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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Following Up on SoonerCon Epublishing Panel

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett

The panel was about surviving in the post-paper era, but it kind of went everywhere. Everyone on the panel had a lot of thoughts, and I know we didn't all have the time to mention everything we would have liked. I'm going to start with a few resources, then delve into some further thoughts.


Smashwords Style Guide. Start here if you want to publish your own work. 

MobileRead wiki on ebook conversion. Covers a number of utilities, plus outlines some best practices. 

Dean Wesley Smith also has some good resources.

Writer Beware is an arm of the SFWA, and now the MWA is also involved. While you're there, check out the many resources the SFWA has for aspiring writers. These are all free and you do not have to be a member of the SFWA to get help. Writer Beware also has a blog

Slushkiller at Making Light discusses the most common reasons for rejection. More about rejection in a bit.

Absolute Write is another great resource. Their Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check is a good place to get your questions answered about a publisher, agent, or service. If you don't see what you're looking for right away, try the index.There is one thing you need to know about BR&BC: they ask a lot of tough questions, and those tough questions often get mistaken for bashing and attacks. The thing is, quite a few publishing industry pros hang out there, as well as writers who have been in the business for a long time. They want new, small presses to succeed. However, anyone in this business for a long time has either been burned once or has narrowly escaped being burned, and they ask these questions for a reason. 

And now that I'm talking about such things, time for some further thoughts. Time ended when I was talking about dealing with rejections. I've run into so many folks who self-publish because they've had three or four rejections. I know writers who suffered through 20, 30, or more and now have multiple books in print. Here's my take on various rejections:

Not for us can mean anything from a kind "you can't write your way out of a paper bag" to "we have a book in the pipeline that is very similar to this" to "we're a romance publisher and therefore are taking a pass on your blood 'n' guts military novel," and everything in between. Do NOT take those personally. Move on.

Your work needs some polishing. Get several of those - particularly with similar specific comments, and it's time to dust off the manuscript and get back to work. (You may be still be revising as you submit. Publishers know that happens.) If one tells you the character development is wrong, another tells you they like the characters but not the plot twist, and another likes the plot twist but not something else, you know you've up against an issue of taste. Editors and agents have different tastes and likes. Again, don't take the rejections personally, but if you see a trend, you should revisit that part of your manuscript. Most rejection letters won't get into specifics, but sometimes an agent or editor will see enough promise in your work that he or she will offer up some tips. Treasure those letters, particularly if they come with an invitation to resubmit after you've made changes. 

Keep plugging. Start at the top and work your way down. Never, EVER pay a reading fee, or pay for publishing unless you're self-publishing.

There's another point I had tried to make and the conversation turned elsewhere. It is emphatically NOT true that only the best sellers make money for the publishing industry. My royalty checks would respectfully disagree with that. Publishers are in it to make money. Yes, things are changing. Yes, the industry has downsized. But they're still signing new authors every day. Please subscribe to Publishers Lunch. It's free and you'll get an idea of the deals that are being made.

Not every book can be a best seller. Most books don't earn out. Still, I've made royalties. Commercial publishers offer an advance against royalties. That advance is YOURS. You should NEVER have to return all or part of it unless you breach the contract. Generally, that means you don't turn in a publishable manuscript. If you see a contract that requires a partial return of advance if the book doesn't sell enough copies, do not sign it. Your advance is based on projected sales. If it doesn't sell as well as they expect, you keep the advance. If it sells better, then you should be getting royalties on those additional sales. (Smaller publishers offer different structures. Some are royalty only. That's not a red flag as long as they have a good track record of payment.) 

Walk into a bookstore. Yeah, one of those places. Darn near every one of those books you see was published because the publisher thought they could make money on it. How many of those are best sellers? When you get past the front displays and the end caps, you'll see a lot of books and authors you'll never have heard of. Yet, there they are. A success is not always on the bestseller lists. If it's a niche book, a few thousand copies sold may exceed publisher expectations. Disappointing numbers for a Stephen King or Nora Roberts book would be heavenly numbers for a mid-lister. 

Now, a word on returns. The brick-and-mortar business still lives and dies on returns. Bookstores can have that vast array of product for you to browse because the publisher will take back unsold copies. The trouble (and this happened with Borders) comes when bookstores get overly ambitious and order way more than they can possibly sell. This is the point when a distributor should step in and say, "wait a minute," and guide the stores through taking a more reasonable number of books. 

How about if you just want that book to hold in your hands? Lulu seems to be the best bet here. You can publish a book privately and send the link to family and friends to buy. I believe this won't mess with your first rights. I know writers who do this to produce proof copies for beta readers or for themselves. It's a great idea, and you'll get a feel for what your book would look like in print. And if you find a good publisher, you don't have to go through the process of getting your rights reverted. I know we had some discussion about PublishAmerica, and that's one point I wasn't able to bring up. Your book is tied up for seven years. If a larger publisher wants it, or if you'd like to revise and publish the book yourself, you'll have to go through the process (and possibly expense) of getting the publishing rights reverted back to you. (Of course, if's not always easy to get your rights reverted. Never sign a contract unless you understand what it takes to get those rights reverted. Is there a sales trigger? A time period? If you're happy with seven years, that's fine. It's your decision. I just want you to go into it having weighed all of the factors.) You wouldn't have to do that with Lulu (or CreateSpace), even if you have the books for sale to the general public. You still hold the rights, and withdrawing the books from either service seems to be a simple process. (And PA might be a good choice for some people. But please have someone familiar with publishing contracts vet the contract from them or any other publisher - even one of the "big six" - before you sign.)

(Note that copyright covers an entire series of rights: print publishing, ebooks, serializations, derivative rights, movie and TV rights, and more. The rights are yours, and you assign them - in return for money, I hope! - to a publisher for a specified period. Writer Beware and the SFWA have more detailed information regarding publishing contracts and rights. Read them before you sign a contract.)

Now, about epublishing. Much of what I said above holds true if you plan to submit to an epublisher. Do your homework and make sure they can deliver your book into the hands of readers and pay your royalties on time. 

Someone brought up the idea of a subscription book, sort of like a serialized novel. I think it can be done, but I see a few barriers. First, you'll have to price your chapters really low, and that can hurt royalties. Second, there should be an incentive for readers to stick to the end. It had better be a good book. And third, you should finish the book before you offer it for sale. Never disappoint your readers by failing to deliver the product. 

This is an exciting time to be in this business. Whatever route you take, please remember that your work has to be good. It should be competently edited. You need good cover art (even if you're self-publishing on Smashwords). 

One final note: Please see my Publishing Myths series for further information. Keep in mind that the path I take may not be right for you and vice-versa. It doesn't mean either path is wrong. We all have different goals and different expectations. However, your writing is a business, whether you do all of the publishing work yourself, farm some out, or sign with a commercial publisher (e or print). 

Thank you for sticking with this, and I wish you all the best with your manuscripts.

Tags: Publishing Writing

Filed under: Publishing   Writing         
6/7/2011 11:12:09 AM
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