How to Get Published   2 comments

Advice from one who has yet to succeed at the tradional route!  But I have come to understand where the non-tradional avenues lead, and why it all works the way it does.  Just Business, my dear, Just Business.

Publishing a book is risky.  The gamble?  That nobody will pay for it.  We authors understand this risk; it’s why we awake our significant others with our nocturnal screams and cold-sweats.  Our risk is that a year’s work will be for naught.  However, in the publication world, ours is not the only risk.

This risk factor has led to the three print channels, and has given each its own characteristics.

The Traditional Method   Agents and publishers are not (for the most part) vile people, they’re simply folks who are trying to make a living, and have crafted the rules to give them a fighting chance of doing that.  To get the per-piece cost down to the point where a normal bloke might be willing to take a flyer on a new author, publishers have to print a lot of copies.  Their risk is easy to see:  If they print 10,000 copies of How I Spent My Vacation, and 9,999 copies come back (minus the one that the author bought for his/her mother), they lose – big time.  Not only the press-run, but the time spent by the artists and designers who labored to make the book appear enticing, the promotional costs, and the possibility they could instead have invested in a home run.  Hence, the current vampire vogue – today they sell. (Tomorrow is irrelevant, once the up-front costs have been recovered.) The Agent loses, because their credibility is their sole stock in trade, and humping a dud tarnishes it.  None of them want to be ridiculed for having passed up the next Jane Austen, but  sucking their company into a loser doesn’t look wonderful on a resume.

The best way to approach an agent is to look over their website (Publisher’s Marketplace lists many) and find out what they want to see, then give it to them, making sure to pick out agents who rep your kind of work.  (E.G.; Don’t send an erotic romance to an agent who specializes in children’s books.)  Just like your work is unique, so are they.  If they ask for the first 5 pages and you give them 50, they may toss it all.  There are classes on writing query letters, and many experts and much conflicting advice.  However, they all agree on one thing: the letter itself should be an example of your best work, and should answer the questions they have asked.

If an agent asks to be paid for reading your work, don’t walk away… RUN LIKE HELL.  They are not a real agent.  The real ones work on a commission, the terms of which are spelled out in the contract.

Submitting by e-mail versus snail mail?  The jury is out.  Agents specify which they expect, and you’d best do as they say.  My thought is that there is so little cost and time involved in an e-mail pitch agents are flooded with them, making the ‘DELETE’ key look mighty tempting.  I have gotten very little meaningful feedback from agents, but all of it has come from those to whom I sent a snail mail package.

So far sixteen agents have heard of Neap Tide – my latest potboiler – but none have had the perspicacity to pick it up.  Soon one will, I remain confident, and they will be the richer for it.

The Vanity Press  Been around for many years.  The chap who schlepps around a trunk-full of his book, hoping that the next bookstore will gleefully take it on consignment, may have a winner on his hands.  It has happened.  More often, it has not.  This fellow has taken the risk on himself, and maybe his wife will look at him funny for the stacks of unsold books filling the garage, but he has managed to keep his per-each cost down by writing a fat check.  The printing company has been paid, the author IS the publisher, and if the book catches fire he’s in fat city with no commissions to pay.  In many of these cases, the author has become frustrated at the traditional process – possibly for a reason.  My information is that a first-timer will collect better than 50 rejection letters before an agent takes a second look; my guess is that it takes that many tries to get the query letter right.  My first attempt (Bridge to Someday – part of the Delsey trilogy) garnered 36 rejections, and it has yet to ring the bell.

Print On Demand  Automation is a wonderful thing.  Outfits like Lulu (www.lulu.com) provide a FREE service that allows an author to self-publish without taking on the risk of having his wife question his sanity.  With POD, the physical copy does not exist until an order is placed, then the Barf-O-Mat spits out a single, lovely, commercially acceptable copy.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that that single copy will be priced at about three times what a main-line publisher would charge – due to the much higher per-each production cost and Lulu’s cut to cover the cost of fulfillment and profit.  And, there is no meaningful promotional effort beyond that of the author, and no access to retail distribution channels.   I have actually published two books using Lulu, but in neither case because I expect to have a blockbuster.  In fact, with one  (Murphy’s Bar and Grille) I only did it because it is free and now I have a nicely bound issue of my own early work to stash on my shelf.  The other one?  (Mowry Beach)  I have my own special reason for taking this route, and it does not include dreams of taking it big-time.

Electronic methods, like Kindle?  Maybe one day I’ll give it a whirl.  One caution about electronic storage in general…  It is a transient system.  The ability to read an electronic file depends on having the right software for that file, and it means updating the file as newer software packages evolve.  A ten year old file may be forever lost, unreadable by current methods.   Compare this to those works printed by Gutenberg – Fifteenth Century technology can still be accessed.  Not long ago it was revealed that NASA only grudgingly held on to the only machine in the entire world capable of reading the tapes of Neil Armstrong’s actual transmissions when setting foot on the moon.

 

November 17, 2012

Poster Russell Buker suggested I check out a Maine-based writer’s co-op that I had not previously come across.  Maine Authors Publishing offers several different plans, from simple Vanity Press printing to a regular cooperative distribution network.  My investigations have not been completed, but I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.  First, I asked for a printing estimate for Neap Tide, which is about 71,000 words and no photos.  This is similar in size to Mowry Beach, which Lulu will sell to me for $8.03 per copy with no volume break.  Lulu also provides fulfillment services, so they deal with the orders.  If I want 200 copies, I pay Lulu $1600 plus shipping, and then do with them what I will.  If a bookstore wants 10 copies, either they pay a higher price to Lulu or they come to me and I write a check; I get my money back through Lulu but the retail price is much too high.  If I order the same 200 copies from MAP I pay $1,150.61, which includes the obligatory one-time proof copy for $38.  So the per-each price is better, but they lack fulfillment unless you go for the co-op approach and pay annually $375 for the first title, and $75 for each additional, plus 22%.

The co-op maintains a catalog, issued twice each year.  To be listed in the catalog requires an ‘editorial evaluation’ which costs $145.  So here’s where I am right now.  I will complete the current draft, then pay the 145 bucks.  I understand that for a catalog to be valuable to bookstores and other mass buyers, they must be selective about what gets listed and this requires approving every entry.  I also know that if the reading was free, they’d have more to plow through than there are hours in the year.  But what happens after that?  My decision will be based on how I perceive the ‘one-page analysis of strengths and weaknesses.’  Will they provide valuable feedback that helps make the work better?  Is it a pitch for expensive editorial services?  Or is it simply a bona-fide gatekeeper?  If I offer someone a copy of Neap Tide and agree to pay them $5.00 for every typo, I don’t believe they’ll be able to dine at McDonalds from what I pay them.  (I have bribed Titivillus to stay away, the price was dear.)  But if they uncover plot or character inconsistencies, or come up with passive language, then they are worth the price.  Can they provide a meaningful service for $145?

Stay tuned.

Novermber 27, 2012

Today I took the plunge.  Actually, I did it last week when I dropped my check into the mail slot.  But today was the day I sent the manuscript off for “Editorial Evaluation.” Somebody will be passing judgment on my work, and I don’t know who they are.  They may be reading it right now, while I’m writing these words here.  That’s a little like knowing that your straying lover is in a motel room with someone else, and you don’t know where she is or who he is.

So what, you say.  Is that no different than putting your toils on the shelf and hoping someone buys it?  You don’t know who they are, either, do you, schmuck.  ‘Spect maybe so.  But this faceless editor will be deciding whether or not I get into a catalog, which would make it much easier to sell.  Lulu can print it for me, but if these guys take it over then a lot of things become easier, such as allowing bookstores to buy 4-6 copies and pay wholesale.  Lulu won’t do that – they want to be the seller.

They tell me they’ll complete their ‘evaluation’ in maybe 4 days, which means I probably won’t hear anything until next Monday – if then. One answer could be that they want me to write an even bigger check and pay them to tamper with my carefully worded text.  Hey, watch it there!  Those’re my words you’re playing fast and loose with.

 

December 23, 2012

These things take so damn much time to get sorted out.  So here’s what I’ve come up with.  (I know you’ve been waiting…)  I received ‘feedback’ from Maine Authors Publishing.  Here’s what my $145 got me:  (1) They told me my formatting sucked.  That much I already knew, it had been sent double-spaced, fully justified, using Courier 12pt font.  That’s what agents and English-teachers expect, it ain’t pretty, and it’s sure not what you’d want to put before a real reader. (2) I used a few commas where they thought I should not have, and vice-versa.  Then if I ‘fixed’ those shortcomings myself, they offered to actually read it, for another (probably) $300.  Actually, it wasn’t an offer.  Of course, they would be pleased to ‘fix’ these things for me, for a modest charge on top of the three bills.

As it worked out, all told there was nearly $1,000 in up-front billings, then the real kicker.  The per-each printing cost was about a dollar higher than what Lulu had previously charged for a similarly sized volume, and that was based on a page count that was nearly 100 less than what I estimated.  This got me to thinking.  The real benefit they offered was inclusion in a 28-page catalog along with maybe 200-250 other books by other authors.  How would I be able to lift my work out of that clutter?  Well, for starters I could pay  them to send my book to selected papers for review.  They never did ‘splain why a reviewer would be more likely to read a book they sent than one I sent.  (I confess to having put a few things in that would likely appeal to some of the papers I have in mind, but these are all consistent with the story.  I’ll tell you about those things later.)

Then I checked with a few local outlets – none had even seen the MAP catalog.  True, I am in Lubec – where the US begins – but they claimed to represent Maine writers and last I saw Lubec was still part of Maine.  (Don’t ask the folks in Camden – they don’t believe it.)

In my despair, I started looking about again.  Amazon has a service that competes directly with Lulu, but with lower expenses.  I’ll have to front my own costs, but I’d have to do that anyway.  Neap Tide will be published through CreateSpace (it’s right there, at the very bottom of the Amazon home page), sometime around the end of January, 2013.  It’ll be available on their site shortly later, but in a few other places too…  I got sum’pin planned that I can’t talk about just yet, but it is as sure-fire as anything is in this crazy world.

The sucky formatting?  Took me an hour to fix, then a couple of tries to get it to fit properly on the CreateSpace page.  (Their gutter arrangement is a little goofy, plus they don’t recognize it when you DO embed a font.)  After you get it in there, they show you exactly how it will look, flipping through the pages and all.  What have I paid Amazon so far for this?  Zippo, and that’s all I expect to pay until it’s time to actually go to press.  They make it up in printing costs, but I already know they’re less costly than others.

So… For my marketing plans?  Don’t touch that dial.  This is going to be exciting.  And not just for me.

 

January 4, 2013

I am now eagerly awaiting my proof copy of Neap Tide.  Amazon’s CreateSpace tells me it has been shipped, so all I can do is sit on my thumbs and wait.  Denise has often reminded me that I am not good at being patient.  I guess she should know.

One thing I do want to see is this: what is the quality of the final product?  An earlier release of mine, Mowry Beach, is available through Lulu.  I know that their product looks great – the edges are sharp, the binding tight, the printing consistent.  That book weighs in at 211 pages, and costs me $8.03 plus shipping.  The retail price is $19.95, which means very few will be sold.  Neap Tide is the same format (6X9 inches, color cover and B&W interior), has 262 pages, and the author-price I pay Amazon is $3.99 each, plus shipping (with a retail price of $14.95).  That’s quite a difference: half the production-cost for a larger product, resulting in a retail price that just might be competitive.

So I sit on my thumbs and wait.

 

January 7, 2013

The proof copy arrived today.  Not only is is all I could have hoped for, even the page numbers line up with the numbers listed in the Table of Contents.  I want to look it over a bit, but will likely approve it tomorrow evening and order up the first batch so I can start the process of mailing to reviewers.

 

January 24, 2013

They say the third time is the charm.  Let’s hope so – I approved the third draft and ordered the first batch of 50.  My cost, going through CreateSpace, is about $4.25 each, including shipping.  Most of the initial inventory is going to newspapers that I hope will do a review, and also to those folks who helped me along the way.

Something else has now started to appear: solicitations to be included in catalogs that are sent to bazillions of libraries and ‘top-name’ reviewers.  One of these, for instance, wants me to spend $375 for a one-time listing in  their promotional piece, with no suggestion how my work will stand apart from those of other, equally earnest writers.  I’m sure those other writers are nice people but I want to promote my work, not theirs.

I don’t know if my method will work better, but it’s what I’m trying.  Neap Tide is set partially in the world of commercial fishing, and involves a tragedy of the sort that is all-too-familiar in that world, but not on the radar of mainstream readers.  So by focusing on smaller papers, publications that may not be on the A-List for well established names but which have a high readership in communities where commercial fishing takes place, I hope to lift myself out of the clutter.  I’m not sending them a catalog – I’m sending them a copy of the book, with a cover letter that hopefully convinces them that their readers will fnd the work interesting.  My intent here is, instead of paying $375 to appear to be one of many, I’ll spend a similar amount to appear as one of one.

There is a second part to this, one that will have strong local support, but I cannot speak of this just yet.  St. Patrick’s Day is the announcement date.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Posted September 16, 2012 by JD Rule

2 responses to How to Get Published

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  1. POD’s have changed and there are many in our state of Maine that will accommodate a writer: check out Maine Authors Publishing.com which is sort of a co-op however, still, the sales are dependent on the author’s ability to navigate the world of selling books which most writers know nothing about
    and pray that their large family will buy rather than recieve free, signed books for xmas

  2. Russell – my hat is off in appreciation for pointing me in a new direction. This response was delayed because I wanted to check out the suggestion – which is underway. I will add to the main entry as more information comes out, but my initial observations are upstairs.

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