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Selling Your Writing To The Public

Things to consider before you embrace indie publishing.

by
Sarah Hoyt

Bio

November 2, 2013 - 2:00 pm
setting up shop by the side of the information superhighway can be a daunting endeavor.

setting up shop by the side of the information superhighway can be a daunting endeavor.

Selling your writing in 13 weeks, week 4

So, you’ve decided to eschew traditional publishing.  It takes too long, or there aren’t many choices, or you think that you don’t have a chance, or you’d rather start making money now, even if it will be less, or you want to cut out the middle man and reach the public.  Last but not least, you might have decided that the best chance at breaking into traditional publishing is to be a success at indie.

All right.

First, note that last sentence, above.  You needn’t abandon all hope (of traditional publishing) once you enter here.  No, in fact there is a very good chance this will be your path to traditional publishing.  My colleague Larry Correia did just that.  He published Monster Hunter International, was a success, and is now happily publishing with Baen books.

Is it guaranteed?  Nothing in life is guaranteed, particularly for writers and particularly right now.

But if you’re going to try this Indie thing, there are ways and ways to do it.

Before we set off, always remember “Money Flows To The Writer.”  This is the same as in traditional publishing.  If you remember that and “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” you’ll probably keep off the biggest pitfalls.

Now, let’s start with some decisions you have to make.

So – you’re going indie.  But how?

Are you going to self-publish?  Go in with a group of friends? Go with an established small or micro publisher?

Which is it best to do?

I can’t make that decision for you – it’s all on how you feel about it, how much work you’re willing to do and how much self confidence you have.  In fact, you probably will want to try all three forms.

First, let’s consider small or micro publishers – the same process for submitting to them applies as for submitting to the majors.  They are usually faster, more responsive and willing to give a try to an unknown.  But they aren’t ALWAYS that.  Some of them are just as bad as the traditionals. And some are worse.  For instance, some of them have worse contracts and some of them are very new and have clue zero how to parse out payments.  (This is not as easy as you might think.  The way electronic outlets pay can get maddening.)

Investigate any small or micro publishers very carefully.  You'll be entrusting them with your work.

Investigate any small or micro publishers very carefully. You’ll be entrusting them with your work.

So, if you’re going indie, make sure you have references, you know the publisher’s history and you have an intellectual property (IP) lawyer look over the contract.  Also, if any indie publisher asks you money up front, pays less than 50% of gross receipts, or will deduct unidentified “expenses” from your earnings, run.  Fast.  Also, make sure that contract has an expiration date because small presses crash more often than traditional ones.

Next – should you go in with some friends?  Sure.  Do you have a group of friends you want to go in with?  Do they write?  Do they just intend to write in the distant future?  What will your friends do for you?  How will proceeds be divided?  How do you make sure the work is divided equally?  Who draws the contracts?

And then finally – should you go solo?  Are you confident enough to go solo?  Are you sure you are publishable?  Are you getting the books edited?  Who is going to do your covers?

I can’t answer any of these for you or evaluate them.  What I can do is give you some guidelines.

Let’s say you write a few short stories a year – three or maybe four – and you really don’t want to put much effort into this, but just want to wet your toes in the ocean of indie publishing.

Small or micro press might be best for you, if you can find one that checks out all right and which agrees to publish you.  After you get your IP lawyer’s opinion on the contract, and it checks out clean, you can write these three or four stories a year (supposing they take them all) and have them do all the cover work, the dealing with outlets (and it can be a nightmare) – all of that.  And you’ll either sell or not, but at least you won’t have your scarce writing time eaten up by ancillary work to get your stuff out there.

Oh, you might have to do a few blogs for publicity, but by and large someone is driving.  (It doesn’t mean you’ll make a huge fortune, or even any money, btw, but more on that next time.)

More importantly, when your aunt Minnie asks who is publishing you, you can tell her the press name and she can’t say “so you had to publish yourself, uh?”

Things to beware of: payment up front, unspecified “expenses” charged against your writing, really bad copy editors, no time limit on the contract, cluelessness about payments.  (It’s really hard to compute what each author is due, and a few indie presses have crashed and burned on this, already.)

Having a large group helping you muck out the stab-- publishing your work, will divide the work and the responsibilities.  Make sure you have a solid contract, or you might find out you're always stuck with the mucking out.

Having a large group helping you muck out the stab– publishing your work, will divide the work and the responsibilities. Make sure you have a solid contract, or you might find out you’re always stuck with the mucking out.

Now, let’s say you have a little more time, and a group of writers you’re used to working with – like, say, your writers’ group that you’ve been with for 10 years.  You’re all like brothers and sisters, and you all like the others’ writing well enough.  You are used to sharing expenses in transportation to conventions, food for parties, places for meetings, and all the rest.  You have your own odd way of sharing out money, and it works for you.

If you’re in that situation, you might consider having a co-op of sorts, getting a name that covers all of you (We’ll go into legal structures for this in the future.  I might even ask MY IP lawyer to say something about it.)  This immediately makes you a legitimate micro press with multiple authors.  It might also save you a ton of grief.  Joe, who is really good with graphic design can pop out the covers fast enough, Mary who is a bit obsessive about spelling can copy edit, Mike can design the test, and Bob who is very precise can fill in the publishing forms, etc.  You can make the coffee and write the blurbs.

Things to watch out in this scenario are obvious: first, make sure everyone is covered legally.  Bob might be your best friend, practically your brother.  But if he gets hit by a bus tomorrow, his harpy of a sister can come in and want to know why you’re publishing his stories without a contract.  And, by the way, what about all this unpaid work he did for a company he has no legal share in?  Oh, yeah, and how are you dividing the royalties for all those stories?

So, as in above, to be on the safe side you should have contracts drawn up, preferably by a lawyer and you should specify the unthinkable, like when to go to arbitration, and when to call it quits.  The unthinkable happens more times than you think.

If all that looks insanely dangerous and you love your friends but you’re not that close, consider a more informal arrangement where you all trade manuscripts, or you do Bob’s covers in return for his doing your copy editing.  Keep track of who owes what to whom and document it, because nothing kills friendship faster than a sense that you do all the work and someone else reaps all the benefits.

Ultimately, at the lowest level, the greatest benefit of knowing a lot of other writers and helping each other, is that you can share word of changes in the field, what is doing well, what sucks on ice, and keep current.  Things are changing so fast that a lot of your success will depend on your network.

It’s important to have a large network, even if you choose to go solo.

Unless you are very careful, self-publishing can be a lot like trying to fly unassisted.

Unless you are very careful, self-publishing can be a lot like trying to fly unassisted.

And if you go solo?  What are the pluses in the scenario, and what do you have to watch out for?

Well, the big plus is that you’re in control.  Nothing is done that you don’t choose.  If you put a cover you don’t like on your book, and you don’t like it, and you refuse to listen to yourself, we suggest finding a really good psychiatrist.

The big drawback is that you’re in control.  If you’re like me and trying to write traditional and indie, or you have a day job and you are going indie, you’re going to have trouble keeping a publishing schedule.  You’re also going to do stupid things like leave a typo on the cover of a book for a month, because you can’t get a minute to bring it down and put it up again.

There is no doubt that going solo is more work.  And there are other questions to ask yourself, like: do you go under a dba (doing business as or trade name) to give the impression you’re a small publisher or an imprint of a big house?  Do you do your own covers or hire out?  How do you find art for covers? How do you do a dba if you choose to anyway?  And how do you make money on this, anyway?

I can’t answer these questions for you, but I’ll try to illuminate them in future columns.

The thing to remember is that if you go solo you want to present as professional an image as possible.  This will almost for sure entail paying someone – in time or money – to proofread you.  It will also entail learning to do covers.  It will also entail time and cost management.

We’ll go into all that next week in DBAs, Covers, Publicity – oh, my!

Oh, and I did not forget that I promised you a post on how to write proposals and outlines for both novels and anthologies.  This week just turned a bit insane (mostly HVAC issues again) but I’ll try to get it in in the next couple of days.

All photos courtesy Shutterstock
Sue Smith
Minerva Studio
Pavel L Photo and Video
4 ©Pressmaster

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.

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