No, this is not actually the last posting, since I still owe you a post on covers and a – long delayed – post on proposals (to traditional publishing houses.)
I do apologize for the delays on those, but I was doing my very best not to die through what might have been the worst health-season I’ve had in a long time.
But, for now, this is my post trying to bring together everything I tried to cover on selling your book in thirteen weeks. Sort of a summarized version of the entire thing with easy bullet points. A “selling your writing in thirteen weeks for people who only discovered the series halfway through and are having trouble finding the previous posts (as I did when I tried to direct someone to them.)
So, as briefly as I can make it, here is your “lessons learned” recap. Get our your number two pencil and a notebook. There will be a test. (Actually there will, but not administered by me, but by the world/publishing. Though my way isn’t the only way and though things change constantly, this will get you some ways towards actually successfully publishing, in whichever mode you choose.)
First — Traditional or Indie? How should you publish? (For the purpose of this article, indie refers to self publishing or publishing through a micro company in which you have a controlling interest.)
I know the decision I made for me, but I can’t make it for you. Depending on the field you’re working in, the book you’re working on, and your own personal preference, the answer could vary.
If you are writing the sort of book that will need a big-publisher sendoff to do well, and you’re fairly sure that you can get it, then by all means go with a traditional publisher.
If on the other hand you are writing what the publishers would consider a midlist book – your typical genre book: a romance in the style of those already out, or a cozy mystery, a quest fantasy, or a space opera – and you have the resources to self-promote, and you know or can learn your way around a cover you’re probably better off self-publishing/indie publishing.
The truth is that the traditional publishers have been taking resources away from the midlist for some years now, and now are less inclined than ever to spend promotion dollars on “this is also an enjoyable book.” Also, some of the contracts being written don’t “guarantee” paper publication.
If you’re writing to see yourself on the shelves at your local bookstore, it might never happen. And if you’re writing for the money you should know, the average first-novel advance is around three thousand dollars.
Now you might get much more than that, of course, and in fact getting say ten times that is the best indication you’ll have that your publisher doesn’t consider your book “midlist” and will put some effort behind publicizing you.
In any case, if you should choose to go traditional publishing, you should run your contract by an IP lawyer (and yes, if you want a recommendation, I can give you one.) The waters of publishing are muddied enough just now that you shouldn’t sign anything because your agent tells you it’s fine, without a lawyer looking at it. Trust me on this.
For myself I’ve chosen to take a dual path. I’m traditionally published by Baen, a company that has a tradition of treating its writers fairly, and I’m putting my back list as well as everything that doesn’t fit the Baen format (Baen is primarily a science fiction and fantasy house) out indie.
Second – So you’ve chosen to go traditional. How do you approach it?
First familiarize yourself with the genre/field you’re writing in. Find out what is being published but, more importantly, what is being bought in the field. You can find this out through publications like Publishers Weekly (it should be available in your local library) or genre magazines (Locus for science fiction) or by finding/following the blogs/Facebook pages/social media of the editors in houses you’re targeting. These days you’re bound to find at least some of them online. This will also give you some information on preferred methods of approach.
In my day – and this might have changed – you went to a convention and looked for an opportunity to make an “elevator pitch,” that is when an editor asked what you were working on, you answered with a short blurb of your book, short enough to be said between floors, in an elevator. Say, “Like Tolkien but with zombies and mermaids.” Or “Lord of the Rings in space.” Or “The Odyssey in a small Nebraska town.” Or whatever. My pitch for my first published novel, Ill Met By Moonlight, was “Midsummer Night’s Dream meets The Godfather. On mescaline. In iambic pentameter.”
If the editor’s eyes glaze over, let him/her go. Try again another time. If you get asked to “tell them more” have a slightly more extended version ready. And if they ask for a proposal, send them that. (I will write a post on doing this this week, I swear.)
Then you wait for fame, fortune or – more likely – a polite rejection. (It’s an odds game. It doesn’t matter how good your book is, you have to compete with several hundred other books for one monthly slot or so.)
Third – So you’ve decided to go indie. How do you go about it?
1. Behave professionally.
This is just as important when you’re going traditional, but it’s not as vital. We’re not advising you go around dressed in a Smurf costume, jumping on editors and dancing the entire choreography of your proposal on their backs, even if you’re going traditional. Quiet, composed, rational and about like you’d behave at a business meeting or a business party is always a good idea.
However, if you’re going traditional and you appall an editor or three, it will pass. They will forget, and at any rate there is some (though not a lot of) turnover in the field. If you’re going indie, you get a chance to make a total idiot of yourself in front of the entire wide world.
Examples of making an idiot of yourself, include a misspelled cover title, a grammatical mistake in the book description or – all too common – getting rude and nasty in answer to reviews/reviewers. But there are other ways to be an idiot/unprofessional. Just keep in mind “if I wouldn’t do it at my job, I shouldn’t do it under my publishing name.”
2. Behaving professionally and presenting a professional appearance, includes probably getting a company name…(Please consult someone in your state on the best way to do this, as it varies according to state law) to publish under, conducting correspondence with people under the guise of that company (such as when sending books out to review.)
It also includes other things like making sure you’re not violating any copyrights, that your book looks professional, that the cover looks professional, and other details like that.
On covers (and there is a post forthcoming, I promise) remember that you might love covers with steamy pictures, but unless you’re writing a romance or erotica, it probably won’t look professional. It’s not about a pretty picture (steamy or not) a cover is about signaling what your book is and attracting the right readers. (More on that in the post.)
3. Behaving professionally means keeping the books coming and, (if possible – I’ve not been great about it) keeping to a publication schedule.
Above all remember that you are in control of your career and that your career – indie or traditional – is a means of reaching your goals.
I can’t tell you what your goals should be, just like you can’t tell me what mine should be. People write for all sorts of reasons: to impress someone; because they love writing; because they have a story/events they really need to tell; because they want the money; because they want the fame… Or a combination of any of those goals.
Some of these are more easily obtained through traditional publishing, but none of them is out of the question for indie. Having choices is good, but go into your choice with your eyes open and study your alternatives carefully.
Always remember, even if you choose to license your copyright to a publishing house (which is what traditional publishing amounts to) you are in control of your career. That means you take the responsibility, the risk and the blame.
By definition being a writer means you’re on your own, whether you’re subcontracting or you’re going it solo. I know writers who brainstorm ideas with their agents or publishers, but I never figured out how all that was supposed to happen, and most of my friends are manager, employee and chief bottle washer of their writing business. That means that win or lose, it’s all on their shoulders. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it is also in a way gloriously freeing. Shoulder the burden and enjoy the freedom. It’s a great adventure. And, as we all know, adventure is someone in terrible trouble, far away from you.
Okay, there will be bothers and trouble, and effort, and a whole lot of work. And there is no guarantee you’ll achieve what you want in the end. But at least while you’re trying — in his as in everything else — there is a chance.
As Robert A. Heinlein said “Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet, you can’t win.”