I understand some indie authors are protesting the traditional publishers and agents in pursuit of fortune and fame on their own. But lack of organization is going to crush the self publishing industry before it even really gets going. I also understand indie authors like the creative control they enjoy, but without authors helping each other, there will remain mediocre work from writers who don't even realize they're doing anything wrong. I request a loose network of writers, readers, artists and tech geeks to support each other and find a way to trade services instead of money, or small fees, to help keep costs down. Is it possible? Who knows? But what ever information I receive through this post I will pass on to authors, artists, editors, who ever might benefit from a group effort. Again, writers need to understand there will be some fee for most of the topics here, but there are ways to minimize cost and help each other along the way.

I'm not proposing an organization per say, more of a resource where writers can connect with others and find everything from an artist to a critique partner. I've found a site similar that I'll be posting as my own reference, but first I'd like to see what everyone else has to say. If you'd like to email instead of posting here then drop me a line jenleigheight at yahoo dot com. I'll respond to everyone and try to gather enough information on the topics addressed here by next Sunday. I'll also include any and all topics brought to my attention that I haven't covered here.

Here's to Author Helping Authors (A-HA)"

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

If you would like to comment on any of Jen's questions or contact her with information, please do so using her email as listed in the final paragraph of her article or visit the original post and comment there. Though, if you do post here with info, I will gladly pass it on.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cherry On Top Tales #2: Double Trouble

Double Trouble

The right socks were gone, the spatulas too. Something bit my finger under the sheets, and tripped me with shoelaces when I went to the bathroom. The dog was upset, the lights started to flicker. It had been a rough day all around.

The kids were telling us that they found something weird. Two tiny holes in the walls of their room with bright green hairs stuck to the edges. “It’s just a mouse, Dear” I said to console her. “Mouses aren’t green, Mom.” The four year old had a point.

Then the clattering and shattering of glass commenced from the dining room. We all rushed in, already guessing what we’d see. My curio cabinet, which used to be filled with miniature forms made of crystal, was a mess of jagged edges and iridescent shards. Tiny mirrors of varying sizes were laid neatly in place, they looked untouched. But their occupants all had been decimated; it looked like a battlefield.

That was it. I had had it. Mess with my socks, give me a goose egg on my head, fine. But when you destroy the Swarovski Crystal menagerie, it’s war.

We followed the scritching along the baseboards then lured them out from a socket with marshmallows. They were so cute and so happy we couldn’t bear to hurt them. So now, they are our new pets, and we keep them in the garage.