Behold! The Ides of March!
I threw my Facebook page open to the winds and asked people what topics they would like me to blog on. It seems the top answers are “publishing” and “how-to.”
I’ve already blogged on those topics (I’ll post the links here so you can go see), but I can do a relatively quick overview here.
So. Let us begin!
DIY or not?
So let’s say you’ve got a draft of a novel written and you’re debating publication. Let’s say this is the first novel you’d like considered for publication. I’m going to assume that this is not the first draft, that in fact your novel manuscript has gone through several intensive rewrites, beta readers, and an editing (from an actual professional editor) or, at the very least, a professional proofreader. If your manuscript has gone through those things, then it’s ready to be considered for publication.
So do you want to do this yourself or go through a traditional house? I can’t answer that question for you, because it depends on how well you know yourself.
It also depends on how well you know what you’re writing and who your audience/market is. These are questions you need to ponder before you start thinking about either submitting your work to a traditional house or going indie with it.
1. What are the genres you’re writing? If you’re not sure, then you aren’t ready to publish. You need to be able to say “I write paranormal alt-history with touches of dieselpunk, which is subsumed under the spec fic umbrella” so that you can find publishing houses that also publish that if you want to go the traditional route. And if you want to go the indie route, you need to know where you can market what you write, so you can match your book to an audience. In other words, KNOW YOUR GENRES and where what you’re writing fits within them.
2. Do you read books in the genres you write? If so, what traditional houses are publishing them? That’s how you start researching traditional houses. So, for example, if you write lesbian romantic/sometimes erotic fiction and you read a lot of that, what traditional houses published the titles you read? Find them online and check their catalogues and submission guidelines to determine if they’re a match.
3. Have you started thinking about an author brand? No? Well, read on for that.
Let’s move on, shall we?
Are you thinking about going indie?
NOTE: I’m using “indie” here in reference to self-publishing. You will also see “indie” as it refers to small, independent houses. You will probably hear self-published authors refer to themselves as “indie,” so make sure you find out for sure what sense they’re using the term. 😀
Self-publishing means that you, the author, are DOING EVERYTHING. You will need to learn the business of publishing, familiarize yourself with the various platforms, understand the parts of a manuscript and the things a manuscript goes through before it’s ready for publication, and then put those things into action and pay for all professional services yourself. You are essentially a publishing house, and if you know nothing about the business, then I strongly recommend that you learn before you go DIY.
I’m what’s known as a “hybrid” author. That means I self-publish some of my work and traditionally (with a publishing house) publish other stuff, in accordance with my contracts with traditional houses. Some traditional house contracts are very strict about what you can publish outside the house and implement what’s called a “right of first refusal,” which basically means that you are required to submit every novel you write after you sign with them to that house for their first consideration. If they don’t want the manuscript, the house may actually have included a clause in the contract that states you cannot publish a rejected manuscript with another house.
This is why it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT that you read every single word in every contract you’re offered from either a traditional house or a self-publishing platform. If you don’t understand something, consult a lawyer versed in publishing contracts to make sure that you fully understand everything. It’s money well-spent. You are also within your rights to ask the house for clarification. If they don’t give that to you, and you feel like you’re getting a runaround, you may want to reconsider working with them. If you’re not comfortable with some of the terms of that contract, then see if the house will work with you to come up with a compromise. If not, then, again, maybe you need to think about whether you want to work with them after all.
Goodeditors.com has a nice round-up of contract terminology RIGHT HERE.
All that said, I work with traditional houses because I also work a day job, and there is just no way in hell I have the time to self-publish everything I write while working 40-50 hours a week at a day job. Some stuff I do self-publish, but it’s hard. If you want to know what goes into self-publishing (at least from my experience),
That walks you through the process and also provides lots of different links for more info/exploration.
Is self-publishing for you? Only you can answer that question. There are pros and cons to both indie publishing and traditional publishing and you need to think about where you are in terms of life and work and what kind of time you can honestly devote to publishing, writing, and marketing because going indie means you will be doing all of those things in spades.
Personally, the choice I made for me — going traditional first — was the best one at the time, because self-publishing platforms hadn’t taken off like they did starting around 2010, I was working full-time, and I knew how much work goes into publishing because I’d worked in the industry for years. Going traditional first allowed me to focus on my writing and learn more about branding and building my brand while I was working full-time (and I still am working full-time).
The expansion of indie publishing platforms has allowed me to experiment with some of my work (in accordance with the contracts I have with traditional houses), and learn even more about publishing and also learn that at this time in my life, going full-time indie is not going to work for me given the other obligations in my life.
This does not make self-publishing a bad choice for you. After all, you might be able to go right on and jump in and do it and be awesome at it. Kudos! I made a choice (remaining hybrid, with most of my work at traditional houses) because it’s what works best for me.
So in answer to the question, “should I go independent or traditional” on a first book…I don’t know. That’s for you to decide. So do yourself a favor and talk to lots of authors who are indie and/or traditional. Find authors who did their first works indie or traditional and ask them what they’ve learned from the process.
In other words, friends, DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
On traditional publishing houses
If you decide that maybe you’re better off starting with a traditional house, that’s great, too. The key here is to figure out which house would be a good match for you. That is, which house publishes in the genres you’re writing? Obviously, you’re not going to take your F/F erotic novel to an academic house. That’s a very specific genre, and there are houses that specialize in publishing it, so submit to those. In the case of F/F erotic romance/erotica, think of all the books you read from the current known lesfic houses. Does your novel fit the genres they publish? Go to their “submissions” page and find out what you have to do to submit a manuscript.
FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY. If you don’t, that tells a publisher that you don’t read/follow instructions and that you might be difficult to work with. This is why it’s so important that you do some homework before you submit a manuscript to a house and make sure you understand what you’re doing with regard to submitting a manuscript. If you think a house might be a good match, do some extra homework. Look at the books they’ve published and will publish (check their “forthcoming” lists for that) and if you’re writing in comparable genres, then go for it.
Some of the benefits of working with a traditional house include that basically, they do all the editing, design, and file stuff for you. They assign you your book’s ISBN numbers (which means you don’t have to purchase those), they get them into the distribution channels, and ideally arrange some promo.
However, you won’t get the chunk of royalties that you would if you were self-publishing. Depending on the house, you’ll be getting 35-50 percent on ebooks and probably around 10 percent (if not less) on print. Self-publishing with a platform like Amazon can get you up to 70 percent royalties on ebooks and a good chunk on print (if you publish a print version through, say, Amazon’s CreateSpace platform). You also give up a lot of your artistic freedom.
HOWEVER, if you self-publish your first novel(s) and you haven’t been spending a chunk of time building your brand and and audience, nobody’s going to know about your book and it won’t sell, which means you’re not going to make much money on it anyway. That’s why you have to start thinking about marketing and building an audience way in advance of launch. Marketing and promo is basically a job in addition to your writing. You need to think about it in those terms.
So that’s why you do your homework and weigh the pros and cons and think about what’s going to work for you at this time in your life and also down the line. Think 2, 5, 10 years down the line. Where do you want to be with this publishing stuff? That, too, can help you figure out what’s going to work best for you.
Here’s a link you might find useful regarding indie (self-) vs. trad.
Keep in mind in this day and age with a traditional house, you the author are expected to do a lot of your own marketing and promotion, which means you need to think about the audience for your book, venues for advertising, and how you’re going to “brand” yourself and your writing. You thus will need a website and social media acumen at the very least. And you will need to get these things launched and working at least a year before you release a book, so that you can build buzz and that sort of thing. And also build your “brand.”
What the heck is that, you ask.
It’s your “image.” It’s how you’re going to present yourself to the public and tie it to what you write. It’s how you’re going to be known. So you need to start thinking about that long before you finish your first book.
Even if you’re published with a traditional house, you will be doing the majority of your own branding and promo all by yourself. So get versed in social media platforms and get a website built. Do this before you’re published. You need to start building your brand way in advance of actual publication.
Here’s a blog I did on what works for me as an effective website (it was done a couple years ago, and I’ve updated my site’s look since, but the general principles still apply).
And there you go. Hopefully in there somewhere, you’ll find some tips to help you figure out what approach is going to work for you.
Happy Sunday! Happy writing! Happy publishing!